APA In-Text Citation – The Two Formats to Cite

17.11.22 APA citation & referencing Time to read: 5min

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The APA Style, with its simple yet effective in-text citation, provides a clean, straightforward format that enhances the readability of your work. Even when used in papers exploring complex themes, this unpretentious citation approach helps to streamline the referencing process. By employing the APA Style’s in-text citation methodology, you gain control over the rhythm and clarity of your prose, articulated through two practical formats. Moreover, adopting this style of citation signifies your adherence to recognized academic standards, fostering credibility in your writing.

APA In-Text Citation – In a Nutshell

  • APA in-text citation is one of the simplest citation formats in the academic space, so it’s well worth learning.
  • The standardized citation order creates common ground, giving readers clarity without overloading your prose.
  • This style is easy to learn from memory and functions well with both on and off-line citations.
  • This is a streamlined, highly uniform method with several solutions to ambiguous sources.

Definition of APA in-text citation

The American Psychological Association created the APA citation style at a time when there was little consistency in social science research papers. The APA gives writers two citation methods: parenthetical and narrative.

  • Parenthetical citations list all the details in parentheses.
  • Narrative citations allow extra fluidity by including the author naturally in the prose. Publication data is then listed in parentheses after the author’s reference.


  • Parenthetical citation: COVID-19 spreads at a faster rate than MERS (Yang et al., 2021)
  • Narrative citation: According to Yang et al. (2012), COVID-19 spreads faster than MERS (p. 659)

The APA in-text citation style incorporates your sources in the body of the paper. This is then cross-referenced in alphabetical order on the APA reference page. In-text citations have a standard order:

  1. Author’s name
  2. Publication date
  3. Book title
  4. Page title
  5. Periodical title
  6. Volume
  7. Page numbers
  8. Publication place
  9. Publisher
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Parenthetical vs. narrative APA in-text citation

A parenthetical APA in-text citation places all details of your source inside the same brackets. If you want more fluid prose or wish to add extra emphasis to your source, narrative citations incorporate the author’s name into your prose. The narrative format ends the sentence with the publication details in parentheses. If you’re including a quotation, your APA in-text citation should include the page number of your quote.

Paraphrasing vs. quoting

Paraphrasing is the APA’s preferred way to restate your source’s research. One of the APA’s overarching goals is to eliminate the risk of plagiarism.

While direct quotations are allowed, they can fall short of that important objective. Think of direct quotations as the skydivers of the citation world, and paraphrasing as the pedestrians in the reflective jackets. One is riskier than the other, so keep it to a minimum.

Short vs. long (block) quotations

The APA in-text citation method doesn’t require anything special from you when quoting 40 words or fewer.

Simply incorporate your quotation into your prose. Direct quotes of 40 or more words need their own format:

Type Length Punctuation Extra Formatting Citation
Short Quote 40 words or less Inside quotation marks None Use a parenthetical approach at the end of your sentence or quotation
Block Quote More than 40 words No quotation marks Text should be left-justified and indented 0.5 inches from your margin Place your APA in-text citation at the end of your block quote after the final period.

APA in-text citation styles: Multiple authors

The more uncluttered your references are, the better, so the APA in-text citation guide tries to minimize author citations.

  • First reference: Cite up to five authors, followed by the publication date.
  • Subsequent references: Cite one author, followed by “et al.”
  • Six or more references: Cite one author, followed by “et al.” in all APA in-text citations.

APA in-text citation styles: Missing information

APA in-text citation: No author

If you’re citing a discussion that lacks an author’s name, replace the name with the title or first three words of your source paper. In-text citations should include an italicized title with headline capitalization, followed by the year. If your paper lists its author as “Anonymous”, you can use the word “Anonymous” in place of the author’s name:


(The Health Organization 2020)

You’re free to use a narrative citation style if you prefer. In this instance, the title should be intertwined into a sentence.


The Health Organization suggests to isolate when symptoms arise (2020)

APA in-text citation: No publication date

The APA in-text citation style has incorporated an “n.d” abbreviation for papers with missing dates. Simply cite the abbreviation where you’d usually add your date.


Missing Information Example
Missing Date (The Health Organization, n.d.)
Missing Title (The Lancet, 2020)
Missing Author and Date (The Health Organization, n.d.)
Missing Author and Title ([Article about guidelines when feeling ill], 2020)

APA in-text citation: No page number

Internet sources rarely come with carefully-labeled page numbers, so you’ll need to guide your readers to the relevant citation. The APA style allows you to list the paragraph number in place of the page number:


Missing Information Example
Missing Date (The Health Organization, n.d.)
Missing Title (The Lancet, 2020)
Missing Author and Date (The Health Organization, n.d.)
Missing Author and Title ([Article about guidelines when feeling ill], 2020)

A narrative quotation should be formatted as:


Missing Information Example
Missing Date (The Health Organization, n.d.)
Missing Title (The Lancet, 2020)
Missing Author and Date (The Health Organization, n.d.)
Missing Author and Title ([Article about guidelines when feeling ill], 2020)

APA in-text citation: Multiple sources

Citing several sources allows you to highlight all the most relevant research on your subject.

Usually, these works are cited in alphabetical order, but this doesn’t allow you to underline your most important papers. To get around generic APA rules, you can intertwine your citation into the sentence narrative, which doesn’t hold you to any particular order:


“Jameson (2020), Holmes (2020, 2021), and Landman (2019) examined… “

Ambiguous APA in-text citations

Clarity is the first goal of any style guide, and the APA in-text citation style is no different. Ambiguity emerges when:

Authors have written multiple papers within the same time frame.

Resolve it with dates and paragraph numbers.

You’re citing two or more authors with the same name.

The APA allows first initials to overcome the problem

You’re citing two authors with the same name repeatedly throughout the text.

This is easily fixed by citing the authors’ names each time you mention them.

You’re citing interviews and discussions rather than academic papers.

It’s acceptable to point out the fact that you’re citing personal communication.

If your citations don’t correspond to your references.

The inclusion of page numbers and ranges can help.

There are two or more papers by the author:

Avoid ambiguity by listing all authors. Alternatively, enumerate each reference (2051a, 2051b, etc.)

The APA style recommends shortened lists, abbreviations, and special characters to overcome some of these hurdles. The relative freedom of narrative citations also functions as an excellent way to gain clarity.

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Cite the first three words of your paper’s title in quotation marks, followed by the year.

APA’s citation method is decidedly practical, so only include your citation if it’s unclear where your source’s claims start and end.

While it is not needed to include the relevant page number, it will add clarity to your source.

Both authors’ surnames should be included with an ampersand in your initial citation, but those that follow can replace the second author’s name with “et al.”