APA Style – Definition, Overview & Examples

28.04.20 APA style overview Time to read: 11min

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APA style is one of the most widely recognized and implemented writing formats in academic writing. Predominantly adopted within the social sciences, it is used by writers and researchers to structure their papers, articles, and academic essays, and format their references.

The guidelines address aspects such as the structure of a paper, citation style, use of headers, choice of language, and presentation of statistical data.

In a Nutshell – APA Style

Just as in any other citation system, the APA style is fairly simple to follow once you become acquainted with the basic rules. If you want to use the APA style in your thesis, you should bear in mind the following:

  • The APA style is an author-year-system and does not require the use of footnotes for source citations.
  • There are different sets of rules when quoting in APA style based on the number of authors of a source, as well as the difference between short references in the text and full references in the reference list.
  • In order to properly quote using APA style, it is essential to stick to the order of information for each source citation. As well as ensure to include all necessary information to provide a complete reference list (the same is true for any other citation system)

Definition: APA Style

The APA style is an author-year-system (just like Harvard referencing and the Chicago Style). This is to ensure that the sources you are referencing in your work can be tracked easily.

A reference using the APA style contains the following components:

  • Author’s surname
  • Publication year
  • Page number
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General overview of the APA style

Proper referencing involves giving your reader essential information about the sources quoted in your text. Thus, the reader of your paper or thesis can easily trace back your sources and access them if needed. The APA style is just one of many referencing systems that can be used as a guideline for referencing.

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (short: APA) was originally developed for the field of psychology. However, it is widely used in other fields of study as well.

Even though the APA style originated in the natural sciences, it is now commonly used in the humanities.

You should know that the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) provides detailed guidelines for writing academic research papers, addressing all formal requirements. This overview, however, focuses on how to quote in the APA format and does not present the Manual in its entirety.

APA style in your thesis

As you already know, the APA style is an author-year-system. To cite properly in APA style, these components are crucial:

  • Author’s surname
  • publication year
  • Page number

Make sure to stick to the order of elements and the punctuation marks as presented here. If your citation marks the end of a sentence, it must be put before the full stop, as it is part of the quote.


  • […] this is one of many reasons, why sports as well as a healthy diet are essential.


How to quote in APA style in the reference section

  • Gaddes, W. (1991). Lernstörungen und Hirnfunktionen. Eine neuropsychologische Betrachtung. Berlin: Springer.
  • Whitney, E., & Rolfes, S. (2011). Understanding nutrition (12th ed.). Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
  • Smart, I.M. (1995). Fun with psychology. Green Hill, IL: Green Publishing Co.

APA style: In-text citation

The following table presents an overview of how to quote in APA style in-text, as well as provides full references in the reference list. Make sure you pay attention to the number of authors of each source you would like to quote in your bachelor’s thesis, master’s thesis, or dissertation as shown below.

Number of authors First citation in the text (text citation) Subsequent citations in the text (text citation) Full reference in APA Style (e.g. quoting monographs & journals in APA Style)
1-2 (Rogers & Kermit, 1994) (Rogers & Kermit, 1994) Rogers, M., & Kermit, F. (1994). Not all sweaters have zippers. Children’s Television Review, 14, 12-30.
3-5 (Rogers, McDonald, & Kermit, 2002) (Rogers et al., 2002) Rogers, M., McDonald, R., & Kermit, F. (2002). Not all sweaters have zippers. Children’s Television Review, 14, 12-30.
6-7 (Elman et al., 2001) (Elman et al., 2001) Elman, J. L., Bates, E. A., Johnson, M. H., Karmiloff-Smith, A., Parisi, D., & Plunkett, K. (2001). Rethinking innateness. A connectionist perspective on development (5th ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
8+ (Vissing et al., 2004) (Vissing et al., 2004) Vissing, K., Brink, M., Lonbro, S., Sorensen, H., Overgaard, K., Danborg, K., ... Aagaard, P. (2008): Muscle adaptations to plyometric vs. resistance training in untrained young men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(6), 1799-1810.

What is distinct about the APA style is the above categorization, which is based on the number of authors of a source. Moreover, the latter also distinguishes the APA style from other citation styles.

The table above shows that the APA style requires you to list all the authors of a source for full reference (in your reference section). Only sources with eight or more authors are treated differently.

Note: Using the APA style is not a general norm in all faculties and for all fields of study. As a matter of fact, many faculties and departments have compiled their own style sheets which might be based on other citation manuals (e.g., Harvard referencing, Chicago Style, etc.).

