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APA style is a widely accepted format for writing research papers, particularly for social science manuscripts and theses. APA style specifies, for example, the names and order of headings, formatting and organization of citations and references, and the arrangement of tables, figures, footnotes, and appendices.
APA style officially refers to The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, a book of 272 pages now in its sixth edition (ISBN 1433805618). It is published by the American Psychological Association, which is the main scholarly organization for academic psychologists in the United States. A well-known alternative approach is The MLA style manual.
Why APA style?
Although adopting certain aspects of APA style may be resented by some authors, it is widely agreed that it serves a useful purpose. Uniform style across journals helps readers to navigate and access material more efficiently. Scholars who experience uncertainty when writing may find the Manual a useful guide. For example, the "political correctness" sections of the manual discourage authors from writing prose that is abusive to women and minorities. Scholarly journals that require APA style sometimes let their authors deviate from it when it would increase clarity.
Please note that many of the examples listed on this page are from the 5th Edition of the Manual; 6th edition was released in 2009 and many of the examples given are no longer valid. There were changes to headings, citing electronic references, format of the paper, font type, font size, headers, and others (this is just a partial list):
- There should be 2 spaces after periods that end a sentence in the body of the paper.
- The number of authors that must be listed on the references page is now 7 and you no longer use et al. on the references page.
- The preferred font is Times New Roman 12pt.
- The paper should be double-spaced.
- There should be 1-inch margins on all sides of the document.
- The method and level of headings is simplified in the new edition.
- Both the page number and running head should be located in the header of the paper so it appears on each page.
- There is no need to include a retrieval date for references that are unlikely to change.
Following APA style, headings are used to organize articles and give them a hierarchical structure. APA style prescribes a specific format for headings (from one to five levels) within an article. They are referred to on page 113 of the 6th edition of the Publication Manual using the following level numbers:
- Level 5: CENTERED UPPERCASE HEADING
- Level 1: Centered Uppercase and Lowercase Heading
- Level 2: Centered, Italicized, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading
- Level 3: Flush Left, Italicized, Uppercase and Lowercase Side Heading
- Level 4: Indented, italicized, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period.
According to APA style, if an article has:
- One level: use Level 1 headings
- Two levels: use Level 1 (superordinate) and Level 3 (subordinate) headings
- Three levels: use Level 1, Level 3 and Level 4 (from superordinate to subordinate)
- Four levels: use Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 and Level 4 (from superordinate to subordinate)
- Five levels: use Level 5, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 and Level 4 (from superordinate to subordinate)
No guidelines are provided for articles with six or more levels of headings. Note that APA style does not permit preceding numbers or letters for the headings.
Reference citations in text
Reference citations in text are those which are referenced within a passage of text in the body of an article. APA style defines that a reference section may only include articles which are cited within the body of an article. This is the distinction between a document having a Reference section and a Bibliography which may incorporate sources which may have been read by the authors as background but not referred to or included in the body of a document.
APA follows a number of rules for formatting in-line citations, the following is not an exhaustive list as it does not cover quotations, nor all scenarios that may arise when referring to an article or document. Hopefully, it is enough to get a feel for how it is used.
- Single Author, Book, Journal, Published article, conference proceedings.: Format should be Author's last name (no initials) followed directly by a comma, then the year of publication. You may choose not to use enclosing brackets around the authors' names and refer to the article as part of a natural sentence (year should however normally remains enclosed). The same holds for multiple authors.
Social representations theory posits that reified scientific knowledge that exists at the boundaries of a given society, will be interpreted in meaningful and often simplified forms by the majority (Pauling, 2005).
Pauling (2005) posits that...
- Two Authors, Book, Journal, Published article, conference proceedings. Authors should be presented in order that they appear in the published article. If they are cited within closed brackets, use the ampersand (&) symbol between them. If not enclosed in brackets then use expanded "and".
Social representations theory posits that reified scientific knowledge that exists at the boundaries of a given society will be interpreted in meaningful and often simplified forms by the majority (Pauling & Liu, 2005).
Pauling and Liu (2005) posit that...
- Three or More Authors, Book, Journal, Published Article, Conference proceedings. At this point ambiguities and problems over various journals' interpretations and enforcement of various APA styles and editions becomes apparent. With three or more authors, it is expected that the first reference to an article contains all authors. Subsequent citations in the same document may refer to the article by the principal author only plus "et al." The general format is Author 1, Author 2, ... Author N & Author N + 1, normally in the order they appear in the publication, but sometimes listing the principle author, then the others in alphabetical order. The number of authors required for invoking the "et al. rule" is also often misused and misunderstood. (Note the reference section must contain ALL authors)
Social representations theory posits that reified scientific knowledge that exists at the boundaries of a given society, will be interpreted in meaningful and often simplified forms by the majority (Pauling, Liu & Guo, 2005).
