APA style

What is APA Style?

APA Style is a formatting and citation guideline for research papers.

This page uses the seventh edition of APA Style (APA 7e). Before using this page, make sure that you need to use APA 7e and not an older edition of APA Style (APA 6e) or a different set of guidelines such as Chicago or MLA.

If you need to update your writing from a previous APA version, please check our page on transitioning to APA 7e.

APA Style

Quick Guide

APA Style can be broken into 3 main elements: 

  1. In-text citations: These appear in the body of your paper and should:
    • Clearly indicate when information is from a source, and 
    • Provide enough information for your reader to find the source in your references page.
  2. References: References are listed at the end of your paper. This list should have information about every source you used in your paper so that your reader can find them if needed. A References list is similar to a Bibliography or Works Cited page.
  3. Formatting: This is how your paper looks, including spacing, font style and size, page numbers, etc. 

Each time you paraphrase or quote from a source, identify the source to your reader. When you paraphrase, provide the author and year; when you quote, provide the author, year, and page number. Depending on your purposes, you can choose either a parenthetical or a narrative citation.


Ideas you have summarized from a source, but have not used the exact words.


Using a source’s exact words.

Parenthetical Citation

An in-text citation that appears entirely in (parentheses).

Format: Ideas and information paraphrased from a source (Author, year).

Example: Students who attended optional study skills workshops had a greater chance of achieving higher grades (Blake et al., 2019).

Format: Some context or transition to lead in to the "exact words borrowed from the source" (Author, year, page).

Example: A recent study of student plagiarism found that “plagiarism is often a matter of confusion rather than deception” (Horváth & Kovács, 2020, p. 4).

Narrative Citation

An in-text citation that is part of a sentence's structure instead of appearing in parentheses.

Format: Author (year) found/studied/argued/established/etc. some information or ideas.

Example: Blake et al. (2019) found that students who attended optional study skills workshops had a greater chance of achieving higher grades.

Format: According to Author (year), "exact words borrowed" (page).

Example: Horváth and Kovács (2020) argue that “plagiarism is often a matter of confusion rather than deception” (p. 4).

Key terms:

  • A reference entry is for a single source and includes all the information your reader would need to find that source. 
  • References refers to multiple reference entries, or sometimes reference entries in general. 
  • References page or References list is the entire list of reference entries at the end of your paper. 

Most reference entries have four main parts: 

  1. Author – Who wrote/made this source? This is usually a person, group of people, or organisation.
  2. Date – When was this source published?
  3. Title – What is this source called?
  4. Location information – Where can your reader find this source? 

This chart might help that make sense: 

Here are some common examples of reference entries:

The title page goes at the beginning of your paper. 

The body is the main bulk of your paper where you use paragraphs to explain your thoughts and research. You may include Headings in your body to help organize it. 

The References is the page at the end of your paper that lists all your sources. 

Some formatting requirements apply throughout your paper. 

In this video, Dr. Forlenza goes over how to do in-text citations and avoid plagiarism in a student APA paper. There are links to time stamps and a transcript in the video description. Captions are available in the video settings. 
For more explanation and examples, check out Ch. 5 in the APA Guide. 
If you’d like even more detail, the APA Style folks published a webinar: Citing Works in Text Using Seventh Edition APA Style. 

For a visual example of a References page, check out our APA sample paper.

In this video, Dr. Forlenza goes over how to make a reference page for a student APA paper. In the video description, there are links to time stamps, the example document from the video, and a transcript. Captions are available in the video settings. 
For more explanation and examples, check out Ch. 6 in the APA Guide. 
If you’d like even more detail, the APA Style folks published a webinar, Creating References Using Seventh Edition APA Style, a guide to common reference examples, and a page devoted to different types of sources.

In this video, Dr. Forlenza goes over how to set up and format a student APA paper. There are links to time stamps and a transcript in the video description. Captions and different playback speeds are available in the video settings. 
For more explanation and examples, check out Ch. 4 in the APA Guide. 
If you’d like even more detail, the APA Style folks published a webinar, Step-By-Step Guide for APA Style Student Papers, and a Student Paper Setup Guide. 

APA Guides & Tutorials

APA guides tend to be webpages or documents with explanations and examples of how to apply APA Style to your specific situation. They are not meant to be read start-to-finish but instead to be searched when you have a question. For example, if you wanted to know how to write a reference entry for a webpage with no author, you might search an APA guide for “no author” or “webpage.”

