Answered By: Hayley Hughes
Last Updated: Feb 19, 2019     Views: 3249

How to reference using the APA system

The American Psychological Association (APA) developed a set of standards that writers in the social sciences follow to create consistency throughout publications. These rules address:

  • Crediting sources
  • Document formatting
  • Writing style and organisation

APA's guidelines assist readers in recognizing a writer's ideas and information, rather than having to adjust to inconsistent formatting. In this way, APA allows writers to express themselves clearly and easily to readers. Each University has a slightly different way of using the APA style.
 

Click here to see Roehampton's Referencing Guidelines.

 

There are two parts to referencing using the APA System:

  • In-text citations: this means acknowledging, within your text (assignment), the sources that you have used.
  • The reference list: these are the details of the sources you have used. You list them in alphabetical order at the end of your work. 

Citing in the text of your work

With each quotation or paraphrase that appears in your assignments there must be some acknowledgement of where that information comes from. In academic writing we call this acknowledgement a citation. The form of the citation will vary depending on the type of referencing style you are using. For the APA style we use an in-text citation i.e. the citation appears within the sentences and paragraphs of your assignment. This citation is a brief summary of the source used, normally just mentioning the author’s surname and/or a date/page number depending on the source you are using, surrounded by round brackets (parentheses). For example:

Direct quote: "It has been said that “all children learn through play” (Smith, 2003, p. 112).

OR 

Paraphrase: Julia Smith (2003, p.17) believes that learning through play is an activity that helps children learn.

How to cite works with no obvious author 

If possible, try to avoid citing works where the author is not obvious, as it's difficult to know if the source is credible and suitable to use. If you do need to cite a work which appears to have no author, use 'Anonymous' instead. For example:

Anonymous. (2011). How to be a famous author. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

However, if it is a reference to newspapers where no author is given the name of the paper can be used in place of author or Anonymous whichever seems most helpful. You will need to use the same style in the reference list so the name of the newspaper may be more helpful.  

"The Times (2007) stated that... "

Web resources should be treated slightly differently. If you are citing a web page in the text, you should cite by the author if there is one clearly stated. If there is no author you should cite by the title. If neither author nor title is available use the URL. 

"The latest study (http://www.........., 2006) revealed... "

How to cite works with no publication date

If there is no obvious publication date in the work you want to reference, use the abbreviation n.d. to denote this.

"Morris (n.d.) has argued that..." 

In your reference list, the publication would be listed as: 

"Morris, D. (n.d.) History of Business"

Full bibliographic citations (reference list)

Bibliographical references given at the end of your text should be sufficient to fully identify the publications referred to in the text. The first two parts of the reference, the authors surname and the date, provide the link to the citation you made in the text. A reference list listing all of the sources you have cited appears at the end of your work with the citations listed in alphabetical order of the author's surname. 

A key rule to remember when compiling your reference list is that it should include references only for those texts/resources that you have in-text citations for and vice versa. So if you don't have an in-text citation for (Freud, 1900) for example, then this should not appear in your final reference list. If you have read Freud's book of 1900 then you can include a separate bibliography, that includes books or texts you referred to but did not cite/reference. Similarly, if you do cite (Freud, 1900) in your text, then it must appear as a full reference in your reference list. It is worth cross checking in both directions before you submit your work. Or get someone to go through your work spotting all the in text citations and reading them to you while you check their is a reference for it in your list (and vice versa).

Secondary referencing

Citing a source that is cited within another source is called secondary referencing.

It is advisable to read the original source whenever possible so that you understand the original source in context, rather than another author’s personal interpretation.

Important: If you cannot access the original source you can include the secondary reference as a citation in your work, as ‘cited in.’ In the reference list, use the source you read it in.

Examples of good and bad paraphrasing, and plagiarism

If you are describing someone's ideas or theories but not quoting the text directly you need to paraphrase the text so that it is in your own words.  Here is an example of good and less good paraphrasing.

The original text:

Our study identifies a major obstacle for integrating mental health initiatives into global health programmes and health service delivery, which is a lack of consensus on a definition, and initiates a global, interdisciplinary and inclusive dialogue towards a consensus definition of mental health (Manwell, et al, 2014, p. 265). 

Here is well paraphrased text:

A study by Manwell, et al (2014) identified the fact that there is no agreed definition of mental health amongst health professionals as a key barrier to the successful integration of mental health programmes into international health programmes and their delivery.  They recommend a dialogue amongst relevant professionals to agree a definition as a next step.

 Here is a less well paraphrased text, which doesn't mention where the information came from:

A study showed that there is not agreed definition of mental health in the health field and this gets in the way of integrating mental health programmes into international programmes on health and in the way of their delivery.  They suggested there should be a global discussion to get consensus on the definition of mental health.

So the example above is guilty of poor referencing (no in text citation to the actual authors, year of publication). It is also guilty of Poor Academic Quality (PAQ) because the wording has not been paraphrased enough in the author's own words. If this occurs a reasonable amount in a piece of work then the grader may limit the grade for that work to a maximum of 55/100. 

Here is a third example:

I think that a major obstacle for integrating mental health initiatives into global health programmes and health service delivery, is a lack of consensus on a definition, and that there should be a global, interdisciplinary and inclusive dialogue towards a consensus definition of mental health.

This is plagiarism. The 'student' in this instance is presenting someone else's written word as their own and has not referenced it at all. This could lead to a high Turnitin score and to work being investigated by the Academic Integrity panel.  

And a final example:

Marshal et al's (2014) study identifies a major obstacle for integrating mental health initiatives into global health programmes and health service delivery, which is a lack of consensus on a definition, and initiates a global, interdisciplinary and inclusive dialogue towards a consensus definition of mental health.

While in this example, the 'student' does include a reference, they haven't identified the text as being a direct quote.  To do this correctly and avoid Poor Academic Practice they should have done the following:

Marshal et al's (2014) study 'identifies a major obstacle for integrating mental health initiatives into global health programmes and health service delivery, which is a lack of consensus on a definition, and initiates a global, interdisciplinary and inclusive dialogue towards a consensus definition of mental health' (p. 1).

Or 

A study by Marshal et al 'identifies a major obstacle for integrating mental health initiatives into global health programmes and health service delivery, which is a lack of consensus on a definition, and initiates a global, interdisciplinary and inclusive dialogue towards a consensus definition of mental health' (Marshal et al, 2014, p. 1).

Note that you need to include a page number in the in-text citation for direct quotes (you don't need to include the page number in your final reference list but it is acceptable under APA style to do so).  You shouldn't include a page number if you are paraphrasing, though again APA style does permit it if you want to include it.

Additional resources

For more in-depth information about referencing and using good academic practice, see this Skill Unit.

To see how our Writing Centre staff can help you improve your citing and referencing, go here.

Need more help? Contact us here.

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