Pauling, Liu and Guo(2005) posit...
Subsequent instances in the same document
Pauling, et al. (2005) posit...
(Pauling et al., 2005)
- Multiple publications same author
If an author has multiple publications which you wish to cite, you use a semi colon (;) to separate the years of publication in chronological order (oldest to most recent). If the publications occur in the same year, then you must denote this, using a suffix "a" or "b" is common (note you must also ensure that the "year field" in the reference section also contains the same suffix). For multiple authors, follow the same rules.
...majority (Pauling, 2004; 2005)
Pauling (2004; 2005) suggests that...
- Multiple publications different authors
Follow the rules above as for same author, using a semicolon to separate articles. Citation should first be in Alphabetical order of the Author, then chronological.
...majority (Alford, 1995; Pauling, 2004; 2005; Sirkis, 2003)
The APA style guide asserts that bibliographies and other lists of names should be ordered by surname first, and mandates inclusion of surname prefixes. For example, "Martin de Rijke" should be sorted as "de Rijke, M.".
Book by One Author:
Sherman, R. D. (1956). The terrifying future: Contemplating color television. San Diego: Halstead.
Book by Two or More Authors:
Kurosawa, J., & Armistead, Q. (1972). Hairball: An intensive peek behind the surface of an enigma. Hamilton, ON: McMaster University Press.
Article in an Edited Book:
Stanz, R. F. (1983). Practical methods for the apprehension and sustained containment of supernatural entities. In G. L. Yeager (Ed.), Paranormal and occult studies: Case studies in application (pp. 42–64). Place: Publisher.
Article in a Journal with Continuous Pagination:
Rottweiler, F. T., & Beauchemin, J. L. (1987). Detroit and Sarnia: Two foes on the brink of destruction. Canadian/American Studies Journal, 54. 66–146.
Article in a Journal Paginated Separately:
Crackton, P. (1987). The Loonie: God's long-awaited gift to colourful pocket change? Canadian Change, 64(7), 34–37.
Article in a Monthly Magazine:
Doe, J. (2001, May). My life as a grocery-store delivery boy. Hot & Steamy Letters, pp.81–85+.
Article in a Newspaper
Wrong, M. (2005, August 17). Misquotes are "Problematastic" says Mayor. Toronto Sol. p.4.
Revenue Canada. (2001) Advanced gouging: Manual for employees (MP 65–347/1124). Ottawa: Minister of Immigration and Revenue.
Internet Article Based on a Print Source
Marlowe, P., Spade, S., & Chan, C. (2001). Detective work and the benefits of colour versus black and white [Electronic version]. Journal of Pointless Research, 11, 123–124.
Article in an Internet-only Journal
Blofeld, H. V. (1994, March 1). Expressing oneself through persian cats and modern architecture. Felines & Felons, 4, Article 0046g. Retrieved October 3, 1999, from http://journals.f+f.org/spectre/vblofeld-0046g.html
Article in an Internet-only Newsletter
Paradise, S., Moriarty, D., Marx, C., Lee, O. B., Hassel, E., et al. (1957, July). Portrayals of fictional characters in reality-based popular writing: Project update. Off the beaten path,7(3). Retrieved October 3, 1999, from http://www.newsletter.offthebeatenpath.news/otr/complaints.html
Stand-alone Internet document, no author identified, no date
What I did today. (n.d.). Retrieved August 21, 2002, from http://www.cc.mystory.life/blog/didtoday.html
Document available on university program or department Web site
Rogers, B. (2078). Faster-than-light travel: What we've learned in the first twenty years. Retrieved August 24, 2079, from Mars University, Institute for Martian Studies Web site: http://www.eg.spacecentraltoday.mars/university/dept.html
Electronic copy of a journal article, three to five authors, retrieved from database
Costanza, G., Seinfeld, J., Bennes, E., Kramer, C., & Peterman, J. (1993). Minutiæ and insignificant observations from the nineteen-nineties. Journal about Nothing, 52, 475–649. Retrieved October 31, 1999, from NoTHINGJournals database.
Monterey, Allison (personal communication, September 28, 2001)
Book on CD
Nix, G. (2002). Lirael, Daughter of the Clayr [CD]. New York: Random House/Listening Library.
Book on Tape
Nix, G. (2002). Lirael, Daughter of the Clayr [Cassette Recording No. 1999-1999-1999]. New York: Random House/Listening Library.
References & Bibliography
- APA Style - official homepage
- Citation Styles Guidebook - Illinois University
- Introduction to APA Style - Purdue University
- APA Style Guide - Plonsky
- Interactive APA Format Reference Guide - StudentABC.com
- Citation Machine generates APA style citations.
- Another overview
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