130 posts categorized "How-to"

October 13, 2016

Hyphenation Station: Using Compound Adjectives

Cmerenda profile pictureby Claire Merenda

Most of us know what an adjective is. And many of us might remember learning about compound words, too. But what is a compound adjective?

Compound adjectives are two or more connected words acting as one modifier (e.g., client-centered or all-inclusive). These words work together to create a single concept that modifies a noun. Hyphenating this particular part of speech can be a challenge, so APA Style has some basic guidelines to follow in these situations.

Fingers-holding-puzzle-smWhen the compound adjective comes before the noun it modifies, and the meaning of the term could be misread, a hyphen is often needed to make the meaning clear (e.g., all inclusive classrooms has a different meaning that all-inclusive classrooms). One hyphen can make all the difference in clarity. For example, if a professor asks a class to write nine page reports, a well-placed hyphen would clarify if the students should each write nine separate reports about a page (nine “page reports”) or each write reports that are nine pages in length (nine-page reports). The correctly placed hyphen (nine-page reports) indicates that nine and page create a single concept, and that nine-page jointly modifies reports. A simple hyphen can make a student’s day.

However, if the compound adjective comes after the noun, the relationships between the words may be intelligible without a hyphen (e.g., counseling that is client centered). As a writer, if you’re struggling with hyphens in long modifier chains, moving the modifier to the end of the phrase can help untangle more obscure or dense sentences. If the professor in the previous example had asked for reports that are nine pages long, there would likely be no misunderstanding.

More examples:

Modifiers Before Noun

Modifiers After Noun

well-known researcher

a researcher that is well known

t-test results results from t tests

full-scale investigation

investigation on a full scale

multiple-author citation citation with multiple authors
in-press paper a paper that is in press 

Note: You don’t need a hyphen when multiple modifiers work independently to modify a noun (e.g., critical social issues). This is no longer a case of a compound, but rather two independent adjectives. Here’s a good test: Apply each modifier independently to the noun. If the original meaning is maintained, then it’s not a compound modifier.

Example: “Always strive for a concise writing tone in your research.” Is it a concise tone and a writing tone? Yes. A hyphen is not needed because concise and writing independently modify the noun tone.

Example: “Be sure to utilize bias-free language.” Is it bias language and free language? No. A hyphen is needed, because bias and free are both essential to convey the concept bias-free.

October 05, 2016

Hyphenation Station: The Hyphenation of Prefixes in APA Style

Chelsea blog 2 by Chelsea Lee

Most words with prefixes are written without a hyphen after the prefix in APA Style. The table below contains some of the most common prefixes, examples of correct usage, and examples of exceptions. A full list of prefixes (and suffixes) to which this rule applies appears in Table 4.2 of the Publication Manual


















post-graduate-level students









re-pair [to pair again]




A hyphen should be used with a prefix under the following conditions:

  • The word could be misread without a hyphen (e.g., re-pair, meaning to pair again, vs. repair, meaning to fix).
  • The double vowels aa, ii, oo, or uu would occur without a hyphen (e.g., anti-intellectual is correct, not antiintellectual).
  • The word that follows the hyphen is capitalized (e.g., un-American).
  • The word that follows the hyphen begins with a numeral (e.g., mid-2016).
  • The word is shown as permanently hyphenated in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary (e.g., pro-choice).
  • A prefix is being added to a compound word that is already hyphenated (e.g., adding post- to graduate-level students creates post-graduate-level students, but if the phrase is just graduate students [no hyphen] then adding post- as a prefix gives you the regular hyphenless postgraduate students).

For more information on hyphenation principles, see Section 4.13 of the Publication Manual, our FAQ, or leave a comment below. And stay tuned for more posts in our hyphenation station series!




June 22, 2016

Navigating Copyright: How to Cite Sources in a Table

David Becker

By David Becker

Dear Style Experts,

I am creating a table that presents information from multiple sources, and I can't figure out how to cite these sources within the table. What should I do?

—Vera K.

