Formatting: Parenthetical Citations Made Easy

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This is something of a follow-up to my previous post on in-text citations. Consistently one of the most common questions I get from students or classmates is “How do I format this citation?” And honestly? It’s pretty straightforward most of the time. Here’s the rundown.

I’m going to use APA, the format you’ll be using most of the time. Though it’s designed for the science disciplines, most of my other professors allowed use of either MLA or APA. MLA isn’t much different; the majority of the specifics are the same, with very few differences. If there are enough requests, I’ll do another post covering MLA.

The first thing you should know is that these rules can be applied differently in different circumstances. If you have what is called a signal phrase— that is, a sentence which introduces the author or year of publication– you technically do not have to include that information in the parenthetical. If you do not have a signal phrase, you must. To be safe, and to ensure that you don’t get points taken off for incorrect formatting, always act as though you do not have a signal phrase. It is okay to include slightly more information.

Now, most of your citations will be articles or webpages. For articles and books, your citation must include the author’s last name, year of publication, and page number. When using a single quote on a single page, use “p.” For a range of pages– for example, when citing a particularly long quote or when paraphrasing or summarizing a chapter– use “pp.” (Basically, “p.” means “Page” and “pp.” means “Pages”). It should look like this:

(Bostwick, 2015, p. 320).

That’s it. Now, in situations where you aren’t using a direct quote (like paraphrasing) or are referring to the entirety of the text just leave out the page number. So:

(Bostwick, 2015).

“But Alex,” you might ask. “What if there are multiple contributing authors in my source?” Well, there it gets a little trickier.

If there are TWO authors– only if there are exactly TWO— include both last names, separated with an ampersand (that’s this thing: “&”). Ergo:

(Bostwick & Smith, 2015, p. 325).

Do this every time you cite.

For works with THREE to FIVE authors– only if there are BETWEEN THREE AND FIVE— cite all last names ONCEThese are separated by commas and an ampersand. Example:

(Bostwick, Smith, Jones & Tennant, 2015, pp.343-345).

AFTER you have done that ONCE, from then on you use the first author’s last name and the phrase “et al.” Example:

(Bostwick et al., 2015, pp. 343-345).

For works with SIX OR MORE authors, just use the first author’s name and “et al.” It should look like the example immediately above.

When dealing with an unknown author– for example, a webpage or an unsigned letter– include the title in the citation rather than the author. ONLY list “Anonymous” as the author when “Anonymous” is credited as such in the publication; in that case, act as though it was the name.

Articles or chapters are put in quotes, and books are in italics. A citation with an unknown author of an article should look like this:

(“Parenthetical Citations Made Easy,” 2015, p. 3).

If it were a book:

(Parenthetical Citations Made Easy, 2015, p. 3).

For pieces in which there are no page numbers, list the paragraph referred to. This can be a pain, because most sources I’ve consulted do not number their paragraphs. Sometimes there will be heading titles, though, and you can cite the heading followed by the paragraph number within that section. If not, you’ve got to count. In both cases, use the shorthand “para.” to indicate paragraph number rather than page number. Therefore:

(Bostwick, 2015, para. 6).

Those are the basics of in-text citation. Here are a few final reminders:

  1. A period should be place after the citation; it is not a separate sentence. So when you use a source, treat the citation as part of the statement that uses it.
  2. Names, nouns, verbs and other words that are longer than three letters are capitalized when citing titles. Therefore, conjunctions like “And” or “But” are only capitalized if they are the first word of the title.
  3. The abbreviations “p.”, “pp.”, “para.” and “et al.” each should have a period after them. They still count as abbreviations, you know. When used in a sentence, the following word should not be capitalized unless it would be capitalized without the period. Microsoft Word likes to automatically correct this, so keep an eye on it. (For example, it should look like “Bostwick et al. believed that through careful study, anyone could learn how to write well.”)


If you have any further questions about APA citations, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Or, you can refer to this guide, which helped me immeasurably during college:

Purdue University English Online Writing Lab

The above page is pretty comprehensive, but if you still have questions, go ahead and fire away.




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