Citation Placement: Where the APA Citation Goes in a Sentence and Why It Matters -->

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Citation Placement: Where the APA Citation Goes in a Sentence and Why It Matters

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Exploring APA Style on the Walden University Writing Center Blog

This month’s theme for the blog is everyone's favorite: APA style! (If you haven't heard my discussion with Brittany on APA gray areas, check it out here, and don't miss Rachel's explanation of precision and anthropomorphism and Hillary's three secrets to writing strong headings.) 


While APA formatting is a set of rules that writers need to learn to understand how to format their papers, citations, and reference entries, at its core, APA is really a tool for communicating to readers. That’s right—APA’s primary focus isn’t to force writers to jump through hoops and memorize random rules (although I know it can feel like that at times). Instead, APA is really just one tool in writers’ toolboxes to communicate to readers about how and which sources they are using to inform and support their ideas.

One way that APA citations become a tool for communication is in their placement: The placement of a citation within a sentence communicates something about that source and how the writer is using the source’s information in that sentence. This means that citation placement is both important in communicating to readers, but also part of your choice as a writer.


Why citation placement matters | Walden Writing Center blog

Let’s look at some example sentences. Notice how the citation placement can change what the sentence tells the reader about where the information in the sentence comes from.

Example 1: Citation at the end of the sentence

Childhood obesity is on the rise, particularly in the United States, where 25% of children in public schools are now being treated for type 2 diabetes (Finnegan, 2015).
The citation placement at the very end of this sentence is typically what we see from writers using APA style. What does it tell us about this sentence and this source? It says that all the information in this sentence was paraphrased from Finnegan (2015). So, if readers read Finnegan for themselves, they would find Finnegan discussing all of these ideas about the rise of childhood obesity and the rates of type 2 diabetes among public school children in the United States.

Example 2: Citation in the middle of the sentence

Childhood obesity is on the rise (Finnegan, 2015), particularly in the United States, where 25% of children in public schools are now being treated for type 2 diabetes.
In this example, the citation has moved to the middle of the sentence. In this case, the writer is telling the readers that only the information before the citation is paraphrased from Finnegan (2015). The rest of the information in the sentence must have come from the writer or from another source that is not (but should be) cited.

Example 3: Citing multiple sources at different points in the sentence

Childhood obesity is on the rise (Finnegan, 2015), particularly in the United States, where 25% of children in public schools are now being treated for type 2 diabetes (Wake, 2014).
This example is an extension of the previous one with an additional citation. In this sentence, the writer is still telling the reader that the first part of the sentence is paraphrased from Finnegan (2015), but now the writer is telling the reader that the second part of the sentence is paraphrased from Wake (2014).

Example 4: Citing multiple sources at the end of a sentence

Readers would understand the source of the information very differently if we combine these citations, like this:
Childhood obesity is on the rise, particularly in the United States, where 25% of children in public schools are now being treated for type 2 diabetes (Finnegan, 2015; Wake, 2014).
In this sentence, the two sources are cited at the end within the same parentheses. With this example, the writer is telling the reader that all of the information in this sentence can be found in both Finnegan (2015) and Wake (2014)--this means that both authors wrote about the rise of childhood obesity, the United States, and 25% of children in public schools being treated for type 2 diabetes.

Using citation placement appropriately

Now that we know what a writer’s citation placement can tell the reader, we can begin to see how the wrong citation placement can create inaccurate communication with the reader. If, for example, all the information in the sentence from example 4 wasn’t paraphrased from both Finnegan (2015) and Wake (2014), the citation placement would be communicating the wrong message to the reader. Instead, the writer would want to separate the citations.

While these examples are by no means the only ways to include citations in sentences, use them to think about your own choices as a writer and your citation placement. Are you making conscious decisions about your citation placement and not simply putting every citation at the end of a sentence automatically? Are you using APA and citation placement as effectively as possible to communicate to your reader? Have you found good ways of using citation placement to communicate to your reader that you can share with us on the blog? Let us know in the comment section below!


author

Beth Nastachowski is a writing instructor, a WriteCast podcast co-host, and the webinar coordinator for the Writing Center. She enjoys teaching students about APA, is currently making an attempt at her first garden, and spends her time trying to keep her cats from eating her plants. 


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7 comments :

  1. Replies
    1. We're so glad, Nora! Thanks for reading and commenting!

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    2. Thank you, this has clarified a lot about citation positioning, but I want to understand, what is wrong with ending a sentence with a citation, must one always add something else after citation?
      Osondu

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  2. What about beginning a sentence with: According to Smith (2016). Is it wrong to cite at the beginning of the sentence?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello. Citing at the beginning, as in your example, is also appropriate as long as everything in the remainder of the sentence is related to that particular source. Using several citation placement strategies can also help add variety to the structure of your sentences.

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  3. Wonderful explanation! Thanks. Please keep posting more explanation on APA rules!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your reply. We are thrilled you liked the post and will consider continuing more like it.

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