How to Do In-Text Citations in APA: A Step-by-Step Guide


In-text citations are an essential component of academic writing. They give credit to sources quoted or paraphrased in a written work, and they enable readers to locate the sources to which authors refer. In-text citations provide scholars with a means of linking their work to prior scholarship and acknowledge the contributions and intellectual debts of other scholars.

In this article, we provide a step-by-step guide to creating accurate, standardized in-text citations in APA format. We will explain how in-text citations work, offer tips for effective citations, identify common mistakes that students and scholars make, provide a case study highlighting the consequences of inadequate citations, and offer a quiz to test your knowledge.

Step-by-Step Guide

In-text citations in APA format include the author’s last name, the publication year, and the page number(s) if the citation refers to a specific page(s) in the source. The reference list citations provide complete bibliographic information for the source and accompany the in-text citations.

To create an in-text citation for a source with one author, include the author’s last name and the year of publication, separated by a comma, in parentheses within the sentence before a period. For example: “(Smith, 2018).”

If the author’s name appears in the sentence, include only the year in parentheses after the name. For example: “According to Smith (2018), the number of students enrolled in college increased.”

If a source has two authors, list both authors in the order they appear on the title page, separated by an ampersand “&,” and include the year of publication in parentheses. For example: “(Smith & Johnson, 2016).”

If a source has three to five authors, list all authors the first time you cite the source, separated by commas, followed by the publication year in parentheses. For subsequent citations, include only the first author’s last name followed by “et al.” and the year of publication, also in parentheses. For example: “(Smith, Johnson, & Brown, 2015)” and “(Smith et al., 2015).”

If the source is a website or online article without page numbers, use the paragraph number preceded by the abbreviation “para.” instead of the page number. For example: “(Smith, 2019, para. 5).”

Citing Direct Quotations

Citing direct quotations in APA format requires including the author’s last name, the year of publication, and the page number(s) preceded by “p.” in parentheses. For example: “(Smith, 2015, p. 25).”

If the quotation is longer than 40 words, set it apart from the rest of the text by indenting 1/2 inch from the left margin. Omit the quotation marks and include the author’s last name, year of publication, and page number(s) in the citation, followed by a period before the quotation. For example:

Smith (2019) stated that “longer quotations should be indented, double-spaced, and aligned with the document’s left margin without quotation marks” (p. 12).

Citing Secondary Sources

When citing a source cited within another work, provide the author and date of the secondary source in the text, followed by “as cited in” and the author and date of the primary source. For example: “(Smith, 2018, as cited in Johnson, 2020)”.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Using in-text citations accurately and consistently is essential to avoiding plagiarism. Any time paraphrasing, summarizing, or citing information from a source, it is critical to acknowledge the original author. Avoiding plagiarism is an ethical responsibility and a professional obligation.

Video Tutorial

We have included a visual tutorial video below to complement this guide. Consistent with research showing that visual aids enhance learning retention, this video demonstrates how to create in-text citations and the potential hurdles of doing so accurately.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Inaccurate, inconsistent, or absent in-text citations are common mistakes made by students and scholars alike. To avoid making these mistakes, make sure to identify accurately the source of each quotation, paraphrase, or summary you use. Common citation mistakes include:

– Inadequate or missing citation information, including unclear authorship, missing or incorrect publication dates, and incomplete source information;
– Improper citation format, including using the wrong citation style or failing to check for consistency within the document; and
– Poor source evaluation, including relying on unreliable sources or using outdated sources.

To avoid these and other common citation mistakes, double-check the information you use from a source before you create an in-text citation, and make sure you are using the correct citation style.

Consequences of Inadequate Citations

Failure to use in-text citations properly can result in serious consequences such as negative feedback or formal disciplinary actions including plagiarism charges.

Tips for Effective In-Text Citations

To make your in-text citations more effective, focus on the following:

– Use credible and relevant sources that support your argument.
– Vary the placement of in-text citations throughout your paper to provide a flow to your narrative.
– Avoid excessive and unnecessary citations that detract from your text’s coherence.
– Provide sufficient context around each citation to explain why that particular source is significant and how it fits within your argument or discussion.

Case Study

Inadequate in-text referencing can have a negative impact on academic work. Failure to provide proper citations can undermine the reader’s trust in the writer’s expertise, diminish the credibility of the author’s argument, and risk disciplinary action. In one case study, a student’s paper was deemed to have inadequate in-text citations on the basis of both insufficient quantity and quality. The student received a lower grade than they expected, despite in reality, believing they had completed an excellent submission.

To avoid similar errors, make sure to familiarize yourself with APA citation guidelines and ensure that you are using proper citation format and avoiding common mistakes.


Test your knowledge of APA in-text citations using the interactive quiz below. Choose the best answer for each question.

1. What is an in-text citation?
a. A citation that appears before the reference list
b. A citation that appears inside the reference list
c. A citation that appears in the text of a written work

2. What type of information is included in an in-text citation?
a. Author’s last name and publication year
b. Author’s first name and publication year
c. Author’s last name and title of the work

3. Whose work must you always cite when quoting or paraphrasing?
a. Yours
b. Others’
c. Only famous writers’ works

4. When should you include a page number in an in-text citation?
a. Only when you have quoted directly
b. When paraphrasing or summarizing as well as when quoting directly
c. Never

5. When should you use “et al.” when citing a source with multiple authors?
a. When the source has three or more authors
b. When the source has more than five authors
c. When the source has four or more authors


In conclusion, creating accurate in-text citations is an essential component of academic writing. Using correct and consistent citations is critical to avoiding plagiarism and maintaining your credibility and professional reputation. This article has provided a step-by-step guide, a visual tutorial video, tips, and a quiz to help you to master APA in-text citations. Keep up your commitment to accurate citations, and not only will your work be of a higher standard, but you will be guaranteed a better final grade.

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