APA Style is a formatting and citation guideline for research papers.
- Formatting is how your paper looks
- Citation is writing so that your reader knows the source of your information. In APA, citation includes:
- In-text citations, and
- a References list at the end of your paper.
This page follows the seventh edition of APA Style (APA 7e). Before using this page, please verify that you are meant to use APA 7e and not APA 6e (older edition of APA Style) nor another set of style guidelines like Chicago or MLA.
APA Style can be broken into 3 main elements:
- Formatting. This is how your paper looks, including spacing, font style and size, page numbers, etc.
- In-text citations. These appear in the text of your paper (unlike the references) and should:
- Clearly indicate that information is from a source, and
- Provide enough information for your reader to find the source in your references page.
- References. References are listed separately at the end of your paper and should include enough information for your reader to find every single source you’ve used in your paper. A References list is essentially the same as a Bibliography or Works Cited page.
You might write something like this in your paper:
Community spaces require community input through accessible channels. One example of this was the 2017 Let’s Talk Parks, Canada! campaign in which Parks Canada gathered public opinion through a range of channels.
And if you found information about the Let’s Talk Parks, Canada! campaign through this webpage, you should indicate your source with an in-text citation. That might look like:
Community spaces require community input through accessible channels. One example of this was the 2017 Let’s Talk Parks, Canada! campaign in which Parks Canada (2019) gathered public opinion through a range of channels.
And the webpage (your source for this information) should appear as a reference entry on your References list. That would look like this:
- Notice that the author (Parks Canada) and the year of publication (2019) in the reference entry appear in the in-text citation when information from this source is used in-text.
- Notice also how this reference entry is in a hanging indent? The first line is left-aligned and the second line is indented half an inch. Indentation is a part of formatting.
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.
Ensure that, throughout your paper:
- There is a page number in the top-right corner of each page, including the title page and References page.
- Text is double-spaced. This includes the title page and References page.
- Your paper should have a 1” (one inch) margin. This is the automatic margin size on most word processors.
- Use the same text font, colour, and size throughout, including the title page, page numbers, references, and headings. This font should be easily legible; Times New Roman 12-point is recommended.
- Common exceptions include bolded titles and headings and italicizing of titles and words in other languages.
It’s common for your college or instructor to have unique requirements for your title page. For example, your instructor might ask you to put a student ID number instead of your name on your title page. But unless otherwise directed, here are the requirements for a title page:
- Your title page is the first page of your paper.
- Your title page is an entirely separate page from your body and references.
- Your title page has a page number (1) in the top right corner.
- Your title page is double-spaced.
- The text on your title page is in the same font and size as the text in the rest of your paper.
- In the centre of your title page, first have the title of your paper in bold font, followed by:
- One blank line (it’ll look like 3 blank lines because of the double-spacing)
- On separate lines: author name(s), institutional affiliation (school and department, typically), course code and title, Instructor name, and due date.
Ensure that, in the body of your paper:
- The first page after your title page begins with the title of your paper, centred, bolded, and in title case.
- The introductory paragraph is not labelled.
- Like the rest of the paper, page numbers appear in the top-right corner of each page.
- Body text is left-aligned (not left-justified) and the beginning of each paragraph is indented.
- Like the rest of the paper, text is in a legible, consistent font.
- Like in the rest of the paper, text is double-spaced without additional spaces between paragraphs.
Headings are optional. Your instructor/assignment may require or forbid headings. Always follow instructor/assignment instructions. But unless otherwise instructed, your paper might have 2 levels of headings:
- A Level 1 heading is centered, bolded, and uses title case. Your indented paragraph starts on the next line. A Level 1 heading is used to indicate the beginning of a new section.
- A Level 2 heading is left aligned, bolded, and uses title case. Your indented paragraph starts on the next line. A Level 2 heading indicates the start of a subtopic within a Level 1 heading section.
Consult pp. 15-16 of our APA Guide for visual examples of headings.
For your References page, ensure that:
- Your References page is at the end of your paper.
- Your References page is a separate page. No body text should appear on it.
- On the first line of the page, the word “References” (without quotation marks) appears centred and bolded.
- As with the rest of your paper, there is a page number in the top-right corner.
- Every reference (source) has its own reference entry.
- Reference entries appear in alphabetical order according to the first word in the reference entry (usually the first author’s last name).
- Reference entries appear in a hanging indent so that the first line of each entry is left-aligned and the second, third, etc. are indented half an inch.
- There is not a blank line between the word “References” and the reference entries.
