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APA Format and Citations

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When it comes to writing styles, the format for APA citations can be a formidable foe. However, if you break down APA format into the basics, it doesn’t really look so scary. Use this easy-to-follow format and citations guide to break down APA 6 style and research writing into easy steps.

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Deciding on APA Style

As a student, you might not have a choice on what citation style you use to write your school research project. It could also come down to the paper you’re writing. Created by the American Psychological Association (APA), APA format provides a consistent and convenient way to cite reference books, scholarly journals and peer reviewed articles commonly used in behavioral science, social science, education and psychology research papers.

The difference between APA and MLA or Chicago is that it’s designed to provide credibility, by making your resources accessible and creating focus for the reader. That’s not to say you can’t use it for a history paper; it’s just not designed for that.

Narrowing Down Your Focus

Behavioral and social sciences are big fields. So, it is important to narrow down your focus before you begin your paper. Depending on your interests, you might look for topics in:

  • Anthropology
  • Economics
  • Law
  • Linguistics
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Nursing
  • Criminology

Once you narrow down your topic, you’ll need to research a specific question in that field that you want to answer through research questions. Clearly define your thesis. This will be important because it will guide your research for your APA format paper.

Finding Your Research

Much like writing styles, research comes in a few different varieties. One of the most common that you will come across in high school, and even at the college level, is the literature review. This is where you’ll summarize findings from the existing literature on the topic you are studying.

You might also create a experimental report that could use empirical studies, theory-oriented research, case studies and methodical research. Narrowing down what you want to include is nearly, if not more important than the paper itself. Just make sure that the research is credible before referencing it.

To Outline or Not to Outline?

Depending on the magnitude of your phenomenal research, you may choose to outline your paper before writing it. APA doesn’t have a specific format for making an outline for your essay or research paper. However, there are a few different formats that you can use, like a topic or sentence outline. While not required, having an outline can be useful in keeping your paper flowing smoothly and on topic.

Setting Up Your APA Paper

You’ve researched to the max, and it’s time to start writing. APA format is all about style. And this isn’t “wearing white after Labor Day” kind of style. This is writing style, which means that the style guide has everything broken down for you, including how to handle APA citations correctly.

Formatting an APA Article

Don’t get marked down points for not following APA format correctly. While everything is broken down in the APA style guide, a few of the highlights include:

  • Double spacing
  • 1-inch margins
  • Flush-left style
  • Indented paragraphs

Must-Have Sections in APA Style

In addition to formatting, you’ll need to include specific sections within your APA style research paper. You might have more sections, but the basics include:

  • Title page: This is the first page with your title and name.
  • Abstract: This will provide an overview of the paper.
  • Body: The main part of your paper includes your introduction, methods, materials, results, conclusion, and discussion.
  • References: Here, you will provide a list of all the sources that you used in your article.

Five Levels of Headings

APA format uses unique headings that fall into one of five levels.

  • The first heading is title case, centered and bold. This is your title heading.
  • The second level heading is found flush to the left, title case and bold.
  • The third level of heading is bold italic, flush to the left and title case.
  • The fourth level is indented from the left margin, bold, title case and ends in a period.
  • The fifth level is indented, bold italic, title case and ends in a period.

Headers are used in order. If you need two headers in your section, then you will start with a level 1 header at the beginning of the section. This will be bold and centered. Your subsection header will be left aligned and bold. If you require three levels of headers in your section, then you will start with a level 1 header, then move to a level 2 and level 3 in order.

Headers on the same level are of equivalent importance. For example, you may have one level 1 header, and then under that, you have three level 2 headers. Then, under one of the level 2 headers, you may have two level 3 headers, and so on.

Lists

Lists that follow a specific order should be numbered, while those that do not should be in a bullet list format.

Using the Right Tone

Academic writing requires a specific tone. This is pivotal for APA writing since you are talking about research and results. Being vague could lead to misinterpretation and nobody wants that. Rather, you should be clear and concise. Use simple sentences that are straight to the point and unpack your details in a clear, easy to follow way.

Things to Avoid in Your Writing

This doesn’t mean that you need to use a passive voice in your writing, necessarily. Rather, an active voice is preferred for dissecting experiments. And don’t forget about verb tense. Keeping it consistent can avoid confusion. You must also present the facts as they are to avoid any bias. It can also be important to rethink the use of gender pronouns to avoid bias as well. Consider an alternative like people or groups instead.

In-Text Citations and References

It’s time for citations. Citations are the hallmark of your APA project, essay or research paper. They are important for your academic writing, because they ensure you avoid plagiarism in your work. APA citations come in two forms:

  • In-text citations
  • Reference citations

The difference between the two is where they are. In-text citations are found in the body of your paper. Reference citations are at the end of the paper in the “references” section. That’s an easy way to keep track of the two. They should correspond with one another.

How to Make an In-Text Citation

Congrats! You’ve moved on to creating in-text citations. APA in-text citations will use the author-date format. In addition to having a specific format, different types of text are going to be quoted differently. Explore how to make citations for quotes.

  • Short quotes use quotation marks around the quoted text and have the author’s name (or multiple authors’ names), date, and page number.
  • Long quotes are in block quote format.
  • Summarizing or paraphrasing should include the name and date. The page number can be included but isn’t required.

