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8.1: Citing Sources and APA Style Details

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    Why We Cite - The Scholarly Conversation


    Citing a source means you've taken the time to think critically about the information you're taking in. You've made sure your sources establish credibility by telling you how they gained their knowledge (citing their sources) or came to their conclusions (describing their research). Now, you are asked to do the same in your research and writing assignments; acknowledge those that helped build your knowledge by giving them credit in the form of a citation.

    When you're asked to think about why it’s important to cite sources, students often go straight to the negative, "I need to cite properly or I'll be accused of plagiarizing." While it's true this is part of the reason your instructors are so big on citations, there's actually a much more positive side. Citing sources allows you to:

    • Appreciate the work of others who've researched and studied topics before you. This is where the Google Scholar tagline comes from: "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants."
    • Spread information and encourage future research by sharing information about the sources that were meaningful to you in your own exploration.
    • Show that you belong to a scholarly community and speak the "language" of the group. This is why there are different citation formats for different disciplines of study like APA and MLA.

    Think about all the conversations you might have in a day. You might text your best friend as soon as you wake up. You might answer your mother’s phone call as you walk to class. You might participate in an all-staff discussion and meeting at work. You know how to navigate these conversations; you take time to listen and take in information and you contribute by sharing your own ideas and feelings.

    You will use those same skills in college to take part in a scholarly conversation. You are "listening" by exploring new topics and gaining new knowledge through lectures, discussions, readings, research, and more. You are contributing by completing assignments like research papers, speeches, and other academic projects. A writing style, like APA, is part of this. It helps you navigate this scholarly conversation in a meaningful way.

    Remember that research and taking part in scholarly conversations takes time and can be complicated. You wouldn't just push your way into a table of friends and immediately take over the conversation (at least I hope you wouldn't). Instead, you ease in and listen to what's going on; maybe ask some questions to get some background and figure out how the conversation started, where it's going, and how you might contribute.

    Think of your scholarly conversations in similar terms. Take time to understand your topic, look at different perspectives, find quality information to build your knowledge, and then jump in and add to the conversation with a well researched paper or speech. And when you do it, show that you respect this community of scholars by following the rules and citing your sources.

    This short video from Clemson University will help you wrap your head around this idea of a scholarly conversation with a visual representation. It's another way to help you understand how you too are part of this conversation.

    clemson university library's joining the (scholarly) conversation video.

    Using Sources Effectively

    We've established why it's important to cite sources, and we know the basics of when a citation is required, but how do we keep ourselves organized to avoid unintentional plagiarism?

    Preventing plagiarism starts at the beginning of your research assignment as you gather your sources. Here are a few tips:

    1. Use Your Critical Reading Skills: Anytime you find a source to use in your research, read it, "talk to the text," and make notes of the useful information. You can do this by printing and highlighting, saving documents with comments in Google Drive, or writing index cards with information from each source. If you create an outline for your paper, start filling in the sources that support each of the points of your outline. Whatever your organization method, make sure that you can easily identify the information you want to include in your paper and the source where it came from.
    2. Cite in the First Draft: A common mistake that many students make is not including citations in early drafts of their paper, or only including something informal (like one word to describe the source they used). This habit can lead to confusion in later drafts when you’re trying to go back and include citations. Solve this problem by writing your full citation as soon as you start inserting information from your sources in your first draft. Including the citation right away will ensure that as you reorganize and improve your drafts, you don’t accidentally overlook or mistakenly cite information incorrectly.
    3. Get Help: There’s no way you can master all of the citation styles that are out there, and as a student you are still learning about the writing process. Take advantage of resources like the college reading and writing center, the tutoring center, and the library for assistance with including information from sources effectively. A librarian can review your citations and give you tips for organizing your research. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

    Rules of Academic Writing & Citation Styles

    Just about everything in life has rules. There are rules on the basketball court, rules when you're playing chess, rules when you're driving a car, and there are rules in academic writing too.

    As a college student, learning and understanding these rules helps show your instructors that you're a serious student and that you respect not only yourself, but the people who are helping you build your knowledge.

    These rules of academic writing vary depending on what you're studying and come in different styles (APA, MLA, Chicago to name a few), but the idea behind them is the same. They help you create an organized paper, and ensure that you acknowledge the people whose words and ideas inspired your work. In this class, we're focusing on APA Style.

    What is APA Style?

    APA, which stands for the American Psychological Association, is an organization devoted to the study of psychology. The organization itself dates back to the late 1800s, but in the 1920s, a group of social scientists recognized the importance of having some consistency in their writing, and APA Style was born.

    APA Style is now used by many disciplines, including social and behavioral sciences like psychology, sociology, communication studies, and library science.

    These rules of writing help create consistency in communication and research, which not only helps those who are creating new content, but also those who are consuming it. As a college student you will take part in this scholarly conversation by consuming (learning and doing research) and creating (writing papers and completing other academic projects).

    When to Cite

    In academic writing, you're asked to recognize those who've helped build your knowledge and ideas. This is done in the form of a citation and it tells your reader (usually your instructor) where you got your information.

    You will always cite your sources twice.


