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January 21, 2010

The Generic Reference: What?

Photo1-21-10 by Sarah Wiederkehr

This post is part of an ongoing series about how references work. Check out an introduction to the generic APA Style reference and posts on the author or "who" element and the date or "when" element. Upcoming posts will discuss the "where" question, as well as give advice on adding supplementary information in brackets and on mixing and matching elements of example references.

To continue on this virtual journey of how to form a reference when the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association does not have an example that matches your situation, I am going to discuss the "what" of the generic reference, otherwise known as the title of the work. First, let’s look at a "skeleton" reference to better illustrate from whence we have come (and where we are going) in learning how to form a generic reference:

Who. (When). What. Where.

What Is a Title, and What if There Isn’t One?

The "what" of the reference, namely, the title of the work, is arguably the least troublesome element of a reference. Most works have a title. For journal articles, the title is simply the title of the article. For book chapters, the title is the title of the chapter. For books, the title of the book is what is needed, and so on. If no title is present, you need merely describe the work, and to indicate that what you are providing is a description and not a formal title, you would enclose this information within brackets. For an example of this type of reference, see Example 60 on p. 212 of the Publication Manual.

When Do I Italicize a Title?

"So," you may be asking, "how do I know whether to italicize the title?" As a general rule of thumb, italicize the parent element of a publication only. What is contained in the title element of a reference is sometimes considered the parent element of a publication, but sometimes this is not the case. For example, when forming a reference for a journal article, the article (the child element) is contained within the journal (the parent element), so the article title would not be italicized, but the journal title would be. For book chapters, follow the same pattern—italicize the title of the book but not the title of the chapter. For books, reports, dissertations, motion pictures, and other works that are not published as part of a larger entity, however—that is, they are not part of a series, a film series, or any other kind of compilation—italicize the title of the work, which will appear in the title element spot (a.k.a. the "what" placeholder shown above). In a reference that contains both a child and a parent publication element, the parent element is considered to be part of the "where" element, which will be explained in a later post.

Unusual Titles

Two slightly unusual occurrences that can affect the title element are worth mentioning here. The first, which will be explained in further detail in a forthcoming post, concerns the inclusion of nonroutine information, within brackets, after the title. There are many examples of this throughout Chapter 7 of the Publication Manual, and the practice is described on p. 186. The second unusual occurrence worth mentioning is what happens when the author element is empty. As you may remember from Chelsea’s earlier post on the author element of the generic reference, in such cases, the title is simply moved into the author position. Using our skeleton reference from the beginning of this post, the end result would be as follows:

What. (When). Where.

In such cases, all of the information contained in the title element, including any nonroutine information in brackets, would appear as the first element and would be followed by a period. In the reference list, alphabetize such entries by the first significant word in the title.

Coming Soon

Stay tuned for two forthcoming posts on (a) the fourth and final element of the generic reference, otherwise known as the "where" element, and (b) the inclusion of nonroutine information in references.


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