Citation Situations


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Understanding APA Style’s author-date citation system is easy enough, right? But anyone who conducts research knows that citing sources is not always so straight forward. Sometimes a source has more than one author, and sometimes a source has no listed author. Some sources are used multiple times in a single paragraph. Sometimes you don’t have a listed author, and other times you have multiple articles from the same author published in the same year. Sometimes the author-date citation format is not as easy to follow as you might think. 

This blogcast is only going to be dealing with in-text citations because in the 7th edition of APA Style, as you may already know, the term “citations” is not used to refer to content that appears on the references list. Hence, the only citations that appear in an APA Style paper appear in the body.

So let’s look at some of the more common citation situations writers face. 

A source with more than one author. For a source with two authors, always name both authors in the in-text citation whether that citation is parenthetical or narrative. A parenthetical in-text citation for two authors would include both authors’ names in parenthesis followed by a comma and then the date of publication. The narrative in-text citation would name both authors in the narrative of the sentence and include the date of publication in parenthesis after the last author’s name like this: Thomas and Jerome (2020) argued that . . . 

For a work with three or more authors, list the first author’s name and then et al. That’s e – t space a – l period (which is a Latin abbreviation for “and others”) in every citation. An in-text parenthetical citation for a source with three or more authors would look like this: (Cairns et al., 2019). And for a narrative in-text citation, name the first author and then include et al. in the narrative of the sentence like this: Cairns et al. (2019) studied . . .

The same source used multiple times in the same paragraph. One of the more frequent citation situations is using the same source multiple times in the same paragraph. First, every parenthetical citation will include the author and date. However, you should not include a parenthetical citation for the same source from one sentence to the next in the same paragraph if neither the author or topic has changed. So if you are paraphrasing content from Shandy published in 2020 in three successive sentences, you only need to put Shandy and the year of publication in a parenthetical citation after the first sentence from that work so long as it’s clear that subsequent sentences also come from the same source. Of course, an obvious question that surfaces is, How will I know if it’s clear to readers that content I am using in a successive sentence comes from the same and previously cited source? Perhaps the best approach is to include the author’s last name again or a word like “author” or “researcher” or some other transitional language to connect the content to the source. For example, such phrasing might include a transition such as “In addition” or a signal phrase such as “The author also pointed out . . .” In short, the writer needs to do their part to make sure it’s clear to readers the source of information used in a paper. 

Narrative citations are handled a bit differently. A narrative citation will include the author’s name in the sentence and the year of publication in parenthesis. If the same source is used in the same paragraph, the year of publication can be omitted after the first instance of the author’s name. But remember: Parenthetical citations will always include both the author and date. 

The same author, same date of publication. If you have two articles from the same author published in the same year, then you need to account for that so that readers can tell what content comes from one source and what content comes from the other. So if you have two journal articles from Huston both published in 2019, then the way APA Style wants those sources differentiated is by using lowercase a and lowercase b after the date of publication when using one and/or the other source–so, with our example, there would be in-text citations with Huston, 2019a and Huston, 2019b. 

You may be wondering, What if the date of publication is not known? What if I have two sources by the same author but neither has a date of publication? What then? Well, it might look awkward, but you follow the same exact principle explained. The first source without a date would be cited by the author’s last name, comma, and lowercase n period lowercase d period hyphen lowercase a, and the second source would be cited by the author’s last name, comma, and lowercase n period lowercase d period hyphen lowercase b.  This type of citation situation is probably more likely if you have a group author, but it certainly can apply to sources with surnames. 

Authors with the same surname. On occasion you may have multiple sources by authors with the same last name. If this is the case, include the first name initial before the last name in in-text citations. If by chance two authors share the same first name initial, then include the full first name as well as the last name.

Group authors and abbreviations. Sometimes a source does not have an individual author per se, but it does have an agency, business, or organization that is responsible for the content. APA Style considers this type of source to have a group author, and some of these groups have long official names but are also widely known by their abbreviation. One way to handle this type of source is to name the group author in the narrative of the sentence and then include the abbreviation and date of publication in parenthesis directly after the name. For example, The Center for Disease Control (CDC, 2020) updated its guidelines for social distancing in schools. The next time the source is used, only the abbreviation is needed. 

If the group author needs to appear in a parenthetical in-text citation, name the group author in full and put the abbreviation in brackets and then the date of publication like this: (Center for Disease Control [CDC], 2020). As with narrative citations, subsequent citations only need the abbreviation.

No listed author. The protocol for citing a source with no listed author to include no group author is to defer to the next key piece of information, which will be a title. The title, however, will need some formatting depending on the nature of the title–is it the title of an article, or is it the title of a website, for example. The guidance APA Style offers in this situation is to format the title used in the in-text citation the same way it appears on the list of references–if it is italicized on the reference list, for example, do the same in the in-text citation. However, there is one caveat: Use title case for titles in all in-text citations even if the title is formatted with sentence case on the references list.      

Your head may be spinning just a little from that explanation (I know mine was the first time I read these guidelines), but just keep in mind that you need to use title case for all titles in in-text citations and that the title will either be in quotation marks or italics depending on how that title appears on the list of references. To this end, if the title is for a source that appears in something else (like a journal article will appear in a scholarly journal) then put the title in quotation marks. If you have a stand-alone source like a book or webpage, put the title in italics. 

If you encounter other citation situations not addressed in this blogcast, you can check out other Writing Center content that concerns APA Style in-text citations, or you can consult the official APA Style website for additional information. 

Until next week–

Kurtis Clements

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