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Apa Style Personal Essay

Dear APA,

I am writing a paper for graduate school and would like to cite something I have specialized knowledge about because of previous academic and work experience. I no longer remember exactly where I learned it or who I learned it from, but I am sure that I am correct. Do I really have look up everything again? I’m not some world-famous scholar or anything, but I feel like my degree and life experience should count for something. Can I cite myself or my degree in my paper?

—Foggy in Fresno

Dear Foggy,

Unfortunately, personal experience is not something you can cite in an academic paper. First, let’s think about this question in terms of the purpose of the reference list, which is retrievability of the source for the reader. With personal experience, there is nothing for the reader to retrieve—ergo, no citation. Likewise, if you have other nonretrievable sources (personal communications, like personal e-mail and phone calls), these do not get reference list entries either (although they do receive in-text citations, because they involve other people than just yourself).

That brings us to a second point, though: the purpose of citation in academic writing. Consider for a moment the way published authors provide citations in their articles for so many facts that are doubtless part of their personal experience and knowledge by now. They provide sources not because their experience counts for nothing but because part of academic writing is demonstrating that you understand the foundation of knowledge on which your contributions stand. Academic writing is also about weaving your contributions together with what came before into the fabric of scientific thought, for the sake of those who will come after you. Looking up the sources also allows you to verify your facts against the most up-to-date information.

So, in general, you should provide sources for specialized facts and knowledge. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t speak from personal experience or opinion in your writing. In most every paper authors should be coming to their own conclusions about the data or previous research. And certainly there are contexts (such as, say, a personal response or reflection paper) in which drawing upon your own experiences and knowledge is even encouraged.  

I hope this helps clarify the “whys” of citation in academic writing!

—Chelsea Lee

APA Essay Checklist for Students

The American Psychological Association (APA) is one of the largest scientific and professional associations in the United States, and it has created a set of citation rules and formatting guidelines for scholarly writing to ensure a professional standard of academic integrity.

To create an essay that follows APA style, you need to focus on two things:

  • In-text citations, which show where you found your sources that you are quoting, summarizing, or paraphrasing.
  • Formatting visual elements, (such as titles, headings, page numbers, graphs, and charts, etc.), which organizes the essay for readability.
Here's an APA checklist for your formatted essay, with embedded links to the AWC's resources:

Additional Help

For more help with APA style and formatting, here are some additional resources:

  • APA Template
    This is a template that you can edit to help you format your paper properly according to Ashford's APA standards.
  • In-Text Citation Guide
    This webpage goes over how to do citations within the body of your paper or assignment.
  • An Overview of APA Key Elements
    This webpage is a checklist of all of the key elements of APA 6th ed. style that are required for student papers at Ashford University.
  • Reference List Entry Models
    This guide contains examples of references in APA style by type.
  • APA Style Aid
    The APA Style Aid offers examples of in-text citations, reference page entries, and block quoting.
  • Purdue OWL
    A great resource for general help about APA formatting

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