How to cite a paper using APA referencing style


APA is an acronym for American Psychological Association. This is a group that is concerned with setting up efficient citing and referencing styles for excellent academic or general writings.  APA started in 1892 and has grown to be the largest scientific and psychological organization worldwide. It is concerned with making writers to communicate their ideas clearly, logically, effectively and concisely as they pursue their professional careers.  Over time, the association has developed a format and referencing style for scholarly writing which is mainly used in social sciences, Psychology, sociology, economics, criminology and linguistics.  APA Format is recommended in writing of articles, research papers, journals and books in those fields.  The latest APA guidelines edition (7th edition) has developed referencing styles in two areas that makes it easier for student research papers. The first is the student paper and the second is the professional manuscript.  Examples in these areas are presented in the APA website.

How to cite an APA research Paper

            Citing involves quoting, mentioning or referring to other peoples’ works in your writings, particularly in research papers and professional manuscripts.  Citing in an APA research paper requires you to do it within the text of the research paper.  This is done by putting in parenthesis the last name of the author followed by the publication date. The following is an APA citation example:

APA style is an easy citation format for first-time learners (Smith, 1998).

If the author’s name is in the sentence, then the publication date is the only one placed in parenthesis immediately after the name, for example,

According to Smith (1998), APA style is an easy citation format for first-time learners.

The first style is called parenthetical citation and the second one is narrative citation.  In a case where the authors a book are two, say Smith and Jones, then the parenthetical citation and narrative citation will be (Smith & Jones, 1998) and … Smith and Jones (1998) respectively.  For three or more authors, the citation will be (Smith et. al, 1998). More on the in-text citation can be accessed at the APA website.All sources in your in-text citing are then listed at the end of the paper in the reference page for APA.  Note that all forms of citation and referencing cannot be addressed fully in this case.  We are only giving a few examples to illustrate the APA style. In supporting APA style and online learning, Purdue University has developed an Online Writing Lab (OWL) that provides online writing skills in conjunction with APA.  As a result of this, Purdue OWL APA Citation strives to develop and enhance writing standards following APA citation and referencing guidelines. More information on Purdue OWL APA Citation can be accessed on their website. This collaboration aims at bringing up students and professionals who are conscientious and respectful as writers in any academic field.

What is APA referencing style?

            APA referencing style is one of the several style guides designed to give rules on how to format, cite sources and make references in a professional or academic write up.  It relies on in-text citation rather than footnotes and endnotes. The general APA guidelines include the following: –

  • Your work must be typed in a font that is clear and legible. Use one font style throughout the paper. Typing instructions will also be given by your instructors during the assignment.  However, in case the font style to be used is not provided, you can use either of the following: –
  • 12-point Times New Roman
  • 11-point Calibri
  • 11-point Arial
  • 11-point Georgia
  • 10-point Lucida Sans Unicode
  • 10-point Serif or
  • 10-point Computer Modern
  • Use 8.5” x 11” paper layout with 1” margin on all sides
  • Your lines should be double spaced throughout the paper
  • Your page number should be inserted at the top right corner, beginning from the title page as page 1.
  • For professional writing, include a “running head” in the header flushed at the top left corner. The running head should be a short title of the paper written in capital letters.  This should not exceed 50 characters including spacing.

What are the Basic structures of APA referencing style?

            Basically, APA referencing has the following sections whether the paper is for a student or written for professional purposes: –

  1. Title Page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Body section
  5. Conclusion
  6. Referencing page

Title page

The APA title page should have the title of the paper typed in bold, upper and lower cases, and centered in the top half part of the title page.  Below the title, type the name of the author of the paper, the college of affiliation, and the place where this research was conducted.  The order of the author’s names should be first name, middle name and last name without titles such as Dr. or PhD.  For a student paper, course or students’ number, name of the instructor and date when the assignment is due should be indicated below the author’s name, and there is no author’s note.  If it is a professional paper, the author’s note should be written below the author’s name, and in the bottom half of the title page.  The typing should be double spaced throughout the page.


The abstract begins on a new page.  The word abstract should be typed at the center of the first line of the page in bold.  It should not be italicized, underlined or in quotation marks.  The second line should not be indented but flash the left margin as you type the information on the abstract.  The abstract is a single paragraph write up, and double spaced.  In case you are including key words in your abstract, the list of the key words should be indented and italicized.  Generally, the abstract states the research question, results, data analysis, implications of the research, conclusion and future prospects. The number of words in the abstract should be about 250.

