Academic Paper APA Reference format -intext citation, general referencing and when to use et al

Academic Paper APA Reference format -intext citation, general referencing and when to use et al

The different editions in the APA Referencing format tend to confuse students. References are used in acknowledging the source of the idea, data, concept, model, method, technique, and words, among others, used in an academic write-up.

Referencing is the act of giving honour to whom it is due. Honour to researchers, and writers, among others, that worked to find out, analyse, create and work on a hypothesis, concepts, and models, among others. Failure to “give honour to whom it is due” is very wrong and is known as plagiarism.

Writing an APA style paper or APA format paper should not be a herculean task. Referencing is an important aspect of every scholarly work, be it at the undergraduate, graduate, or postgraduate level. There is various referencing format available for use. However, your faculty, department or discipline determines the one you would use. For instance, those in social science, education, and psychology adopt the APA approach.

The acronym APA stands for the American Psychological Association. The APA style refers to the official formatting style adopted by the American Psychological Association in citing sources in scholarly papers, articles, long essays and dissertations.

Following its origin in 1929, the APA style has been widely used by student writers in the field of psychology, education, and social sciences to experience their ideas and present information in a written work in a consistent manner.

Therefore an APA style paper simply implies a research paper formatted following the American Psychological Association (APA) style referencing format. Typically an APA-style paper would follow the author-date sequence.

However, there are different ways of “giving honour” (referencing). A notable example is the style of the American Psychological Association which is explained in this text using numerous examples.

Also, references also exit both in the text (in-text references) and as a list at the end of the literature (reference list)

  1. In-text references: These are citations within the main body of a text. There are “quoted” or paraphrased and must correspond to a reference in the reference list. For in-text reference, mainly the surname of the author(s) and date are used. An exception is when the words are quoted word-for-word. In this case, the page number of the piece quoted is added.
  1. Reference List: This a complete list of all sources used in writing. In the APA style, the reference list is ordered based on the surname of the first authors and begins on a new page.


Academic Paper APA Reference format and how to cite different sources

Direct Quote: The reference should be placed after the quote must follow. It should also have a page number and a date, e.g. (Leonard, 2005, p.1346). However, the page number is not needed if parenthesis is used.

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Two Authors: In citing two authors,  their surnames are present with and or “&”.E.g.: Michael and Sam (2003) states Or (Howard & Sam, 2017).

Three to Five Authors: When citing for the first time list the surname of all the authors, e.g., Michael, Sam and Howard (2003) posit that Or (Michael, Sam, & Howard, 2017). However, for further citations, used the first authors’ name alone along with “et al.”: Miranda et al. (2010) state… Or (Miranda et al., 2010).

Six plus Authors: Use the first authors’ surname along with “et al.”. Similar to the second cite for three to five authors

No Authors: In this situation, use the first few words of the work or writeup. However, the title of the work is used on most occasions.

When citing books, report among others, without a known author, italicise the title. For example: (Nigeria’s Education State, 2019).

However, when citing an article, a book chapter or a web page, used quotation marks to enclose the title. E.g.: (“The fall of the giant”, 2018).

Same Author with Multiple Works in the same year: Citing works from the same year requires the use of “a, b,c” following the date. Also, the “a,b,c” is attached in an alphabetical order based on the surname of the first author, for example (Michael, 2017a) Or (Michael, 2017b).

Multiple Works: Citing works by the same author across years requires the use of a comma in arranging the works in chronological order. For instance:

Michael (2007, 2013, 2017) Or (Michael, 2007, 2013, 2017). However, when citing works written by various writers and researchers over a period arrange the references or citations in alphabetical order. E.g.:  (Michael & Smith, 2017; Timothy, Moses, & Davis, 20o5).

A Group or Organisation: When citing for the first time, use the full name of the group or organisation. However, afterwards, you can shorten it or use a recognised abbreviation. E.g.

First cite: (American Psychology Association, 2015)

Further Cites: (APA, 2015)

A Secondary Source: The example below shows how to cite a secondary source. Mitland (2017) is the secondary source in this example. For example, Lola (1990) as cited in Mitand (2017) Or (Lola, 1990, as cited in Mitand 2017)

A Book: An example is shown below: Mike, M.A., Thompson, M.O, & Cory, R.I. P. (2006). Research in Nigeria. New Delhi, India: Freemanbiz Publisher

James, A.J & Wanle, T. (2011). Sakkiya: Neglected public health issue (3d ed.). Lagos, Nigeria: Freemanbiz Publisher

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An Edited Book: The basic format is as follows: Wilfred, H.Y. (Ed.). (1995). Politics of policymaking, implementation and evaluation in Ghana. (3rd ed.). Accra, Ghana: Myriad Publishers