    1. The first time is in the body of the paper with a short citation. In APA style, it's the author's last name, date, and if it's a direct quote, a page number.
    2. Then you cite a second time at the end of your paper with a references list. These references have all the details your reader would need to get back to the original source like author name(s), article or book titles, dates, and a few other key elements. We'll explore the references list later in the the lesson.

    It's important to cite your sources every time you’re using ideas or information from someone else. This includes when you summarize information, paraphrase, or use a direct quote.

    APA Citation Basics

    The next several sections will give you a very brief overview of your in-text citations and your references list. The information is meant to introduce you to formatting, but is in no way an exhaustive list of possible scenarios.

    It's not realistic or useful to try to memorize every rule or detail of an APA citation. Instead, it's better to understand the basics and then know where to go when you need more information or help. The last section of this week's lesson will point you to more resources that will be helpful when you have specific source citation questions.

    References List Basics

    The second part of your citation is an entry in the references list at the end of your paper. This citation is much longer than the in-text citation and includes all the important elements to allow your reader to find the original source, including names of author(s), book or article titles, dates, and other information. Here are some details to keep in mind when formatting your references page:

    • References should start on a new page with a centered and bolded References heading.
    • Sources should be listed in alphabetical order by the first element of the citation (this is usually the author’s last name).
    • References should include a hanging indent meaning the first line of the citation is flush with the left margin and all subsequent lines are indented 1/2 inch. This allows your reader to easily see when one citation ends and a new one begins.
    • When referring to books, chapters, article titles, or web pages, only the first letter of the first word of the title and subtitle is capitalized, excluding proper nouns.
    • Titles of publications are italicized, including books, journals, and magazines.
    • Every source you used in the body of your paper should be included in the references list, with a couple exceptions.
      • Any personal communication like an email or interview you conducted is cited in-text only (in the body of your paper). The reason for this is that your references are designed to point the reader to the original source so they can explore it further. In these cases, your reader wouldn’t have access to your personal email or notes you took during an interview, so it's not appropriate to include the information in your list of references.
      • If you describe an entire website, but don't refer to a specific fact or idea from the site, you would not need to include it in your list of references. Simply list the URL in an in-text citation.

    Here is an example of a References page from an APA formatted paper.

    Anatomy of an APA Citation

    APA citations contain the following information:

    • Author name(s)
    • Publication date
    • Title of the work
    • Publication data (like name of magazine, volume number, page numbers, etc.)
    • DOI shown as a hyperlink (if available) - DOI stands for digital object identifier and is most often associated with academic journal articles.


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    APA Style tries to alleviate any potential gender bias by only including last names and initials of authors. Even if a full name is included on the source, only list the last name and first and middle initials (if given).

    One Author Example

    Bond, E.

    Two Authors Example:

    Bond, E. & Adkins, A.

    Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

    A DOI is a digital object identifier and it's associated with electronic content, most often academic journal articles. It is often displayed at the top header or bottom footer of the article. If no DOI is listed, you can search a website to try to find it:

    1. In the search box at the top, select "Search metadata"
    2. Search by title or author to see if you can find a DOI for your source. A DOI hyperlink is preferred over a URL to the source.



    If an electronic book includes a DOI (digital object identifier), it should be included in the citation. If no DOI is present or doesn't appear on, and the book was accessed from a website (other than a library database), include the website URL.

    If the  eBook was obtained from a Library Database, such as EBSCO, it is likely available from other providers as well, which means it's not necessary to include the database information or URL. It is appropriate to include the version information (e.g. Kindle version) of eBook citations. APA has more information about how to use DOIs and URLs on its website.

    Basic format for a print book citation:

    Author last name, first/middle initial. (Year). Title of book. Publisher.


     McAdoo, M.L. (2010). Building bridges: Connecting faculty, students, and the college library. American Library Association.

    Basic format for an eBook citation:

    Author last name, first/middle initial. (Year). Title of book [version information]. DOI or URL


    Brundage, E. (2016). All things cease to appear: A novel [Kindle version].  Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

    Journal Articles

    If a journal article includes a DOI (digital object identifier), it should be included in the citation. The DOI is often located in the top header or bottom footer of the page. If no DOI is present and can't be found on, and the article was obtained from a website, include the website URL. If the article was obtained from a Library Database, such as EBSCO, it is likely available from other providers as well, which means it's not necessary to include the database information or URL. APA has more information about how to use DOIs and URLs on its website.

    Basic format for a journal article citation:

    Author last name, first/middle initial. (Year) Title of article. Title of journal, volume(issue number), pages. DOI or URL

    Journal Article from a Library Database with a DOI:

    Nichols-Hess, A., Greer, K., Lombardo, S.V., & Lim, A. (2015). Books, bytes, and buildings: The academic library's unique role in improving student success. Journal of Library Administration, 55(8), 622-638. 10.1080/01930826.2015.1085241

    Journal Article from a Website, no DOI:

    Sparks, K. (2017). Applying the creative process to library branding. Marketing Libraries Journal, 1, 30-39.

