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APA Style 6th Edition

MGH IHP's guide to APA Style 6th Edition

Citation Basics

In-text (also called parenthetical) citations follow the author date format in APA style. The author and date of a reference appear in parentheses when referred to in the text of a paper, like this (Smith, 2016).

When a work does not have an author, use the first few words of the title of the reference in its place.  (Do not pull words from the middle of the title; it needs to be the first few because this is how readers will match your in-text citation to the reference list.)

For articles, chapters, and web pages, put the title in quotation marks.  For books, brochures, and reports, put the title in italics. Examples:

(“Article title beginning”, 2016) or (Book title, 2011).

You can also work a citation into the flow of the sentence, but the author (or title) and year always stay together.  For instance:

As Garcia (2016) states in her groundbreaking work...

Read on for more guidelines and tips for citing specific types of sources in-text.

Citing Quoted Material

Paraphrasing is preferred to direct quotations, but occasionally using an author’s exact words is desirable.  In that situation, you want to direct the reader to the exact location of the quote by including a page number in the parenthetical notation:

(Garcia, 2016, p. 57)

If you use the author’s name in the text of the paper, wait until the end of the quote to insert the page number:

As Garcia (2016) states in her groundbreaking work, “hallucinations provide windows into the neural underpinnings of visual awareness in these patients” (p. 57).

If the quote spans multiple pages, use "pp." instead, like this

(Wong, 2014, pp. 21-22)

Quoting a Source with No Page Numbers

If an electronic book does not have any page numbers available, include as much information as you can about the location, the Chapter, section heading, and paragraph number if possible.

One of the author’s main points is that “people don’t rise from nothing” (Gladwell, 2008, Chapter 1, Section 2, para. 5).

See more:

If you need to quote a website or other material that does not have page numbers or chapters, use any of the following location information instead:

  • a paragraph number;
  • an overarching heading plus a paragraph number within that section

See more:

When to Use Page Numbers in an In-Text Citation

Page numbers are only required for direct quotations. However, there may be times when you may want to refer to a specific part of a source, in which case you can include page numbers in your parenthetical citation. It is not mandatory, though, to include page numbers for segments that do not have a direct quotation.

... the study dropout rate was a disappointing 50% (Smith & Jones, 2016, p. 3).

For more see page 179 in the APA manual.

Using et al. in Parenthetical Citations

If you are citing a source with more than three authors, you may need to use et al. in your citations. When and how to use it depends on the exact number of authors and when the citation is first used in the text.

When to use et. al in a parenthetical citation.
Number of Authors First text citation (either parenthetical or narrative) Subsequent text citations (all)
One or two Palmer & Roy, 2008 Palmer & Roy, 2008
Three, four, or five Sharp, Aarons, Wittenberg, & Gittens, 2007 Sharp et al., 2007
Six or more Mendelsohn et al., 2010 Mendelsohn et al., 2010

In text, a citation with more than three authors can be parenthetical:

Reference list errors are prevalent in scholarly journals (Onwuegbuzie et al., 2011).

Or it can be part of the narrative:

Onwuegbuzie et al. (2011) used content analysis to determine that reference list errors are prevalent in scholarly journals.

For more details, check out this APA Style Blog post.

Citing One Author Throughout One Paragraph

If you’re citing the same author/source repeatedly throughout one paragraph, inserting multiple citations is technically correct but lacks flow and readability. For example,

Dogs are man’s best friend (Smith, 2015). In a randomized controlled trial, dogs preferred their owners to all other people (Smith, 2015). The results of this study have implications for dog behavior (Smith, 2015). However, the study also had a small sample size, so more research into this area is necessary (Smith, 2015).

Alternatively, using the author's name in your writing can make the paragraph flow better and prevent you from having to repeat the citation subsequent sentences. (Also see p. 174 in the APA manual.) For example,

Smith (2015) notes that dogs are man’s best friend. In a randomized controlled trial conducted by Smith, dogs preferred their owners to all other people. The results of his study have implications for dog behavior. However, his study also had a small sample size, so more research into this area is necessary.

The technique of using authors' names in the text of your paper is also helpful when you want to compare the work of two or more authors and make be citing them alternately throughout a paragraph. For example,

Smith (2015) notes that dogs are man’s best friend. In a randomized controlled trial conducted by Smith, dogs preferred their owners to all other people. Lincoln's (2016) work built on this idea even further and provided some evidence of variation in levels of preference based on amount and type of training the dog had received. Her study revealed that dogs who had spent time in formal training programs with their owners showed a higher the preference for those owners than dogs who had participated in more informal training. The results of both studies have implications for dog behavior and the possible causes for variations in that behavior (Lincoln, 2016; Smith, 2015). However, both studies also had small sample sizes, so more research into this area is necessary.

Please see another good explanation for citing one author multiple times throughout a paragraph here.

Using Signal Phrases

The examples above for Citing one Author Throughout a Paragraph use what are called signal phrases to alert the reader that the writer is about to use information from an outside source. For example:

According to Smith (2017)...
As noted by Watson and Holmes (1884)...
Roberts (2000) discovered...