Dear Vera,

How you cite your sources depends on the context. If you are reproducing or adapting an existing table, you will need to seek permission and cite the source in a credit line beneath the table. Note that this credit line can identify particular sets of data in your table (e.g., “The data in column 1 are from…”). Thus, if you are adapting material from multiple sources—that is, extracting rows or columns from previously published tables and integrating them into a single table—you might need to include multiple permission statements, one for each source.


If you are simply pulling data from multiple sources, rather than repurposing columns or rows from preexisting tables (the data are not subject to copyright, but their presentation is), then it may be appropriate to just include standard author–date text citations within the table. This type of table is often used to summarize the results of multiple studies, which makes it easier for readers to digest the information, and is commonly used in meta-analyses. Below is a sample table in which each row represents a different study:

Table 1

Summary of Studies Included in Meta-Analysis on the Effectiveness of Rocking Out Like No One’s Watching (ROLNOW)



Cohen’s d


Atashin (2013)




Dumile & Jackson (2015)




Garcia, Homme, Oliveri, & Bjork (2014)




Iyer, Lehman, & Sorey (2014)




Onuki, Agata, & Hamamoto (2014)




Although studies are usually cited in the first column of a summary table, I’ve come across tables that list the citations in one of the middle columns or across the first row. Some tables might include multiple citations in a single column or row if these studies share similar features. How you choose to organize the contents of your table will depend on context and how you want readers to process the information.

It’s worth noting that the order of the rows in Table 1 reflects the alphabetical order of the citations as they would appear in the reference list. Even though APA Style does not address this directly, organizing the rows or columns of a table in this manner is a standard convention for summary tables. It also follows the general APA Style guideline about alphabetizing multiple sources within the same parenthetical citation to match how they are ordered in the reference list (see pp. 177—178 in the Publication Manual). If it makes more sense to organize the rows and columns in your table using a different standard—again, depending on the context—feel free to do so. Just make sure that readers can easily follow the flow of information!

In some cases, you may not want to devote an entire row or column to citing resources. Or, perhaps your citations apply to just a few cells or particular pieces of data. If so, it may be appropriate to cite your sources, using the author–date format, in one of two ways. First, you could include parenthetical citations within the table itself next to the relevant information, just as you would do with a standard text citation. Another approach would be to cite your sources below the table in a general note—as demonstrated in the Table 1 note from Sample Paper 1 on page 52 of the Publication Manual—or in multiple specific notes that connect your citations to particular cells via superscript, lowercase letters (see pp. 138–139 in the Publication Manual for more details). This latter method can be handy if one source applies to more than one cell and is used in the example table below, but parenthetical citations within the cells would be equally acceptable.

Table 2

Sample Responses to the ROLNOW Survey



Sample responses


How cool did you feel?

“Cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce.”a

“Not at all cool. I actually felt kind of dorky.”b


How motivated and energized did you feel?

“I felt ready to take on the world!”c

“Not very. I almost fell asleep!”b


How happy were you?

“I was completely elated and filled with positive thoughts!”d

“I was pretty happy, but I don’t think rocking out had anything to do with it.”a


How physically attractive did you feel?

“I felt pretty, oh so pretty!”e

“I was a gyrating mess of flailing limbs, so I probably didn’t look all that attractive.”c

aDumile and Jackson (2015, p. 31). bIyer, Lehman, and Sorey (2014, p. 79). cOnuki, Agata, and Hamamoto (2014, p. 101). dGarcia, Homme, Oliveri, and Bjork (2014, p. 47). eAtashin (2013, p. 56).

You may have noticed a few differences between the citations in Tables 1 and 2. One is that the Table 2 notes—unlike the rows in Table 1—are not alphabetized. Specific notes are organized according to where the superscripts appear in the table, following the left-to-right and top-to-bottom order described on page 138 in the Publication Manual. Another difference is that Table 1 includes ampersands, whereas Table 2 spells out and. Although and is usually written instead of & when the authors are listed before the parenthetical citation, page 175 in the Publication Manual states that ampersands should be used within the body of the table (and should still be used outside of parentheses in table notes, as shown in the Table 1 note from Sample Paper 1). This helps save space because two fewer characters can sometimes make all the difference in such tight quarters. Finally, direct quotations are presented in Table 2, so the citations in the table note include page numbers. However, you do not need to include page numbers when citing numerical data, as in Table 1.

