Peabody Library Research Channel: Questions on Citing Sources

Questions on Citing Sources in APA format

In the entries below, the relevant section of the APA publication manual is given in parentheses after each answer.

Why (and when) do I need to cite?
A profound question that gets to the heart of scholarly work. We cite because we use the information, data, opinions, and interpretations created by others in our own academic or scholarly work. No research stands entirely alone. In this way we are participating in the great enterprise of the creation and refinement of knowledge, and humbly acknowledging our debt to those who have gone before. Whether our goal is to confirm, build upon, qualify, or reject the work of others, our work in some ways responds to it, and we must give proper credit.

The flip side of the coin is that when we do not cite, we neglect to acknowledge our sources and are misrepresenting our own contributions. This is plagiarism. Anything that you have taken from another source and that is not common knowledge should be cited. (Common knowledge refers to commonly agreed upon facts that can be found in multiple sources. The date of the Fall of Constantinople, the capital of Pennsylvania, the composer of the Goldberg Variations—all these are common knowledge, even if you don’t happen to know them, and need not be cited.) Remember these guidelines:

  • If you take statistics, data, or any other fact from a source, you must cite it.
  • If you take an opinion or interpretation from a source, you must cite it.
  • If you take a quote from a source, you must cite it.

(Sections 8.1-8.4)

I need to cite only when I am taking a quotation from a source, right?
Wrong. See above. You do need to cite when you take a direct quotation from a source, but you also need to cite when you use information or an interpretation from a source, even when the words you use to convey the information or interpretation are your own.

If I put a citation after a couple of sentences I took word-for-word from a source, I don’t need to put quotation marks around them, right?
Wrong again. If you are taking phrases or sentences word-for-word from another source, you must put quotes around them in your paper—and then you must also cite where you got them from. Anything else is plagiarism. To prevent your paper from becoming a string of quotations, master the gentle arts of paraphrase and summary.
(Sections 8.23-8.24)

What goes in an in-text citation?
Unlike many other citation styles, APA style does not use little superscript numbers, footnotes, or endnotes to indicate cited material. APA instead uses the author-date system; the name(s) of the source's author(s) and the date of the source's publication go in the text of the paper (hence in-text citations). An APA in-text citation includes the last name of the author (or last names of the authors) of the cited source and the year of publication. (Use only the last name(s) of the author(s), without initials; use only the year of publication, not the month and day, even if the month and day are in the reference.)

For any source with two authors, list both authors in the citation—for example, (Smith & Jones, 2017). But for a source with three or more authors, list only the first author, followed by “et al.”—so, for example, (Smith et al., 2018) for an article with three or more authors where Smith is the first author. This rule is a change from the previous version of the APA guide, which had Byzantine guidelines on recording authors in in-text citations. APA citations do not use ibid. or similar abbreviations. See examples here.
(Sections 8.10 and 8.17)

Does the in-text citation always go at the end of the sentence or clause?
Not always. There are two main types of in-text citation: parenthetical and narrative. In a parenthetical citation, the author(s) and date go inside the parentheses, and the citation follows the information cited (often at the end of a clause or sentence). In a narrative citation, the author’s name (or authors’ names) go in the main text of the sentence and only the date of the article is in parentheses. For example: Jones (2017) asserts that….
(Section 8.11)

Do I need to use an ampersand (the “&” symbol) in my in-text citations?
Only for a parenthetical citation of a resource written with two authors—for example, (Smith & Jones, 2019). If you use a narrative citation, use the word “and” to separate the two authors’ names—for example, Smith and Jones (2019).

Can I cite more than one source in the same in-text citation?
Yes. Simply separate the citations with a semicolon, as here: (Jones, 2009; Smith & Davis, 2001). The two (or more) sources should be listed alphabetically, by the first author, within the citation.
(Section 8.12)

Can I cite the same source multiple times in my paper?
Yes. There is no limit. The citation will be formatted the same way each time.

If I use information from one source in three successive sentences in my paper, do I need to put an in-text citation after every sentence?
We get questions like this a lot, and the roundabout answer is: Cite so that it is clear where you are getting your information from. Usually there are ways to do this without putting (somewhat awkwardly) an in-text citation after each sentence. A mix of narrative and parenthetical citations is often effective. What you want to avoid is writing a paragraph full of information, data, opinion, interpretation, etc. and then putting one citation at the end of the paragraph, leaving the reader wondering what came from you and what from your source.  

When do I include a page number in the in-text citation?
The most common reason for including a page number in an in-text citation is when you are giving a direct quotation. The rationale for including the page number is that it allows the reader to look up the quotation more easily. An in-text citation with page numbers looks like this: (Davis, 2002, p. 115) or (Davis, 2002, pp. 115-116).

How can I give a page number for a quote from an ebook or webpage without clear page breaks?
If your source does not have page numbers, you can use section names or numbers, paragraph numbers, or some other marker to indicate where in the source your quote comes from. For example: (Davis, 2015, “Cognitive Development” section, para. 7). In this example, “para.” stands for paragraph. See more examples here.
(Section 8.28)

I took a quote from a secondary source. Do I cite the source I took it from, or the original source of the quote?
A common question. Let’s say that you read in Jones (2018) a quotation from Smith (1982) that you want to use in your paper. The best strategy would be to consult Smith’s book or article and cite it directly. But if you don’t have access to Smith, you need to use an indirect citation, which would look like this: (Smith, 1982, as cited in Jones, 2018, p. 79). Include only the information about Jones’s book in your reference list. (The general rule is not to include a reference to what you have not consulted personally).
(Section 8.6)