The Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin - Madison
The Writer's Handbook
APA Documentation Guide

A quick orientation to APA

If you don't have time to peruse the 200-some pages of the most recent version (July 2010) of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, or if you just need to know enough of the rules to produce a paper quickly, then the Writing Center Web pages should provide you with the information you need.


What is APA style?

Like all documentation styles, APA style provides a standard system for giving credit to others for their contribution to your work. It's what we call a "parenthetical" documentation style, meaning that citations to original sources appear in your text. This allows the reader to see immediately where your information comes from, and it saves you the trouble of having to make footnotes or endnotes.

The APA style calls for three kinds of information to be included in in-text citations. The author's last name and the work's date of publication must always appear, and these items must match exactly the corresponding entry in the references list. The third kind of information, the page number, appears only in a citation to a direct quotation.

The APA style includes guidelines for the formatting of documents. The most important aspects of these guidelines for most academic writing are the formatting of the reference list and headings. When applying APA style to these elements, it is important to remember that the intent of the Publication Manual is to assist the editorial staff of APA journals in typesetting. If you are preparing a paper for a class assignment rather than a journal, you are in a sense publishing it yourself. Consult your instructor or advisor for specific course requirements.

When should I use it?

APA style is primarily used in the social sciences, so if you're taking a psychology or sociology course, chances are you'll be expected to write papers in APA style. Your instructor will let you know whether you need to use APA style for your papers.

What do I really need to know?

In any paper that refers to other sources, you MUST cite these sources properly. Failure to do so could result in charges of plagiarism by your instructor.

How should I best use this resource?

First, determine what types of sources you have, whether they're journal articles, books, or interviews. Then use these pages to learn how to cite them within the body of your paper using APA parenthetical citations and also how to create an APA reference list.

Once you've cited everything properly, refer to the APA Headings and APA Formatting pages to find out how to make your paper visualy conform to APA guidelines.

Finally, if you're writing a paper in APA style for a course, keep in mind that instructors may have specific guidelines of their own. When in doubt whether to use a particular aspect of APA style, always ask your instructor to clarify.