Learning to Use Reference Citations in APA Style
When to Use a Reference Citation
While this may seem obvious there are some important mistakes often made by students. First and most obvious, any time you are using information or an idea which is not your own, you must cite your reference!!! If you do not do this, you are committing plagiarism, which is a rather serious issue. In almost any program, plagiarism generally results in the automatic failure of the class. In many programs, you will be asked or forced to withdrawal from the program or school if caught plagiarizing. Some schools with allow one warning, depending upon how seriousness of the plagiarism.
Second, you cite your source following the first sentence in each paragraph that you refer to this source (Hoffman, 2004). After you cite a source in a paragraph, you do not need to cite it again unless you cite another source in between references to the first source (Gonzalez, Jones, & Lee, 2003). In this paragraph, I began citing "Hoffman, 2004" after the first sentence. Now, I am referring back to Hoffman again in this sentence and the next one (Hoffman, 2004). Because I cited Gonzalez between references to "Hoffman, 2004" I must again cite this source.
However, as with most good rules, there are exceptions. If your first sentence is referring to the source, you should make a reference citation at this point (Smith, 2005). If you make a statement that is clearly your opinion and not referring to the previous source and then refer back to the previous source, it is good to cite the source again. I believe this is a good practice. It helps clarify what is the authors idea and what ideas were drawn from the source (Smith, 2005).
As if it is not confusing enough, let's add one more layer of confusion. I would recommend that all students take the time to read the section on plagiarism in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association on page 349-350 directly, though I will summarize it here. Anytime you paraphrase from another source, you must be clear in giving credit to the source for each paraphrase (American Psychological Association, 2001). According to the Publication Manual, you must make sure to give credit clearly even if the sentences are two consecutive sentences in the same paragraph with no other reference involved.
Please note several important issues related to the exception discussed in the previous paragraph. First, I clearly gave credit to the publication manual in both sentences, but I only used a reference citation in the first sentence. Second, this sentence was talking specifically about paraphrasing, which the American Psychological Association (2001) describes as "[summarizing] a passage or [rearranging] the order of a sentence and [changing] some of the words" (p. 349). Not all uses of another source are quoting or paraphrasing. For a quote or paraphrase, you need to be clear about your source in that sentence. For a more general reference, you need to be clear in that paragraph and more frequently only as necessary by use of other sources.
The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association leaves some issues open to individual interpretation. While I believe this description of the citations is consistent with the general practice of how APA style is implemented, some professionals interpret various issues differently. For example, some professionals advocate for more frequent reference citations to be extremely clear. However, I believe this presentation is consistent with what you will read in the journals and profession books which utilize APA style. Hopefully, the next edition will be more clear on this issue without completely changing the current standards (as previous editions have done!).
An important technical note on this second point needs to be addressed. In some other writing styles, you cite your sources at the last sentence referring to a particular reference. In APA style, you cite your source after the first time you refer to that source in each paragraph. If this entire paragraph is about an article written by Hoffman in 2004, but I do not cite this source until after the last sentence, I am then claiming that everything in that paragraph up until the last sentence is my own thoughts. In essence, I would have just plagiarized everything in the paragraph except for what is contained in the last sentence. While professors generally understand this as unintentional and rarely would it be an issue in a class (unless its a consistent pattern not changed after being addressed), it would be more of an issue in a paper submitted for profession publication or presentation.
I've had a couple of conversations with a colleague about the paranoia of accidentally taking credit for someone else's idea (Hoffman & Moriarty, 2004). We both are rather obsessive readers. As such, much of what is read gets assimilated into our thinking without remembering where the information came from or even that it came from somewhere else! Several times I've been rereading an old book and realized that a thought which I later thought was my own original thought actually was something I had read a long time ago! I had shared this thought with others as if it were my own on several occasions and now felt guilty about it.
Since this discovery, I have often been concerned that in my professional writing I may do the same thing. However, as my colleague and I have come to realize, this is a rather neurotic concern! This is part of how both memory and the unconscious works, we often assimilate ideas and forget their source. It is a much more efficient way of learning than to memorize every detail of what we learn. In other words, we all do this at times!
The idea of plagiarism is that references are cited in good faith. What does "good faith" mean? First, it means that when a source is known, it is cited. Second, if a source is not known, the idea is presented as having an unknown source that is not the author. However, it is not good writing to clutter your papers with references to unknown sources! Third, that if an author is concerned that an idea may have been from another source, he or she makes an effort to determine if this is the case.
In general, the assimilation excuse is not as likely to work with students as it is with professionals. Most students have not been in the field long enough for this to be believable. Once you've read hundreds of articles and hundreds of books, you've earned the right to forget where some of the ideas you've learned came from!
et a what?!
To be honest, this is one that I still have to look up in the manual quite frequently (pp. 208 and following). When there is more than one author, you can, at times, use "et al" to shorten the citation. However, you must follow some general rules:
1) If there are two or fewer authors you must cite both names each time.
2) If the number of authors is between 3 and 5, you write out the names the first time (Hoffman, Jones, Lee, & Gonzalez, 2003). After the first citation for this source, you may then use the last name of the first author followed by "et al." (Hoffman et al., 2003).
3) When there are six or more authors you may use "et al." on the first reference citation.
4) If there are more than one articles in which "et al." could be used with the same first author, then use as many authors names as necessary for citation to be unique. For example, if Hoffman wrote one article in 2004 with Gonzalez, Lee, and Jones and another with Gonzalez, Peterson, and Smith, you would use "Hoffman, Gonzalez, et al. (2004)"
Please note the use of "et al." is different in the reference section.
"&" and "and"
When the names are connected by and in the text, write out the word "and." When the names are cited in parentheses, use "&" (Hoffman & Hoffman, 2004).
Groups as Authors (American Psychological Association [APA], 2001, p. 210)
Notice how the American Psychological Association was cited in the line above this one. This is the correct first citation of a group. In all subsequent usages you may use the appreciation for the group name as illustrated at the end of this sentence (APA, 2001).
Ordering Your Citations
When citing multiple references in a single citation, place the citations in alphabetical order within the parentheses (APA, 2001; Hoffman, 2004; Hoffman, Jones, & Gonzalez, 2003). Notice that a semicolon is used between references. If you are citing more than one reference by a single author, then just list the author's name and the dates separated by a semicolon in numerical order (Hoffman 2002; 2004).
Page Numbers and Quotes (pp.117-122 in APA style manual)
First of all, good writing does not rely excessively on quotes!! If you notice that you have a lot of quotes in your paper, you may want to consider reworking it a bit. This is particularly true if your quotes are often long. In general, quotes are used for emphasis when something is stated really well. Save your quotes for statements which were really made well.
Page numbers are only used with quotations in APA style. When you are just citing an idea which is not quoted, there is no need to include page numbers. If the quote was contained on a single page, you use one "p." for page, if the quote extends to two or more pages; you use two "pp." in the citation.
Generally, page numbers are placed after the year (Hoffman, 2004, p. 4). Note there is a space between the "p." and the "4" in this citation.
Short & Long Quotes
A short quote is considered anything less than 40 words. A short quote is included in the text inside of quotation marks. Hoffman (2004) states "excessive use of either long or short quotes is not a mark of good writing" (pp. 4-5). Long quotes are considered any quotes of 40 words or more. These quotes are set up in block style:
When using long quotes, you will place the quotes in a block style. This means that the
quote will be in separate paragraph which is intended on the right side, but not the left. In
an actual paper, as opposed to a web page such as this, the quotation would still be
double spaced. Note the punctuation is done a little differently at the end of a long quote,
too. In a short quote, the period would be behind the reference citation. In a long quote,
the period is at the end of the sentence before the reference citation. There is no
punctuation behind the citation at all. (Hoffman, 2004, p. 33)
Long quotes, in particular, should be used sparingly. Instructors and professors often will view excessive use of long quotes as a way of avoiding doing your own work.
Anytime you quote more than 500 words from a single source, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The owner is generally the author or editor with books. For journal articles, you may need to contact the journal to make this determination. It typically is the journal, however, in some situations the copyright may remain with the author. You should obtain this permission in writing. In general, students should not have to worry about this except in Master's thesis or Dissertations. If you are using more than 500 words in a research paper you more than likely are relying excessively on quotes.
American Psychological Association (2001). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (5th.ed.). Washington, DC: author.