- Each reference entry has at least one in-text citation in the paper body. And every in-text citation has a reference entry.
- Except for personal communications (phone calls, texts, emails, etc.) which show up in-text but not on the References page.
For a visual example of a References page, check out our APA sample paper.
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.
There are four types of in-text citations:
- Parenthetical paraphrase
- Parenthetical quotation
- Narrative paraphrase
- Narrative quotation
Paraphrasing means you’ve summarized, synthesized, or incorporated a source’s ideas into your paper, but have not used their exact words.
- Effective paraphrasing is difficult for a lot of students. If you have difficulty incorporating other people’s ideas in your own words, consider getting support from your institution’s student support department (here’s Lethbridge College’s) or watching online tutorials, like this one.
Quoting means you’ve used a source’s exact words.
Parenthetical means an in-text citation appears entirely in (parentheses).
Narrative means an in-text citation appears partially or entirely outside of (parentheses) and is instead integrated into the grammar of a sentence.
This chart might explain that more clearly:
Here are some common examples of what in-text citations look like:
Note the small differences, like where commas and periods go. Note especially that a page number is required when quoting but optional when paraphrasing (unless otherwise specified by your instructor). Depending on your program and instructor, you can lose marks on an assignment for getting those kinds of details wrong.
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.
- 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:
- Author – Who wrote/made this source? This is usually a person, group of people, or organisation.
- Date – When was this source published?
- Title – What is this source called?
- Location information – Where can your reader find this source?
This chart might help that make sense:
Here are some common examples of reference entries:
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.
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.
Many of us use APA because we have to. And sometimes that’s a good enough reason. But most people learn better if they feel there’s a half-decent reason to learn, so here are some reasons to learn APA:
- Credibility – Clean formatting and source citation make you seem more professional. And whatever point you’re trying to make is far more persuasive if you have sources.
- If you sprained your ankle and somebody recommended a treatment you’d never heard of, would you be likely to use the treatment if that person made it up themselves? What if they got it from an episode of Info Wars? What if they got it from their (licensed) physiotherapist? It’s the same thing in a research paper; the source of the information matters!
- Giving credit – Ethically, it’s best to give people credit for their work and ideas. If you’re gaining something (money, reputation, a college degree) by sharing information, not giving credit can even get you in serious trouble.
- Networking – When you share your sources of information, you’re putting your reader in touch with other people and sources they can use to learn more. And you might be making connections yourself; the authors of your sources might be flattered that you cited them and reach out or cite you back! Networking can create meaningful job opportunities.
In short, citation generators do not work unless you’re paying for them. We have yet to find a free citation generator that will find and format source information into an APA reference entry with enough accuracy to be worth using. A free website like Citation Machine can be helpful in finding source information, but does not format that information into a reference entry and the information isn’t always correct.
But most students do have access to paid citation generators: the ones embedded into 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. But these are like power tools; they’re very useful, but we have some crucial tips for using them right:
- Even though they’re pretty good, these generators still get stuff wrong. The most common mistake is for the reference entry to be in ALL CAPS. Especially if you could lose marks for incorrect details, consider checking that the generated information is correct and comparing the formatting (periods, italicization, etc…) of the generated entry with a similar example from an APA guide.
- Make sure the generator is using the right citation style. If you’re using APA 7e, make sure it’s not giving you APA 6e, MLA, Chicago, etc.
- When you copy and paste generated reference entries, they’ll often be in a different font than the rest of your paper, often grey in colour or with a light-grey highlight. Make sure it’s the same font style, size, and colour as the rest of your paper and that there isn’t any highlighting. Sometimes you need to use the “clear all formatting” tool to get rid of the highlighting.
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-using 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.
- For example, APA Style recommends citing an interview with an Elder the same way you would cite any interview, or even an email. This doesn’t require you to list the Elder in your references list or acknowledge the Elder’s Community Affiliations or Protocols, nor does it acknowledge that an Elder’s Knowledge is carefully curated and peer-reviewed.
We (Lethbridge College’s writing strategists) are working with Niitsitapi Knowledge Keepers to develop a more comprehensive guide to seeking and sharing Indigenous Knowledge, but for now, we can recommend the following sources:
- 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.
- The Four Feather Writing Guide published by Royal Roads University in accordance with Costal Salish Tradition, especially the Cowichan Nation (shared through Elder Shirley Alphonse) and SC’I ÁNEW̱ Nation (shared through Elder Nadine Charles).
- Simon Fraser University and Norquest College Library webpages which provide 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.