What is APA Documentation Style and How Does it Work?

The APA documentation style was designed by the American Psychological Association. This group of scientists and professionals created a standardized system for writers of research papers to show readers where their information comes from, that is, to document their research.

The APA system has two parts: 1. the in-text citation (also called a parenthetical citation) and 2. the reference page (this is the term APA uses for a bibliography).

An APA Style Example

Let’s say you’re writing about horses, and you learned from your research that the height of a horse is measured from its shoulder to the ground. Imagine that the book you learned this from was written by a woman named Leslie Connor and published in 2008. Here’s how you could present the information in your essay:

The height of a horse is measured from its shoulder to the ground (Connor, 2008).

The citation tells your reader three things: 1. that you didn’t know this information previously; you learned it by doing research 2. that you acknowledge Ms. Connor and give her credit for her work 3. that the reader can learn more about this by reading Connor’s book.

Now, if you were the reader who wanted to know more about this, the information in the parenthesis wouldn’t be very helpful. You couldn’t go to the library looking for a 2008 book by someone named Conner and hope to find the right one, at least not without a lot of effort or luck.

To accomplish number 3, you really need more information about the book. That’s what the reference page provides. On the Reference Page, for this source you would write:

Connor, L. (2008). The complete book on horses. New York: Random House.

With this information, readers could go to the library and easily find the same book you used in your paper. They could then read it for themselves and learn more about the topic. That’s how APA documentation style documentation works.

Depending on the kind of source a writer used, the information listed on the references page will be different. For example, for readers to find a newspaper article, they would need not only the year it was published, but the exact day. To find a web page, they would need the web address. And since some research sources may have more than one author, or may list no author at all, that information will vary too.

So to cite your sources in APA documentation style, all you need to do is find out what information to include in the parenthesis and on the references page for the type of source you’re using and how to arrange it. APA Style Made Positively Simple will show you how.

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