The example tables in this post offer a very limited scope when considering the many different types of tables that can be found in the wilds of academic publishing—and they are admittedly a tad sillier than is typical. However, the general citation guidelines they present can be easily adapted to just about any kind of table you might need to create. To find example tables that are more relevant to your needs, I recommend combing through journals that follow APA Style.

April 07, 2016

How to Cite a Blog Comment in APA Style

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

We’ve covered how to cite an entire blog and how to cite a specific blog post. So, what about when you want to cite a comment on a blog?

The elements of the reference are as follows:

Blog-med"who": This is the name of the individual who made the comment, either real or a screen name, whichever is shown.

"when": This is the date of the comment (not the date of the blog post).

"what": Use "Re: " followed by the title of the blog post.

"where": Each comment usually has a unique URL. Unfortunately, blogs differ in how they present that URL, so you may have to hunt for it. Look for words like permalink or persistent link or just click the time stamp, which will often change the URL in your browser to the specific URL of that comment.

For example, click a time stamp in my first comment below and you’ll find that the URL in your browser becomes http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2016/04/how-to-cite-a-blog-comment-in-apa-style.html#comment-6a01157041f4e3970b01b8d1ba04c1970c. It’s important to use the URL of the comment itself because sometimes the same person will leave multiple comments, and this takes the guesswork out of which one you meant.

If the comment does not have a unique URL, just use the URL of the blog post itself.

Using some of the same examples from the previous post, here’s how to cite comments on a blog:

Example References

David, L. (2010, October 29). Re: E-ZPass is a life-saver (literally) [Blog comment]. Retrieved from http://freakonomics.com/2010/10/29/e-zpass-is-a-life-saver-literally/#comment-109178

Mt2mt2. (2015, November 12). Re: A fast graph isomorphism algorithm [Blog comment]. Retrieved from https://rjlipton.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/a-fast-graph-isomorphism-algorithm/#comment-72615

In-Text Citations

As with other APA Style references, the in-text citations will match the author name(s) and the year.

Example In-Text Citation

... a "significant difference in the definitions" (Mt2mt2, 2015).


Leave a comment and you may find yourself included in this post! In a few weeks, I will update the examples above to include a reference to one comment below.

April 05, 2016

How to Cite a Blog Post in APA Style

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

Dear APA Style Experts,

I’m a computer science major, and my favorite blog is called Gödel’s Lost Letter and P=NP, written by two esteemed computer science experts. Can I cite a post from that blog? I’m also writing a paper for my Introduction to Psychology class, and I want to cite the APA Books Blog. Can I?


Yes. You can create an APA Style reference to any retrievable source, though you should of course consider whether the source is reliable, primary, and timely.

Citing an Entire Blog

First, if you want to mention the blog as a whole, just include a mention of it in parentheses in your text, just as you would for mentioning an entire website.

Example Sentences

I really enjoy reading the new APA Books Blog (http://blog.apabooks.org).

I have learned a lot by reading the Psych Learning Curve blog (http://psychlearningcurve.org).

Note: In the first case, the word Blog is capitalized because Blog is part of the name (APA Books Blog). In the second example, blog is not part of the name (Psych Learning Curve). 

Blog-croppedCiting a Blog Post

However, if you are quoting or paraphrasing part of a blog post, you should create a reference to that specific post.

The elements of the reference are as follows:

"who": This is usually one or two people but can also be a company name or other type of group author. In the first example below, the post was credited to just “Freakonomics” (a screen name for the author or authors of the blog by the same name). If a byline is not evident, look at the beginning or end of the post for wording like “posted by.”

"when": Blog posts generally provide the year, month, and date. Include these within the parentheses in your reference. If the blog doesn’t give that level of detail, just include the year or year and month, if that’s all you can find. (Note that your in-text citation will include only the year; see the examples below).

