APA Reference Guide

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Instructors in social sciences generally prefer students to use the APA documentation format. Like MLA style, APA style prefers in-text references that direct the reader to the list of references for more detailed information. For more information on APA, the APA blog responds to different topics and questions about how to use this formatting style.

Below are the APA guidelines according to the 5th edition.


In-Text CitationsReferencesAPA Style Update 2009: 2 Changes

In-Text Citations

1. Work by a Single Author

1.  Work by a Single Author

If you use the author’s name in your text, follow it with the year of the work’s publication. If you use a direct quotation, cite the specific page number in parentheses at the end of the quotation.

As Isenhauer (1922) argues, “Humans share the attributes of the larger primates” (p. 341).

If you do not use a direct quotation, there is no need to cite a page number. If you do not use the author’s name in your text, place it and the year of publication in parentheses at the end of the reference. Separate the name and the year with a comma.

Many psychologists have argued that humans share most of the attributes of the larger primates (Isenhauer, 1922).

2. Works by Two or more Authors

2.  Works by Two or more Authors

Handle these citations as you would single-author references. Join the names with and if using them in your text, and with & in the parentheses.

Jarvis and Nguyen (1989) disagree with the findings of the first Infant Intelligence study in Newfoundland.

The first Infant Intelligence study in Newfoundland was an extremely controversial publication, and was attacked “for its methodological sloppiness” (Jarvis & Nguyen, 1989, p. 34).

If your source has three, four, or five authors, you should cite all the names the first time you document the source; for all subsequent references, use only the first authorial name and “et al.”

3. Works by Unknown Authors

3.  Works by Unknown Authors

If the author of your source is unknown, use the full title of the source when referring to it in your text, or the first few words of the title in the parenthetical reference source (e.g., “Study Finds,” 1992). If the author is listed as Anonymous, use that just as you would use an actual name.

Although the “Red Streak” theory (Anonymous, 1987) was widely accepted until the early 1990s, Norman Yakzen’s article “Reading the Red” (1991) undermined its influence.

4. Works by a Corporate Author

4.  Works by a Corporate Author

Use the full name of the organization in your first citation, followed by an abbreviation in square brackets. You may use the abbreviation for all later citations.

In the automobile industry, 22 percent of employees are female (United Automobile Workers [UAW], 1977).

5. Multiple Citations in the same Parentheses

5.  Multiple Citations in the same Parentheses

If you cite more than one source in the same parentheses, treat each as you would a single work, but separate the sources with semicolons.

Most sociologists agree that educational conditioning has a significant influence on later political awareness (Ruganda, 1987; Buchanan, 1989).

6. Works by Authors with the same Last Name

6.  Works by Authors with the same Last Name

If two of your sources have different authors with the same last name, simply include initials.

Research by B.S. Willis (1975) indicates that the settlers of Bruce County endured a hard winter in 1795, but D.C. Willis (1977) contends that the following winter was even more devastating.

7. Citing Personal Communication

7.  Citing Personal Communication

Personal communication refers to any conversations, telephone calls, interviews, letters, and memos through which you and your source have communicated. The term personal communication should be used to cover all of these types of communication. Follow this term with the initials and last name of your source, and the precise date of the communication.

Most graduate students agree that professional development is a vital part of their training (personal communication, T. Wilson, November 22, 1991).

Because they do not provide recoverable date, personal communications are not included in your reference list.


Unlike MLA style, APA style uses the term references rather than works cited. Give page numbers for items such as articles that appear within a larger work. Indent the first line of each entry in your references list. If your list of references contains two or more works by the same author, list the entries by date, with the earliest publication first.

1. Book by a Single Author

1.  Book by a Single Author

Dascheed, D. (1993). Coping with allergic illness. Whitby, ON: Upper Canada Editions.


2. Books by Two or more Authors

2.  Books by Two or more Authors

Doak, J., & Peacock, S. (1956). Acting and acting techniques for everyday life. Saint John, NB: Saints UP.


3. Edited Books

3.  Edited Books

Wesson, J., & Gilbert, B. (Eds). (1987). Women and the law. Toronto: Buttercups.

4. Editions Subsequent to the First

4.  Editions Subsequent to the First

Bzrechski, D. (1996). The principles of book editing (2nd ed.). New York: Basic.

5. Work in an Anthology

5.  Work in an Anthology

Hamilton, C.H. Canadian women learning to cope. (1969). In J. P. Singh (Ed.), Living female: Canadian women’s experience (pp. 56-73). Edmonton: Green Deer.

6. Article in a journal with continuous pagination for each issue

6.  Article in a journal with continuous pagination for each issue

Nixon, R. (1954). Toward a theory of decolonization. Commonwealth Journal, 59, 654-678.

7. Article in a journal with a separate pagination for each issue

7.  Article in a journal with a separate pagination for each issue

Yixwardi, M.N.V. (1988). American literature at the crossroads. North American Letters, 16(3), 54-63.

8. Article in a Magazine

8.  Article in a Magazine

Amiens, L. (1965, May). Living with cancer. Reading Digest, 12-16.

9. Internet Resource

9.  Internet Resource

Caffrey, Liz. (1999). “FAQs and Arguments.” Grammar Forum Home Page.<www.writethisdown.org>, (15 December 1999).

APA uses parenthetical references to the web site in the body of the essay. These normally include author and year and, if you are making a direct quotation, the page number. Since most web sites are not paginated, simply put the author’s name and year: e.g., (Caffrey 1999). The reader can then refer to the References list for the full citation.

The date of access is particularly important, given that web sites are often updated regularly. Including the date of access acknowledges that by the time your reader checks your source, it may have been updated or even eliminated. The internet’s ever-changing content also makes it doubly important that you examine the credibility of your sources; do not assume that “If it’s published on the Web, it must be reliable.”

