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Using Sources

Tips for documenting your sources

APA Style

The American Pscychological Association, or APA, maintains a style sheet called APA Style, currently in its 6th edition. APA Style provides guidelines for formatting documents and citing sources in text and in a references list. APA Style is typically used in the social sciences and education, nursing, and social work programs.

Why Use APA?

  • Unified style of documentation, tone, formatting, etc. allows readers to focus on ideas rather than unfamiliar formatting.
  • Clear communication allows you to join an academic conversation--you want to speak the same language as everyone else to avoid confusion.
  • Documentation of sources gives credit where credit is due, establishes your credibility and your place in the conversation, and enables readers to go to the sources you used for further reading.
  • APA style is used primarily in the social and behavioral sciences fields.

When to Cite

In your college career, you will be expected to cite all of the sources you use in your papers. Don’t just cite sources that you directly quote!

The only exception: commonly known facts. So what would be considered a “commonly known fact”? It depends on the audience of your research paper. If you read the same fact in multiple sources, then you wouldn’t have to cite it, since for your audience it would be commonly known. But when in doubt, cite it.

Steps to Citing

  1. Keep track of publication info as you read.
  2. Determine specifically what types of sources you have. Online or print articles? From a library database? Books with one author or more, or none? etc.
  3. Look up the format for those types of sources in your manual or web resource, using table of contents, index, or search tools.
  4. Follow the instructions precisely, paying close attention to punctuation and italicization. 

In-Text Citation

Check out one of the resources on the left for more information on citing your sources. Click here to see a sample essay.

Introducing the author within your text:

In his article, "Individualism and technology,Khan (2001) notes differences between Western popular culture and collectivistic cultures, specifically the Kenyan culture.


Signal Phrases. A signal phrase helps to introduce the source and visually cues your reader that you are about to introduce somebody else’s ideas.

According to Hayes (2014), “videogames may be educational” (p. 23).
The signal phrase “according to Hayes” lets the reader know where your ideas stop and your source’s ideas begin.
Note: APA style requires authors to use past tense when using signal phrases.

Including source info parenthetically only:

The second reason is that a shared cultural knowledge about writing exists – a knowledge that the American students and teacher bring to the American composition classroom (Ramanathan & Kaplan, 1996).

Authors and signal phrases:

In the sentence                                                         In parentheses

 One:       Lunsford stated                             (Lunsford 2013).

 Two:       Lunsford and Brody stated            (Lunsford & Brody 2013).

 Six+:       Lunsford et al. stated                  (Lunsford et al. 2013).

Citing a quote or paraphrase:

In fact, Leki claimed, “ESL students often remark on the apparent lack of respect for teachers here” (1992, p. 48).

Six or more authors:

(Smith et al., 2007, p. 170)

Organization as source:

(National Research Council [NRC], 2001, p. 42)

Here are some other common verbs that can be used in signal phrases: claimed, argued, asserted, agreed, believed, has found, identified, discussed, concluded, observed, suggested, reported, emphasized

Reference List

The list of sources at the end of your paper should be titled "References." Click here for a great sample essay that includes a reference list. Check out the Purdue OWL or the manuals listed on the left to find out how to cite any kind of source.

Basic components of a reference: 
Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (Year). Title of article. Title of Periodical, volume

      number(issue number), pages.

Here is an example reference page that demonstrates appropriate layout and rules for creating a source list:

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APA Resources

Purdue OWL

APA Manual cover

Sample paper from the Purdue OWL