Thus, it is recommended that you check with your supervisor whether using the APA style is acceptable in your bachelor’s thesis.

The new APA style guidelines (9th ed.) do not require that you indicate the date when you last accessed the online sources being quoted. However, you must provide the last date of access if the contents of a particular website quoted are likely to be edited over time or even deleted.

It is recommended that you check the requirements of the APA style for internet sources you are not sure about (UCOL 2015). The best practice is to be consistent and always provide the date of last access, and not just when in doubt.

Furthermore, if you are unsure about quoting a specific source in APA style, check with your supervisor.

APA style: Citation in the reference list

The following table lists the most common and important types of sources you will come across in your bachelor’s thesis. It is essential to check the format required by the APA style in order to cite those sources in the reference section below.

If in doubt, you should definitely look things up in the APA style manual. For instance, maybe you would like to quote a rather specific source that is not listed below. The APA style manual is a detailed guideline that includes rules on how to deal with such special cases.

Where can you find this manual? Every university library should have a number of copies of the APA style manual, as well as manuals for other style guides. However, the table below provides you with a solid foundation on APA style basics. Moreover, quoting sources that are not among the most common ones as listed here is the exception rather than the rule.

Type of source Citation in the reference section in APA Style Examples in APA Style
Citing a monograph in APA citation style Surname, First name(s) (year of publication). Title. Subtitle (edition, if applicable). Place of publication: Publisher. Shotton, M.A. (1989). Computer addiction? A study of computer dependency. London, England: Taylor & Francis.
Whitney, E., & Rolfes, S. (2011): Understanding nutrition (12th ed.). Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Citing an edited volume in APA citation style Surname, First name(s) (year of publication): Title. Subtitle. In Editors (Eds.), Title of the edited volume (page numbers of chapter). Place of publication: Publisher.
Haybron, D.M. (2008). Philosophy and the science of subjective well-being. In M. Eid & R. J. Larsen (Eds.), The science of subjective well-being (pp. 17-43). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
How to cite a journal in APA citation style Surname, First name (year of publication). Title. Name of the Journal, Volume, page numbers. DOI (digital object identifier)
Note: The volume number must be set in italics, but not the issue number!
Herbst-Damm, K. L., & Kulik, J. A. (2005). Volunteer support, marital status, and the survival times of terminally ill patients. Health Psychology, 24, 225-229. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.24.2.225
Special issue of a journal Surname, First name (Editors) (year of publication). Title [Thematic issue]. Name of the journal, Volume (Issue number). Haney, C., & Wiener, R. L. (Eds.). (2004). Capital punishment in the United States [Special Issue]. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 10(4).
How to cite dissertations & research papers in APA citation style Surname, First name(s) (year of publication). Title. Subtitle (Doctoral dissertation or Master’s thesis). Name of Institution, Location. OR Retrieved from Name of database. (Accession or Order No.)
Note: Add ‘unpublished’ in the above brackets if the doctoral dissertation you are citing from has not been published yet.
Adams, R.J. (1973). Building a foundation for evaluation of instruction in higher education and continuing education (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://www.ohiolink.edu/etd/
Citing internet source in APA citation style If you are quoting internet sources, you should always try to provide as much information as you can:
• Name of the authors/organization
• Date of publication/year when the page was launched (if not available: “n.d.” = no date)
• Title of the document or homepage in italics
• Complete and correct URL
Simpson, B. (1999). Cartooning and psychology. Hollywood, CA: American Psychological Association. Retrieved March 5, 2001 from the World Wide Web: http://www.apa.org/journals/simpson.html

Note: You should never type the author’s first and middle names, but only use their initials, leaving a space between. Don’t forget that each entry of your reference list in APA style should begin with a hanging indent.

If you would like to quote using APA style, you have to make sure that the first line of each reference is left-justified and all following lines are indented:

You should never type the author’s first and middle names, but only use their initials, leaving a space between them. Don’t forget that each entry of your reference list in APA style should begin with a hanging indent.

If you would like to quote using APA style, you have to make sure that the first line of each reference is left-justified and all following lines are indented.


Citing literature in different languages in APA style

If you are writing your paper in another language, e.g. German, but you are quoting an English source, the APA style prescribes sticking to the abbreviations used in the source language.

For example, Eds. (Editors) remains Eds., Hrsg. (Herausgeber, the German word for editors) remains Hrsg. while quoting using APA style, even if this might not seem very intuitive (and you feel this should be translated). In the same vein, n.d. (no date) and o.J. (ohne Jahr = no year, the German equivalent for n.d.) must remain the way they are when using the APA style.

