APA Style in Professional Writing

Where did APA Style come from?

APA Style originated in 1929 when a group of psychologists, anthropologists, and business managers convened and sought to establish a simple set of procedures or style guidelines, that would codify the many components of scientific writing to increase the ease of reading comprehension. They published their guidelines as a seven-page article in Psychological Bulletin describing a “standard of the procedure, to which exceptions would doubtless be necessary, but to which reference might be made in cases of doubt” (Bentley et al., 1929, p. 57).

Since then, the scope and length of the Publication Manual have grown in response to the needs of researchers, students, and educators across the social and behavioral sciences, health care, natural sciences, humanities, and more; however, the spirit of the original authors’ intentions remain.

Why is APA Style needed?

Uniformity and consistency enable readers to (a) focus on the ideas being presented rather than formatting and (b) scan works quickly for key points, findings, and sources. Style guidelines encourage authors to fully disclose essential information and allow readers to dispense with minor distractions, such as inconsistencies or omissions in punctuation, capitalization, in-text citations, references, and presentation of statistics.

When style works best, ideas flow logically, sources are credited appropriately, and papers are organized predictably and consistently. People are described using language that affirms their worth and dignity. Authors plan for ethical compliance and report critical details of their research protocol to allow readers to evaluate findings and other researchers to potentially replicate the studies. Tables and figures present data in an engaging, consistent manner.


In this section, we are going to look at how you can set up a paper in APA style. Specifically, we are going to look at citing books and journal articles within your research paper.

APA is the style of documentation of sources used by the American Psychological Association. This form of writing research papers is used mainly in the social sciences, like psychology, anthropology, sociology, as well as education and other fields.

How Does APA Style Work?

When working with APA there are two things to keep in mind: in-text citations and the reference page. In-text citations will use the author’s name and the date within your research paper. These citations will refer back to the reference page at the end, which lists all the sources that you may have used in your research paper.

When Would I Have to Cite a Source in APA?

Anytime you summarize, paraphrase, or quote information from another source, like passages from books or articles in an academic journal, you are required to list within your text the author’s name and the year the article was published. There are a couple of ways this can be arranged. Here are a few examples.

Another theory came from the idea of the “matching hypothesis.” This was presented by Goffman (1952), who believed that men had the tendency to choose spouses who were of similar social status. The sums of these attributes include are social skills, wealth, power, intelligence, attractiveness, and other skills that are valued in society.

With the example above, the writer puts the author’s last name in the text and immediately after it puts the date in parentheses.

In 1971 Berscheid, Dion, Walster, and Walster conducted another “computer date” dance. This time they paired similar attractive persons together for the date. An independent panel of judges assessed the attractiveness of each of the subjects.

Here, the authors’ names and the date of publication are both put into the body of the text, without using parentheses.

Citing a Journal Article

If I cite a journal article in the body of my text does it mean that the authors of that journal article agree with the arguments in my paper?

No, not necessarily. Dr. Sadler, a professor in the psychology department at IUP, states that you can cite articles that will agree or disagree with your ideas. He goes on to say:

The agreement or disagreement should be conveyed by your wording. For example, “This interpretation is consistent with findings by Smith and Jones (1999) . . . .” Or, you might say, “If my prediction is confirmed, it would falsify the theory of episodic memory proposed by Tulving (1984)” Or, “A number of researchers do not agree with this view (e.g., Brown, 1993; Stevens, 1992; Treisman, 1994).”

So, not only can you use journal articles to support your ideas, but you can also use them to show that some authors do not agree with your ideas or have ideas different from yours.

Preparing to Cite A Source

How do I let the reader know that I am about to cite a source?

To let the reader know that a journal article is about to be cited in the body of your paper, you can use signal phrases that are appropriate for the ideas you want to express. These words include adds, argues, claims, denies, illustrates, grants, notes, observes, suggests, etc. You could also use the standard “said.”

Berscheid, E., Dion, K. K., Walster, E., and Walster, G. W. (1971). Physical attractiveness and dating choice: A test of the matching hypothesis. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7, 173-189.

As you can see in the example above, the authors’ names appear first (last name, first name). Then the year of publication is given in parentheses. Then the title is listed (with only the first word of the title, the first word after the colon, and proper nouns capitalized). Then the name of the journal (in italics) is listed, the volume number, and finally, the pages of the article.

For a book, the entry looks like this:

Schaller, G. B. (1993). The Last Panda. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

In the example above, the author’s name is listed (last name, first name), then the date, followed by the title with only the first word capitalized, the city of publication, and then the name of the publisher.

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