APA Citation Format Explained in a Simple Way

APA In-Text Citation

APA style citation is the brainchild of the American Psychological Association and, as such, it is most commonly used in writing for the behavioral sciences niche. APA format in-text citation is only one of several citation formats. Other examples include MLA format, and Chicago.

As anyone who has ever had the task for writing a research paper will agree, it is in good practice to properly cite your sources whenever you plan to use some work authored by someone else, either directly or indirectly. In fact, forging proper article citation is viewed as plagiarism – whether you meant to do it or not. Is plagiarizing illegal or not? The punishment for plagiarism can be as drastic as immediate expulsion from school.

In the proceeding paragraphs, you will find the information necessary to assist in authoring and citing your paper in accordance to the APA (American Psychological Association) guidelines. You will also find the information needed to better understand APA format in-text citation and the corresponding reference – or Works Cited – list.

How to Write and Organize Your Research Paper

The proceeding section will focus on the proper way to format and organize a research paper, including corresponding APA citation methods.

How long should your paper be?

Keeping in mind that the APA format is most often utilized in the sciences fields, the general consensus has always been that ‘less is more.’ You should be able to clearly convey your point, while being both direct and professional. It is best to avoid the ‘fluff’ and to steer clear of any ‘unnecessary’ details. Following this approach will keep your paper short and on track.

How to properly use headings:

Headings are very important part of any paper. They serve the purpose of keeping the paper organized and also making it easy for readers to quickly navigate to relevant sections of the paper. Additionally, headings present anyone reading the paper with the ability to quickly view the main point, primary content or any other piece of information they may want to read about.

In the APA  style citation there are five main levels of headings, and each level serves a specific purpose.

Level One: The largest and most prominent heading size

  • level one is reserved for the title of the paper
  • The title should be centered across the top of the page
  • The title should always be bolded
  • Follow proper title capitalization

Level Two

  • Level two is slightly smaller than level one
  • The level is flush against the left side margin
  • This level uses bold font

Level Three

  • This level should be slightly smaller than level two
  • This level is indented from the left margin
  • This level uses bolded font
  • One capitalize the first word

Level Four

  • Level four is slightly smaller than level three
  • This level is indented from the left margin
  • This level is both bolded and italicized
  • Only the first word is capitalized

Level Five

  • This will be the smallest heading
  • This level is indented from the left margin
  • This level is italicized
  • Only the first word is capitalized

Below you will find a visual depiction of what each level of heading should look like.

Example of citation:

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Couponing in America

(Level One)

How Families Save Money on Groceries by Couponing

(Level Two)

            Coupon Stacking

(Level Three)

     Manufacturer’s Coupons

(Level Four)


(Level Five)

Tips to Make You a Better Writer

Authoring a paper intended for review in scientific circles is much more specialized than writing a typical English paper is. These types of papers must be direct, concise, and well researched. Below you will find a number of APA and article citation related tips and techniques that you should consider when drafting your paper.

Proper Verbiage

Research observations and other experimental pursuits often depend on the formulation and analysis of specific data in order to test hypothesis and to come to conclusions. When sharing your methods and results, you will need to be mindful of the verbs you choose to use in your writing and make certain that you are using them in the same tense throughout the duration of the paper.

For example: The solution was tested in order to identify all possible chemical reactions would make little sense if the sentence Field researchers often examine solutions by viewing them under a microscope.

This is because the first part of the sentence is written in past tense and the second part is written in present tense. The APA 6th Edition Citation Manual has the following recommendations:

  • Use past tense or present perfect tense whenever explaining a procedure or test
  • Use past tense whenever explaining the results of a test
  • Use present tense when explaining the conclusion or any potential future implications


Tone is equally as important as speaking in the proper tense. Despite the fact that your paper may lack the fluff and added detail that is found in other writing compositions, that doesn’t mean that it should be boring or unengaging for the reader. It is suggested to consider who your audience might be and tailor your writing in a fashion that both speaks to and educates them.

Labels and Bias

APA formats seriously object to the inclusion of any sort of gender, racial, age, and disability or sexual orientation biases. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Include information related to sexual orientation only if it is relevant to the study or topic.
  • If you must write about an individual’s orientation or another characteristic, make sure to put the person before the label. IE: Men who are overweight and not Overweight men
  • Stay away from narrow terms like ‘the elderly’ and instead use terms like ‘participants’
  • Be cautious of using terms that end in ‘man’ or ‘men’ if there were subjects who are female.
  • When describing subjects, those under the age of twelve are ‘boys and girls’, those between the ages of thirteen and seventeen are adolescents or young people, those over the age of eighteen are adults, etc.

APA Book Citation

There are a few things that must be considered when citing your work under APA guidelines, for example APA in text citation when there is no author or citation for multiple authors. Most often, however, APA citation follows the same basic format:

Contributor. (Date of publication). Title of Work. Publication Information.

The primary contributors to the piece being cited, more often than not the name of the author(s), will be placed just before the publication date and the title of the work. In the event that more than one (but less than eight) authors contributed, the names will be arranged in the same order they are listed on the original source. First and middle initial, and whole surname.


One author: Jones, M.L. (Date). Title.

Two authors:  Jones, M.L., Smith, K. (Date). Title.

Three authors: Jones, M.L., Smith, K., & Carson, T.S. (Date). Title.

Eight or more authors: Jones, M.L. , Smith., K., Carson, T.S., Smythe, K., Nicolas, M., …(Date). Title.

Once you’ve noted the contributor information, and the title information, next it is necessary to cite the publication information. The template used will change depending on the type of publication.

For example:


Smith, K.F. (Date of publication). Book title. City, State: Publisher name.


Smith, K.F. (Date of publication). Article title. Magazine Title, Volume, Page(s).

APA Journal Citation

Following the above principles, the method used for citing material taken from a journal would look like:

Smith, K.F. (Date of publication). Article title. Journal Title, Volume (Issue), Page(s).

APA Citation Example

Lastly, those authoring research papers might choose to include brief parenthetical citations to call attention to the fact that they’ve referenced someone else’s work in their paper. Typically, parenthetical (in-text) citations will include the surname of the original contributor and the year of first publication. In the event that a quote has been used, the relevant page number will also be included.

When some of the necessary information has been include in the body, near to the material itself, it is appropriate to omit it from the parenthetical citation. APA in-text citations most often appear at the conclusion of a sentence.

For example:

The effects of harm reduction programs on drug use in urban centers needs further study (Smith 2016).

Now, had the author had been mentioned in the sentence, it would have looked like this:

According to Smith, the effects of harm reduction programs on drug use in urban centers required further study (2016).

The process is the same if there is more than one contributor:

The effects of harm reduction programs on drug use in urban centers needs further study (Smith & Jones, 2016).

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