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October 01, 2009

Sayonara to the “Well-Known City” Rule in APA Style

Anne Breitenbach

by Anne Breitenbach

For those of you familiar with the previous editions of the APA Publication Manual, be aware that the “well-known city” exception for reference citations is no more. Briefly, the old rule was to provide the state, province (if applicable), or country as well as the city for book and other nonperiodical publishers except in the case of certain cities that were described as “major cities that are well known for publishing” (p. 217, 5th edition). Thus, for example, a reference list entry for a publisher from Baltimore need and should not list MD as part of the location element. The author was to assume that the reader would be familiar with Baltimore and know that it is in the state of Maryland.

That rule has disappeared in the new edition, and the examples specifically show cities that once were on the exception list now being followed with the state abbreviation (e.g., New York, NY, p. 187). Though no specific reason is given for the change, it is noted in the Foreword that the manual is now available “in Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, and many other languages.” Perhaps it was felt that a student in Korea might not understand why Baltimore and not Seoul made the exceptions list. Baltimore and six other American cities were on the list, but indisputably well-known cities outside of the United States were not well represented. A quick review of the world’s most populous cities is instructive: Only three of the “well-known” cities are even among the top 20 in population (http://www.worldatlas.com/geoquiz/thelist.htm), leaving the citizens of Shanghai (No. 1), Mumbai (No. 2), and Buenos Aires (No. 3), among others, to wonder why their cities need more definite placement than Philadelphia (No. 53), San Francisco (No. 60), or Baltimore, which doesn’t make the list of even the top 100 in population size.

The choice was simple. Either create and try to maintain a list that more accurately reflects cities well-known for publishing to a wider scholarly global community or make no assumptions about which cities are well-known to whom. The second option was seen as the better choice.

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