This is the "Basics of APA Formatting" page of the "APA Style: Citing Your Sources" guide.
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APA Style: Citing Your Sources   Tags: apa style, citation  

Last Updated: Sep 18, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Basics of APA Formatting Print Page

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What is the point of a citation?

Citations help the reader locate your sources, plain and simple.  You need to ask yourself, could someone find this information in the future? A client's personal file would not need a citation because your reader cannot go find that information again.  Census statistics would require a citation because your reader could go locate that information again.

APA requires FOUR ELEMENTS of every citation:

  • Author of content
  • Date content was published
  • Title of content
  • Publication information. This can be the website you got it from or the journal or book's publication information.

Follow this guide if any of those elements aren't available:


  • USC Academic Integrity Tutorial
    Academic Integrity at the University of Southern California is a tutorial presented by the USC Libraries in collaboration with USC’s Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards. Students will now have 24/7 access to a 15-minute online tutorial that provides an overview of academic integrity at USC.
  • Avoding Plagiarism: USC Library Lesson
    This short, interactive tutorial, covers the basics of citations, quoting, and paraphrasing to help you avoid plagiarizing.

Helpful web sites with examples on how to cite your sources

Use this site to find DOI numbers

Use Crossref, a free site, to look up DOIs. The free DOI lookup searches for DOIs using information such as article title, authors, and publisher information.


USC Resources

Cover Art
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
Call Number: BF76.7.P83
ISBN: 1433805618
The official APA Manual can be found at the Reference Desk in Doheny Library and in Leavey (Lower Commons).

Click on the title to see the Homer record.

Cover Art
Mastering APA style: Instructor's resource guide
Call Number: Leavey BF76.8.G452 2010

Cover Art
Concise rules of APA style
Call Number: Leavey BF76.7.C66 2010

Citation Managers

Web-based citation managers that allow you to import references from text files, web sites or online databases. 

  • RefWorks
    Free to USC faculty, students and staff.
    Use RefWorks to create bibliographies and put your citations into APA style format.
    From computers connecting via wireless or off-campus, the USC Group Code is required. The group code is RWUSC.
  • Guide to using RefWorks at USC
  • Zotero
    Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, cite, and share your research sources. It lives right where you do your work—in the web browser itself.

The Basics of APA Formatting

This will run you through the basic requirements of APA formatting, including margins, headers, indentations, and page breaks.

I can't find the example reference I need. What should I do?

Choose the APA example that is most like your source and follow that format. Sometimes you will need to combine elements of more than one reference format. 

This entry from the APA Style blog has more information about what to do.


APA Workshops

Slides from the latest APA Workshop.

APA Tutorials

APA Style

  • The Basics of APA Style
    This tutorial is designed for those who have no previous knowledge of APA Style. It shows users how to structure and format their work, recommends ways to reduce bias in language, identifies how to avoid charges of plagiarism, shows how to cite references in text, and provides selected reference examples.
  • What's New in the Sixth Edition
    This tutorial provides an overview of key changes in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual, beginning with three overarching goals that guided the revision and ending with a detailed chapter-by-chapter list of new and expanded content.

Sample Paper with Examples

Here's a sample paper provided by APA. For every style rule, there is a comment highlighted in the paper that tells you where to find the discussion of the rule in the APA Style Manual.

Writing Guide

  • Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper
    The purpose of this Guide is to help you develop and organize a quality research paper for any class in the social sciences. Note that, if you have any questions about writing a research paper, you should always seek advice from your professor before you begin. Specific requirements for organizing and writing a research paper as stated by your professor will always supersede instructions provided in these general guidelines.
* Asterisk in guide title indicates core subject guide

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