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You finally finished that huge paper. You give yourself a pat on the back and rush to turn it in. But wait! You double-check the instructions and see that you have to format your paper and cite your sources in APA style. What is the meaning of APA, and how do you do that?

APA, Writing Example, StudySmarterCiting sources can seem daunting, but you'll get the hang of it, Flaticon.

The Meaning of APA

APA is an acronym standing for the American Psychological Association. This association developed a standard style for formatting papers and citing references. APA style is typically used for social and behavioral science papers, such as sociology or psychology. The style guide outlines specific formatting guidelines for papers regarding font and spacing size, and it also requires writers to include in-text citations and a reference list.

APA Formatting

The APA style guide outlines a series of requirements for formatting papers. It is important to follow these guidelines to ensure consistent formatting throughout a paper.

Basic Requirements for APA Style

All papers in APA style need to have the following:

  • Standard paper (8.5" x 11")
  • One inch margins
  • 12 point, Times New Roman font.
  • Double-spaced text
  • Page numbers in the upper-right-hand corner
  • A running head with the title in all caps at the top of each page (but only for professional papers)

An APA Title Page

All APA papers require a title page. The title page must follow the basic APA style requirements, including the page number on the top right-hand corner. It should include the title in the middle of the page in bolded font, with the author's name, course name, instructor's name, and date below. An APA title page should look like the following:

APA, Cheat Sheet, StudySmarterIt's a good idea to have a cheat sheet for the different formats such as APA, StudySmarter.

The American Psychological Association started creating guidelines for its style in the middle of the twentieth century. It still updates its guide periodically, so it is important to double-check that the formatting follows the most recent version of the guide. As of October 2019, the 7th version is the most current version.

An APA Abstract Example

Academic papers that follow APA guidelines must have an abstract after the title page. A paper's abstract addresses the thesis, research methods, research findings, and how the paper relates to its field.

An abstract is a short summary of the paper.

All APA abstracts follow the APA style requirements above and also adhere to the following:

  • The word "abstract" must be centered and bolded as a heading
  • The abstract has its own page after the title page, labeled page 2.
  • No indentation for the first line
  • No citations (the focus should be the subject of the writer's work)
  • No abbreviations
  • Approximately 150-250 words in length

At the end of an abstract, authors often list keywords from their paper. Including keywords helps other researchers search for the article and understand what the article will be about. This is not mandatory, but if writers chose to include keywords, they should italicize the word "keywords."

For example, an abstract in APA format looks like this:

APA, Example of Abstract, StudySmarterAbstracts are extremely useful for summarizing your thesis statement and main points, StudySmarter.

APA In-text Citation Examples

In APA style, writers need to use in-text citations when they are quoting a source directly, paraphrasing it, or referencing information from another source.

APA In-text Citation with a Direct Quote

If a writer is referencing a direct quote they got directly from another source, they should put the author's last name in parentheses at the end of the sentence, followed by the year of the paper and the page on which they found the information.

According to recent research, "students in medical school study an average of 9 hours a day" (Johnson, 2019, p 54).

APA In-text Citation to a Reference with Another Source

If a writer is referencing information they got directly from another source, they should put the author's last name in parentheses at the end of the sentence, followed by the year of the paper and the page on which they found the information.

Students who understand citation styles are likelier to get a passing grade in English class (Smith, 2019, p 15).

APA In-text Citation for a Source with More than One Author

Oftentimes a source will have two or more authors. If a source has two authors, the writer should put both names in parentheses like so:

(Johnson & Smith, 2019).

If a source has more than two authors, then the writer should write the first author's last name and parentheses and then write "et al." like so:

(Johnson et al., 2019)

APA In-text Citation with Multiple Sources

Sometimes a writer will use information from more than one source in one sentence. In this case, the writer should put the name of both authors in parentheses at the end of the sentence, as well as the years of those sources.

Some sociologists have found that students' involvement in sports positively impacts academic performance (Johnson et al., 2014; Giles 2012).

APA In-text Citations for a Source with No Author

In some cases, a source will not have an author. In this situation, writers should mention the source's title in italics and the year in parentheses.

(APA Style Guide, 2019).

APA In-text Citations for a Source with No Date

It is also common to find sources with no exact publication date. In this case, the writer should write the author's name or source title, followed by "n.d." which stands for "no date" like so:

(Johnson, n.d.)

Narrative Citations

The above examples are examples of parenthetical citations, or citations that go in parentheses at the end of a sentence. Writers can also use narrative citations, which are citations at the start or in the middle of sentences. Narrative citations include the author's name in the sentence and the year of the source in parentheses after the name.

According to Smith (2019), students who understand citation styles are more likely to get a passing grade in English class.

APA, Checklist, StudySmarterAPA requires in-text citations and a reference list, Flaticon.

