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In-Text Citations Formatting

In-Text Citations: Narrative and Parenthetical


In-text citations can be written in two ways:

  1. Narrative (signal phrase) in-text citation

For example:

According to Borland and Forrester (2004), white Gaussian noise in optical fibers can cause signal distortion.

  1. Parenthetical in-text citation

For example:

White Gaussian noise in optical fibers can cause signal distortion (Borland & Forrester, 2004).

NB: For narrative in-text citations for sources with two authors, you should use the word “and” between the authors’ surnames. Conversely, use the ampersand symbol (&) to demarcate author surnames in parenthetical in-text citations. When there are more than three authors, this rule does not apply.

In-Text Citations for One or Two Authors

Barring exceptional circumstances, all in-text citations, including the first citation of a source with one or two authors, must include all authors’ last names.

For a source authored by one individual, indicate the author’s last name and the source’s year of publication. For example:

Narrative in-text citation: According to Guthrie (2020), a complete lockdown is necessary to reduce coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) infection rates across countries.

Parenthetical in-text citation: A complete lockdown is necessary to flatten the coronavirus 2019 infection curve in most countries (Guthrie, 2020).

For a source authored by two individuals, write the two authors’ last names and the source’s publication year. If you use a narrative (signal phrase) in-text citation, use the word ‘and’ instead of the ampersand character (&):

According to Lai and Cavanagh (1997), research into the molecular biology of coronaviruses inadvertently led to the advancement of knowledge in molecular biology, in general.

Research into the molecular biology of coronaviruses inadvertently led to the advancement of knowledge in molecular biology, in general (Lai & Cavanagh, 1997).

You should only write the last name of the first author and the Latin abbreviation “et al.” (without quotation marks), and the source’s publication year.

Citing Multiple Sources in One Parenthetical Citation

Sometimes, you can obtain information from different authors (two or more) and need to cite it in one parenthetical in-text citation. To do so, order the sources in ascending alphabetical order just as you would do on the references page. Separate the sources using semicolons. Below is an example:

(Baldwin, 1948; Sears et al., 1976)

In the example above, there are two sources: one authored by Baldwin and published in 1948 and another authored by Sears et al. and published in 1976.

Sources’ First Authors Share Surnames but not Initials

When two or more sources’ first authors have the same surname but have different second names (hence different initials), use initials together with the first authors’ last names in all in-text citations. Do this even when the sources have different years of publication:

For example:

(K. W. Söze & Kobayashi, 2020)

(B. M. Söze & Onyango, 2014)

However, if the first authors’ surnames and initials are all the same, use the author-date citation system when citing the sources in the text of your paper (i.e., do not include the initials of the first authors). In the above example, if K. W. Söze and B. M. Söze both had the initials “T. M.” (instead of “K. W.” and “B. M.,” respectively), the corresponding in-text citations would be formatted as follows:

(Söze & Kobayashi, 2020)

(Söze & Onyango, 2014)

Source Authored by Multiple Authors With Similar Surnames

If two or more authors of a single source have the same last name, follow the author-date citation system to cite the source in the text of your paper (i.e., do not include initials of the authors):

(Kimani & Kimani, 2018)

Therefore, accord no special treatment to a single source that contains multiple similar surnames – present the in-text citation in the standard format.

In-Text Citations for Sources With Unnamed Authors

Unknown Author: When citing a work without an author, refer to the work by its title in a narrative (signal phrase) citation. Alternatively, use the work’s title’s first few words in a parenthetical citation. Book and report titles should be italicized. Enclose the titles of web pages, chapters, and articles in quotation marks.

For example:

An Atlantic hurricane, which is typical of the Atlantic Ocean, occurs anywhere between June and November (‘‘Atlantic Hurricane,’’ 2022).

Below is the corresponding reference:

Atlantic hurricane. (2022, September 30). In Wikipedia.

If the source lists the author as Anonymous, treat the word ‘Anonymous’ as the source’s author’s surname. As such, use the word ‘Anonymous’ in the in-text citation and reference list entry corresponding to the source.

