Basic Guide to APA Style Citation | Editor World

A Basic Guide to APA Style Citation

Various journals have rules for formatting article submissions. For example, Elsevier is a publisher of academic journals, and each journal has its own guidelines for authors when submitting a research article to be peer reviewed and considered for publication. Some academic papers need to be written using the format of the American Psychological Association (APA). The standardized APA formatting allows readers to easily find references within an author’s work. Authors may reference material from multiple places, including peer-reviewed academic text, blog posts, online articles, or software. The present article will provide basic guidance on the APA citation style, as well as several citation managers to automate the process.

Using APA format, authors may cite references in one of two ways: in-text citations and those included in the reference list at the end of the document.

In-Text Citations

The format for in-text citations follows a standard pattern, including the last name of the author(s) and the date of the publication in parentheses. This citation is often included at the end of the sentence as shown in the example below.

·       Researchers have hypothesized several mechanisms for the function of sleep (Rasch, 2001).

If more than one author were included in the publication, the parenthetical citation would include those authors.

·       Researchers have hypothesized several mechanisms for the function of sleep (Rasch & Born, 2001).


However, if the reference has more than two authors, the parenthetical citation would only include the first author’s name listed with “et al.”, meaning “and colleagues” or “and others.”

·       Researchers have hypothesized several mechanisms for the function of sleep (Rasch et al., 2001).

Authors may also cite references within a sentence and outside of parentheses. In this case, a similar format to parenthetical citations applies. If the reference includes one author only, the author may refer to the last name of the author followed by the year in parentheses.

·       Rasch (2001) has hypothesized several mechanisms for the function of sleep.

For two-author publications, both authors’ names would be included [e.g., Rasch and Born (2001) hypothesized…]. If the reference has three or more authors, the reference should not include all authors’ names. Instead, only the first author’s last name is mentioned, followed by “et al.,” “and others,” or “and colleagues”.

·       Two authors : Rasch and Born (2001) have hypothesized several mechanisms for the function of sleep.

·       Three or more authors : Rasch et al. (2001) have hypothesized several mechanisms for the function of sleep.

In brief, in-text APA citations follow a basic pattern — author(s) and publication date. Up to two authors can be mentioned in in-text citations. When more than two authors are included in a publication, only the first author is mentioned, followed by “et al.”


Reference List Citations

APA format requires a reference list at the end of the paper. In the reference list, authors include more details about each citation included in an academic paper.

The citations are ordered alphabetically by the authors’ last names. The reference is structured with indentations to easily distinguish between each citation, such that the first line of a given reference is left-aligned. Any additional lines of citation are indented.

In the reference list, authors’ last names and initials are included. The initials included those for the first name and middle names, as given (e.g., Rasch, A. L., & John, K. E.). Reference lists typically include all authors of a publication. However, when a citation has 20 or more authors, only the first 19 authors and last author are included. Ellipses are places between the first 19 authors and the last author’s name.  

The title of the publication is the next section of the citation. For APA format, only the first word of the title is capitalized. All remaining words of the title are added in lowercase letters. Then, the academic journal of the publication is listed in italicized font with the journal’s volume and issue number. The page numbers are listed, and lastly, the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) is provided if available (see example below).


·       Last Name, Initial., & Last Name, Initial. (Year). Title of the academic article. Journal Name , Numerical Volume (Numerical Issue) , page number range . DOI

·       Fisher, P. J., & Yao, R. Gender differences in financial risk tolerance. Journal of Economic Psychology , 61 (1), 191-202.

Authors may cite many different types of sources. Although academic articles and books are common types of citations, authors may need to include websites, videos, or other sources in their reference lists. Each of these source types is uniquely formatted within the reference list. Examples of some of the most common types are provided below.

Authored Books:

Last Name of the Author, First Initial. Middle Initial. (Year of Publication). Title of the book . Publisher of the book. DOI when available

Jackson, L. M. (2019). The psychology of prejudice: From attitudes to social action (2nd ed.). American Psychological Association.

See the APA Style website for more details on formatting authored book citations.

Edited Books:

Last Name of the Editor, First Initial. Middle Initial. (Year of the Publication). Title of the book: Subtitle. Publisher. DOI when available

Rasch, P. (Ed.). (2022). A boundless science . Penguin.

See the APA Style website for more details on formatting edited book citations.


Last Name of the Author, First Initial, Middle Initial. (Year of Publication, Month Date). Title of the article on the website. Publisher of the website. URL of the website

Rasch, P. (2022, May 22). A boundless science. Nature Science Sites.

See the APA Style website for more details on formatting website citations.

The general structure for APA format includes (1) the author(s), (2) the title, (3) the publication year, (4) the publisher, and (5) the source, such as the DOI or website link. These five key informational points are critical for APA format. Luckily, knowing the basics helps authors understand how to use citation managers to automate APA formatting.

Citation Managers Automate Citations

Because references can be automated with freely available tools, authors rarely need to format their citations. Understanding the basics of APA formatting is important for checking in-text citations and reference lists from automated software.

Some of the most common citation managers are EndNote, Zotero, and Mendeley. With each of these tools, authors can build a database of citations and easily add them to their documents using Microsoft Word. With plug-ins for any of the citation tools, Microsoft Word users can add citations while they write their documents by simply searching their databases. Before any reference can be cited, it must first be added to the database. Most citation managers have quick methods of building a citation database, including browser extensions and even adding a reference to the database with only the DOI.

The citation managers also automate the reference list at the end of the document. Any citation included within the text will be included in the reference list, and the reference list can be updated at any point. In other words, the references will be automatically reorganized into alphabetical order when new work is cited within the text.

The basics of APA format are simplified with automated citation formatting. With a firm understanding of how APA format works, authors can freely use citation managers without manually formatting all of their citations.