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The 5 Most Common 6th Edition APA Mistakes

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

So, you are learning to apply APA formatting techniques in your papers, but your professor is constantly telling you to "please follow the APA guidelines," and you cannot figure out what you are doing wrong?! Here I will discuss the 5 most common APA mistakes that students make.

1) Not using et al. when you are supposed to. This is the biggest issue that I find while editing a students paper. According to APA guidelines, you should only cite a source with 3 to 5 authors one time in the paper (for more than 6 authors, you always use et al.). For example, let's say you have a source that includes these authors: Cottrill, Smith, Ryan, Davison, and Connor that was published in 2018.

  • The very first time you use this source in your paper, it should read either one of two ways. First, at the end of a sentence, it should look like this (Cottrill, Smith, Ryan, Davison, & Connor, 2018). Second, if you are using it in the sentence, it should read something like, According to Cottrill, Smith, Ryan, Davison, and Connor (2018). Note the difference between using "&" and "and."

  • Once you have included this source once (in either of the two ways), the rest of your paper will include it in one or two ways. First, at the end of a sentence (Cottrill et al., 2018). Second, in a sentence, According to Cottrill et al. (2018). Please note that in parenthesis there will be a period and a comma after the al and no comma after the author's name. However, when you use the source in a sentence, there will be no comma after the period in al. Pay attention to where you include commas as this is a major mistake students make.

2) Not providing enough citations in your paragraphs. This is a big one. What I find is that students do not feel the need to cite the source multiple times within the same paragraph; however, this could lead to plagiarism issues. If something you are writing is not your own thought, you must cite the source! Sometimes every single sentence in the paragraph has a citation, and that is okay. You want to give credit where credit is due. If you read the information somewhere, please cite the source as many times as needed!

3) Not including all the required information in the reference section of your paper. This is also a major problem that many students have. There are amazing resources out there for this, so please take the time to read them. I am going to give you a few examples of what should be included (these are made up references so please do not try to search them).

(This blog does not allow me to include a hanging indent, so please remember that each entry requires one. Also, you do not include the words, "Journal Article, Book, or Website," This is just a heading so that you know what I am citing.)

  • Journal Article: Cottrill, N. (2018). Mediating Effect of academic self-efficacy between teachers’ attitudes and achievement of low-income high school students. Psychology in the Schools, 4(11), 124-135. doi:10.284563546.2632 Note that the title is lowercase except for the first word and that the journal name is in italics. Also, there is no space between doi and the actual number, and the d is lowercase.

  • Book: Cottrill, N. (2018). Social psychology. New York, NY: Cottrill Publishing Note that the title is not all capitalized and italicized. Also, note that the city and state are included followed by the publisher.

  • Website: Cottrill, N. (2018). The 5 most common APA mistakes. Retrieved from Note that you should always right click to remove the hyperlinks (cannot be done on this blog). Also, note that the title is in italics and there is NO retrieved from date. This is a major mistake students make. A date is not needed unless it is a web page where the data/information changes frequently, which is not many pages.

  • Website (another example): American Psychological Association. (2018). How to properly use APA formatting. Retrieved from Note that this example is referencing a business rather than an author name. You follow the same directions for a website entry with an author.

4) Including a proper running head. Although this is an easier problem to correct, it is something that students get confused about often. When creating a running head for your paper, you want to make sure that you are selecting "Different on first page" before you start (after you click in the header area). Once you have clicked in the header and clicked to make the first page different, follow the example below:

  • First, while in the header of the first page, type: Running head: MEDIATING EFFECT OF ACADEMIC SELF-EFFICACY BETWEEN (the title of your paper, of course). You want to include the first 50 characters of the title. If you copy what I just wrote, it is exactly 50 (not including the words "running head")

  • After you type the 50 characters, hit tab to move to the right side. Then select to add the page number in the current position.

  • Once you have completed these steps, move to the header on the second page. Type in only your title, for example: MEDIATING EFFECT OF ACADEMIC SELF-EFFICACY BETWEEN then hit the tab key to include a page number in the current position again. You have now finished including a proper running head to your document!

5) Using direct quotes. We all like to include a good quote when we find one; however, if you are not citing them properly, this could cause you problems. There are a few things that you should be aware of. First, you must include the quote in quotation marks. This seems self-explanatory, but many students forget to do this. Second, you must cite where you got the quote from; however, this requires more information than a typical in-text citation does. Below are examples.

  • The author explained that, "you must include the quote in quotation marks" (Cottrill, 2018, p. 27). This example shows a citation that came from a source with page numbers. You must include the page number when using a direct quote!

  • When quoting something from a source that does not have page numbers such as a website, the paragraph number should be included. Yes, you must count the paragraphs and include that number in your citation. For example, (Cottrill, 2018, par. 16).

Bonus Information: If you have two sets of parentheses beside each other such as: (APA) (Cottrill, 2018) whether it is in a sentence or at the end of the sentence, they should be included in one set of parenthesis. For example, (APA; Cottrill, 2018). In other words, never put two parenthesis side by side.

Finally, always double check to make sure that every in-text citation you use is listed in the reference section and vise versa. This is something that many students forget to check!

If you would like to cite this blog post, please use: Cottrill, N. (2018). The 5 most common APA mistakes. Retrieved from

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