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February 11, 2010

The Frankenreference

Timothy McAdoo by Timothy McAdoo

This post is part of an ongoing series about how references work. Check out an introduction to the generic APA Style reference and the posts on the author or “who” element, the date or “when” element, the title or “what” element, and the source information or “where” element. Additionally, read about how adding supplementary information in brackets can improve your references.   

In The Generic Reference, Chuck described the basic building blocks of APA Style references and explained how to craft one from scratch when the specific case you need is not covered in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Once you understand the generic reference components (given in greater detail on pages 183–192), it’s also easier to understand and use the reference examples on pages 198–215 to your advantage. 

Here’s the key to getting the most out of the reference examples: If the exact situation you’re looking for is not represented, don’t be afraid to create a Frankenreference! That is, mix and match elements of the examples as needed. Just be sure that the reference you create has all of the basic building blocks: “author, year of publication, title, and publishing data—all the information necessary for unique identification and library search” (p. 180).

Let’s say you’ve found some cutting-edge data from a government report that is currently available online in draft form. You search the reference examples and find that there are only two cases of in-press works (Examples 5 and 6) and both are about journal articles. What to do? Just combine the aspects of each relevant example: That is, follow the format for technical and research reports described on page 205 (Examples 31–35, pp. 205–206) and combine either the appropriate “in-press” or “advanced online publication” elements from Examples 5 and 6 (pp. 199–200). 

Don’t worry if you can’t find two perfect matches; you’ll sometimes need to combine elements of three, four, or even more examples. Your Frankenreference may not look exactly like anything in the Manual, but it’s beautiful in its own way! Remember, because you want your reader to be able to retrieve and use the source, “when in doubt, provide more information rather than less” (p. 193). 

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