Working With Authors

In APA, authors matter. Whether the cited source has one author, six authors or no author, you have to account for everything. Just a few ways the authors might be cited in text include:

  • Unknown Author: Title of Source
  • One Author: Author’s Last Name
  • Two Authors: Last Name 1 & Last Name 2
  • Three to Five Authors: Name 1, Name 2 & Name 3:
  • Additional Citations with Multiple Authors: Name 1 et al.
  • Six or More Authors: Name 1 et al.

You might also come across a situation where you have multiple sources with the same author. This might take a few unique approaches including adding both work dates. You might also come across websites or technical reports with no author. In those cases, use the name of the website or company in place of the author’s name.

Footnotes in APA

Don’t worry! Footnotes aren’t usually in APA formatting. But if they are, they’re used for copyrighted material or to provide extra information in the text. Rather than use the author-date format, you’ll create footnotes in APA style using superscript numbers in the text and a reference at the bottom of the page.

No Reference Needed

In addition to footnotes, you’ll also come across resources that only need to be cited within the text and not in the reference list at the end of the paper. For example, classical or religious works like the Bible don’t need to be listed in your references. This is also true of personal communication, like interviews. However, if your teacher requests it, be sure to add it to the references.

Everything You Need to Write Your References

You’ve written your paper and kept detailed track of your sources. The time has come to create your reference page. This is not an APA bibliography. Rather, it is called a references page. Your reference page is where your teacher or anyone reading your paper can find all the sources you cited within your paper.

Formatting References

Just like everything else in your paper, your references page needs to follow specific rules for formatting and creating your citations. In addition to being double spaced and including a running head, you will need to put your references in alphabetical order. It’s true that how you alphabetize your references can get a little tricky, so be sure to pay close attention.

Listing Authors

Specific structuring of the authors in your reference list is never-ending in APA format. In your APA article citation, follow the same basic format for one or two authors as you did for your in-text citations. But, when it comes to two to seven authors, you are going to write them out in full. For a resource with eight or more authors, write out the first six authors, then add three ellipsis points, followed by the final author.

Examples

2-7 Authors:

Alberts B., Johnson, A., Lewis, J., Raff, M., Roberts, K.,  & Walter, P.

8 or More:

Jaramillo, C., Gilbert, A.N., Bulixi, T.P., Farland, N., Smith, L.J., Leland, K.,…Wintle, N.

Structuring Your References

Each source type you could possibly think to use within your paper has a particular way it needs to be cited. Even a missing period could not only look unprofessional but also dock you points on an otherwise perfect essay.

APA Citations for Periodicals

Periodicals are published in specific intervals. They include journals, magazines, newspapers and reviews. While the citation style will be similar, each one will be slightly different. Basically, the citation for a periodical will include the author, year, title, pages and DOI.

Example

Author, A. B. (Year). Article title. Title of Periodical, volume number (issue number), pages. https://doi.org/xx.xxx/yyyy

APA Book Citations

In a book citation, including reference books and anthologies, you’ll write out the author’s last name and include both the first and middle initial. You’ll italicize the title and only capitalize the first word of the title. You also need a hanging indent.

Example

Author, A. B. (Publication year). Work title: Capital letter also for subtitle. Location: Publisher.

Additional Print Source Citations

While books and periodicals are the main print sources that you will encounter, you might also come across sources like an encyclopedia or dictionary, dissertation and thesis, research reports, legal case or document, meetings, posters, and symposia. You’ll want to be weary of some of these sources simply because they are considered secondary sources. However, if you do choose to use them, the corresponding citation will include the publication, edition and year.

Dictionary Example

“Bibliography.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 12th ed., Merriam-Webster, 2007, p. 114.

APA Citations for Electronic Sources

An electronic source is anything that you find online or in digital format. While you might typically think of a website, these sources can also be blogs, YouTube videos, online videos, and online TV shows and movies. Some electronic resources will require the use of brackets in their citations in order to discuss what is being cited.

Website Example:

Author, A. B. (Publication date). Title of page [Format description when necessary]. Retrieved from https://www.anyaddress.com

Photo and Image Citations

Did you know you need to cite images? It is important to give credit to anything that you use within your paper, and that includes images. Image citations can take a couple of formats depending on whether or not they have an author.

Example With Author:

Author, A. B. (Year). Title of the artwork [Format]. Retrieved from URL

PowerPoint APA Citations

Lecturers love to share their PowerPoint presentations and they can make great sources in your research. But, it is important to cite a PowerPoint presentation correctly. That includes PowerPoint reference lists that your teacher might ask you to create. To correctly cite a PowerPoint presentation, you’ll include the author, publication, title and URL if one is available.

Example:

Author, A. B. (year of publication). Title of presentation: Subtitle of presentation [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from URL

Annotated Bibliography

While your paper will typically end with your references, you might also be asked to create an annotated bibliography. An annotated bibliography in APA style not only includes each APA citation, but also an overview of the source authority, information and value it adds to your research.

Writing Your APA Paper

Writing an APA paper can be quite a process. To make sure that every paper has a clean, uniform look, the APA created a nifty style guide. While it might seem like a lot of work your first time around, you can simplify your life by trying a bibliography generator to take the work out of creating proper citations for your research paper. You can also check out MLA format and Chicago citations.

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