This page provides an overview of APA style for in-text citation, and it will familiarize you with how and when to use them. This guide has been compiled by citation experts with extensive knowledge of APA referencing. It follows the 7th edition of the APA Publication Manual.

The key features of in-text citations for APA are that:

  • they use the author–date system
  • they take either a parenthetical or narrative form
  • they are used when paraphrasing and/or quoting the work of others
  • each one is linked to a matching reference list entry
  • they are essential to avoid plagiarism


Many people have asked how ‘to do’ in-text citations in APA style? Generally, you only need two elements: the author’s surname and the publication date! 

The form of author–date citations depends on whether you need a parenthetical reference, or a narrative one. In the parenthetical form, enclose the author’s surname and the publication date within parentheses. In the narrative form, only the date is enclosed in parentheses. 

Here’s the general layout:

  • Parenthetical: (Author Surname, Date)
  • Narrative: Author Surname (Date)

And here’s a real example:

  • Parenthetical: (McCarthy, 1985)
  • Narrative: McCarthy (1985)

In-text citations perform two key roles. 

First, they help your reader identify the full details of the cited publication in your reference list. Every in-text citation thus requires a matching reference list entry.

Second, in-text citations help you avoid plagiarism. Plagiarism means presenting someone else’s work as your own. Citing your sources therefore allows you to acknowledge when you’ve used someone else’s research.


The APA distinguishes primary from secondary sources. Primary sources contain original research, whereas secondary sources discuss research contained in another source. 

You can use secondary sources in your own work, but only sparingly. In these instances, only the secondary source needs an entry on your reference page. Here’s an example:

  • Parenthetical: (von Gierke, 1919, as cited in Conte, 2019)
  • Narrative: von Gierke (1919, as cited in Conte, 2019)

If you don’t know the date of the primary source, then omit it. If we didn’t know the date of von Gierke’s work, our narrative reference would be: 

  • According to von Gierke (as cited in Conte, 2019)

You may wish to refer to a specific part of a source. Simply add the information referring to the specific part in your in-text reference. 

  • For page(s):
    • Parenthetical: (Miéville, 2009, p. 125)
    • Narrative: Miéville (2009, pp. 125–136)
  • For figures/tables: 
    • Parenthetical: (Denny, 1982, Figure 1)
    • Narrative: Denny (1982, Figure 1)
  • For publications without page numbers: 
    • Parenthetical: (Stokes & Noël, 2019, paras. 11–12)
    • Narrative: Stokes and Noël (2019, paras. 11–12)

Your reference list entry will still be for the whole work.

What if you want to refer to multiple sources within a single reference? Fear not, APA in-text citation for multiple authors could not be simpler! Separate your sources with a semicolon and arrange them alphabetically: 

  • (Denny, 1982; Ishiguro, 2015; McCarthy, 1985; Miéville, 2009; Stokes & Noël, 2019).

If you have multiple sources by the same author, list them chronologically. 

  • (Miéville, 2009, 2010, 2011)


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The Unknown Author

Sometimes you’ll find sources that don’t mention an author. In APA in-text citation with no author, the publication title takes the place of the author’s name. 

  • (New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, 2014) or New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (2014)

The Anonymous Author

Replace the author name with ‘Anonymous’ when your source explicitly uses this word. For example:

  • (Anonymous, 2020)

‘Anonymous’ will also serve as the author’s name within your reference list.

How Many is Too Many?

In works with one or two authors, each author(s) name is included. 

If the work has three or more authors, mention only the first author in the citation, and add ‘et al.’ for the others. 

Here is a guide, adapted from the American Psychological Association (2020, Table 8.1):

Number of Authors



Single author

(Miéville, 2010)

Miéville (2010)

Two authors

(Stokes & Noël, 2019)

Stokes and Noël (2019)

Three or more authors

(McCormick et al., 2012)

McCormick et al. (2012)


Works with three or more authors will sometimes look identical after being shortened to in-text references. If so, then write out as many of the authors’ names as needed to differentiate the sources. 

Consider a hypothetical situation where some time-travelling thinkers gather in 2020 and write four books:

  • Book 1: Aristotle, Samuel Pufendorf, Max Weber, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Virginia Woolf. 
  • Book 2: Aristotle, Samuel Pufendorf, Voltaire, Karl Marx, and bell hooks. 
  • Book 3: Aristotle, Simone de Beauvoir, and Frederick Douglass.
  • Book 4: Aristotle, Ferdowsi, Abelard, and Miyamoto Musashi.