"what": This it the title of the blog post followed by a notation of "[Blog post]." 

"where": Use “Retrieved from” and the URL of the blog post.

Example References

Freakonomics. (2010, October 29). E-ZPass is a life-saver (literally) [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/29/e-zpass-is-a-life-saver-literally/

Heasman, B., & Corti, K. (2015, August 18). How to build an echoborg: PhD researcher Kevin Corti featured on the BBC [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/psychologylse/2015/08/18/how-to-build-an-echoborg-phd-researcher-kevin-corti-featured-on-the-bbc/

Mathis, T. (2015, August 12). What is human systems integration? [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blog.apabooks.org/2015/08/12/what-is-human-systems-integration/

rjlipton. (2015). A fast graph isomorphism algorithm [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://rjlipton.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/a-fast-graph-isomorphism-algorithm/

The name of the blog itself is not part of the reference, although it's often evident from the URL.

In-Text Citations

As with other APA Style references, the in-text citations will match the author name(s) and the year.

Example In-Text Citations

... according to research on the health effects of the E-ZPass (Freakonomics, 2010).

Heasman and Corti (2015) wrote about an echoborg.

Mathis (2015) stated that...

Dr. Lipton noted two problems (rjlipton, 2015).

I hope you found these examples helpful! In my next post, I’ll discuss how to cite reader comments on a blog.

March 21, 2016

How to Cite a Chapter Written by Someone Other Than the Book’s Authors

David Becker

By David Becker

Dear APA Style Experts,

I want to cite a chapter from Theoretical Basis for Nursing, 4th Edition, which is an authored textbook. However, the author of this chapter is not one of the authors listed on the front cover. What should I do?

—Frustrated Nursing Student

Dear FNS,

When referring to a chapter in an authored book, usually you would not cite that chapter in the reference list. Instead, you would cite the whole book and, if necessary, cite the chapter in text. This rule applies whether the chapter is written by one of the book’s primary authors or by a separate contributor.

Nursing Student

Even though it might seem sensible to cite that chapter as one would cite a chapter from an edited book, doing so could cause confusion. If you were to cite a chapter from an authored book in this manner, most of the information from the book reference templates at the bottom of page 202 in the Publication Manual would be maintained, with the names of the book's primary authors in the editor position. However, because you would be crediting them as authors and not as editors, you would need to delete the Eds. in parentheses. Authored books that contain chapters written by other contributors are relatively uncommon, and APA Style users are so accustomed to the format for citing a chapter in an edited book that this slight change might lead your readers to assume that you are incorrectly citing an edited book by accidentally leaving out the Eds. component. Although this may not seem like such a big deal, it could cost a student a few points for not following proper APA Style format. Or, if you're publishing your paper in a journal, you could find yourself battling with a prickly copyeditor.

To avoid all of this mess, the simplest solution is to just cite the entire book like you would do with any other authored volume:

McEwen, M., & Wills, E. M. (2014). Theoretical basis for nursing (4th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

In doing so, you are presenting readers with a reference format that they can immediately recognize as representing an authored book, which will help them retrieve your source. Then, you can clarify the unique nature of your source by simply crediting the chapter author in your narrative and identifying the chapter number as part of your in-text citation:

According to Melinda Oberleitner, "The hallmark of the transformational leader is vision and the ability to communicate that vision to others so that it becomes a shared vision" (McEwen & Wills, 2014, Chapter 16, p. 363).

This method also works when citing a foreword written by someone other than the book’s authors, which is a bit more common. However, foreword authors are sometimes given cover credit through a "with" statement—as in, "With a foreword by Charles Todd." In this case, it would be appropriate to cite the foreword author parenthetically in your reference, as described on page 184 in the Publication Manual. Here's an example of how such a reference would look:

Christie, A. (with Todd, C.). (2013). Hercule Poirot: The complete short stories. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Your in-text citation would only include the name of the book's primary author. The author of the foreword would simply be named in your narrative in the same way that you would credit the author of any other chapter not written by the book's main author:

In his foreword, Charles Todd described the characteristics of the famous detective Hercule Poirot (Christie, 2013).

