Peabody Library Research Channel: Questions on the Format of References

Questions on the Format of APA References

In the entries below, the relevant section of the APA publication manual is given in parentheses after each answer.

Where does my reference list go?
At the end of your paper. The reference list should always begin on a new page with the heading “References” centered at the top of the page.
(Sections 2.17 and 2.28)

How should my reference list be formatted?
The reference list should be double-spaced. A half-inch hanging indent should be applied to each reference entry, meaning all lines of each reference after the first line should be indented. Create this format for your entire reference list by highlighting your references and sliding the "hanging indent" arrow on your word processor's ruler half an inch to the right.
(Section 9.43)

What goes in my reference list?
Every source you have cited in your paper. The reference list should not include any sources that are not cited in the paper; it is not a “works consulted” list.

(Section 8.4)

How do I arrange my list of references?
Alphabetically, by the last name of the resource’s first author (or by the first word in the reference if no author is given). Do not number the entries in the reference list.

(Section 9.4)

What are the basic elements of a reference entry?
Author, date, title, and source. These elements are applied in three basic patterns, corresponding to the three most commonly referenced types of sources: a journal article, a book, an online article or other webpage:

Journal article:

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (Year). Title of article: Subtitle of article. Name of Journal, xx(x), pp-pp. DOI


Author, A. A. (Year). Title of book: Subtitle of book. Publisher.


Author, A. A. (Date). Title of work. Site name. URL

See the answers below for more guidance on how to create references for various sources.
(Section 9.4)

How are authors’ names given in the reference list?
Last name followed by first initial or initials. So for an article with three authors, the authors’ names might look like this: Franklin, B. C., Levy, J., & Holman-Jones, C. M. Never list authors’ titles or degrees in a reference.

(Sections 9.8 and 9.9)

How many authors do I include in my reference?
For resources with 20 or fewer authors, list every author, using an ampersand (&) before the final author. For resources with more than 20 authors, list the first 19 authors, insert an ellipsis (…), then write the final author (no ampersand needed).
(Sections 9.8 and 10.1.4)

What if my source doesn’t have a named author?
If your source does not have a personal author, it likely has a group or corporate author. A group author is an institution, organization, agency, association, business, or other group that is collectively responsible for the resource. An example might be a position paper by the American Psychological Association or an informational webpage by the Cleveland Clinic, where no personal author is noted. In each case, the group (i.e., the American Psychological Association or the Cleveland Clinic) is therefore the author and goes in the author’s place in the reference. Government reports often have corporate authors—see the question on government reports below.

If, however, there is no personal or group author named, the title element should be moved to the author’s place in the reference, followed by the date. Do not use “Anonymous” as the author unless “Anonymous” is specifically noted in the source.
(Section 9.11)

Should the reference include the month and the day of the source—or only the year?
Only include the month or the month and day of publication for works, such as newspaper articles or blog posts, that are published frequently. This is the proper format: (2020, July 18). Sometimes only the year and the month are given(2020, July). Occasionally the year and season are given—(2017, Spring). But most references include only the year of publication. No matter what format you use, the in-text citation includes only the year.
(Section 9.13)

Do I need to include the date I retrieved or accessed an online source?
Usually not. The only time you would include a retrieval date is for sources that are likely to change. The APA guide lists a Twitter profile, Facebook page, an online dictionary entry, and an article in the UpToDate database as examples of online sources that might need a retrieval date. When giving a retrieval date, use this format to end your reference: Retrieved January 11, 2021, from
(Section 9.16)

What if a source has no date?
Write (n.d.) in the date position of the reference.
(Section 9.17)

What are the capitalization rules in an APA reference?
In APA-style references, titles of books, articles, reports, and webpages use sentence case, in which the only words capitalized are the first word of the title, the first word after a colon (i.e., the first word of the subtitle), and any proper nouns. An example of a book title in sentence case: Eat more garlic: A bold new program for America. The names of journals, however, use traditional title case, in which all words are capitalized except for articles (“a,” “an,” and “the”) and any conjunctions or prepositions fewer than four letters. (Also, the first word of a title or subtitle is always capitalized in title case.) An example of a journal name in title case: Journal of Research Into the Practice of Experimental Research.

