Students often wonder how they can cite an entire paragraph from the same source. The issue comes up frequently for theses and dissertations because students are required to really expand on the literature. The issue can also come up in books because entire paragraphs are often dedicated to ideas or data from one source. APA citations can become quite tricky in these situations.
Here is a guide on common mistakes and ways to avoid them (within APA’s rules).
The Old Way
At some point a paragraph could be cited by placing the parenthetical citation outside of the final period of the final sentence of the paragraph. For instance:
This option is not allowed in the 6th edition of the APA manual. (At least, the method is not described, so we can infer that it is not allowed). It is also poor practice to put a single citation at the end of a paragraph. Aside from looking lazy, this method inevitably results in ambiguity about the source’s contribution. Below are various ways to update your paragraph with specific language and avoid having to use several successive citations.
Another Incorrect Way
Another way that writers frequently approach this issue is that they put a parenthetical citation inside the final period of the paragraph.
The problem with this is that we don’t know if the citation in Sentence 4 applies to just Sentence 4, to the whole paragraph, or to something in between. This approach should not be used in APA (as a side note, MLA accepts this practice if no confusion results, and of course the citation would have no comma or year but would have a page number in MLA style).
Even if you are using a citation to refer to two sentences, the citation should go in the first sentence, not in the second sentence. And in that case, the second sentence should either repeat the citation or the wording should make it clear that the second sentence is still referring to the previous citation (more on this below).
So How Do You Cite an Entire Paragraph?
Since we can’t cite an entire paragraph with one citation, we have to find ways to make the citations clear within the paragraph–that is, within the individual sentences.
One way to do this is to use your language effectively. Look at these two options (simplified for the sake of example):
What’s Wrong with Option 1
Option 1 is obviously oversimplified, but it’s poor for a few other reasons as well. The first sentence states an opinion but the citation could make it look like you are trying to turn it into a fact. The sentence also does not clearly identify whether this is theory, and empirical finding, or an opinion. Finally, it is unclear whether the remaining sentences are still Johnson’s opinion or the author’s own opinion.
What’s Right with Option 2
Option 2 fixes these issues (but we still have an aesthetic problem with repeated citations; please see below for how to avoid this). The first sentence in Option 2 is a general statement, so it does not require a citation (there are certainly better ways to start a paragraph, but I want to keep the focus on citing a paragraph here). At least, however, the sentence is more informative than the opening sentence in Option 1. The second and third sentences are key because they explain what kind of evidence is cited.
Avoiding Repeated Citations in the Same Paragraph
There are three citations of Johnson in Option 2. If we are creative and specific with the language, we can get rid of the second two citations.
For starters, I should note that it is pretty clear that the fourth sentence in Option 2 refers to Johnson’s study, but there is one problem: the sentence says “90% of people.” Does that mean 90% of people in general, or 90% of the respondents to Johnson’s survey? We have already been careful with our wording to avoid potential ambiguity. Even though the idea is mostly clear, we want to be crystal clear, and we can do that by changing “people” to “respondents.” Then we could omit the citation in that sentence to avoid redundancy.
Quick Tip 1: Use Words Strategically
Using words such as respondents is a great way to refer back to the study mentioned in a previous sentence. Other words include participants, subjects, patients, and so forth.
Quick Tip 2: Use Phrases Strategically
Phrases could also be used to directly refer back to some aspect of the study in question. For instance, in the third sentence of Option 2, we could change “Among 32 brands of cars in Johnson’s (2012) study” to “Among 32 brands of cars in that study.”
With these two tweaks and also with the rest of the clear language in the paragraph, we can cite an entire paragraph with just one citation.
Shortcuts Are Usually Not a Good Idea
I wish it were as easy as just slapping one citation at the end of a paragraph. It’s not–but with good reason. Option 2 is simply a much better paragraph. I exaggerated Option 1 of course, but the point is that many authors insert a citation but do not clarify what exactly the source cites and how that fits with the topic of the paragraph or the logical progression of the theoretical or empirical framework.
You should always be descriptive enough about the source you are citing to provide context for the results. You can usually do this in one sentence. In Option 2 above, I used two sentences (the second and third sentences), but usually you can do it in one. Then, be very precise with your language about who believes what or which finding explained what. Be as concise as you can with your language, but don’t cut out important content that will allow the reader to understand what material belongs to which source, and what material moves back to your own discussion.
Avoiding Repeated Citation Years
In some cases, it is very difficult to avoid citing a study multiple times. Actually, this is totally fine and you can cite a study as much as needed. Indeed, it is better to err on the side of citing a study too many times than citing it too few times.
However, it can become a bit redundant to see the citation repeated four or five times in a row. Usually this means that you haven’t been as concise, specific, or strategic with the wording as you could be. Or it might mean that you are relying too much on one study.
But in those cases when you absolutely have to include several citations in a paragraph, APA allows you to remove the year from subsequent citations in a paragraph, but only if the author’s name has already appeared outside of parentheses in the paragraph AND (b) the subsequent citation also includes the author’s name outside of parentheses.
For instance, this is correct:
Another correct example:
In this case, we can omit the year in the second citation for the reasons mentioned above. But we have to include the year in the third citation because Simpson is mentioned within parentheses (and the rule in APA 6 is to always include the year when the author’s name is inside parentheses).
Regardless of the limitations of this new rule, it still helps a bit. Together with the strategies mentioned in the discussion above, following APA’s rule to omit years can cut down on redundancy. And if you are creative with your language, you can probably write and cite the entire paragraph with just one citation.