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February 04, 2010

Using Brackets in APA Style References

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. An upcoming post will give advice on mixing and matching elements of example references.

Glancing through the references examples on pages 193–215 of the APA Publication Manual, you may notice that some references include information in brackets. These brackets always appear immediately following the title element (and any of its parenthetical information). Understanding this element of an APA Style reference can give you great flexibility when creating references. 

As indicated on page 186, “nonroutine” information can be included in brackets. Fourteen of the most common notations are included on that page (including “Audio podcast,” “Data file,” “Computer software,” and others). But these are not the only possible notations.  Any information that is “important for identification and retrieval” may be included in brackets. 

This is useful when you need to clarify the type of source. For example, although Example 50 (p. 210) shows “[Audio podcast]” after the title element, “[Video podcast]” is another possibility. Likewise, in Example 53 (“Map retrieved online”) brackets are included to clarify that the title element refers to a “[Demographic map].” 

Brackets can also be used to indicate that the title element refers to more than one thing, as in Example 57, where “Eyelink II” refers to both the “[Apparatus and software].” 

In short, if you’re referencing an unusual item, consider using brackets to clarify. 

What’s the most unusual item you’ve ever included in an APA Style reference list?

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