4 Common APA Style Mistakes for In-Text Citations

Last Updated on July 19, 2022 by Ayla Myrick

When writing a research paper, a writer’s focus is most often directed toward the literature review, the methodology, and the results–the meat of the paper. It is thus often easy to forget about APA style and “mundane” details like proper in-text citations. However, proper citation plays an important role in a research paper: It aids the reader in locating and reviewing the sources you consulted so that your work can be validated and built upon–all part of the scientific process. Following are four simple (and easily avoidable) common APA citation errors, along with a quick review of the APA style rules surrounding them.

1. In-text reference citations should be listed alphabetically, not in their order of importance. This is probably the most common APA citation error. Although the inclination to list reference citations in their order of importance is understandable, APA style dictates that they remain listed alphabetically so that they can be located with ease in the reference list at the end of the paper.

2. Whatever is cited in the text must be listed in the reference section, and vice versa. This mistake is often simply an oversight of authors, but it can be incredibly frustrating to the reader who wishes to look up a particular reference. When doing a final check of your paper, make sure that everything you have cited has been listed in your references, and vice versa–or hire an editor to do this for you!

3. Make sure that there are no inconsistencies in the spelling of author names or in the publication year between in-text citations and the reference list. This is yet another innocent oversight by authors but one that can have irritating consequences for readers who are trying to look up a particular reference. Keep in mind that sites such as PsycNET and PubMed require the correct spelling of authors’ names and article titles, as well as the correct year of publication, to retrieve information about an article. When cross-checking your reference list with your in-text citations, be sure to verify the spelling and publication year for each source.

4. Any citation that appears in parentheses must have a corresponding year included, even if it has been previously mentioned in the same paragraph. An unfortunate page break in the APA 5th edition manual has led to the erroneous belief that if a source has been previously cited in a given paragraph, later parenthetical citations to the same source do not need to include the year. In fact, in APA style, any citation enclosed in parentheses should always be accompanied by the year of publication. Only when a citation is repeated as part of the running text can a year be omitted (when it is clear which source is being referenced). Addressing these kinds of errors is a good start toward proper documentation in your research paper, but APA style extends well beyond these four simple rules. A professional editor can ensure that your research is properly documented, which is the first step toward building respect for and confidence in your research work.

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