Note that when writing the title of a book, article, or report in the body of a paper, title case is always used. The above sentence case rules apply only within references.
(Section 6.17)

Do I need to use terms or abbreviations as “vol.” or “iss.” or “num.” in a reference to a journal article?
No. Not in APA style. Remember the basic pattern for a journal article reference:

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (Year). Title of article: Subtitle of article. Name of Journal, xx(x), pp-pp. DOI

Here the x’s in italics represent the volume number of the periodical; the x in the parentheses represents the issue number. Give only the numbers for the volume and the issue—no text abbreviations.
(Section 9.25)

When should I include the journal issue number in a reference to a journal article?
Always. This is a change from previous editions of APA style.
(Section 9.25)

Do I need to include a DOI in my reference? Also, what’s a DOI?
A DOI is a digital object identifier, a unique alphanumeric code that is attached to most articles appearing in scholarly journals, as well as to many chapters in edited books. And yes, according to APA 7, you need to include the DOI, where available, in a reference. A DOI should be included whether you refer to the print or online version. See the reference examples here. The DOI must also be in the form of a URL (this is new to APA 7), with at the start. Do not put a period at the end of the DOI in your reference.

Sometimes you will have to hunt around for the DOI. If a database article record does not list a DOI, you may find it on the journal’s website or on the first page of the PDF of the article. Some articles don’t have DOIs; in this case, simply give the reference without a DOI.
(Sections 9.34-36)

Can I shorten URLs or DOIs in my reference list?
Yes. APA 7 allows shortened URLs or DOIs in references, as long as they resolve to the correct website. Shortened DOIs, known as shortDOIs, can be created here.
(Section 9.36)

Is there a difference between the reference for a print book and an electronic book?
No. Do not include the format or platform of an ebook in your reference (nor the device you read it on, e.g. Kindle). Just as a print journal article and an electronic journal article are referenced the same way, so are a print book and an ebook. The only (rare) exception is for an ebook you have read on a nondatabase URL—i.e., a book on the open web. In this case, give the URL at the end of the reference.
(Sections 10.2.22 and 10.2.26)

In a reference for a book, do I need to include the place of publication?
Not anymore. APA 7 has done away with this age-old requirement. Just include the name of the publisher.

(Section 9.29)

How do I create a reference for a chapter in an edited book?
You need to cite the authors and title of the chapter first, then the editors and the title of the book. See the example here. A common error is to put the editors of the book as the authors of the chapter. Remember you are always first crediting the person or persons who actually wrote the resource in question.These rules are the same whether the book is a print book or an ebook.
(Sections 9.28 and 10.3.38-44)

If I get an article from a database (such as PsycINFO), should I include a URL in my reference?
No. Include a DOI in the reference but no URL. Any URL would be specific to Vanderbilt users. Only give a URL for resources freely accessible to all on the web.
(Section 9.34)

If I retrieved an article from a database, should I include the name of the database in the reference?
Typically no. Remember that not all potential readers will have access to the same databases you have access to, but they may be able to access the same source from a different database (or in print). An article you retrieve from Web of Science, for example, is likely accessible from any number of other databases. So for most articles, no database information is given.

However, you should include the name of the database for works of “limited circulation,” which are usually available through only one database. These include dissertations from Proquest, articles from preprint archives, and ERIC reports—see the following questions for guidance.
(Sections 9.30 and 10.73-74)

How do I cite a thesis or dissertation?
If you are consulting a print thesis or dissertation (as from the Peabody Library stacks), and it has not been published anywhere online, it is considered “unpublished.” To cite it, follow this model:

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of thesis/dissertation [Unpublished master’s thesis / doctoral dissertation, etc.]. Name of Institution.

A dissertation found on Proquest Dissertations and Theses Global is considered a work of “limited circulation” because it can be found online only on this database. You will want to give the name of the database and the publication number in your reference.  Follow this template:

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of thesis/dissertation (Publication No. 12345678) [Doctoral dissertation / Master’s thesis, Name of Institution Awarding Degree]. Proquest Dissertations and Theses Global.
(Sections 9.30 and 10.6.64-66)

How do I cite an ERIC report?
A report published only on the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) database is considered by APA to be “informally published.” (This is distinct from articles indexed by ERIC but published elsewhere.) In the citation for an ERIC report, give the ERIC document number in parentheses after the title of the report, then “ERIC,” then a URL. Like so:

Author, A.A. (Date). Title of report (ED123456). ERIC.

See the example here.
(Section 10.8.74)

How do I cite a newspaper article that I accessed online?
Give the author, date, article title, newspaper name, and URL, in that order. An example:

Jones, W. (2019, August 5). A new reform bill is signed into law. Nashville Examiner.