Introduction, body and conclusion

The introduction should state the purpose of the research, and describe the thesis statement.  The body section has methodology, research findings, analysis and evaluation of data, and discussion, then conclusion section.  All these must be double spaced following in-text citation guidelines.  Proper nouns must be capitalized.  When making quotations longer than 40 words, start a fresh line and indent the quotation from the margin by half inch.  The quotations must be double spaced.  Otherwise, use quotation marks and parenthetical citation comes after the closing quotation marks.  When paraphrasing another author’s work, make reference to the author at the end of the paraphrased work.  Level 1 heading must be in boldface and centered, then your texts begin on a new paragraph.  Level 2 headings flush left and are boldface.  Level 3 headings flush left, are bold and italicized.  Level 4 headings are in boldface, indented and end with a period.  Text does not begin on a new line but is continued on the same line after the period.  Level 5 headings are boldface, indented and italicized, ending with a period.  The text also continues on the same line after the period.  In all headings above, the title case should be used.  Numbers in the text should be written in words up to nine. The rest should be written in figures.  The language used should be free of any biasness as regards gender, disability, race, ethnicity, age and sexual orientations.  Use language that places the person first, for example, a boy with epilepsy and not an epileptic boy. APA tenses must also be observed when writing different sections of your paper. In literature review, methods and procedure descriptions, use past tense and present perfect tenses. When reporting results from other researchers or from your findings, use past tense. When making your personal observations and views, use past, present perfect and present tenses. Use present tense for discussions, implication of results, previous statements, conclusions, limitations and presentations.

What are the strategies to use in APA referencing to avoid plagiarism?

            Plagiarism is a serious offence in writing practices whether it was done intentionally or unintentionally. Through APA referencing, a writer can avoid plagiarism by using the following strategies: –

  • Do proper in-text citations to acknowledge the owners of the original ideas.
  • Get copyright permission from the copyright owner before using their material for example using or reprinting images, licensed texts and tables or figures.
  • Check out typing errors in the name of the author cited and in the reference list you provide. Major errors can lead to plagiarism.
  • Use plagiarism-checkers like iThenticate, HelioBLUST or Turnitin to ensure that your work is plagiarism free and citations are correctly done.
  • Avoid self-plagiarism, that is, presenting your own previously published work as original work in your paper. You should also avoid using the same paper in several classes without permission from your instructors.
  • Use quotation marks in short quotations.
  • Your citations must appear in the APA reference page correctly typed. A citation that does not appear in the reference list may lead to plagiarism.
  • Original sources must be quoted when paraphrasing their content. Credit must be given to the author of the original ideas.

DO’s and DON’TS in APA referencing


  • Follow the recommended format and style of writing for APA.
  • You must use A4 size paper with one inch all round and insert a running head.
  • Citation must be done within the text following the author-date format.
  • Follow the APA citation example for every section of your paper provided on the APA website.
  • All your lines must be double spaced throughout the paper.
  • Your language must be clear and concise making communication to be clear direct and undoubtful.
  • Align all table and figures to the left.
  • Begin pagination from the title page. The page number should be at the top right end.
  • The reference list must be arranged in an alphabetic order of the authors’ names.


  • Do not mix the fonts in your paper. Use only one font style throughout the paper.
  • Use of bias language and pop culture is not acceptable
  • Do not use slang, derogatory language or create humor in your write up.
  • Footnotes or endnotes should not be used.

How to reference a research paper in APA 7th edition

All citation in the text of the paper must be properly referenced in the list on the reference page for APA correctly without errors. The reference list is double spaced.  When the reference covers two or more lines, the lines beginning from the second should be typed with a hanging indent of half inch. You can access more about 7th edition APA citation and referencing on their website:  However, a few common APA referencing examples are given below: –


Start with the author’s last name in full followed by initials of the first and middle name. Then the year of publication in parenthesis, title of the book in italics and lastly the name of the publisher. For example: –

By one author

Kimmel, M.S. (2007).  The gendered society. Oxford University Press.

By two authors

DiFonzo, N., & Bordia, P. (2007).  Rumor Psychology. Social and Organizational Approaches.

American Psychology Association.

By three or more authors

Backhouse, J. K., et. al. (1985).  Pure Mathematics 2.  Longman Group Limited.

No author

The universal declaration of human rights. (1974). U.S. Catholic Conference, Division of Latin America.

E-Books With a doi

Gillam, T. (2018). Creativity, wellbeing and mental health practice. Wiley Blackwell

E-Books without a doi (cite the same as a print book)

Lauwers, J. (Eds.). (2018). Psychology and the classics: a dialogue of disciplines. De


From a website

Sanger, M., (2000). Woman and the new race.

(Original work published 1920).

There are more guidelines and examples in the APA website, and the Purdue OWL APA website on how to reference a journal article, newspaper article, scientific magazine, chapter in a book, thesis, dissertation, websites and many other sources.

Difficulties in APA referencing

The difficulties in APA referencing stem from the fact that there are periodical changes to formatting, citation and referencing guidelines.  However, the changes are necessary due technological changes in the world of communication.  This makes the APA to stick to given standards and since the suggestions cover almost all forms of writing, APA becomes complicated and difficult to follow all details of the style.

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