The Following APA guides are available through APA Style:

  • The Full APA Style guidelines are printed in the seventh edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association: The Official Guide to APA Style. At 427 pages long, it is very detailed. Available for purchase on the APA website or most university bookstores.
  • The Concise Guide to APA Style or the Mastering APA Style Workbook may be more useful and less intimidating. Available for purchase on the APA website or most university bookstores.
  • The APA Style website. Of the online APA Guides we recommend, this is the most detailed and official, which also means it can be more intimidating.

And these are the most popular APA guides not produced by APA Style:

  • Part 2 of our APA Student Guide. This is available as a free PDF on this webpage. Lethbridge College students, faculty, and staff can also purchase a physical copy from our Bookstore.
  • Purdue Owl’s online guide to APA. This site is popular among students because it’s relatively concise and simple and tends to show up near the top of Google searches. However, it might not have all of the examples and explanations you need. And, if you’re not careful, you can easily find yourself on Purdue Owl’s guide to older APA editions or other citation styles. Make sure you’re on an APA 7e Style page, not an APA 6e or MLA page.

APA tutorials tend to be videos or webpages meant to teach APA Style. While you can skip or skim parts, unlike APA Guides, they are designed to be read/watched from start-to-finish.

Here are the APA tutorials we recommend:

  • Dr. Forlenza has a Youtube playlist on APA Style. We recommend these videos to students a lot because they’re well-made and visual.
  • Basics of Seventh Edition APA Style is designed by APA Style and Academic Writer to teach APA basics. It is almost entirely text-based, but they also offer practice activities for citations and references.
  • Part 1 of our APA Student Guide (3 pages of text followed by an annotated sample paper). The whole guide is available as a free PDF on this webpage. Lethbridge College students, faculty, and staff can also purchase a physical copy from our Bookstore.


There are good reasons to learn APA style, even if you’re only using it because you have to. Here are three reasons:

  1. Credibility – APA makes your work look more professional and sources make your argument stronger. Just like you wouldn’t trust a treatment recommendation from someone without credentials, your sources matter in your research.
  2. Giving credit – It’s important to give credit to others for their work and ideas, especially if you’re using their information for personal gain. Not doing so can get you into serious trouble.
  3. Networking – When you share your sources, you help others learn and create networking opportunities for yourself. You might even get cited back or contacted by authors you’ve cited, which could lead to job opportunities.

Free citation generators usually aren’t accurate enough for APA style, but you can use paid ones in academic databases.

When you use your library’s website to find peer-reviewed and academic articles, there is often a button on the top or side of the screen that says something like “cite” or “reference.” These generators will produce a reference entry that you can copy.

These generators can still make mistakes, so check the information for errors and formatting. Also, make sure it’s using the correct citation style and that the font and color match your paper.

You can try citation generators like Citation Machine and Scribbr to help get you started.

In APA, an image is called a figure. All figures should be labelled (typically with a number and title), but they only need to be cited if you do not own or create them yourself. 

  • So if you made a pie chart for your research paper, you’d give it a number and title, but wouldn’t have to cite it in a figures list. But if you used a screenshot of a pie chart you saw in an article and used that, then you’d have to give it a number and a title AND cite it in a figures list at the end of your paper. 

Re-use of images is governed by copyright law. Most images you see in books and on websites are owned by somebody. Luckily, in Canada, you can legally re-use an image for a school assignment, so long as you indicate the original source, because it is for “educational purposes,” and falls under Fair Dealing.


APA Style is designed for academic papers and articles. If you are applying APA Style to a different kind of written document, you may have to adjust. For example: 

  • If you’re creating a slideshow, your title page will not look like a typical APA title page but should probably include similar information (title, author name, course, institution, etc.). 
  • If you are creating a poster, your References page might be on the back of the poster or included on a hand-out. 
  • If you are writing a reflection paper with no research requirement, you might only use APA formatting but no in-text citations or references. 

If you are working on an assignment and you’re unsure how to apply APA, first check the assignment description/requirements and any assignment samples/exemplars. If that doesn’t clarify, then ask your instructor. 

If your instructor or assignment’s instructions conflict with APA Style, do what your instructor/assignment says. If you’re ever unclear on expectations, ask your instructor for clarification. 

