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January 13, 2015

How to Cite Software in APA Style

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

Can you cite computer software in APA Style? Yes! Here’s everything you need to know.

Q: Do I have to cite the computer software I mention in my paper?
A: The Publication Manual specifies that a reference is not necessary for “standard software.” What is “standard”? Examples are Microsoft Word, Java, and Adobe Photoshop. Even less ubiquitous software, like SPSS or SAS, does not need to be referenced.

Note: We don’t keep a comprehensive list of what programs are “standard.” You make the call.

In your text, if you mention a program, do include the version number of the software. For example, “We asked participants to type their responses in a Microsoft Word (Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010, Version 14.0.7128.5000) file.”

However, you should provide a reference for specialized software. For example, let's say you used an open source software package to display items to the participants in your study. You should cite it. The reference format follows our usual who-when-what-where format.

  • Use an individual’s name in the reference if he or she has proprietary rights to the program. In all other cases, create a reference as you would for unauthored works.
  • After the title, in brackets, provide a descriptor for the item. This helps the reader immensely.
  • If the software is available online, provide the URL rather than the publisher name and location.

Example References

Esolang, A. N. (2014). Obscure Reference Generator [Computer software]. Washington, DC: E & K Press.
Customized Synergy [Computer software]. (2014). Retrieved from http://customizedsynergy.com

Example Text Citations

“We used the Obscure Reference Generator (Version 2.1; Esolang, 2014) and Version 1.0 of Customized Synergy (2014) to complete our work."

Q: Is the name of the program italicized?
A: No: not in the text and not in the reference.

Q: Is the name of the program capitalized?
A: Yes, the name of the software is a proper noun and should be capitalized, both in the text and in the reference list.

Q: What about programming languages?
A: You don’t need to include references for programming languages. But, feel free to discuss them in the text of your paper, if relevant.

Q: What about mobile apps?
A: Yes, you can cite those, too. If you need to cite an app, this blog post has everything you need to know.

Q: What about video games?
A: Yes, video games are software. Follow the templates above for the reference and in-text citation.

Q: What if I used an online application to have my participants complete a survey?
A: Like Survey Monkey? If you mention the use of a site, simply provide the URL in your text (e.g., “Participants were given a link to an online survey, which the authors created using Survey Monkey (http://www.surveymonkey.com).” However, if you’re citing a particular page from the cite (e.g., a help document or the “About” page), you should reference that page just as you would any other. See this eggcellent post for more details about citing websites.

Q: What if I wrote the software myself?

A: If the reader can retrieve it, you can include a reference, following the template above. If you’ve created and published/posted software, that certainly falls into the “specialized” area noted above.

But, if you’ve written software that is not retrievable, a reference is not possible.  If, for example, you’ve included the full code as an appendix, you will want to mention that appendix in the text, but a reference is not needed. You might also find these post about how to write about yourself and whether and how to cite one’s own experiences helpful.

I've tried to cover everything, but please let me know what I missed. I look forward to questions and comments!


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