If you come across any other complications when citing a book, feel free to leave a comment below or contact us.

February 23, 2016

How to Cite a TED Talk in APA Style

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

Dear APA Style Experts,

How should I cite a TED Talk? Is the author TED or TED Talks or the speaker giving the talk?

—TED Listener

Thanks for asking! References include the who-when-what-where information that, ideally, allows your reader to find not just the source material but the source exactly where you found it. For online sources this is particularly important because the presentation and sometimes even the information provided can vary from one online location to the next.

Take, for example, this TED Talk by Amanda Palmer:

If you viewed the video on the TED website, a reference to this TED Talk would be as follows:


Palmer, A. (2013, February). Amanda Palmer: The art of asking [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/amanda_palmer_the_art_of_asking

In-text citation: Palmer (2013) or (Palmer, 2013)

Note that the TED page and the video itself give only "February" as the date, so that's what you can include in the reference.

(As an aside, you’ll note that Amanda Palmer's name is also included in the title. This is not an extra element of our APA Style reference; it's included because her name is part of the title itself. TED videos include speaker names as part of the video titles.)

But, if you viewed the video on YouTube, the same TED Talk would be referenced as follows:


TED. (2013, March 1). Amanda Palmer: The art of asking [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMj_P_6H69g

In-text citation:

TED (2013) or (TED, 2013)

YouTube shows the date that the video was posted as March 1, 2013, so that's the date to use in this reference.

The author name is TED in this case because the TED organization posted the video to YouTube, and that’s the information your reader needs to retrieve the reference. That is, for the "who" portion of a reference to a YouTube video, we use the name of the person or organization that posted the video

In that case, you might include information about the speaker, if necessary, in the context of your paper.


Amanda Palmer used examples from her career as a busker and a musician to discuss the sharing economy (TED, 2013).

January 26, 2016

Navigating Copyright for Reproduced Images: Part 4. Writing the Copyright Statement

Chelsea blog 2 by Chelsea Lee

This post is part of a series on how to cite an image reproduced from another source in APA Style. Here are Part 1Part 2, and Part 3

The fourth and final step of navigating copyright for reproduced images is writing the copyright statement.

All reproduced images (including tables) should be accompanied by an APA Style copyright permission statement and have a reference list entry (except for those images sold to you under a license, as described in Part 2, Sections B and C).

Copyright combo

The format of the statement depends on the type of source, but in all cases it’s as simple as putting the pieces of the reference in the order of title, author, year of publication, and source, followed by the copyright year and the name of the copyright holder (plus the permission statement, if necessary). The reference list entry uses basically the same pieces, but in a different order.

Here are example templates, copyright statements, and reference entries for images reproduced from journal articles, books, book chapters, and websites.  

Image source

Template or example

Journal article


From [or Adapted from/Data in column 1 are from] “Title of Article,” by A. N. Author and C. O. Author, year, Title of Journal, Volume, p. xx. Copyright [year] by Name of Copyright Holder. Reprinted [or Adapted] with permission.

Example copyright statement

From “Social Media: A Contextual Framework to Guide Research and Practice,” by L. A. McFarland and R. E. Ployhart, 2015, Journal of Applied Psychology, 100, p. 1656. Copyright 2015 by the American Psychological Association.

Corresponding reference entry

McFarland, L. A., & Ployhart, R. E. (2015). Social media: A contextual framework to guide research and practice. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100, 1653–1677. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0039244

Whole book


From [or Adapted from/Data in column 1 are from] Title of Book (any edition or volume information, p. xxx), by A. N. Author and C. O. Author, year, Place of Publication: Publisher. Copyright [year] by Name of Copyright Holder. Reprinted [or Adapted] with permission.

Example copyright statement

Adapted from Managing Therapy-Interfering Behavior: Strategies From Dialectical Behavior Therapy (p. 172), by A. L. Chapman and M. Z. Rosenthal, 2016, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Copyright 2016 by the American Psychological Association.