See more examples here. You do not need to give the page number that the article appeared on in the print version of the paper if you accessed the article from the open web. However, if you accessed the article in print or in Proquest's newspaper database, include the page number(s) at the end of the reference.

The format is slightly different for articles from online news sources that are not newspapers—e.g., Reuters or BBC News. In this case the source element (i.e., Reuters or BBC News) is not italicized in the reference, but all else is the same.
(Sections 10.1.16 and 10.16.110)

How do I cite a blog post or other online post?
Remember always: find the author; find the date. Once you have done this, your reference is well begun. The title of the blog post or webpage post (not the name of the blog or website itself) is the title (italicized) of the reference. The source (unitalicized) is the name of the blog or of the website. The URL ends the reference. If the author is a group author, there often is no source named, the group author being the source. For this type of reference, a month and day are frequently added to the year in the date element. See examples here.
(Sections 10.16.110-116)

How do I cite a lecture?
It depends on whether the source to be cited is a) an unrecorded lecture or other talk that you have attended; b) a recorded lecture whose audio or video file is retrievable; c) lecture notes or slides.

An unrecorded lecture you attended (online or in person) is treated by APA style as a personal communication because there is no source element for a reader to look up (see section 8.9). Personal communications are not included in the reference list; they are cited only in text. A lecture by Jim Daniels you heard on November 2, 2020 would be cited in text like so: (J. Daniels, personal communication, November 2, 2020).

For a recorded lecture, the reference would provide the link to the audio or video file. If the lecture is on Youtube or another video streaming site, see here or here. If it is a podcast or other audio file, use the speaker or podcast host as the author and the production company or publisher as the source. (See section 10.13.93-96). Note that each reference here includes a format descriptor, a bracketed note after the title that explains the format of the source, whether it is [Podcast] or [Speech audio recording] or [Webinar].

For lecture notes or slides, you will want to link to a copy of the notes or slides. If these are only available on a course website or other restricted source, and your audience has access to this site (e.g., you are writing a student paper), you can link to the login page of the course site. See here and section 10.14.102 for examples. If your audience does not generally have access to the slides or notes, cite them as a personal communication (see above). Here is an example of a citation to a lecture Powerpoint on a course management system:

Rittenbucher, J. P. (2020, February 7). Higher education administration [PowerPoint slides]. Brightspace.

How do I cite a tweet?
See an example here.
(Sections 10.15.103-104)

How do I cite a Youtube video?
See an example here.
(Section 10.12.90)

Do I need to use the words “Retrieved from” before a URL in a reference?
No. This was the rule in APA 6 but not APA 7. Only use “retrieved from” when giving the date of retrieval of a webpage.

How do I create a reference for a report by a government agency or other nonprofit report that I found online?
As always, find the author and date first. If an individual or individuals are listed on the cover of the report, use their names, followed by the date and then the title of the report in italics. Then give the name of the agency or organization responsible for the report. And finally give the web address. See examples here.

If, as is often the case with these reports, there is no named personal author, or the personal author is listed only in an acknowledgements page, use the agency or organization responsible for the report as the author, then the date, then the title of the report (in italics), then the website. See examples.

Note that many government reports have official alphanumeric identifiers, and these should be given in parentheses after the report title.

For a U.S. government agency, the group author is the “most specific agency” (this is a change from earlier versions of APA style). That is, if a report is published by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, that agency is the group author. “U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health”—the parent agencies—are listed after the title (in the publisher’s position) in the reference.
(Sections 9.11 and 10.4)

How do I create a reference for a children’s book with an author and an illustrator?
The illustrator’s name is given after the book title, in parentheses: (J. Smith, Illus.). Provide the illustrator’s name even if the author and illustrator are the same person. See examples here.

How do I create a reference for a law, statute, bill, entry in the federal register, etc.?
Legal references can be difficult, and the APA guide devotes an entire chapter (chapter 11) to them, deferring to The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, now in its 20th edition, for questions not answered there. In the same way, the Peabody Librarians defer to the Vanderbilt Law Librarians for answers to most questions on difficult legal references.

How do I create references for all the other random sources I cite in my paper?
There are many more citable resources than are covered on this FAQ. When in doubt, consult the APA guide in print, or follow this simple formula:

Author. (Date). Title. Source. URL

This guide is an excellent concise reference. The bottom of this page has many examples of references to unusual works.