APA FAQs

What is the point of having to use APA?

  • There are several purposes in using APA (or any style system). First, a main goal is to make clear for the reader what contributions, ideas, and words in the paper are yours, versus what elements belong to sources upon which you are drawing. Part of establishing this clarity is consistency in citing and formatting.
  • Second, this same care in attributing words and ideas to the proper source will ensure you are not accused of plagiarism (which, incidentally, includes poor paraphrasing, where a few words may have been changed, while the original sentence structure remains!).
  • Third, effective in-text citing will easily lead a reader to your reference list; effective reference entries will easily lead your reader to the actual sources you have read.
  • Finally, when you use an established format and style, this allows your reader to feel well situated. Moreover, your attention to detail speaks well of your professionalism and credibility.

What is APA?

  • There are many different citation styles. APA is the style that has been developed by the American Psychological Association. On our campus, it has been adopted by many departments, and it is used in the second-year writing courses (i.e., ENG 2010 and IDS 2000).

Does everything need to be double spaced and only double spaced? Titles? Headings? Block quotes? You name it?

  • In APA the entire document is double spaced. There are some possible exceptions in appendixes, tables, figures, and other elements attached to a paper, but basically double space everything in a student paper.

What information do I include in my text when I cite a reference in APA?

  • If you are paraphrasing, summarizing, or otherwise crediting ideas (rather than quoting words directly), you only need to include the author’s last name and the year of publication (Author, YEAR). For example: (Napoli, 1999).
  • If you are using a direct quote, you must include the author’s last name, the year of publication, AND the page or paragraph number. If paragraphs are not numbered, you can use the heading and paragraph number together. Any of these approaches helps a reader know where that particular quote can be found. For example: (Napoli, 1999, p.  152) or (Jones, 2004, para. 8) or (Black, Methods section, para. 4). See the explanation below.

When do I use a page number and when do I use a paragraph number?

  • Page numbers should be used when the information is from a published piece that includes the original page numbers. Examples include actual copies of books or articles, PDF files of published works, or exact copies of printed documents with original page numbers.
  • Paragraph numbers should be used if the original page numbers do not exist or are unavailable. For example, web sites do not number pages; published documents re-formatted into html form do not have original page numbers.
  • If no paragraph numbers exist in the document, then ideally you would use the heading for a section of the paper and count paragraphs in that section. For example: (Black, Methods section, para. 4). However, if there are no formally numbered paragraphs and no headers, you will likely have to count paragraphs yourself (though this possibility is not anticipated in the manual).

When should I use a block quote?

  • Block quotes should be used when you directly quote 40 words or more.
  • Block quotes are created by indenting the left margin of the quoted text by half an inch. In a multiple paragraph block quote, you would also indent a further half inch in the first line of each new paragraph in the quote.
  • Do not place the block quote in quotation marks (the formatting already has indicated this is a block quote).
  • Double space the whole quote.
  • Unlike all other citations, place the citation after the last punctuation mark, not before.

What information do I include on the reference page?

  • Different kinds of references require different information in APA. See referencing specifics for examples of how to reference individual documents. However, one thing you can rely on is the order of the opening elements in each reference. The goal is always to have the author(s) first, followed by the year of publication, and then the title. When there is no individual or organization indicated as the author, then the title will come first, followed by the year.
  • The sources should be entered alphabetically based on the first major word (which is usually the last name of the author / first author).
  • All entries should have a hanging indent (i.e., first line flush left, but subsequent lines indented).

What if a source does not have an author's name listed?

  • If a source does not have an author listed, use the following in place of the author:
    • For online sources where an organization, group, or company claims authorship, use that organization, group, or company as the author. For example, The British Broadcasting Corporation is clearly the author of many articles published on the BBC News Site. Aurora University is the author of various handbooks, catalogs, and reports.
    • For print sources or online sources that cannot be ascribed to an organization, use the title of the work in the author’s position. Then list the work alphabetically using the first significant word in the title (i.e., ignore "the" or "a" or "an"). For example, an article with the title "Fear and Ignorance in Biotech" would appear on the reference list under "F." One twist, however, is APA's odd rules on title capitalization in the reference list (rules that do not apply within the paper!). Only proper nouns and the first word of a title or subtitle will be capitalized in a reference list entry. So, our entry would actually begin: Fear and ignorance in biotech. Note that there are no quotation marks and that only the first word was capitalized.

What information should I include on my title page?

  • In a student paper, typically centered in the middle of the title page and double spaced, should be included:

Title of the Paper
Your Name
Course Name
Professor’s Name
Date of Submission

  • Flush left in the paper's header, you should include a running head. A full explanation of this is given in the Center's handout: Sample APA paper
  • Insert a page number in the upper right corner of the page. The cover page is already page one.

What is the running head?

  • The running head is an abbreviated version of the title of the paper. It should be no more than 50 characters long, and ideally it is simply the first several words of the title. This abbreviated title with the phrase "Running head:" preceding it appears on the cover page. On all subsequent pages, the running head still appears, but the phrase "Running head:" is dropped.

What is an abstract?

  • The abstract is a comprehensive summary of the contents of the paper that allows readers to determine the purpose, methods, and findings of the paper. It should be no more than 150 to 250 words long. It should be self-contained. In other words, this is not the paper's introduction or a statement about what the paper will do. Rather, the abstract is an encapsulation of the paper that could be read instead of reading the paper. As a result, it is in the present or past tense. See the Center's handout: Sample APA paper

When should I include an abstract?

  • In academic courses the inclusion of an abstract is at the discretion of the professor. Students should check with individual instructors to determine the professor’s requirements.

What should I include in my introduction?

  • Different types of papers need different types of information in the introduction. Students should check with individual professors for specific expectations.
  • In general, all introductions should include:
    • A sense of the paper's "common ground." At the least, this refers to the topic being explored, and why the paper's topic is something demanding attention. Ideally, the opening of the introduction goes further in situating the paper as a response to certain ideas, assumptions, misconceptions, or inadequate ways of thinking that are being questioned or challenged.
    • A statement of what question or problem is being addressed (i.e., the question or problem raised by what was included in the common ground).
    • The central claim(s) of the paper. An effective thesis statement does not merely say what general issues will be covered. Rather, it makes a specific claim as to what will be demonstrated or learned in the paper.

These frequently asked questions have been answered by Center for Teaching & Learning staff. All responses are consistent with the 6th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. The answers do reflect the corrections published by APA after the initial publication.