Demystifying Narrative vs. Parenthetical Citations -->

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Demystifying Narrative vs. Parenthetical Citations

Most of you already know that APA style requires you to cite sources—but perhaps you are confused about how to do so. You may have heard of “in-text citations” and “parenthetical citations” and "narrative citations," but you may not know the difference or feel confident enough to execute them on your own.

So, to put your mind at ease, here are a few common questions we receive about citations, along with our answers.

What is an in-text citation?

The term “in-text” refers to any citation in your text. You can use the term "in-text citation" interachangably with "citation."

What is a narrative citation?
A narrative citation is a citation in which the author name appears in the sentence itself, rather than within parentheses. The author name is part of the meaning of the sentence. 


Nadeau (2013) stated that dogs make unique eye contact with humans.

What is a parenthetical citation?

A parenthetical citation is one that contains the required citation information within parentheses.


Dogs make unique eye contact with humans (Nadeau, 2013).

Patterson (2009) is an example of a narrative citation. Whereas, (Patternson, 2009) is an example of a parenthetical citation.

How do I know whether to use a narrative or parenthetical citation?

Is the author’s name grammatically necessary in the sentence? If yes, use an narrative citation; if no, use a parenthetical citation.

For example, in the example below, the author name “Nadeau” is grammatically necessary since it forms the sentence’s subject (doer of the action), thus requiring an in-text citation:

Nadeau (2013) stated that bright lights can make one sneeze.

However, in the next example, the author name has no grammatical place in the sentence, and therefore should appear within parentheses, along with the publication year, at the end of the sentence:

Bright lights can make one sneeze (Nadeau, 2013).

Can I use a narrative and parenthetical citation in the same sentence?

You should never cite any source information twice in the same sentence.

Example of an incorrect citation:

According to Nadeau, American football is an unusual sport (Nadeau, 2013).

Because the author name and publication year are already cited at the beginning of the sentence, the parenthetical citation is unnecessary.

However, if you are directly quoting a source and you choose to use a narrative citation, the page or paragraph number (which is required when quoting a source, per APA) will go inside parentheses after the quotation.


According to Nadeau (2013), “dill pickle chips are rather disgusting” (p. 3).

Other posts you might like:

APA Citations: The Method to the Madness

What's the Citation Frequency, Kenneth?

Citing an Author Throughout a Paragraph: Notes on a Tricky APA Shortcut

When to Use an Author Name in the Body of a Sentence and When to Keep It in the Parenthetical Citation

Nik Nadeau author image

Writing Instructor Nik Nadeau lives in Boston, where he loves to read, speed skate, cook, and write about Asian American topics. 


  1. I think there is one more usage for the parenthetical citation. That is, when you want to refer to the paper, book, etc. directly as an object (or noun to be more precise, it might be called demonstrative pronoun... anyways not the point). For example;

    The algorithm developed by Nadeau (2013) has blah blah blah.

    The algorithm developed in (Nadeau, 2013) has blah blah blah.

    Because sometimes the author is relevant and sometimes not.

    1. Thanks for digging deeper into this topic! You are right that if you refer to the article or research as an object you would use a parenthetical citation. I think your example could be clarified by naming the article so that that object exists in the sentence. For example: The algorithm developed in X (citation) has blah blah blah

      Thanks again for stopping by!

    2. The article and this exchange of comments have helped me a great deal. Thank you!

    3. You're welcome! We're glad this was helpful for you.

  2. If I first state 4 authors as part of a sentence then end the paragraph with them, do I put this into an et al format the first time at end of the paragraph or the next time I state it within a sentence.

    1. Thanks for the question. When making an in-text citation of a text with four authors, you should list all of their names, followed by the year of publication in parentheses. All subsequent in-text citations of the same text in that paragraph should use the et al. format with no date citation.

  3. understanding the correct way to add your author information to your essay have enlighten me because i never knew it was a certain way to write out your sources to your paper. thank you for showing me now i can use it in the future.