Corresponding reference entry

Chapman, A. L., & Rosenthal, M. Z. (2016). Managing therapy-interfering behavior: Strategies from dialectical behavior therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Edited book chapter


From [or Adapted from/Data in column 1 are from] “Title of Chapter,” by A. N. Author and C. O. Author, in A. N. Editor (Ed.), Title of Book (any edition or volume information, p. xxx), year, Place of Publication: Publisher. Copyright [year] by Name of Copyright Holder. Reprinted [or Adapted] with permission.

Example copyright statement

From “The Cortex: Regulation of Sensory and Emotional Experience,” by D. Christian, in N. Hass-Cohen and R. Carr (Eds.), Art Therapy and Clinical Neuroscience (p. 63), 2008, London, England: Jessica Kingsley. Copyright 2008 by Jessica Kingsley. Reprinted with permission.

Corresponding reference entry

Christian, D. (2008). The cortex: Regulation of sensory and emotional experience. In N. Hass-Cohen & R. Carr (Eds.), Art therapy and clinical neuroscience (pp. 62–75). London, England: Jessica Kingsley.  



From [or Adapted from/Data in column 1 are from] “Title of Web Document,” by A. N. Author and C. O. Author, year (http://URL). Copyright [year] by Name of Copyright Holder. Reprinted [or Adapted] with permission.

Example copyright statement

From “Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity: Data, Trends and Maps. Alabama Indicator Details Percent of Adults Aged 18 Years and Older Who Are Obese,” by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015 (http://nccd.cdc.gov/NPAO_DTM/DetailedData.aspx?indicator=29&statecode=30). In the public domain.

Corresponding reference entry

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Nutrition, physical activity and obesity: Data, trends and maps. Alabama indicator details percent of adults aged 18 years and older who are obese. Retrieved from http://nccd.cdc.gov/NPAO_DTM/DetailedData.aspx?indicator=29&statecode=30

Note that you should use the wording “Reprinted [or Adapted] with permission” only when permission has been sought and granted.

Where to Put the Copyright Statement

If the image is a table, the copyright statement goes at the end of the general table note. If the image is anything else, it is considered a figure for the purposes of an APA Style paper, and the copyright statement goes at the end of the figure caption. If you’re creating a PowerPoint presentation, put this statement at the bottom of the slide in which the reproduced image appears. 

Final Thoughts

Does all of this seem like a lot of trouble to go through just to include an image in a paper or in a presentation? If so, remember that this is just one example of a very important issue—ownership of intellectual property. Copyright infringement comes with serious legal consequences (anyone who has seen the copyright disclaimer before a movie knows that) and is considered stealing.

So remember, just because you found something on the Internet does not necessarily mean that you can freely reproduce it. Look at the terms of the copyright, determine whether you need permission, obtain permission if necessary, and ensure that you credit the author of a reproduced image with a copyright statement and reference list entry.

If you have further questions about reproducing images for a paper, please leave them in the comments below.

January 25, 2016

Navigating Copyright for Reproduced Images: Part 3. Securing Permission

Chelsea blog 2 by Chelsea Lee

This post is part of a series on how to cite an image reproduced from another source in APA Style. Here are Part 1 and Part 2.

The third step in navigating copyright for reproduced images is securing permission.

If none of the situations described in Part 2 of this series (Sections A–D) describe your case, you must seek permission to reproduce an image by contacting the copyright holder.

If the copyright holder is a large publisher, they probably have a permissions office to handle such requests (e.g., the APA Permissions Office). Otherwise, look for a “contact us” page on the site that contains the image to know who to contact for permission.


Your request for permission should at minimum contain information about

  • what image you want to reproduce;
  • where you want to reproduce it (e.g., in a classroom paper, in an article to published, in a dissertation); and
  • whether you will be reproducing it online, in print, or both.

Allot several weeks of time to go through the permissions process. If there is no obvious person to contact, then you should not reproduce the image because you cannot obtain permission (we recommend you then choose something else that does not require permission).


