A Guide to In-Text Citation Using APA Style
You’re probably somewhat familiar with the concept of citation and some of the reasons there’s an emphasis on citation in academic writing. Here, we’re going to quickly cover the basics of how to reference other sources in the body of your own writing. This writing skill is formally called in-text citation. We’ll be discussing how in-text citation is done using the APA style.
Then, once we’ve covered the how-to basics, we’ll spend a little time discussing the reasoning and importance behind citation and why it’s beneficial for you to take citation seriously in your own writing.
What is in-text citation?
In-text citations are indicators in the body or text of academic writing that inform the reader where the writer is drawing their information from whenever they’re presenting information that isn’t their own. Usually ITCs appear as a parenthetical reference that, depending on the citation style could contain a reference number, but most often contain the name of the author or authors being referenced and a year or page number or sometimes both.
What does it tell the reader?
The in-text citation has two functions. First, it functions as a map, directing the reader to the source of the information being conveyed, first to the reference page on the article itself, and second to the source that author is referencing in their article.
So you want to be sure that whenever you reference something in the text of your paper, you include a full reference in your references section, so your reader can find the exact source you’re drawing your information from (see our references at the bottom of this article). And similar to using a map to find your way around and build connections in the real world, whenever you’re reading scholarly articles, you can use these citations and references to find your way to information you find useful in the articles you read—if you see a citation for something that’s relevant to your topic, follow that reference to the original source to see if it helps you learn more about your topic.
The second function of the in-text citation is to convey information about the source being referenced. These little citations may not seem like they convey a lot of information, but they can potentially tell the reader a few important things. In the case of APA style, the citation tells the reader who is responsible for publishing the information, and when. These two pieces of information are prioritized in APA style, because the name of the researchers might be familiar to the readers of a scientific journal if they’re well-known within a field or specialty, and, because in science, generally the more recent the information you’re referencing is, the more relevant it will be to the scientific discussion currently happening in the field about the topic. The citation can tell the reader whether the writer is using up-to-date information and whether they’re getting it from the leading researchers in the field, all without even having to turn to the references page.
Once you’ve decided what information you’re going to share from the original source and how you’re going to say it, you need to indicate to your reader where you got that information by using an in-text citation. Here’s how to do that using APA style:
For a Single Author
For a single author, you’re simply going to use the author’s last name and a comma, followed by the year of publication, as in the example below (Bolarinwa, 2017). And as the example demonstrates, the citation is considered a part of the sentence itself, so regardless of where you insert the parenthesis in the sentence, it should be inside the punctuation.
A time-saving tip for in-text citations if you take notes on your sources (and you should): include a parenthetical citation for that source on your notes form and simply copy-and-paste this citation whenever you use this source in your paper.
Also, when you use the author’s name in the body of the sentence you’re writing, you only need to use the year in parentheses, like so:
For Two Authors
For an article with two authors provide the last name of both authors separated by an ampersand—the & symbol shown here—a comma after the second author, and the year of publication as in the example here:
For Three or More Authors
For an article with three or more authors, you’re going to use the first author’s last name, just as in the examples above, followed by the Latin abbreviation “et al.” which means “and others,” with “et” meaning “and,” and “al.” short for alii, which means “others” in Latin. After the period (abbreviating alii), you still need to put a comma between the author and the year, but the principle is the same as with one or two authors.
Multiple Sources for a Single Sentence
And for very important points that are key elements of your work, it’s a good idea to cite multiple sources to establish a strong basis for the reader to believe that the key points in the research are well supported. Notice how the authors in the following example cite multiple research papers to support an important idea in their article. Each citation follows the same format as we’ve shown above, only here, the authors separate each citation using a semicolon following the year.
Example quoted from (Traore et al., 2021)