“Indigenous knowledge systems represent the accumulated experience, wisdom, and know-how unique to nations, societies, and/or communities of people living in specific environments of America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. These knowledge systems represent the accumulated knowledge of what was over 70 per cent of the earth’s land mass before the era of colonization in the past few centuries – some ten thousand distinct Peoples and cultures. In the past, Euro-centric knowledge has condescendingly associated Indigenous knowledge with the primitive, the wild, and the natural.” (Gregory Younging, Opaskwayak Cree Nation, 2018, p. 111)

APA Style is designed with the intention of sharing knowledge in an ethical and standardized way. However, those ethics and standards are written from a Western perspective and may conflict with Indigenous Protocols. Colonizers and Western academics have a long history of stealing, misusing, and de-valuing Indigenous Knowledge and Knowledge Keepers. When we learn how to seek and share Indigenous Knowledge according to Indigenous Protocols, we take a small but important step toward healing the wounds of that history. 

APA Style does have a chapter on bias-free writing (pp. 131-49) and a section on “Citing Traditional Knowledge and Oral Traditions of Indigenous People” (pp. 260-61). They also have a webpage on citing Indigenous Knowledge Keepers. This can be a good place to start. However, these recommendations are still limited and written from a Western academic point of view.

Citing Oral Traditional Knowledge

APA Style recommends citing Oral Knowledge from an Elder or Knowledge Keeper the same way you would cite a personal communication (such as an email, interview, text message, etc.). This method excludes the Elder from your references list and fails to acknowledge Community Affiliations and Protocols. But such Knowledge is carefully curated and peer-reviewed and should be listed as an authoritative reference when re-shared. Instead of following the APA guidelines, we recommend using the template published by Lorisia Macleod (James Smith Cree Nation) when citing an Elder or Knowledge Keeper:


Last name, First initial., Nation/Community. Treaty Territory if applicable. Where they live if applicable.

Topic/subject of communication if applicable. personal communication. Month Date, Year.


Weasel Moccasin, P. (Miiniipokaa [Berry Child]), Kainai Nation. Blackfoot Treaty/Treaty 7. Lives in

Standoff. Oral teaching. personal communication. January 29, 2021.

Cardinal, D., Goodfish Lake Cree Nation. Treaty 6. Lives in Edmonton. Oral teaching.

personal communication. April 4, 2004.


When approaching an Elder, be sure to follow their Protocols. If you are unsure of their Protocols, ask ahead of time.

When re-sharing information shared by and Elder, be sure to follow their Protocols for sharing. If you are unsure of their sharing Protocols, ask them. If these Protocols conflict with APA guidelines, follow the Elder’s Protocols. If you’re worried the Elder’s Protocols may conflict with your instructor’s (or publisher’s) guidelines, discuss this with your instructor, preferably before submitting the assignment.


Further Resources

  • For more explanation on the template above, see Lorisia MacLeod’s 2021 paper More than Personal CommunicationL Templates for Citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers, published through KULA: Knowledge Creation, Dissemination, and Preservation Studies 5(1), https://doi.org/10.18357/kula.135
  • The Four Feather Writing Guide published by Royal Roads University is a student writing guide based in Costal Salish Traditions, especially those of the Cowichan Nation (shared through Elder Shirley Alphonse) and SC’I ÁNEW̱ Nation (shared through Elder Nadine Charles).
  • Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing by and about Indigenous Peoples by Gregory Younging (2018) of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, published through Brush Education. This is written as a guide for professional writers and publishers, but is exceptionally accessible yet informative.
  • Indigenous Information Literacy published through Kwantlen Polytechnic and authored by Rachel Chong is available as an open resource online. This resource outlines guidelines to ethically seek and verify Traditional Knowledge and reshare that knowledge in an academic setting.
  • “Re-Defining Academic Integrity: Embracing Indigenous Truths,” authored by Yvonne Poitras Pratt and Keeta Gladue, which appears in Chapter 5 of Academic Integrity in Canada (2022), available as an open-source PDF download here. Pratt and Gladue include a full Relational Acknowledgement on p. 104, but speak from a primarily Cree and Michif (Cree-Métis) Perspective.
  • Principles of Indigenous Academic Integrity, both a video and PDF booklet prepared by Keeta Gladue (Sucker Creek Cree and Métis Nations), available here.
  • Simon Fraser University and Norquest College Library provide further examples of APA-style in-text citations and reference entries for citing Elders. 
  • Your local Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and Elders. 
  • Your institution’s Indigenous Services/Department, and/or staff/faculty, provided it is in their job description or interest to support you in this manner. 

Lethbridge College students, staff, and faculty can get support learning, applying, and teaching APA through workshops, appointments, email, etc. by contacting theLearning Café. 

Many students find it challenging to rephrase others’ ideas effectively. If you struggle with paraphrasing, consider seeking support from your institution’s student support department, such as the Lethbridge College Learning Café or check out our video on effective paraphrasing.

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