For example (made up book reference):

Anonymous. (2022). The boy who made a spaceship. Hits Publishers.

Parenthetical in-text citation: The 16-year-old boy was born to Spanish parents (Anonymous, 2022).

Narrative in-text citation: Anonymous (2022) concluded that…

Please note that sources with anonymous or unnamed authors are considered unauthoritative. Avoid them whenever possible.

Sources Whose Authors and Publication Dates Are Similar

Sometimes, references can have the same authors and same publication dates, which can be confusing for a reader. A lowercase letter is added immediately after the year to enable a reader to tell the sources apart. Before assigning these letters in the in-text citations, first, arrange your references in ascending alphabetical order. Next, assign the letters in the order in which the references appear. Thereafter, assign the in-text citations corresponding letters.

NB: In case the reference entry has a specific date, only use the year and the assigned letter (i.e., leave out the date and month).

In-Text Citations for Indirect Sources

A primary source of information contains original material (e.g., a journal article written by scientists reporting the results of a scientific experiment they conducted). A secondary source of information contains material obtained from another source (e.g., a book that cites the journal article’s experiment’s results).

APA 7 recommends using original or primary sources of information wherever possible. Use secondary sources of information only under extenuating circumstances. For instance, when a primary source is unavailable (e.g., when it is out of print), or when the author wrote it in a language you cannot comprehend, you can use a secondary source. Therefore, instead of citing a secondary source, always attempt to obtain the primary source and cite it.

However, if you cannot cite an original source for a reason, cite the secondary source as in the example below.

Bush (2010) argued that… (as cited in Obama, 2017).

Please note that the original source is mentioned in the signal phrase, while the secondary source is presented in the parenthetical citation.

Alternatively, you can include both the primary and secondary sources in a parenthetical citation:

(Bush, 2010, as cited in Obama, 2017)

List the secondary source and not the original source in the corresponding reference list entry.

Key Rules for In-text Citations

Use Last Names and not First Names

Sometimes, students make the mistake of using an author’s first name when writing in-text citations. The right thing to do is indicate the author’s last name (surname) AND NOT his/her first name.

For example:

In-text citation: (Friederici, 2017) or Friederici (2017)

Reference entry:

Friederici, A. D. (2017). Language in our brain: The origins of a uniquely human capacity. MIT Press.

Page Numbers Are Unnecessary in a Paraphrased Text

You do not need to provide page numbers for work you have not copied word for word. Instead, write the author’s last name and the work’s publication year. Although the APA 7th edition manual encourages writers to provide page numbers where possible, it only mandates writers to provide page numbers when presenting direct quotations. However, a writer can add a page number to the citation of a paraphrased idea when such a page number would aid readers in quickly identifying the segment, especially in a lengthy, complicated work that is the source of the paraphrased statement.

Do not Cite One Source Multiple Times in a Paragraph

If paraphrased text spans several sentences of a single paragraph with only one cited work, a writer only needs to cite the work in the paraphrased text’s first sentence. Subsequent sentences need not include a citation if they expound on the same idea, making it clear that they refer to the same work.

Year not Required for Repeated In-Text Citations

If a source’s narrative (signal phrase) in-text citation appears more than once in a paragraph, only write the surname of the author(s) and the source’s publication year in the narrative citation that appears first in that paragraph. The second and subsequent signal-phrase citations in the paragraph only need to have the name(s) of the author(s). However, when you cite multiple works by the same author(s) in a single paragraph, failing to indicate the publication year in an in-text citation will confuse readers about the specific source the writer mentions in the citation. Therefore, the writer should include the year in all citations for the author’s(s’) sources in the paragraph. For instance, if you have multiple narrative in-text citations for Obama (2006) and Obama (1995) in the same paragraph, make sure to include the year in all the citations to prevent confusion.

All parenthetical in-text citations must include the publication year.

In-Text Citations Need Corresponding Reference Entries

Except for special cases (for instance, when quoting personal communications), you cannot have an in-text citation without a corresponding entry in the references list. The converse is also true; you cannot have an entry in your references list without at least one corresponding in-text citation.