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The Nuts and Bolts of APA In-text Citations and References

@ Tom
November 9, 2011
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Referencing authors of sources within the main text, within the parenthetical citations themselves, and on the references page involves slight variations.

First, in the main text and in parenthetical citations, only the last name is used. Initials are used only in the references page, unless of course there are two authors with the same last name. In the latter case, you do use the initials in the main text and citations to differentiate the two.

Second, for multiple authors, the ampersand (&) is used in parenthetical citations (before the last author) and in the references page, but the word and is used in the main text. For example, “Butch and Sundance (2011) decided to rob the train a second time,” but “A clever tactic was to rob the train a second time (Butch & Sundance, 2011).” And for the reference page entry: Butch, C., & Sundance, K. (2011).

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This also raises the issue of commas when separating authors. Occasionally I’ll see a ProofreadingPal customer miss the comma between the author(s) and the date in a parenthetical citation. I’ve also often seen commas missed in reference page entries between the last name and initial(s) and between authors. Don’t forget that there’s also a comma before the ampersand in a reference page entry! (See my Butch and Sundance reference page entry at the end of the previous paragraph.) As well, don’t forget to add a space after commas and between initials; here’s a reference page example: Smith, A. B., & Jones, C. D.

The use of et al. for multiple authors often seems to give our customers fits. Et al., of course, is Latin for “and others.” It is also an abbreviation for et alii—hence the period after al that is often missed (so don’t miss it). Et is Latin for “and” and is a full word, so there is no period after it. I sometimes see customers writing et all; I think most of our proofreaders see this error easily, but do keep an eye out for it. Also don’t forget that there is no comma before et. So here’s what it should look like: (Butch et al., 2011).

When do you use et al.? That can actually get rather complicated. There are variations for first citation in the main text, subsequent citations in the main text, first citation in parenthetical citations, subsequent citations in parenthetical citations, etc. Generally speaking, a source with two authors should always cite both authors. For one work by three to five authors, cite all authors on first citation (goes for both main text and parenthetical citations), and use the first author and et al. on subsequent citations. For one work by six or more authors, use the first author and et al. for all citations.

APA provides an easy chart for these multiple author variations in citations. In the APA 6th edition manual, it’s in section 6.15, p. 177. The chart is also online at https://flash1r.apa.org/apastyle/basics/index.htm

Please note that we do not use et al. on the references page. For works with up to seven authors, include all authors on the references page entry. For works with more than seven authors, list the first six authors, insert an ellipsis, and then include the last author: Abra, A., Babra, B., Cabra, C., Dabra, D., Eabra, E., Fabra, F., . . . Zabra, Z.

One last issue for this blog post: Parenthetical citations often list multiple sources. These should be listed in alphabetical order, as they appear in the references page. Often I will see customers list these in chronological order or even random order. Example: (Mertz, E., 1952; Mertz, F., 1951; Ricardo, L., 1949; Ricardo, R., 1951). Notice that semicolons separate the sources. If a parenthetical citation lists multiple sources by the same author, those are listed in chronological order (again, as they would appear in the references page). Example: (Dean, 2008; Dean, 2010).

One of the best ways to make sure you don’t miss these types of small errors is to magnify the page beyond 100% size on your screen as you edit. Another method for picking up small errors you may have missed is to read through the document one last time! I think I can safely say that I find more than one error I missed on my initial proofread, no matter how hard I tried, each and every time I do a final read-through.

These all may seem to be tiny, picayune details. They are tiny, but they are not picayune. They’re the difference between correct and incorrect, between precise and imprecise. Our jobs, of course, are to be correct and precise—that’s what we’re hired for. At ProofreadingPal, we are obligated to be eagle-eyed, and our clients expect 100% precision from us.

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