This guide is a quick introduction to the American Psychological Association (APA) Style for references and citations. Be sure to consult the Publication Manual of the APA or the APA Style website for detailed standards and procedures.
For a quick reference please see the handout created by the American Psychological Association below:
Of course, your Allen University librarians are here to help and be sure to check out the Writing Center at:
APA stands for the American Psychological Association, and it provides rules for how to format your paper and properly cite your sources. APA style is used in the social science disciplines (psychology, education, communication, etc.). For students at Allen, this mostly means your Social Science and Business classes. Humanities courses use another format called MLA. For more information about MLA please click here.
APA style has a very large and complex set of rules, but there is no need to panic! Undergraduates will mostly need to familiarize themselves with two things: in-text parenthetical citation and the Works Cited page.You must cite all outside information sources used for a paper in order to avoid plagiarism, give credit to the original writer, and direct your reader to more information about your topic. Citations are not only for direct quotes--you also must cite sources when you summarize, paraphrase, or use any information (or images) from an outside source in any way.
ChatGPT works by essentially plagiarizing at a mass scale. It and other AI writing apps are Large Language Models, which means that they have been trained on massive amounts of other people’s writing. Despite what you may have heard, AI is not “thinking,” but rather recombining the text that has been fed into it based on instructions in a user prompt. This means that, at a base level, ChatGPT is functionally plagiarism—it has taken the written work of others and presents it as original without attribution or citation. To then take the output of ChatGPT and present it as your own is then a kind of double plagiarism. On top of the fact that you are cheating yourself of the thinking and writing skills you would have developed had you done the work yourself, you are relying on the work of countless others without giving credit.
APA and other style guides do not exist to make things more difficult for you. They exist to allow readers to trace the sources of information found in a piece of writing. Why is this important? Because the work of scholarship is the work of creating knowledge, and knowledge not built on a solid foundation is less than worthless. Think about when you hear something unbelievable from a friend. If you ask them, “Where did you hear that?” and their response is vague (“that’s just what I heard”) then you may not automatically disbelieve them but you know it’s likely that they’re just sharing rumors. If, instead, they say that they personally experienced something, or that they saw footage of it on television, you will probably have a better opinion of the information. This is, at bottom, all citation seeks to do: create a system of traceability and trust within academic writing. When reading a paper that has correctly used APA citation, you can quickly and easily find the sources of the information in that paper. This allows you to judge how much you want to trust that information. If a citation is from a major scholarly journal like Science then it’s probably very trustworthy. If a citation comes from a random website with no discernible author then it’s probably not. What kinds of sources a paper uses tells you how much to rely on the information in it.
Further, citation is a matter of respecting work that others have done. Any time you include information that is not original to you, you must cite the source of that information. The only exception is common knowledge: for example, you wouldn’t have to include a citation for “Joe Biden is the President of the United States.” This is one of the most widely known facts in the world, and you needn’t track down a source for it. However, for everything that is not common knowledge, failure to cite a source constitutes plagiarism. The most serious and obvious form of plagiarism is simply passing off another person’s writing as your own. However, plagiarism isn’t just that. Plagiarism is—intentionally or unintentionally—passing off the words or ideas of others as your own. Even if you’ve changed the wording, if the idea is not yours then not citing it is plagiarism. It is a very serious failure for a student and a frequently career-ending one for a writer or scholar. Aside from the fact that you are stealing other people’s work, you don’t learn to think and write when you plagiarize. You are here at Allen to learn, so don’t cheat yourself.