APA Style Guide

This guide covers the basics of the sixth edition of the APA Style Manual and includes sample citations and additional resources.

Featured Resource: OED

About This Guide

Why do we use bibliographic standards like APA?

We use them so that our readers can easily find the sources to which we are referring; if that information were not given in a standardized format, we would all have great difficulty finding the sources on our own.

Most students who are serious learners do not deliberately set out to commit plagiarism just to fool professors or to steal the ideas of other scholars to sell for millions.  Instead, students usually plagiarize unintentionally, as an act of desperation that reflects in an unsophisticated writing style and a lack of understanding of how to avoid it.

So we'll spare you the tired lecture about how copying a source word for word, buying or borrowing papers and cutting/pasting blocks of texts from the Internet is only cheating yourself. By now you have probably learned what plagiarism is and a few basic rules about avoiding it. You know about summarizing, using quotes, and citing sources properly. However, even students who know all of the rules sometimes encounter difficulties when they sit down to write. Developing a few essential skills will lead to a writing style that will automatically prevent plagiarizing.

Ultimately, avoiding plagiarism boils down to one essential skill: the ability to write and recognize a good paraphrase.

General APA Guidelines

Use these basic guidelines when preparing your final draft:

  • Prefer white, 8-1/2 by 11-inch paper. Use 1-inch margins at top, bottom, left, and right (1 inch = 2.5cm).
  • Choose a clean, 12-point font like Times New Roman. Double-space the text throughout; do NOT justify.
  • Include a header on the top of every page. In the header, you should have a page number (align right) and a short version of your paper’s title in uppercase (align left).

Your paper should have 4 major sections:

  1. Title page
  2. Abstract page
  3. Main body
  4. References

Pointers for Paraphrasing

  1. Read the original source twice. Read the first time for a general understanding of the content. Read the second time for more detail, jotting down a few notes to refer to later as you read for retention. (Some students might argue that they don't have time to read a source twice. However, taking the time to do so at first will enable you to develop paraphrasing skills. Later, as a more proficient reader and writer, reading twice may not be necessary.) See an alternative method outlined below.*
  1. Without looking at the original source or your notes, write in your own words the main ideas expressed and relate them to your topic. It is usually quicker to write out your own thoughts than to try to find someone else's and make them fit coherently. The key is having something to say. Ideas come from doing some preliminary reading and thinking about what you’ve read.
  1. As a general rule, do not use more than 3 words in a row that have been used in the original source without putting quotation marks around them and using in-text documentation. This is phrase copying and is probably the most frequently made error.
  1. Use an ellipsis (three periods, with a fourth to indicate a final stop where needed) when quoting or paraphrasing long sentences or paragraphs. This allows you to omit non-essential parts from the original source, thus making your writing more concise and allowing you to avoid plagiarism. As always be sure to use in-text documentation.


  • "Give me your tired . . . yearning to be free" (Smith, p. 72).
  • "Ernest Hemingway was fond of fishing . . . His understanding of that sport . . . is in many of his writings" (Jones, p. 38).
  1. Or use the direct approach.


  • According to Dr. Donna Doer (2012), "What I believe is . . . ."
  • Dr. Jim Jones (2016) explains: “I don’t believe a word Dr. Doer says."
  • In her most recent work entitled Don’t Go There, Janet Johnsen argues "It is not . . .".
  1. Do not substitute synonyms for words in the original passage without changing the structure of the sentence. This is grammar copying, and it is another frequent error made in paraphrasing and is considered plagiarism.
  1. Use your own voice. Let your thoughts and personality shine through by relating the ideas from your sources to your topic in your own words. Most professors want to see original thought substantiated by relevant scholarship.
  1. Always refer to the appropriate citation style manual for proper format. Double-check your work. Proofread! Proofread! Proofread!

APA Quick Guide

Below is a link to a quick reference guide to basic citation rules (with examples, including citations for social media and general layout guidelines).

Print it out for easy reference. Paper copies are available on the Handout Rack in the Information Commons.

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