Learn and Generate Bibliographies, Citations, and Works Cited

The Basics of APA Citation Format Style


As students enter the research world in middle school, they start learning about new ways to research and format essays. As they progress through high school, this writing and research process becomes more complicated. One of the first things, students learn about research is the need to correctly cite the sources they use in their writing. Understanding the reasons behind using citations is the first step to understanding the process. Students also learn to find primary and secondary sources for their research paper.

Students learning he basics of APA citation format

Understanding Citation Styles

Citation styles are developed by various organizations who need to standardize the way researchers and writers present information to others in their fields. These styles are designed to help researchers present data in different ways. For example, researchers in scientific fields will need to interpret data through the use of tables and graphs, sometimes distilling raw data into a summary. However, researchers in the humanities may be examining historical records, paintings, and film.

The differences in the intent of the research is why there are different styles. There are thousands of different styles; however, most students will use three common styles:

  • APA
  • MLA
  • Chicago/Turabian

APA Style

In middle school or even high school, it is possible you won’t research or write an APA style paper. However, in college classes you will use APA citation format for your social science classes, particularly education and psychology papers.  APA style was developed by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a way to formalize the editorial style for research and writing in the social sciences. Although students learn to use APA citation style and references, it is a publishing style for researchers. APA style covers formatting for arranging your reference list.

Other rules cover how to:

  • punctuate
  • abbreviate
  • create tables
  • use headings
  • present statistics
  • format citations
  • cite references

When to Use APA

Usually you’ll start using APA in college, but it depends on your instructor. These fields use APA:

  • Social Sciences
  • Behavioral Sciences
  • Education
  • Library Information & Science

By standardizing research and writing styles within certain fields, it’s easier for students and researchers to understand the results. It’s also easier to spot each citation style as there are some distinct differences.

How to Spot an APA Citation

One interesting difference in the way APA cited sources are formatted is that the titles of the works are not alphabetized. For example, a book titled APA Citations Styles: A Complete Guide, is written out as APA citation styles: A complete guide. APA uses the author-date style for in-text and source citations, including books, online sources and periodicals.

APA Manual

Chapter six and seven in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition covers citing sources and organizing references. These chapters are the ones students will use the most for formatting their school research papers. It’s helpful to purchase the book for reference. APA maintains a website as well. These styles are updated regularly to account for new developments. APA style manual will release its seventh edition soon.

Technology helps students a great deal these days. Most word processing software apps make it easy to format research papers by setting margins, headers, footers and tabs.

Citations and References

APA uses an author-date style of citation with a reference list. The in-text citations are simple and include the author, date and page number of the cited source. This in-text citation refers to the full source citation listed in the references. In author-date style, the author’s name is followed by the date of publication:


Jones, 1998

Jones summarized that streetlights contribute to light pollution (1998).


Citing your sources protects you from plagiarism and shows your reader (and teacher) that you’ve done thorough researching to back up your thesis or purpose statement.

Publishing an APA paper

Research papers are published in scholarly journals. After an author submits a paper for review, it undergoes a rigorous double-blind, peer reviewed process.

Double-blind means that the author or authors’ names are scrubbed from the manuscript, so the reviewers do not know who the author is, and the authors do not know the reviewers. This process helps maintain the integrity of the review.

Peer-reviewed means that each manuscript is reviewed by others who are at a similar level in the research field. For example, papers submitted by those with doctorate degrees with be reviewed by researchers who hold equal authority in the field. Usually, at least two reviewers are assigned to each manuscript. The editor-in-chief of the journal holds the final decision.

Using journal articles in your research paper is a good way to understand previous research and also keep up with current research. Always check the date of the article and look to see if there are more recent articles that may change the results. Using academic databases available through your school or library helps you find the latest research.

Learning APA Style

Writing an APA style paper is easy to do since you’re following well-established rules. APA style rules covers formatting your paper and in-text and reference list sources. Your instructor will tell you how s/he wants you to prepare and submit your paper. For example, even though an abstract is a formal part of an APA paper, not all instructors require it. Review your assignment rubric, ask your teacher if you don’t understand and you’ll do a great job on your research papers.

Students who plan on going to college should make a good effort to understand how to research and write essays and research papers. College writing is a lot more intense. Having these skills allows you to start college writing with confidence.

Related Articles:

About the author

Adrienne Mathewson

Adrienne Mathewson, Editor-in-Chief of Bibliography.com, is an Information Professional with a Master’s in Library, Information & Science from San José State University with an emphasis on information literacy and scholarly publishing. She is a certified librarian through the State of New Mexico.

Add comment

sixteen − 5 =