Note: If you would like to use the APA style, you should check your reference list for punctuation marks very carefully, especially as far as the period at the end of each source citation is concerned. The only exception is the internet source, as there is no period at the end of an internet source citation or DOI in APA style.

Internet sources in APA style

Citing internet sources in APA style follows a set of rules. To be on the safe side, you should definitely check what the APA style manual says about a particular source you wish to quote in your text. However, while quoting in APA style, you should bear two things in mind.

Let’s assume that you used the following internet source, and it appears in your reference section as follows:

If you are quoting this source for the first time in your text, you should use the full name as well as providing an acronym:


(Ministry of Health [MOH], 2014)

But from then onwards, you will only have to use the acronym to quote correctly in APA style:


(MOH, 2014):


Ministry of Health (2014). Ebola: Information for the public. Available here: https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/conditions-and-treatments/diseases-and-illnesses/ebola-information-public.

What is special about an APA citation?

When using the APA style in a term paper, a bachelor’s thesis, or a master’s thesis, you will have to use a reference list instead of a bibliography. The difference between a bibliography and a reference list lies in the sources that make up each list.

Regarding the APA style, you have to provide a reference list—i.e., you only have to list the sources actually quoted in your text. The table below is an overview of the main differences (APA Style 2018) between a reference list for APA style and a bibliography:

How to quote in APA citation style: Reference list Bibliography
Sources quoted in the text (direct and indirect quotes)
Alphabetical order of the author’s surnames (in APA citation style)
Sources quoted in the text
Sources which are part of the literature research but not quoted in the actual text
The sources come with an annotated description
A bibliography can either be ordered chronologically or thematically (not alphabetically)

If you have to quote using APA style, the citations in the text follow an author-year-system, just like Harvard referencing. However, the Harvard referencing style requires a reference list which should also contain the sources that were used during the literature research but were not quoted.

In contrast to this, it is sufficient to list the sources cited in the text for APA style. Using an author-year-system like the APA style only requires that the source citations are included in the text as such and do not appear in footnotes.

Note: Seek your supervisor’s advice if you realize that the formal specifications for your bachelor’s thesis require a bibliography instead of a list of references, although you are supposed to quote in APA style.

Specific reference list

There are a few characteristics of compiling a reference list that is specific to the APA style. If you are planning to quote using APA style in your thesis, you should check your reference list to make sure it meets the following rules:

  • The year of publication and edition are to be put in brackets
  • The ampersand (‘&’) is used before the name of the last author in a row of authors
  • The title of monographs, journals, or edited volumes must be italicized
  • “In” only introduces edited volumes
  • ‘[Video]’ must be placed after the year of publication in cases where video material is quoted
  • The edition/revised edition number must be put in brackets
  • The issue number of a journal must not be put in brackets

Secondary quotes in APA style

Drawing on secondary quotes is never ideal, irrespective of whether you are using the APA citation style or any other citation system. You should always try to access the original sources if possible. If you are unable to find or access the original source, you can then insert a secondary quote in APA style, but bear in mind to use these sparingly:


Fawcett (as quoted in Polit & Beck, 2008)

You will only have to list the source of the original quote:


Polit, D. F., & Beck, C. T. (2008). Nursing research: Generating and assessing evidence for nursing practice (8th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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The APA style is the American Psychological Association style. It uses an author-year system of citation to ensure that the sources referenced by a writer can be tracked easily by anybody. It is one of the major referencing and citation styles and is mostly used for Education, Psychology, and Science writings. The complete APA reference list can be found at the end of a piece of writing – there are no footnotes.

The APA format follows the author-year system of in-text citation. This means the author’s last name and the publication year are used in the text. Thereafter, one full reference for each source should be made in the reference list at the end of the research paper.

The APA in-text citation style takes the following format:

  • (Author(s) last name, publication year)
  • (Howard, 2010)

The APA style is important because it helps give clarity to the contents of a research paper. This, in turn, helps the writer organize the sources used in their research for the academic writing project. The readers of the text also have no trouble finding more significant information about the sources used in the text.

Using the APA citation style for scientific papers like psychology and social sciences is great because it ensures that sources and information in these research papers are presented in a consistent format. This consistent form is particularly useful because the topics covered in the sciences are usually complex and multifaceted. Historically, the APA citation style was designed to standardize the process of scientific writing.

The basic format of APA citation requires an in-text citation and a citation in the reference list, which can be found at the end of a piece of academic writing such as a dissertation.

The in-text citation uses the author’s last name and publication year, for example:

  • (Howard, 2010)

We have also provided numerous other examples of APA style below.