Continue to Part 4: Writing the Copyright Statement

January 22, 2016

Navigating Copyright for Reproduced Images: Part 2. Determining Whether Permission Is Needed

Chelsea blog 2 by Chelsea Lee

This post is part of a series on how to cite an image reproduced from another source in APA Style. Here is Part 1.

The second step in navigating copyright for reproduced images is understanding whether you need permission from the image’s copyright holder before you are legally allowed to reproduce the image in your paper. This applies even if you are writing a paper for a classroom assignment and not for publication. 


When Is Permission Required? 

Permission is only sometimes required to reproduce an image.

  • Permission is required to reproduce a copyrighted image unless it meets one of the criteria described below in Parts A, B, C, or D of this post.
  • Permission is not required to reproduce an image that has a creative commons license or is in the public domain. If that’s your case, proceed to Part 4 of this series.

A. Academic Sources

Many scientific, technical, and medical publishers will allow you to reproduce images (here meaning tables or figures) without obtaining permission provided that

  • the purpose of the use is scholarly comment, noncommercial research, or educational use and
  • full credit is given to the author and publisher as copyright holder.

For example, APA allows you to reproduce without obtaining permission

  • up to three tables or figures from a journal article or book chapter or
  • a maximum of five tables or figures from a whole book.

Note that all publishers have their own policies, so you should check with the publisher of your material to determine whether permission is necessary. For materials published by APA, visit the APA Permissions Office.

B. Commercial Stock Photography

To reproduce a stock photo you will most likely have to buy a license from its stock photography website (e.g., ShutterStock, iStock, Getty Images, Corbis). Consult the terms of the image to know what steps to take.

  • If you do own the license to a stock photograph, you can use the image in the paper without any attribution or credit line.
  • If you do not own the license to a stock photograph, you cannot reproduce the image.

Note that you might come across a stock photo “in the wild”—for example, as part of a newspaper or magazine article (the images on this blog fall into this category too). That means that the publisher has bought a license for the stock photograph. If you want to use the photograph in your paper too, you need to go buy your own license for the photo.

C. Clip Art

Most clip art does not require permission to reproduce, but it may require a credit line. Check the terms of the clip art website to determine what to do.

  • If the clip art comes from a program like Microsoft Word, then by buying the program you have bought a license to that clip art and can use it in an academic paper without any attribution or credit line.
  • If the clip art comes from a free clip art website (e.g., Openclipart) and it has a creative commons license or is in public domain, permission is not necessary but you should give a copyright statement for the image (see Part 4 of this series).

D. Fair Use for Other Copyrighted Sources

You may also be able to avoid seeking permission to reproduce a copyrighted image if your use is considered “fair.” Fair use is a loosely defined and complicated legal concept (here is a summary from the U.S. Copyright Office), but in practice it means that under certain circumstances you can reproduce or adapt a copyrighted image without obtaining permission so long as you credit the source (see Part 4 of this series).

In the context of reproducing an image, your use is probably fair if it meets the following criteria:

  • It is for use in an academic work and not for profit (such as a paper for a class or publication in an academic journal).
  • It represents facts or data (such as a chart or diagram) rather than creative self-expression (such as artwork, although some famous works of art are in the public domain and thus do not require permission).
  • It is small in relation to the whole work (such as a chart within a report) and not the whole thing or the “heart” of the work (such as an individual photograph or a whole cartoon).
  • Reproducing the image will not hurt the market or potential market for the original.

If you fail to meet the above criteria for fair use or if you are unsure as to whether you meet the criteria, exercise caution and seek permission to reproduce the image. For more help in determining fair use, check out this Fair Use Checklist from Columbia University.

Unclear Copyright

If the copyright status of the image is unclear, assume that it is copyrighted. Contact the publisher of the image for more information if needed. If the origin of the image cannot be determined (e.g., it appears in many places on the internet without attribution and it is impossible to say where exactly it originated), we recommend that you choose an alternative image for your paper. Be particularly careful of stock photographs, which legally can be reproduced without attribution, but only by a license holder. 


Continue to Part 3: Securing Permission

Continue to Part 4: Writing the Copyright Statement

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