Each of these imaginary works would look the same, which is a problem:

  • Aristotle et al. (2020) or (Aristotle et al., 2020)

To distinguish them, we therefore provide more information:

  • Book 1: (Aristotle, Pufendorf, Weber, et al., 2020)
  • Book 2: (Aristotle, Pufendorf, Voltaire, et al., 2020)
  • Book 3: (Aristotle, de Beauvoir, & Douglass, 2020)
  • Book 4: (Aristotle et al., 2020)

Note that with Book 3, all three names are needed because ‘et al.’ cannot be used to refer to a single person.

You will also sometimes need to refer to multiple publications where the author and date are the same. Imagine that Little Women’s Jo March wrote three books. 

Since the in-text references would be identical, i.e. (March, 1868), we distinguish these hypothetical works by adding a lowercase letter (beginning with ‘a’) after the date. 

  • March (1868a) or (March, 1868a)
  • March (1868b) or (March, 1868b)
  • March (1868c) or (March, 1868c)

The corresponding reference page entries will also require the matching date/letter combination.

If different authors have the same surname, then provide the initials of the first author of each work as well as the surname.


Sometimes you will cite a work by an institutional or group author whose name can be abbreviated. Here, you should supply the full name the first time the organization is mentioned in your text, and follow this with the abbreviation, which can then be used on its own in subsequent citations.

  • Parenthetical: (World Health Organization [WHO], 2020)
  • Narrative: World Health Organization (WHO, 2020)


You will need to cite your sources whenever you paraphrase or quote directly from them. Paraphrasing is when you summarize someone else’s work; quoting is when you reproduce someone else’s words verbatim. You can use either a narrative or parenthetical reference for both. 

For quotations of 40 words or less, place the text between “quotation marks” (not inverted commas), place the reference at the end of the sentence, as shown here:

  • His flair for words is apparent, such as when he writes about a “small arms fire, a small skirmish, in a cold war of symbols between the rich and poor” (Scott, 1986, p. 22).

Quoted text that is more than 40 words requires a ‘block quotation’: the quotation starts on a new line, and should be indented (0.5 in.) from the left margin. You don’t require quotation marks around a block quotation. For block quotations, the reference follows the terminal punctuation of the quoted text:

For the time being, at least, it remains a cold war both because many of the potential participants have important shared interests that would be jeopardized in an all-out confrontation and because one side, the poor, is under no illusions about the outcome of a direct assault. (Scott, 1986, p. 22) 


American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Conte, E. (2019). The order and the Volk: Romantic roots and enduring fascination of the German constitutional history. In H. Dondorp, M. Schermaier, & B. Sirks (Eds.), De rebus divinis et humanis: Essays in honour of Jan Hallebeek (pp. 37–53). V & R unipress.

Denny, D. (1982). The last judgment tympanum at Autun: Its sources and meaning. Speculum, 57(3), 532–547.

McCarthy, C. (1985). Blood meridian: Or the evening redness in the west. Random House.

McCormick, M., Büntgen, U., Cane, M. A., Cook, E. R., Harper, K., Huybers, P., Litt, T., Manning, S. W., Mayewski, P. A., More, A. F. M., Nicolussi, K., & Tegel, W. (2012). Climate change during and after the Roman Empire: Reconstructing the past from scientific and historical evidence. The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 43(2), 169–220.

Miéville, C. (2009). The city & the city. Macmillan.

Miéville, C. (2010). Kraken. Macmillan.

Miéville, C. (2011). Embassytown. Macmillan.

New Oxford Dictionary for Editors and Writers (2nd ed.). (2014). Oxford University Press. 

Stokes, P. A., & Noël, G. (2019). Exon Domesday: Méthodes numériques appliquées à la codicologie pour l’étude d’un manuscrit anglo-normand [Exon Domesday: Digital methods in codicology for the study of an Anglo-Norman manuscript]. Tabularia.

Scott, J. C. (1986). Weapons of the weak: Everyday forms of peasant resistance. Yale University Press.

World Health Organization. (2020). Cross-country collaborations to improve access to medicines and vaccines in the WHO European Region.

Matthew McHaffie (Ph.D.)

Matthew McHaffie is a Visiting Scholar at the University of St. Andrews. He has published on medieval law and has taught citation skills to undergraduates.