APA in-text citation offers a straightforward format that’s as streamlined as it is functional. This unpretentious method simplifies referencing, even in papers with the most complicated of themes. The APA in-text citation style gives you control over the pacing and clarity of your prose through two useful formats.
Definition of APA in-text citation
The American Psychological Association created the APA citation style at a time when there was little consistency in social science research papers. The APA gives writers two citation methods: parenthetical and narrative1.
- Parenthetical citations list all the details in parentheses.
- Narrative citations allow extra fluidity by including the author naturally in the prose. Publication data is then listed in parentheses after the author’s reference.
The APA in-text citation style incorporates your sources in the body of the paper. This is then cross-referenced in alphabetical order on the APA reference page. In-text citations have a standard order:
- Author’s name
- Publication date
- Book title
- Page title
- Periodical title
- Page numbers
- Publication place
Parenthetical vs. narrative APA in-text citation
A parenthetical APA in-text citation places all details of your source inside the same brackets.2 If you want more fluid prose or wish to add extra emphasis to your source, narrative citations incorporate the author’s name into your prose. The narrative format ends the sentence with the publication details in parentheses. If you’re including a quotation, your APA in-text citation should include the page number of your quote.
Paraphrasing vs. quoting
Paraphrasing is the APA’s preferred way to restate your source’s research.3 One of the APA’s overarching goals is to eliminate the risk of plagiarism.
While direct quotations are allowed, they can fall short of that important objective. Think of direct quotations as the skydivers of the citation world, and paraphrasing as the pedestrians in the reflective jackets. One is riskier than the other, so keep it to a minimum.
Short vs. long (block) quotations
The APA in-text citation method doesn’t require anything special from you when quoting 40 words or fewer.4
Simply incorporate your quotation into your prose. Direct quotes of 40 or more words need their own format:
|Short Quote||40 words or less||Inside quotation marks||None||Use a parenthetical approach at the end of your sentence or quotation|
|Block Quote||More than 40 words||No quotation marks||Text should be left-justified and indented 0.5 inches from your margin||Place your APA in-text citation at the end of your block quote after the final period.|
The more uncluttered your references are, the better, so the APA in-text citation guide tries to minimize author citations.
APA in-text citation styles: Missing information
APA in-text citation: No author
If you’re citing a discussion that lacks an author’s name, replace the name with the title or first three words of your source paper. In-text citations should include an italicized title with headline capitalization, followed by the year. If your paper lists its author as “Anonymous”, you can use the word “Anonymous” in place of the author’s name:5
You’re free to use a narrative citation style if you prefer. In this instance, the title should be intertwined into a sentence.
APA in-text citation: No publication date
The APA in-text citation style has incorporated an “n.d” abbreviation for papers with missing dates. Simply cite the abbreviation where you’d usually add your date.
APA in-text citation: No page number
Internet sources rarely come with carefully-labeled page numbers, so you’ll need to guide your readers to the relevant citation. The APA style allows you to list the paragraph number in place of the page number:6
A narrative quotation should be formatted as:
APA in-text citation: Multiple sources
Citing several sources allows you to highlight all the most relevant research on your subject.
Usually, these works are cited in alphabetical order, but this doesn’t allow you to underline your most important papers. To get around generic APA rules, you can intertwine your citation into the sentence narrative, which doesn’t hold you to any particular order:7
Ambiguous APA in-text citations
Clarity is the first goal of any style guide, and the APA in-text citation style is no different. Ambiguity emerges when:
✘ Authors have written multiple papers within the same time frame.
✓ Resolve it with dates and paragraph numbers.
✘ You’re citing two or more authors with the same name.
✓ The APA allows first initials to overcome the problem
✘ You’re citing two authors with the same name repeatedly throughout the text.
✓ This is easily fixed by citing the authors’ names each time you mention them.
✘ You’re citing interviews and discussions rather than academic papers.
✓ It’s acceptable to point out the fact that you’re citing personal communication.
✘ If your citations don’t correspond to your references.
✓ The inclusion of page numbers and ranges can help.
✘ There are two or more papers by the author:
✓ Avoid ambiguity by listing all authors. Alternatively, enumerate each reference (2051a, 2051b, etc.)
The APA style recommends shortened lists, abbreviations, and special characters to overcome some of these hurdles. The relative freedom of narrative citations also functions as an excellent way to gain clarity.
APA’s citation method is decidedly practical, so only include your citation if it’s unclear where your source’s claims start and end.
While it is not needed to include the relevant page number, it will add clarity to your source.
1 Mendeley. “APA Format Citation Guide.” Accessed October 31, 2022. https://www.mendeley.com/guides/apa-citation-guide/.
2 The College of ST. Scholastica. “Citation Help for APA, 7th Edition: In-text Citations.” October 11, 2022. https://libguides.css.edu/APA7thEd/Citations.
3 Simmons University. “APA Citation Guide (7th edition): Quotes vs Paraphrases.” September 21, 2022. https://simmons.libguides.com/apa/quotes.
4 American Psychological Association. “Quotations.” APA Style. September, 2019. https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/citations/quotations.
5 University Library. “APA 6th Edition Citation Style.” American University of Sharjah. October 31, 2022. https://aus.libguides.com/apa/apa-no-author-date.
6 University Library. “APA Style Citation.” UTEP. October 06, 2022. https://libguides.utep.edu/c.php?g=429836&p=2936576.
7 American Psychological Association. “Citing Multiple Works.” APA Style. September, 2019. https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/citations/basic-principles/multiple-works.
8 Purdue Online Writing Lab. “In-Text Citations: Author/Authors.” Purdue University. Accessed October 31, 2022. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/in_text_citations_author_authors.html.