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Citing Sources: APA

NCC Library and Learning Center APA Handout

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association: The Official Guide to APA Style

Find the complete APA Publication Manual in the library collections.

Basics of APA Citation

Core Elements for Journal Articles Core Elements for Books Core Elements for Electronic Sources
Author(s) Author(s) Author(s)
Year of publication Year of publication Date of publication
Article title Title of Book Title page
Journal title Publisher name Website name
Volume & issue information URL
Page numbers
Retrieval Information (hyperlink or DOI)    

In-text Citations: (Author, Date) Format

APA uses the author, date format for in-text citations.  Please see the examples below for examples with one author, two authors, and three or more authors.

One author:

An in-text citation for a work with one author consists of the last name and year of publication:

The characters of Billy Parham and John Grady Cole represent the bridge between the traditional mythology of the American west and the the cruelty of it's reality (McCarthy, 1998).

Two authors:

An in-text citation for a work with two authors consists of the last names of both authors separated by an ampersand and the year of publication:

The study showed that telemedicine can be helpful to deliver services to MS patients during the COVID-19 pandemic (Alnajashi & Jabbad, 2020).

Three or more authors:

An in-text citation for a work with three or more authors consists of the first author's last name followed by et al., and the year of publication:

The research showed that children exposed to trauma at an early age had more positive adolescent outcomes with research based, early intervention (Sanders et al., 2020).

Reference List Citation Examples:

One author:

A reference list entry with one author is formatted with the last name and author's initials:

McCarthy, C. (1998). Cities of the plain. Alfred A. Knopf.

Two authors:

A reference list entry with two authors is formatted with first author's last name, initials., followed by ampersand second author's last name, initials:

Alnajashi, H., & Jabbad, R. (2020). Behavioral practices of patients with Multiple Sclerosis during Covid-19 pandemic. PLoS ONE, 15(10), 1-11.

Three to twenty authors:

A reference list entry with three to twenty authors is formatted by last name, initials, and an ampersand before the last name of the final author:

Sanders, M. T., Welsh, J. A., Bierman, K. L., & Heinrichs, B. S. (2020). Promoting resilience: A preschool intervention enhances the adolescent adjustment of children exposed to early adversity. School Psychology, 35(5), 285–298.

See the NCC Libraries & Learning Center's APA Citation handout at the top of this guide for more in-depth information on APA in-text citations and examples of reference list entries.

Bias-Free Language Guidelines

Authors should use language that is free of bias (the implied or irrelevant judgment of the subject they are writing about), which reflects APA's commitment to the advancement of science and the fair treatment of individuals and groups. Writers should avoid perpetuating demeaning attitudes, implying prejudicial beliefs, or biased assumptions against persons based on age, disability, gender, participation in research, racial or ethnic identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or some combination of these or other personal factors (such as marital status, immigration status, religion, and more).

It is important to use the terms that individuals and/or communities use to describe themselves, their experiences, and their practices. Asking people from the groups about which you are writing to provide feedback or consulting self-advocacy groups to determine appropriate terminology are ideal practices. 

In addition, APA provides the following guidelines to help writers choose affirming and inclusive language. Use good judgment, if your writing reflects respect for your participants and audience and you write with appropriate specificity and precision, you will contribute to accurate, unbiased communication. 

General Guidelines for Reducing Bias
Describe at the Appropriate Level of Specificity

Choose words that are accurate, clear, and free from bias or prejudicial connotations. Be mindful to focus on and describe only relevant characteristics of your subjects. When there are multiple relevant characteristics to discuss, address the ways they intersect as appropriate. Acknowledge any relevant differences that do exist, and consider differences in terms of the target population instead of the dominant group. When describing characteristics, choose terms that are appropriately specific, depending on the research question and present state of knowledge in the field. This helps readers understand the generalizability of your findings and if your data can be used in meta-analysis or replicated.

Examples of being more specific include using:

  • exact ages or age ranges instead of broad categories and also including the age mean and median
  • the names of conditions (e.g., Alzheimer's disease) instead of categories of conditions (e.g., types of dementia) or general references (e.g., people with disabilities)
  • descriptors with modifiers (e.g., cisgender women, transgender men) instead of descriptors without modifiers (e.g., women) or nongendered terms
  • terms that indicate the context of research (e.g., patients, participants, clients) instead of general terms (e.g., people, children, women)
  • the nation or region of origin (e.g., Chinese Americans, Mexican Americans) when writing about racial or ethnic groups instead of generalized origins (e.g., Asian Americans, Latin Americans)
  • the names of people's sexual orientations (e.g., lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, straight people) instead of broad group labels (e.g., gay)
  • income ranges or specific designations (e.g., below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four) when writing about socioeconomic status instead of general labels (e.g., low income)
Be Sensitive to Labels

Respect the language people use to describe themselves and adopt that language, being mindful that it may change over time or there may be disagreement within groups about the terminology they use. Use extreme caution before repeating slurs or stigmatizing language that individuals may use to describe themselves. 

