FAQ: APA Formatting

The following provides answers to common questions I receive about APA 7 style:

In-Text Issues

What are the APA rules for writing numbers, numerals, and statistics in my paper? For example, how do I know when to spell the word out (“two”) vs. writing the numeral (“2”)? See the Numbers and Statistics Guide.

When do I use “et al.” and when do I list all the authors’ names? See this page on the Author-Date System.

Does “et al.” always have a comma after it?  No. For starters, “et” is just the Latin word for “and.” And “al.” is an abbreviation of the Latin word for “others” (i.e., alia, alii, or aliae, depending on gender—but that’s not important for our purposes). So, writing “Johnson et al.” is the same as writing “Johnson and others.” Now, the point should be clear: if I were to write “Johnson and others (2015) argue that X is true,” there’s no reason for me to put a comma after the “others.” For the same reason, I don’t put a comma after “al.” when I write “Johnson et al. (2015) argue that X is true.” But now you might be wondering: why do I put a comma after “al.” when I cite the source parenthetically, as in “(Johnson et al., 2015)”? The answer is that you always put a comma between the author and the date (year) in a parenthetical citation—it has nothing to do with the “al.”

How do I cite a source-within-another-source (i.e., I’m reading Paper 1 and it cites or quotes Paper 2how do I cite that Paper 2)? See this page on citing Secondary Sources.

If I’m citing multiple sources in one pair of parentheses, what order do I put them in? See Citing multiple works.

What do I do if I need to cite papers by different authors who happen to have the same last name (e.g., Adolph Reed and Toure Reed)? See Citing authors with the same surname.

What do I do if I need to cite more than one paper that shortens to something like “Hernandez et al. (2016)”? See Citing multiple works with three or more authors and the same date.

How do I know when to capitalize words and when to make them lower case? Are fields of study capitalized? How about the names of diseases? See the following pages: Preferred spellings, Proper nouns, and Diseases, disorders, therapies, and more.

My professor says I need to “synthesize” my sources. How do I do that?  See my page on Lit Reviews which has a section on synthesizing sources.

How do I paraphrase sources correctly? See Paraphrasing for more info. See also my page on Lit Reviews, which has a section on paraphrasing sources, and my page on Avoiding plagiarism.

What’s the difference between a quotation and a paraphrase? How do I quote sources correctly? See Quotations for more info.

How do I cite quotations from works with no page numbers? See Direct quotation of material without page numbers.

When do I cite things in parentheses vs. in the sentence itself? See Parenthetical versus narrative in-text citations.

How do I cite specific parts of a source (e.g., a time stamp for a video)? See Citing specific parts of a source.

Reference List Issues

Do I double space my reference list? Yes. See Line spacing.

How do I cite personal communications in the reference list? You don’t. The main purpose of the reference list is to tell readers where they can access a source. Since a personal communication (e.g., an email you received) cannot be looked up by a third-party reader, it is cited only in-text, not in the references list. See Personal Communications for more information.

How do I cite things I find online? The main thing to keep in mind is that APA Style doesn’t categorize sources based on where you find them. It categorizes them based on the type of source they are (e.g., book, journal article, book chapter, newspaper article). So, for example, you cite an article you found online in almost the exact same way that you cite an article in print. One difference is that you’ll also need to include the URL or DOI. For more info see “I found it online” , Webpage on a website references, DOIs and URLs, and Database information in references.

How do I cite YouTube videos? See YouTube video references.

How do I cite PowerPoint slides or lecture notes provided by my professor? See PowerPoint slide or lecture note references.

How do I cite legal references (e.g. court cases, state statutes, federal laws)? The APA Manual recommends following the Blue Book for legal references, which means that legal references in APA are handled somewhat differently than other types of references. One commonly-asked-about example is how to cite California state laws:

State laws (like assembly bills) generally have this format:

Name of law, State Abbreviation Branch (Assemb. or S.) Bill number, Chapter number (Cal. Stat. Year). 

For example: California Fostering Connections to Success Act, Cal. Assemb. B. 12 (2010-2011), Chapter 559 (Cal. Stat. 2010).

For the in-text citation, follow this approach: For statutes (bills passed by Congress or a state legislature and signed into law), cite the name of the law and the year. The name of the law can sometimes be found at the beginning of the bill as signed into a law and/or the beginning of the appropriate section of the codified version. For example: (California Fostering Connections to Success Act, 2011).

For more info on APA legal citations, see Chapter 11 of the APA 7 Manual or these pages:

UW School of Social Work: Legal and government references

CSULB Library: Legal citations

CSU Stanislaus: Legal research

Purdue OWL: Legal references

Miscellaneous – Paper Formatting & Other Issues

How do I properly format headings and subheadings in my paper? Which ones are bold, which ones are centered, which ones are left-aligned, and so on? See Headings.

How do I cite foreign language materials that have been translated into English? See How to cite translated works.

Does my paper (that I’m writing for a class) need a running head? No (unless your professor specifically tells you to do one). See Title page setup.

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