APA Basics

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This page is based on the 6th edition, second printing, of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association published in August of 2009. Note: The second printing corrects some important mistakes made in the first printing.


What is APA? 
  • APA stands for American Psychological Association.
  • APA style, then, is how this organization thinks about research and how a paper should be prepared for presentation or publication.
  • Many of the social and behavioral sciences use this style to present written information in their publications.


Why should you use APA? 
  • APA allows you to use other people’s ideas to support your own.
  • APA guides you in quoting and paraphrasing source materials to ensure readers can distinguish between your ideas and someone else’s ideas.
  • In other words, APA protects you against plagiarism!


Types of Papers

The two most common types of APA papers are literature reviews and research papers.

Literature reviews are generally composed of a title page, possibly an abstract, an introduction section (which will be the body of your paper), and the reference page.

Research papers are often composed of the title page, abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, and references. Sometimes appendices or tables/figures may be necessary as well.


Definitions of some Important terms 

These definitions will help you better integrate sources into your paper.

Journal: A journal is a periodical written for a highly specialized audience. Typically the readers of journal articles are researchers, educators, or practitioners in a particular discipline. For example, educators use journals such as Education Next and Current Issues in Education. Psychologists and counselors read the journals entitled Journal of School Psychology and the American Journal of Psychology.

Document journal articles differently than other publications like magazines. A magazine is written so that anyone can understand it. Example magazine titles include Parent Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, and Psychology Today. You can find magazines on newsstands in grocery stores, whereas you would only find journals in libraries or by subscribing to them.

There are several clues to look for when determining whether or not an article is from a magazine or a journal:

  • The title of the publication may have the word “journal” in it.
  • Journals are text-heavy and rarely include images or advertisements. Magazines tend to be glossy and image-laden.
  • If the text of the article uses a lot of words that only a specialist would know, chances are it is from a journal.
  • Search the title of the publication in a search engine such as Google. Most magazines and journals have Web sites, and they will tell you what kind of publication it is.


Periodical: “Periodical” is a generic term that refers to publications that are published periodically such as newspapers, magazines, and journals. Each periodical type uses a different APA style model. So you should follow the model for newspaper articles when documenting a newspaper. Follow the model for a magazine article when documenting a magazine article, and so on.


Quotation: When you directly copy a phrase, sentence or group of sentences from another author’s work, you are quoting. Surround the material with quotation marks to show that authors words appear in your work exactly as they wrote them.


Paraphrase:  Writers should not pack their essays with quotations. Doing so can raise questions about whether or not the writer was just lazy and did not want to do the hard work of integrating source material into the project or perhaps that the writer did not really understand the original material and resorted to over-quoting to cover for that lack of understanding.

Rather than quoting source material every time you want to use another's ideas, reserve quotations for those authors and snippets of texts that articulate an idea in such a special or unique way that you want to preserve those words exactly as they are. Otherwise, paraphrase.

“Paraphrasing” refers to the process of putting an author's words entirely into your own voice and style and integrating those ideas into your work with a lead-in phrase and parenthetical note (both explained below).

When paraphrasing, be sure to completely rework the original words into your own style, your own linguistic thumbprint, if you will, to avoid accusations of plagiarism.



The original words written by Joanna Castner Post in a hypothetical article published in 2009 on page 3: I earned a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric because I have a streak that admires the very practical.

QUOTING from the original above would look like this: Post (2009) writes, "I earned a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric because I have a streak that admires the very practical" (p. 3).

PARAPHRASING from the original above would look like this: Post (2009) explains that a main motivation for pursuing a doctorate in technical communication and rhetoric was an inclination towards the practical.


Lead-in Phrase: The lead-in phrase is the language that indicates where the source material begins. It can take the form of “According to Post…” or “The researcher goes on to state.” Whether you are quoting or paraphrasing, these pieces, called lead-in phrases, are essential. The lead-in phrase is an important element to include when integrating sources into your own writing. Often, it is when lead-in phrases are left out that students sometimes get accused of plagiarism because it is not clear where a paraphrase has begun. For example, let's say that you inserted a quote into an essay and then spent two paragraphs and part of a third explaining the quote in terms of your main argument and showing why it supports that point of view. Next, you insert a paraphrase. If you don't include a lead-in phrase, how will the reader know where the paraphrase begins?

This kind of confusion opens you up to accusations of plagiarism. It is important to clarify source usage as carefully as possible to protect yourself.

***The point is to clarify, at every point, when you are integrating someone else's words into your own versus when you are writing your own words.


Gender Bias: APA guidelines are fairly specific about avoiding bias of any kind, but especially gender bias. Therefore, lead-in phrases should only contain the author’s last name or a gender-neutral term in the place of the pronouns “he” or “she.” APA suggests using phrases like “he or she,” “she or he,” “he/she,” she/he” sparingly. It is better to use the plural form of nouns referring to people so that “they” and its forms can be used instead.


Five Basic Parts of APA Style 

1)      The COVER PAGE includes the running head, title, and identification information. Start numbering pages with the cover page.

2)      The ABSTRACT includes the running head and a summary of your research. It should be one paragraph and touch on the main points of your inquiry only. It should be about 150-250 words.

3)      The TEXT of your paper includes the running head, title, and body.

4)      The REFERENCE PAGE includes a list of sources that you cited within the body of your paper.

5)      The HEADING STRUCTURE for various sections of your project. Check with your professor to see if you’re required to use a heading structure.


All parts of the paper should be in 12-point Times New Roman with 1-inch margins without justification.


* The APA Style Template is set up as a template with the running head, cover page, abstract, and reference page already formatted for you.


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