Acknowledge and respect a person's individuality and humanity. Avoid using adjectives as nouns to label people (the poor) or labels that equate people with their condition (e.g., amnesiacs), unless the group or community uses it themselves. Instead, using adjectival forms (e.g., older adults) or nouns with descriptive phrases (e.g., people living in poverty). Both person-first or identity-first language may be appropriate depending on a group's preference. 

If using operational definitions and labels, describe participants thereafter in terms of the measures used to classify them. Ensure labels are descriptive, clear, and appropriate. 

Compare groups with care, being mindful not to use one group as the standard against which others are judged. Be wary of using the word 'normal' and use parallel designations for groups, especially if presenting racial and ethnic information. When referring to multiple groups, thoughtfully consider the order in which to present them, as the first-mentioned group may be implied to be the norm or standard. Do not put groups in order of social dominance by default; consider using alphabetical order or sample size order. List groups in the same order consistently throughout your project. 

Reducing Bias by Topic

Report age as part of the description of participants in the Method section. Be specific in providing ranges, means, and medians and avoid open-ended and broad definitions. Use the terms individuals use to self-describe and be careful of using gendered terms. Avoid using othering terms that connotate a stereotype or suggest that members of the group are not part of society. Avoid negative and fatalistic attitudes towards aging. Be sure your language conveys that aging is a normal part of the human experience and is separate from disease and disorder. Generational descriptors such as "baby boomers," "Gen X," "millennials," "centennials," "Gen Z," and others should only be used when discussing research or studies related to the topic of generations. 


Disability is a broad term defined in many ways and encompasses physical, psychological, intellectual, and socioemotional impairments. Groups or members of groups of people with disabilities may have different preferences for how they self-describe and want others to use when describing them. Honoring their preferences demonstrates professional awareness, shows respect, and offers solidarity. 

While the language to use to describe disability is evolving, the overall principle for using disability language is to maintain the worth and dignity of all individuals as human beings. Authors are encouraged to use terms and descriptions that honor and explain both person-first (e.g., a person with epilepsy) and identity-first (e.g., amputee) perspectives. Either approach or a mixed approach is permissible unless or until you know the individual or group's preference, at which point you should adopt that preference. Seek guidance from self-advocacy groups or the participants you may be working with directly.

The nature of a disability should be indicated when it is relevant. Within a group, there may be additional heterogeneity that should be indicated if relevant. However, negative and condescending language or labels that imply restriction should be avoided (e.g. instead of confined to a wheelchair and wheelchair-bound, use wheelchair user, instead of AIDS victim, use person with AIDS, instead of brain damaged, use person with a traumatic brain injury), as well as terms that can be regarded as slurs (e.g. nuts, alcoholic, meth addict). Avoid condescending euphemisms (e.g. special needs, physically challenged). Describe the nuances of an individual's experience, their strengths and weaknesses, and capabilities and concerns specifically to avoid reducing them to deficiencies. 


Gender can add additional specificity to research findings, however, precision is essential when writing about gender and sex without bias. Terms related to gender identity and sexual orientation have evolved quickly, so use the terms that people use to describe themselves (unless they may be considered a slur if used by an outsider to that group).

Terms related to gender and sex are often conflated. Gender refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that are culturally associated with a person's biological sex (defined in the APA's Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients, 2012). It is a social construct and social identity and should be used when referring to people as social groups. Sex refers to biological sex assignment and should be used when this biological distinction is predominant. Using gender over sex also avoids confusion with sexual behavior. In some cases where there is not a clear distinction between biological or acculturative factors, a discussion of both gender and sex will be appropriate.

Gender identity refers to a person's psychological sense of their gender and is a characteristic that applies to all individuals. Gender identity should not be confused with sexual orientation. Authors should explicitly state information about gender identities of sample or study participants. Be sure to use gender identities according to the stated identities of the people you are describing and clearly define how labels are used within your writing. Refer to all people by the name they use to refer to themselves, which may be different than their legal or birth name. Avoid gendered terms such as "mankind" or gendered endings, such as in occupational titles (e.g. instead of policeman, use police officer). If using sources that use these terms, add the historical context in which these terms were used. 

Avoid the term "preferred pronouns," as 'identified pronouns,' "self-identified pronouns," or just "pronouns" is more inclusive and avoids the implication that gender identity is a choice. When writing about a known individual, use their identified pronouns. When gender is irrelevant in context of your research, or when an individual's identified pronouns are not known, use "they," "them," and "theirs" to avoid assumptions about gender identity, sexist bias, and ostracization of the reader that may occur with the use of "he" or "she" and its forms. Avoid combinations such as "he or she" or "he/she," or referring to one sex or gender as the "opposite sex" or "opposite gender" as it implies a binary nature of gender. Instead, choose "they" and to use "another sex" or "another gender" in those situations. 