    Magazine Articles

    If a magazine article includes a DOI (digital object identifier), it should be included in the citation. If no DOI is present or can't be found on and the article was obtained from a website, include the website URL. If the article was obtained from a Library Database, such as EBSCO, it is likely available from other providers as well, which means it's not necessary to include the database information or URL. APA has more information about how to use DOIs and URLs on its website.

    Basic format for a magazine article citation:

    Author last name, first/middle initial. (Date) Title of article. Title of magazine, volume(issue number), pages. DOI or URL (if applicable)

    Magazine Article from a Library Database with no DOI:

    Begley, S. (2016, September 26). Carla Hayden. Time, 188(12), 64.

    Magazine Article from a Website, no DOI:

    Weiner, J. (2010, April 14). The entirety of Twitter is heading to the Library of Congress. Vanity Fair.

    Note about above example: Notice Twitter and Library of Congress are capitalized in the title because they are proper nouns.

    Newspaper Articles

    Newspaper article citations are slightly different than other article citations in that you'll include the abbreviation p. or pp. before listing the page numbers. If the article was obtained from a website, include the website URL. If the article was obtained from a Library Database, such as EBSCO, it is likely available from other providers as well, which means it's not necessary to include the database information or URL.

    Basic format for a newspaper article citation:

    Author last name, first/middle initial. (Date) Title of article. Title of newspaper, pp. # (if available).  URL (if from website)

    Newspaper Article from a Library Database:

    Blakemore, E. (2017, October 17). Major libraries unite to explore the impact that a warmer climate may have on the Arctic. The Washington Post, p. E02.

    Newspaper Article from a Website:

    Magagnini, S. (2015, October 23). Sacramento region's first Holocaust library opens to the public. Sacramento Bee.

    Web Pages

    Sources found on a web page can sometimes be tricky because author and/or date information isn't immediately apparent. Do your best to find as much information as possible so that your citation is useful to your reader. Some exceptions to the basic format:

    • If no date is available, writ (n.d.) in place of the date.
    • If the author is an organization and not a named person or people, use the name of the organization in place of the author and omit it from where the site name usually goes (see the example below).
    • If the information on the website is likely to change over time, include the date you retrieved the information.

    Basic format for a Web Page citation:

    Author last name, first/middle initial. (Date [if no date available list n.d.]) Title of page. Site name. URL.

    Document from a Web Page with Organization as Author:

    Association of College & Research Libraries. (2015, February 5). Framework for information literacy for higher education.

    Document from a Web Page with Author Identified:

    Banks, M. (2017, December 19). Ten reasons libraries are still better than the Internet. American Libraries.

    Document from a Web Page with no Author and likely to change:

    Quantum mechanics. (2020, March 5). Wikipedia. Retrieved March 10, 2020, from

    Using Tools in the Databases


    The great thing about using your college library's research databases is that there are many useful tools built into the technology to help you. One of the most useful is the citation generator. In OneSearch it appears in the "Send To" area of the record. In most other databases, look for a "tools" menu to find the citation generator. You'll choose the APA citation, which you can copy and paste into your References list.

    This is a useful time-saver, but I must include a word of caution. Citation generators are robots that are scraping the information from the source, and sometimes the formatting is off (e.g. having a title in all capital letters). It's up to you to know the basics so you can identify when something looks strange. It's always a good idea to check the generated citation against a style guide and make any needed corrections.

    Reference Management Software

    There are a lot of software options to help researchers manage their source material. You may have heard of some of these reference management products. Endnote, Refworks, Mendeley, and Zotero, among others, all help manage the information gathering and retrieval process.

    In addition to providing one central location for all of your references, these reference managers can:

    • import bibliographic information directly from a library catalog database,
    • provide additional space for personal notations,
    • create a bibliography or list of references in a variety of citation styles such including APA.

    When you transfer to a four-year institution, your academic library will likely provide free access to some form of reference management software.

    If you'd like to try one, Zotero and Mendeley are available for free.

    APA Style Guide

    We are not writing a formal paper in this class, but you'll likely encounter a research paper assignment in your college career that needs to be written in APA Style. The CRC Library's APA Style Guide has more information on formatting a paper, your references list, in text citations, and almost any type of source you might use. This guide will remain available even after this course is complete. You might want to bookmark the link for future use.

    CC BY-NC logoThis chapter was compiled, reworked, and/or written by Andi Adkins Pogue and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

    Original sources used to create content (also licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0 unless otherwise noted):

    Clemson University Library. (2016). Joining the (scholarly) conversation. [Video file.] Note: Listed as CC, but specific CC licensing is not specified in this source.

    Los Rios Libraries. (2020). APA style for community college researchers. Los Rios libraries information literacy tutorials. 

    Manage: Organizing information effectively and ethically. (2016). In G. Bobish & T. Jacobson (Eds.), The information literacy user's guide. Milne Publishing.


    American Psychological Association. (2020). About APA Style.

    American Psychological Association. (2020). Sample Papers. 

    Publication manual of the American Psychological Association: The official guide to APA style (7th ed.). American Psychological Association, 2020.


    8.1: Citing Sources and APA Style Details is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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