A Chapter in an Edited Book: Eg: Tony, C.P. (2017). APA Edited Book. In S.T, Adegbola (Ed.). Citation 101 (5th ed., pp. 59-90). Port Harcourt, Nigeria: New Access Publishers

An E-Book:  An example is shown below:

Mikell, J.A., Thompson, M.A, & Coral, R.U. (2007). A citation guide book. Retrieved from https://howtociteanebookchapter

An E-Book Chapter: The structure is as follows: Tola, B.N. (2007). APA citation Book. In S.Y, Williams (Ed.). A guide to APA citation  (3rd ed., pp. 40-105). Retrieved from https://citingwithapa

A Journal Article (Print or Online): An example is shown below

[Print article] Mihell, F.A. (2003). Harvard: A prominent citation style. References Journal, 9(3), 79- 99.

[Online article] Mihell, F.A. (2003). APA: Why is it so important. References Journal, 9(3), 79- 99. Retrieved from https://www.references-journal/apa-why-is-it-so-important

Newspaper Article (Print or Online): For example, Miguel, G.A. (2008). Nigeria’s closes border. The Daily Press News, pp.27. Retrieved from  https://www.dailypressnews/nigeria-closes-border-economic-meltdonw-ensues

Magazine Articles (Online or Print ): Eg Michelle, J.A. (2017). The Black Magazine. Magazine Pride, pp. 62-82.

An Image: For example, Matthew, J.M. (1201-1202). The new dawn[painting]. Retrieved from www.muuseum-of-new-york/Matthew-j-m-the-new-dawn

A Film: For example, Diana, L. (Producer), & Halstead, J. (1964) The twins: Dispelling African Myths: Tunde Kosojo Productions.

TV Programme: For example, Tobi, A., and Folake, Oyelade (Writers), & John, S (Director). (2002). Flyman [Television series episode]. In Schewssa, A. (Executive Producer). The King Liar. Ibadan, Oyo: Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State

A Song: For example, Will, D, Jay, K, E., Hallie, E., Tubman, J., and Rhods, D.C. (2006) Sing high [Recorded by Will D]. On Leptoss [visual album]. London, Uk: Plongherhood Records (June 16, 18)

A Website: For example Michael, M.A. (2019, Aug 21). How to cite in APA format. Retrieved from: https://www.



A typical APA style paper for in-text citation gives the author’s name followed by the year of publication. However, the manner in which the citation would be presented depends on some factors, for instance,

  1. If the citation is given at the end of a sentence, then the author’s last name and year of publication is written in parenthesis separated with a comma, for instance, let us assume that Mark Nnamdi, in a study he conducted in 2017 said something interesting that we want our readers to see in our work, now what is expected that we either paraphrase what the researcher has said or present the idea undiluted with quotation marks, showing that the idea was not edited. Thus “economic depression has become a peculiar feature of third-world countries, this is due to their inability to tangibly tap into the vast potentials inherent in the introduction of technology in the management of the various aspects of their economy” (Nnadi, 2017).
  2. If the citation forms a part of the sentence, then the author’s name is given, while the year of publication is given in parenthesis. For instance, according to Nnadi, (2017).
  3. When citing two authors, give the last names of both authors, using an ampersand (&) to connect them; then followed by the year of publication. Example According to Nnadi & Okpara (2019), or if the citation comes at the end of the sentence, remember to put both authors’ names and year of publication in parenthesis like this … (Nnadi & Okpara, 2019).
  4. When citing three authors, follow the same rules first author’s last name, followed by the second author’s last name, separated by a comma, and the third author’s last name joined with an ampersand. Example ……….. (Alele, Nnadi & Opkara, 2019). The same rule is applicable for four, five, six authors.
  • General referencing
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This entails a list of all the citations and works cited in the study. It is expected that the researcher should provide the names and initials of the authors, the year of publication, the title of publication, and the source of the cited work in ascending order. Example

Becker-Olsen, Karen, L., Cudmore, B.A., and Hill, Ronald, (2006). “The Impact of Perceived Corporate Social Responsibility on Consumer Behaviour”. Journal of Business Research, Vol. 59, No. 1, pp.46-53.


When to use et al 

The word et al. is gotten from the Latin phrase et alia which means and others. Et al is used mostly in in-text citations and in the reference list found in academic papers.

For instance, you might see the phrase, Igbaji et al. (2019). This means that the study, research or academic work was carried out by Igbaji and other researchers, usually more than three (3).

Also, it is worth noting that most of the referencing style guides including APA, MLA, Chicago Manual of Style, and Harvard, et al. do not need to be italicized.

However, some field-specific publications require the italicization of the phrase, so it’s always a good thing to double-check.

Using et al. appropriately varies between style guides.

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