How to Use APA Style

If you’re taking a class that involves research in the social sciences, chances are you’ll need to use APA (American Psychological Association) style to format your paper and your citations. Using APA citation style guidelines will help your readers easily locate the sources you cite, and will also give proper credit to the creators of those sources.

APA recently published a new version of their guidelines in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association 7th edition. If you’ve previously used APA style, you were probably using the  6th edition, and there are some changes you should be aware of. Fortunately, Penn State University Libraries has created a APA Quick Citation Guide that can help you sort out the intricacies of the new guidelines. If you still need to use the 6th edition, refer to our APA Quick Citation Guide 6th Edition. Check with your instructor if you’re not sure which version to use.

APA citation style consists of two basic parts, in-text citation (brief entries within the text of your paper) and a reference list of all your sources that goes at the end of your document. In-text citation generally includes both the author of your source and the publication date in parentheses, for example: (Smith, 2019). This citation then leads your readers to the full reference included in your list at the end of your paper, providing them with all the information they need to locate that source for themselves. Is your source missing a date, or does it have no author listed? Check the quick guide for details on how to handle these situations.

Depending on the type of source you are citing (book, journal article, web page, etc.), entries in your reference list may include author, title, publisher, date of publication, URL, and other types of information. The quick guide includes examples of common types of sources to help you make sure you’re including all the correct information. For even more guidance, the APA website has very helpful Style and Grammar Guidelines that includes lots of examples, advice and tips, as well as sample papers.

Want to test your APA knowledge? Take our APA Style Quiz! The quiz can help you understand correct citation style, as well as proper formatting for your paper. At the end of the quiz, you’ll get a score showing which questions you got right.

Still have questions? Use the Penn State Libraries Ask a Librarian service.