In this series, we will look at common APA Style misconceptions and debunk these myths one by one.
We often receive questions about whether sources must have been published within a certain time frame to be cited in a scholarly paper. Many writers incorrectly believe in the “outdated sources” myth, which is that sources must have been published recently, such as the last 5 to 10 years.
However, there is no timeliness requirement in APA Style guidelines (as defined in the Concise Guide to APA Style, Seventh Edition and Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Seventh Edition). Properly citing relevant sources is a key task for writers of any APA Style paper. You should “cite the work of those individuals whose ideas, theories, or research have directly influenced your work. The works you cite provide key background information, support or dispute your thesis, or offer critical definitions and data” (American Psychological Association, 2020, p. 253). We recommend citing reliable, primary sources with the most current information whenever possible.
What it means to be “timely” varies across fields or disciplines. Seminal research articles and/or foundational books can remain relevant for a long time and help establish the context for a given paper. For example, Albert Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment (Bandura et al., 1961) is often cited in contemporary social and child psychology articles. Remember, APA Style has no year-related cutoff.
As always, defer to your instructor’s guidelines when writing student papers. For example, your instructor may require sources be published within a certain timeframe for student papers. If so, follow that guideline for work in that class. Similarly, consider the discipline and audience for whom you are writing. For example, if you are submitting an article to a journal in a fast-developing field like a neuroscience, more recent sources—if relevant and important for your readers to consider in the context of your paper—might make your article more competitive.
Now that we’ve debunked another myth, go forth APA Style writers, and cite noteworthy and relevant sources!
What myth should we debunk next? Leave a comment below.