Tuesday, 11 August 2015

5 tips for your APA reference list

Creating an APA style reference list can be complex. Many students, even graduate students working on PhD dissertations still get it wrong. In this post, I'm going to give you the basic format.

If you can do these five things, you will get your references at least 90% right every time.

Here's what a citation should look like.
In this case, the organization is cited as the author. Read this post about citing webpages. It explains when to cite the organization as an author. The format is the same when you cite a human as an author.

1. Begin with the author(s). Most of the time you will have the last name of the author. In the example above, there would have been no individual connected with the article because it was a statement put out by an organization. Write the last name of the author followed by the first initial. Include the second and third initials if they are provided. Do not try to treat the name of an organization as a personal name. I've seen writers who would have written Association, A.S. as the author for this citation.

2. Get the date right. Use the date supplied by the document. If it's a webpage and it's "Copyright 2012-2015" then the last date is 2015. Use it. Do not use the date you accessed it. Once I found that every webpage cited by a writer was 2015, the year the paper was written. This seemed strange to me, so I looked up the actual documents. I found dates from 2005 to 2012. The writer was using the date they accessed the documents. What the APA cares about is when was the document written, so you know how recent the information is.

If, as in the example above, an exact date is provided, then use it. That's common for periodical publications that are monthly, or in this case, a public report that was released on a specific date. Most of the time you will only have the year.

3. Where to use italics. Use italics for the name of the publication. Generally this is only the journal name or a book name. Do not use italics for the name of an article. Notice the article above is very long. Write out the whole name of the article, but do not use italics.

4. Citing electronic sources. Electronic sources are one of the common sources of information. Journals are published on-line, and we often search for information while sitting at our desks. Notice that the citation above is from an on-line source. However, according the the APA style blog, you don't often need to cite the access date. You  only need to cite the date when it's something like a Wikipedia entry that could be constantly changing. However, you do need to include the source (Retrieved from http://www....)

5. Formatting. Create the reference list using 12 point Times (or the same font and size as your essay), center the word References at the top of the page (not bold), use a 1/2 inch hanging indent, and double space throughout with no extra space before or after each entry. (That's 5 extra tips in this blog post, absolutely free!) If you don't know how to set up MS Word to format a hanging indent using the paragraph tool, read this post.

Bonus! Notice that each individual part of the citation is separated by a period. Name (period) Date (period) Title (period) Source (period) Retrieval date (NO PERIOD). What?! There's no period at the end of the URL to avoid confusion. Makes you yearn for MLA, which encloses the URL in < > signs just for clarity.