The APA reference style (named after the American Psychological Association) goes back to the late 1920s, when a group of scholars from the fields of Psychology, Anthropology and Business Management met in order to set up a system for giving references. Today, APA is used within the Social Sciences, as well as within other academic fields.
The comprehensive guide to the APA reference style is the sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2009). A new edition (the seventh edition) will be published in October, 2019.
APA is an author-date reference style, which means that in-text references are given within parentheses.
Here, we give basic information about APA referencing. For more detailed information, see the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2009) or the online APA resources listed below. Note that APA provides good online resources, both for beginners and for more advanced APA users.
AWELU information about APA
The AWELU section on APA referencing contains the following items:
- In-text citations
- Further APA-specific formatting
- APA style online resources
In-text references supply information on the source within the text. Full information about the source is then provided in the reference list.
In APA, in-text references give the last name of the author of the source cited and the year of publication. There are two ways of doing this; either the author's name is given in the sentence and the year of the publication is provided within parentheses, or both elements are given in the parenthetical reference. The first option, where the name of the author cited is given in the sentence, gives more prominence to the cited author.
Svensson (2003) proposed that ...
Previous studies suggest that .... (Svensson, 2003)
Note that when reference is given to specific portions of the text in the form of quotations or paraphrases, page references are also provided. The page number is preceded by 'p.' or, if consecutive pages are referred to, by 'pp.'.
Words also differ in terms of the amount of semantic richness they possess (Di Vesta & Walls, 1970; Paivio, 1968; Paivio, Yuille, & Madigan, 1968). Concrete words (e.g., dog, foot), considered to be high in terms of their semantic richness, have "direct sensory referents and, typically, easily accessible images" (Schwanenflugel & Akin, 1994, p. 251).
(Nilson & Bourassa, 2008, p. 110)
Comment: The example above comes from an article about the way in which children learn to read. There are two parenthetical references. The first one gives the author names and publication years of sources that are used in order to back up the claim that is made. The second parenthetical reference comes after a quotation, and a page number is therefore provided.
Second-hand use of sources
If a reference is made second-hand, that is, not to the original source, but to a source which is referring to it, this is indicated in one of the following ways:
For a quotation, add "quoted in" in the parenthetical reference:
Nonlinear systems are ubiquitous; as mathematician Stanislaw
Ulam observed, to speak of "nonlinear science" is like calling zoology the study of "nonelephant animals" (quoted in Campbell et al. 1985, p. 374).
(Lansing, 2003, 183)
In an in-text reference with no quotation, add "as cited in...":
A number of researchers have attempted to empirically quantify how often animals appear in dreams. U.S. statistical norms of dream content were tabulated by Hall and Van de Castle and discussed in their 1966 book The Content Analysis of Dreams (as cited in Domhoff, 1996), in which they collected five dreams each from 100 adult men and 100 adult women.
(Lewis, 2008, 182)
In APA, the list of references is called 'References'. Below, examples of various kinds of sources are provided.
In the list of references, the entries are listed in alphabetical order. Hanging indentation (which means that the second and subsequent lines of the entry are indented) is often used.
Book by one author
The APA format for book entries in the Reference list looks like this:
Author's last name, Initial(s). (Year of Publication). Title of book. Place of publication: Publisher.
- Only initials of author's first name(s) are provided
- "Year of publication" refers to the edition that you have used
- The book title is italicised. Except for names etc., only the first word of the title (and of any subtitle) is capitalised
- "Place of publication": Being an American reference style, the APA Publication Manual recommends city + abbreviated name of state for US publications and city + country for non-US publications.
- "Publisher" is the name of the publishing company
Book by two or more authors
If there are two or more authors, the names are listed in the following way. Note that the names should be given in the same order in which they appear on the book's title page.
First author's last name, Initial(s) & Second author's last name, Initial(s). (Year of Publication). Title of book. Place of publication: Publisher.
More than two authors:
If there are more than two authors, place a comma between the names of the authors and an ampersand (&) before the last name, for instance like this:
First author's last name, Initial(s), Second author's last name, Initial(s), Third author's last name, Initial(s) & Fourth author's last name, Initial(s). (Year of Publication). Title of book. Place of publication: Publisher.
The APA format for scholarly article entries in the list of References looks like this:
Last name, Initial of first name(s). (Year of publication within parenthesis). Title of article. Title of Journal, volume number, inclusive page numbers. doi:
- Except for proper nouns, only the first word of the article title (and of any subtitle) is capitalised
- Journal titles and volume numbers are italicised
- Journal titles are capitalised
- Inclusive page numbers cover the whole article, not only the part of the article to which you refer.
- A doi (digital object identifier) is used if accessible
Chapter in edited book
Edited books contain a number of chapters written by different authors. If you have referred to a specific chapter in an edited volume, the entry in your reference list should therefore be listed under the name of the author(s) of that chapter, not to the whole book.
The APA format for reference list entries of chapters from edited books looks like this:
Last name, Initial of first name(s). (Year of publication within parenthesis). Title of chapter. In [Name of editor] (Ed./Eds.), Title of book (page numbers of chapter within parenthesis). Place of publication: Publisher.
The basic reference list format for webpages looks like this:
Authors's last name, Initial(s). (Year of publication). Title of webpage. Retrieved from [url here]
- if there is no author, begin with the title, followed by date of publication
- if there is no date of publication, write "n.d." (no date).
- a date of access is only provided if the webpage content is likely to change (as in a wiki, for instance).
Scientific objectivity in writing
Being established and issued by the American Psychological Association, the APA guidelines also include information regarding scientific objectivity in writing, in addition to how research results should be presented and displayed.
For information about gender-neutral and unbiased language, see the following elements in our section called Style format:
Capitalisation of titles
Note the use of capital letters in APA: in the running text, titles of articles and books are capitalised, but not in the list of References, with the exception of titles of journals.
If a title consists of two segments that are separated by a colon, the first word of the second segment is capitalised.
For further information about how to write entries for the reference list, see our examples above and the resources listed below.
For general information about capitalisation in English, for instance about the use of capital letters in so-called proper nouns (names of people, places, institutions, etc.), see
The use of [sic]
If [sic] is used, it should be written in italics in APA. For general information about [sic], see
APA Style online resources
APA Style homepage
The APA Style homepage offers excellent online resources, both for beginners and for more experienced users:
For users with little or no experience of APA, there is a tutorial which gives an introduction to the reference system:
On the APA Style blog, experts comment on various aspects of APA referencing and answer questions about knotty referencing issues: