How to Cite Research in an Essay Using APA Format

The social sciences usually use American Psychological Association, or APA style, to cite research and format articles for publication. Although essays are less formal, using APA style to cite research in an essay will not only give your essay credibility, but will allow readers to look up the original sources if they are interested in more information. APA style is not difficult to master, but it takes practice and patience to learn some of the intricacies.

Use the author-date method of citation when referring to research in the text. For a single author of an article or book, cite the year in parentheses if you name the author in the text. For example:

According to Grucza (2010), those with a family history of alcoholism are more at risk for obesity.

Cite both the author name and the date in parentheses if you are summarizing the research but do not want to draw attention to the name. This is a more elegant way of citing research and is particularly useful for research that has many authors with difficult-to-pronounce names. For example:

Recent research suggests that those with a family history of alcoholism are more at risk for obesity (Grucza, 2010).

Cite both authors' names in your essay every time you refer to their research if the work only has two authors. If a work has three to five authors, cite all the authors the first time you mention their research, but use "et al." after the first author name in subsequent citations. For example, on first reference, you would write, "Kisangau, Lyaruu, Hosea, and Joseph (2007) found...." On second reference, you would write, "Kisangau et al. (2007) found..." If a work has six or more authors, cite only the first author's name followed by "et al." every time you reference the work.

Cite the page, chapter, table, figure or equation number in parentheses after the author name and date if you want to refer to a specific part of the document. Page numbers are abbreviated as "p." For example:

According to recent research... (Smith, 2002, p. 9).

Create a "References" list at the end of your essay listing every work you cited in the essay. Format the list alphabetically by author's last name. Although there are dozens of types of works you may need to format in a reference list, the most common works to cite will likely be articles published in journals. In general, these are cited by listing the first author's last name, followed by his or her initials, followed by a comma and the next author. This is followed by year of publication, then title of article. This is followed by the title of the periodical in italics, followed by the volume number and issue number in parentheses. Finally, list the page numbers. The first line of the citation begins at the left margin. Each subsequent line should be indented underneath the first line. For example:

Light, M. A., & Light, I. H. (2008). The geographic expansion of Mexican immigration in the United States and its implications for local law enforcement. Law Enforcement Executive Forum Journal, 8(1), 73-82.

See the APA Publication Manual for proper formatting.

  • All citation should use only the last name of the author.
  • Books and articles are cited the same way using the author-date method.
About the Author

Danielle Cort has been a freelance writer since 2008, specializing in psychology, health, education and parenting. She has published articles in "Family" magazine. Before becoming a freelance writer, Cort worked in the public policy research sector, conducting research, creating surveys and budgets. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy in social psychology from the University of Massachusetts.

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