Should I Use Narrative or Parenthetical Citation? -->

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Should I Use Narrative or Parenthetical Citation?

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One complexity of APA citation formatting is that besides including all of the correct components in a citation, writers also need to choose whether to use narrative or parenthetical citation for each sentence that contains source material.

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Maybe you have all of your research ready and know exactly how to cite authors and how often to cite authors, but you’re wondering about the difference between narrative citation, which is citation within the grammatical structure of the sentence, and parenthetical citation, which is citation within parentheses usually found at the end of a sentence. Is one type of citation better than the other? Are there rules for when to use each type of citation? If you’ve ever found yourself wondering any of these questions, you’ve come to the right place for answers!

Narrative citation appears within the grammatical structure of the sentence. Put simply, narrative citation occurs when you use the author’s name within the sentence.

A narrative citation with paraphrased material might look like this:

  • Doe (2018) studied the swimming habits of marine animals in tide pools.

Narrative citation with quoted material might look like this: 

  • Doe (2018) argued that “many of the creatures in tide pools love to swim” (p. 280).

In contrast, parenthetical citation includes the author’s name in parentheses rather than within the sentence. 

A parenthetical citation with paraphrased material follows:

  • The marine animals that inhabit tide pools enjoy swimming (Doe, 2018).

Parenthetical citation with quoted material would look like this:

  • In contrast to the inhabitants of larger bodies of water, “many of the creatures in tide pools love to swim” (Doe, 2018, p. 280).

Basically, the difference between narrative and parenthetical citation stems from citation placement within the sentence. One important rule to remember is that you won’t mix these two methods into one sentence; in other words, you might use either narrative citation or parenthetical citation in a given sentence, but you won’t use both in one sentence. With that explained, you might be wondering why a writer might use one over the other and whether one type of citation is preferred in APA style.

A writer might choose between narrative or parenthetical citation for several reasons:

1.) If the writer wants to highlight the author—for example, if the writer is making an argument about the author or highlighting what different authors argued about the same topic—the writer might choose to use narrative citation.

2.) If the writer wants to highlight the information rather than the author—for example, if the writer is making an overall point about a topic and the focus is on the argument rather than on who made the argument—the writer might choose to use parenthetical citation.

3.) If the writer is using the same source multiple times throughout a paragraph, the writer might choose to vary the different methods to improve readability and add sentence variety. Avoiding repetitive citing techniques when summarizing sources can improve flow and source integration in paragraphs.

In sum, narrative and parenthetical citations are equally important, and when and how you use them depends on your specific goal in a paragraph and in using a particular source. Using narrative or parenthetical citation can stem from a conscious choice to focus on the author or information, but it can also stem from an aesthetic choice to improve readability. Whatever type of citation you choose to use, the Walden University Writing Center has resources to help you perfect APA formatting in your coursework!

Katherine McKinney author image
Katherine McKinney is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She received an M.A. in English from Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Education at Walden. Katherine's goal as an instructor is to show students that the best writing results from practice, and she aims to provide feedback and resources that will guide students through the invention, composition, and revision process.

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