Participation in Research

Use terms that indicate the specific context or setting of research (e.g., patients, participants, clients, subjects). More descriptive terms, such as "college students" or "respondents" are also acceptable. With all contexts, respect any individual and/or cultural preferences. Be aware of the difference between a case, which is an occurrence of a disorder or illness, and a person who is affected by the disorder or illness. Explain broad clinical terms, such as "borderline" or "at risk" if used, but use them carefully to avoid obscuring the meaning of these terms. Specify who is at risk and the nature of that risk. Across contexts, write about the people who participated in research in a way that acknowledges their contributions and agency. Use active voice and professional language, and avoid the term "failed," choosing instead "did not complete" to prevent implications of personal shortcomings. 

Racial and Ethnic Identity

Terms used to refer to racial and ethnic groups change over time; preferred designations vary greatly and terms can come to hold negative connotations as they become dated. When describing racial and ethnic groups, be appropriately sensitive to labels you use. Race refers to physical differences that groups and cultures consider culturally significant, ethnicity refers to shared cultural characteristics (such as language, ancestry, practices, and beliefs). Be clear about whether you are referring to a racial group or an ethnic group, as race is not a universal social construct. Whenever possible, use the racial and/or ethnic terms your participants or subjects use to describe themselves and make sure the categories you use are as clear and specific as possible. 

Be careful to avoid nonparallel designations when comparing groups. When writing about non-White racial and ethnic groups collectively, terms such as "people of color" or "underrepresented groups" are more appropriate and inclusive than "minorities," which may be viewed as being less than, oppressed, or deficient in comparison with the majority. Do not assume that members of minority groups are underprivileged, and use the terms "economically marginalized" or "economically exploited" or more specific terms to refer to discrimination or systematic oppression as a whole, instead of "underprivileged."

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation includes "a person's sexual and emotional attraction to another person and the behavior and/or social affiliation that may result from this attraction," (defined in the APA's Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People, 2015). All people choose their partners regardless of their sexual orientation and sexual orientation itself is not a choice. Thus, the term "sexual orientation" should be used and "sexual preference," and "sexual identity," should be avoided.

Examples of sexual orientation include lesbian, gay, heterosexual, straight, asexual, bisexual, queer, polysexual, and pansexual). Designations are ever-evolving and self-identification is best whenever possible. The umbrella term "sexual and gender minorities" can be used to refer to multiple groups or write about sexual orientation and gender diversity. Abbreviations such as LGBTQ, LGBTQ+, LGBTQIA, and LBGTQIA+ may also be used to refer to multiple groups, although LGBT is now considered outdated. If you use an abbreviation, define it, and ensure it is representative of the groups you are writing about. Be specific about the groups to which you are referring, and do not use the above abbreviations to refer to a single group. 

Avoid the terms "gays," "homosexual," and "homosexuality." Instead, use specific or identity-first terms (gay men, gay people, bisexual people, queer people) which refer to identities and to the culture and communities that have developed among those who share those identities. Using the term "homosexual" is inaccurate to describe these many communities and the term "homosexuality" has been and continues to be associated with negative stereotypes, pathology, and the reduction of people's identities to their sexual behavior. "Straight" and "heterosexual" are appropriate to use, with "straight" indicating sexual orientation is not just a dichotomy. 

Socioeconomic Status

Because socioeconomic status (SES) is complex and encompasses income, educational attainment, occupational prestige, and subjective perceptions of social status and class, using precise terminology is essential to minimizing bias. Provide as much detail as possible about people's income, education, and occupations or employment circumstances. Avoid using broad, pejorative, and generalizing terms to discuss SES. The terms "the homeless," "inner-city," "ghetto," "the projects," "poverty stricken," and "welfare reliant" have negative connotations and should be avoided. Instead, specific, person-first language should be used, such as "mothers who receive TANF benefits" rather than "welfare mothers." 

Historically, terms such as "low-income" and "poor" have served as implicit descriptors for racial and/or ethnic minority groups, so including racial and/or ethnic descriptors within SES categories is critical to specificity. Be careful of perpetuating implicit biases by using deficit-based language that blames individuals for their situation rather than recognizing a broader societal context that influences individual circumstances. Deficit language should also be avoided in favor of strengths based language. 


When writing about personal characteristics, writers should also be mindful of intersectionality, the way individuals are shaped and identify themselves in a vast array of contexts. Intersectionality is a framework that addresses the multiple dimensions of identity and social systems that combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege and can result in marginalized identities. A person can have multiple identities and identify with the experiences of multiple social groups. But they may not share all of the perspectives and experiences of those social groups due to their unique position. The privilege of one context may intersect with the oppression in another.

To address intersectionality in a research project, identify an individual's relevant characteristics and group memberships and describe how these characteristics and memberships intersect in ways relevant to the study or topic. When reporting and interpreting results, do not assume one characteristic alone is responsible for the findings. Be sure to consider and note the impact of any intersections on the findings.

The above is an abbreviated version of the guidelines appearing in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th edition. See 5: Bias-Free Language Guidelines in the Manual, pages 131-149, for APA's full guidance on inclusive language. Additional examples of bias-free language can be found online at the APA Style website