APA Reference Lists

In addition to in-text citations, the APA style guide requires that writers list their references at the end of their papers. This provides the reader with the information missing from in-text citations. The reference list must be alphabetically ordered by the author's last name. The format of references depends in part on the type of source.

Citing a Journal Article in APA


Author's last name, First initial. Middle initial (Year). Title. Title of Journal, Volume(Issue), page range. DOI or URL


Garbarino, J. (2017). ACEs in the Criminal Justice System. Academic Pediatrics,17(7). doi:10.1016/j.acap.2016.09.003

Citing a Webpage in APA


Author's last name, First initial. (Year, Month Date Published). Title of web page. Website name. URL


Miller, Samantha. (2019, April 4). 5 Effective Studying Techniques. Educationville.

Example of an APA Reference List:

Here is an an example of an APA reference List.

APA, example of reference list, StudysmarterAlphabetize your reference lists by the author's last name, StudySmarter.

Note that the first line of each reference is not independent, but the following ones are. This is called a hanging indent and is required in an APA reference list.

Pros and Cons of APA Style

Although APA is an effective style for organizing research and avoiding plagiarism, its downsides make some groups prefer other styles such as MLA. If a writer can choose what formatting style to use, it is important to consider the pros and cons a given style.

Pros Cons
It ensures writers avoid plagiarism It is complex and can be confusing for new users
The double-spaced, 12-pt font is easy to read and editThe alphabetized reference list can be difficult to consult in comparison to footnotes and endnotes
It contextualizes references by providing years in in-text citationsThe in-text citations can be distracting for readers

Importance of APA Format

Using APA format helps writers avoid plagiarism and organize their writing. It also helps readers quickly find several other sources on a topic.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Citing sources properly is important for avoiding plagiarism.

Plagiarism is taking someone else's work as one's own.

If writers do not say where they got their information, it will appear to their readers that the ideas are their own. This can be intentional or unintentional. Regardless of whether it was done on purpose or not, it is considered plagiarism. Plagiarism is unethical and can hurt a writer's credibility.

The English word plagiarism comes from the Latin plagiarius, meaning "kidnapper." Remember, not citing sources is essentially kidnaping someone else's thoughts!

Organizing Information

Citing sources in APA format also allows writers to organize their research in a logical, accessible manner. While writing a long research paper, it is easy for a writer to forget where they found a piece of information. They may want to consult the source again or find the name of an author they want to research in more detail. Keeping track of all sources in APA format allows writers to quickly return to them and keep their research organized.

Helping Researchers

Using APA format also helps readers further their own research. For example, imagine a person reads a research paper and is struck by a key idea. That person thinks that this idea would help their research if they knew a little bit more about it. APA format will allow that person to easily find who came up with the original idea and consult the original source for more information. Using citations thus helps researchers learn as much as possible from a paper.

APA - Key Takeaways

  • APA is a formatting guide from the American Psychological Association.
  • APA is used in social science and behavioral science research.
  • Papers written in APA format should be written in double-spaced, 12 point font, with one-inch margins.
  • Papers written in APA should include an abstract that summarizes the main points.
  • APA requires in-text citations and an alphabetized reference list.

Frequently Asked Questions about APA

APA format is the American Psychological Association's guide to formatting papers and citing sources. 

In-text citations in APA should mention the author's last name, the year, and the page number. 

APA style referencing is citing the sources used in an alphabetical reference list at the end of a paper. 

A good example of APA format is:

Garbarino, J. (2017). ACEs in the Criminal Justice System. Academic Pediatrics,17(7). doi:10.1016/j.acap.2016.09.003 

APA is used for formatting papers in the social and behavioral sciences. 

Final APA Quiz


What is APA format?

Show answer


APA is the American Psychological Association's guide to formatting papers and citing sources.

Show question


Which of the following citations is in APA format?

Show answer


Rodrigues R. I. (2021). Testing the psychometric properties of a short skills inventory for students looking for their first job. BMC psychology9(1), 159.

Show question


Which of the following citations is in APA format?

Show answer


Recent research shows that homework creates stress for students (Richard et al., 2016, Gilbert 2014). 

Show question


Which of the following is not a requirement for APA formatting?

Show answer


Single-spaced text

Show question


How long should an abstract in APA format be?

Show answer


Approximately 150-250 words. 

Show question


What does APA stand for?

Show answer


American Psychological Association

Show question


Where does the word plagiarism come from?

Show answer


The latin word plagiarius, meaning kidnapper. 

Show question


How should a writer write an in-text citation for a source without a date in APA?

Show answer


(Author's last name, n.d.)

Show question


True or False: APA format is not used for in-text citations. 

Show answer


False. APA requires in-text citations and a reference list. 

Show question


True or False. APA reference lists are chronological in terms of when they were mentioned in the paper.

Show answer


False. Citations must be alphabetized in APA reference lists. 

Show question


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