APA Series Part Three: APA References

An in-depth look at APA references

Two books are sitting on a white background. One of the books is open, the other is closed. Both of the APA References books have yellow page markers throughout.
Having trouble remembering how to format
APA references? Then you've come to the  
right place!

We have already discussed the basics of American Psychological Association (APA) style and APA formatting in our first article. Next, we broke down the layout of an APA paper, particularly the APA title page, abstract, and body of the paper. Here, our editors tackle what many consider to be the most difficult part of APA formatting: references.

Formatting APA references

The References section of an APA research paper begins on a separate page and should include the title References centered one inch from the top of the page. This section is an alphabetical listing of references by authors’ last name. The reference list provides the information necessary for a reader to find all the sources cited in a paper. Each cited source must appear in the References and each source in the list must be cited in the text. Our research paper editing experts look for the following information in an APA formatted reference list:

  • The author(s) of each work or the institution or group that created the work
  • The publication date
  • The title
  • Whether the work appears as part of a larger work (such as an article in a journal or newspaper or a chapter in an essay collection)
  • Where the work was published
  • Publisher
  • Information that would help a reader retrieve the work (such as a webpage address or an access number for an electronic database)

We have also created a sample APA Reference page. This Reference page highlights a series of different kinds of references that you may encounter when writing an essay.

The ins and outs of APA reference formatting

Citations are a necessary part of any research paper. Whether you are summarizing, paraphrasing, or using direct quotations, it is essential that the originator of the idea be given credit. APA format for in-text citations follows the author-date method, which is also known as Harvard Style. After referring to information from a specific source, put the author's last name and the year of publication, separated by a comma, in parentheses, like this: (Munoz, 2005). If the citation appears at the end of a sentence, the period follows. A common mistake is to place the period inside the brackets, so be sure to place the period outside the closing bracket. If an author is mentioned directly, then follow the name with the date of publication in parentheses. The APA Manual recommends that reference to an author's name within a sentence occur only if that particular author is critically important to what is being said (e.g., describing the author's theory). The following are a few basic rules concerning in-text citations:

  • Always capitalize proper nouns.
  • When referring to the title of a source within a paper, capitalize all words that are four or more letters long.
  • When capitalizing titles, capitalize both words in a hyphenated compound word.
  • Italicize the titles of longer works, such as books or edited collections.
  • Put quotation marks around titles of shorter works, such as journal articles.
  • If a work has two authors, cite both names every time the reference appears in the text. Join the authors' names with the word "and" if referring to them in the text; join the authors' names with an ampersand (&) if referring to them in a parenthetical citation.
  • If a work has three to six authors, cite all the authors in the first instance; thereafter, shorten the citation to the last name of the first author followed by the words "et al." Join the authors' names with the word "and" if referring to them in the text; join the authors' names with an ampersand (&) if referring to them in a parenthetical citation.
  • If a work has seven or more authors, cite only the last name of the first author followed by the words "et al."
  • When referring to an idea from another work, but not using a direct quotation, or when referring to an entire book, article, or other work, refer only to the author and year of publication in the in-text citation.
  • When paraphrasing an idea from another work, only make reference to the author and year of publication in the in-text citation; APA guidelines encourage providing the page number.
  • When using a direct quotation, include the author, year of publication, and page number.
  • If there is no author to cite, such as for a webpage, use an abbreviated version of the title of the page in quotation marks.
  • When citing a work that has no author or date, use the first few words from the title, then the abbreviation n.d. for "no date."

When to use quotations

While quotations are sometimes necessary, we recommend using them sparingly. Direct quotations of less than 40 words should appear within double quotation marks. Provide the author, year, and page number in parentheses after the quote. Be sure to include a complete reference in the reference list. Place punctuation marks after the parenthetical citation. Question marks and exclamation points should be within the quotation marks if they are a part of the quotation but after the parenthetical citation if they are a part of the paper's text.

If citing a work that has no author, no date, and no page numbers, use the first few words from the title, and the abbreviation n.d. (for "no date"), and then use paragraph numbers (if available) or simply leave out any reference to pages.

Direct quotations longer than 40 words are placed in a free-standing block without quotation marks. Start the quotation on a new line, indented five spaces from the left margin. Type the entire quotation on the new margin and indent the first line of any subsequent paragraph within the quotation five spaces from the new margin. Maintain double spacing throughout. The parenthetical citation should come after the closing punctuation mark.

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