Signal phrases are a handy tool to help you indicate what content of your paper is coming from an outside source and which parts are your own original analysis. 

For more on using signal phrases, read this short guide from the GMU Writing Center.

And see suggested words to use in your signal phrases.

Citing Multiple Sources in the Same Parentheses

Sometimes you will want to make a general statement about two or more of the studies you read, especially if they had similar conclusions. To do that, just include each set of authors and dates in your parentheses, in the same order they appear in your reference list (i.e. alphabetically), and separated by semicolons.

The research shows an increase in birth rates for this particular population (Farhad & Engel, 2015; Pak, 2013; Sanchez, Chopra, & Martin, 2016).

Citing Two Authors with the Same Last Name

Use the authors’ first initials in addition to their surnames:

P. Kalisch and B. Kalisch (1986) argued…

(P. Kalisch & B. Kalisch, 1986)

Citing a Direct Quote From a Slide Presentation

If you are directly quoting text from a slide presentation, include a slide number and a paragraph number (if necessary), so that anyone reading your paper will be able to quickly and easily find your source.

(Smith, 2015, slide 12, para. 2)

Citing a Museum Exhibit

Citing an Item in a Museum

If the item in a work of art or other piece with a known creator, use the same structure as you would for a written work with an author:

(Van Gogh,1889)

If the item's creator is unknown, use the same structure as you would for a written work with an unknown author, and use the title/description in its place:

(Gastroscope, ca. 1940)

("ca" stands for circa, for dates that have been approximated)

Citing a Museum Wall Sign

(Museum of Fine Arts, 2015)

Citing Images in a Presentation

All images in a presentation must be treated the same as figures would be in a written paper. You can think of each presentation slide as a page in an APA style paper. An image should have a caption. A caption contains:

  • The title of the image, i.e. Figure 1, Figure 2, etc.
  • A brief description of the image, followed by (optional) any additional information necessary to explain the figure.
  • A reference for the image if it is not originally yours, in the following format:
    • Adapted from Original Work, by Creator, Year, retrieved from URL
  • A copyright statement.

Here is an example of a figure with a caption that you might put in a presentation:

An engraving of MGH circa 1827.

Figure 1. An engraving of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston ca. 1857-1860. Adapted from "Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston," by Reuben Carpenter, ca. 1857-1860, retrieved from CC BY-NC-ND.

That is the information that goes on the slide where the image appears. You must also cite the image in your reference list. Please see Citing Digital Images.

These are the basics of using and citing images. For complete rules and details, see sections 5.20 to 5.25 in the official APA manual. Also see the APA Style Blog's guide to copyright for reproduced images.

Citing an Article or Website with Unknown Author

When an article or webpage doesn’t have an author listed, use the title of the article in place of the author, both in-text and in your reference list. See above for more info on citing websites without an author.

(“Ativan (Lorazepam),” 2012)

Abbreviating Organizational Authors

When citing an organization as author, such as the CDC or WHO, you may use the organization’s acronym throughout the paper after you’ve spelled it out completely at least once. For example,

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2016), asthma is…


One in 13 people has asthma (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2016).

Whether you spell it out in text or in a parenthetical citation, it only needs to be done once, with the acronym immediately following in parentheses or brackets.

Multiple Sources from the Same Author with the Same Pub Year

Occasonally you may have mutliple sources with the same author and the same publication year. To distinguish these sources from each other, you add a lowercase letter after the year, in alphabetical order of where the references appear in the reference list. For example,

(CDC, 2017a)

According to the CDC (2017b)...

In the reference list, the entries are alphabetized by title to determine which is "a" and which is "b." The reference marked 2017a appears in the reference list before 2017b. The a and the b will also be in the reference list. For example,

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017a). Type 1 diabetes. Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017b). Type 2 diabetes. Retrieved from

Please see the APA Style Blog entry if another explanation would be helpful.

Non-Recoverable Information (Personal Communication)

When citing a source that cannot be recovered, such as your personal notes or a conversation, cite the source in a parenthetical citaiton with the author, followed by a personal communication designation and the date:

(J. Smith, personal communication, August 8, 2016)

Do not cite personal communication in the reference list.

Secondary Citation

Quoting something that is quoted in a paper you’ve read is called a secondary citation.  They are not recommended in APA; so it would be better if you could find the original source and quote directly from it.  However, if you have to because the original document is out of print, no longer exists as it did at the time of citing, not in English, or is otherwise unattainable, put the article you actually read in the reference list.  

Then in the text of the paper, your parenthetical would look something like this:

(Transcultural Nursing Society, as cited in Ray, 2013, p. 143).  

Alternatively your text could mention the original source, and it would look something like this:

The Transcultural Nursing Society’s mission statement (as cited in Ray, 2013, p. 143) states “to enhance the quality of culturally congruent, competent, and equitable care that results in improved health and well-being for people worldwide”…

For more APA Style website examples, click here.