Change #1: the DOI

Change #I: The DOI

In the 5th edition, APA wanted users to cite the date retrieved and the database retrieved from.  In the 6th edition, you almost never include that information.  Instead the advice is to include a DOI for online articles. “DOI” stands for “Digital Object Identifier.” It is supposed to be a permanent address for finding something online.

Unfortunately, while each new scholarly journal article should have a DOI, many do not.  A number of scholarly journals have not yet begun to assign DOIs for their articles. To complicate matters, some databases (MEDLINE, CINAHL, etc.), do not provide the DOIs of any articles.

Nevertheless, APA has decided that scholars (such as yourself) should use this long string of letters, numbers, and punctuation to tell other scholars where to locate an article online.

The DOI replaces the need to cite the URL and (usually) the date that the information was retrieved. The only exception to this rule is for content that changes over time, such as wikis, discussion boards, or even commercial Web sites.  For content that changes over time, you should cite the date retrieved.

  • Example of online content that is unlikely to change:  Rogak, L. (2009). Haunted heart: The life and times of Stephen King. New York: Macmillan.  Retrieved from http://books.google.com/
  • Example of online content that is likely to change:  Free online reference sources [Wiki page]. (2009, June 16).  Retrieved September 1, 2009, from http://www.libsuccess.org/index.php?title=Free_Online_Reference_Resources


The bottom line: If you are uncertain about whether or not to use DOIs, ask your prof or TA.


Why use the DOI?

Web addresses change over time, but DOIs are meant to be permanent, “unbreakable” names that will always guide you to a specific “digital object.”

Fifty years from now, a researcher won’t care than article was available in EBSCOhost’s Academic Search Premier. The company will probably have vanished.  That’s why an unbreakable address (such as DOI) is so valuable.

Where to find the DOI

  • Print journals:  look on the first page of the article to find the DOI.
  • Online databases:  Some databases (including MEDLINE & CINAHL) do not provide users with an article’s DOI.  Others (Academic Search Premier, for instance) do provide this information.
  • E-journals:  Some journals are now published online only.  Hopefully, the publisher will provide DOI information, but if not, you can post the URL of the home page of the journal instead.

Ask for help!  Librarians work with this kind of question every day. Let them help you find these pesky DOIs so you can get on with the work of reading and interpreting the articles.

The Basic DOI Rules

  1. If you can find a DOI for an article, include it in your reference.  It should be the last piece of your citation. You should use a DOI whether you located your article in print or online.  If you found an article in a database and it didn’t list a DOI, try finding the DOI in Academic Search Premier.
  • e.g.:  Sutin, A.R., & Gillath, O. (2009). Autobiographical memory phenomenology and content mediate attachment style and psychological distress. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56, 351-364. doi:10.1037/a0014917
  1. If you are using a printed journal and can’t find the DOI anywhere, then you don’t need to write anything (no DOI, no URL) besides the standard citation.
    e.g:  Watras, J. (2009). Racial desegregation of the public schools: Survey of recent literature.  Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, 47, 29-39.
  2. If you found your article in an online database:
  • If you can find the DOI, use it.  Do not list the date you retrieved the article or the database that you used.
    e.g.:  Meijer, E., Sluiter, J., & Frings-Dresen, M. (2005). Evaluation of effective return-to-work treatment programs for sick-listed patients with non-specific musculoskeletal complaints: a systematic review. International Archives of Occupational & Environmental Health, 78, 523-532. doi:10.1007/s00420-005-0622-x.
  • If you can’t find a DOI in the database, you can either dig until you find the URL for the journal’s official home page or you can try to find the DOI in another database (i.e.–MEDLINE doesn’t provide DOIs, but PsycInfo and Academic Search Premier do).
    e.g.:   Ramseier, C., Kinney, J., Herr, A., Braun, T., Sugai, J., Shelburne, C. . . . Giannobile, W.V. (2009). Identification of pathogen and host-response markers correlated with periodontal disease. Journal Of Periodontology, 80, 436-446. Retrieved from http://www.perio.org/journal/journal.html.

Note:  In some rare cases, you may be citing an article from a journal that ceased publication before the Web existed, meaning that there will be no URL or DOI that you can use.  If you found this old content in a database such as JSTOR, then you can provide the home page URL for the database (for example, http://www.jstor.org/).  If you used a print copy, you don’t need to list any URL or DOI.

  1. If the article is only available as a stand-alone e-journal:
  • If you can find the DOI, use it.
  • If you can’t find the DOI, use the home page of the e-journal.
Change #2: New Format in References List for Articles with 6+ Authors

Change # 2. New Format in References List for Articles with Six or more Authors

In the 5th edition of the Publication Manual of the APA, you used to be able to list up to six authors in the citation.  If you were citing an article with more than six authors, you’d write the first six authors and then write “et al.” In the 6th edition, the rules have changed slightly:

  • 1 author:  List the author’s name (last name followed by their initials)
    e.g.:  Johnson, A.B. (2009).
  • 2 to 7 authors:  List the authors’ names, separated by commas, with an ampersand between the second-to-last and the final name.
    e.g.:  Thompson, A.B., Smith, C.D., & Lane, E.F. (2008).
  • 8 or more authors:  List the first six authors, type an ellipsis (. . .), then type the last name. g.:  Albert, A.B., Smith, C.D., Lane, E.F., Kennedy, G.H., Lipton, I.J., Richardson, K.L., . . . Peterson, W.X. (2007).

So … on the References page, there is never a time to write “et al.”

But the rules have not changed for making in-text references to works with multiple authors; here it would be (Albertson et al. 2007).

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