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September 25, 2018

How to Cite a Government Report in APA Style

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

The basic citation for a government report follows the authordatetitlesource format of APA Style references. Here is a template:

Reference list:

Government Author. (year). Title of report: Subtitle of report if applicable (Report No. 123). Retrieved from http://xxxxx

In text:

(Government Author, year)

 

Note that the report number may not be present, or, when present, the wording may vary. Follow the wording shown on your report to write your reference (see how the wording is adjusted for the National Cancer Institute example later in this post).

Who Is the Author of a Government Report?

Most of the time the government department or agency is used as the author for an APA Style government report reference. Sometimes individual people are also credited as having written the report; however, their names do not appear in the APA Style reference unless their names also appear on the cover of the report (vs. within the report somewhere, such as on an acknowledgments page). So again, the name(s) on the cover or title page go in the reference, for reasons of retrievability, and most of the time, it is the name of the agency. 

Reference list (recommended format):

National Cancer Institute. (2016). Taking part in cancer treatment research studies (Publication No. 16-6249). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/CRS.pdf

In text (recommended format):

(National Cancer Institute, 2016)

How Many Layers of Government Agencies Should Be Listed?

Government agencies frequently list the full hierarchy of departments on their reports. As anyone familiar with bureaucracy knows, this can add up to a lot of layers. For example, the author of the National Cancer Institute report in the example above might be fully written out as follows:

Reference list (long form, correct but not recommended):

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. (2016). Taking part in cancer treatment research studies (Publication No. 16-6249). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/CRS.pdf

In text (long form, correct but not recommended):

(U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, 2016)

You might notice that this author name is rather lengthy! Listing the full hierarchy of agencies as shown on the report in question (from largest to smallest) is correct; however, it is also correct to list the most specific responsible agency only (in this case, the National Cancer Institute).

We recommend the shorter, more specific format for a few reasons.

  • Our users have expressed to us that this shorter name form makes it easier to write references and in-text citations.
  • The shorter form makes it easier for readers to differentiate between reports authored by a variety of agencies. Imagine, for example, a paper containing many government reports; the citations and references could quickly overwhelm the text if the long form were used.

However, if using only the most specific responsible agency would cause confusion (e.g., if you are citing institutes with the same name from two countries, such as the United States and Canada), then include the parent agencies in the author element to differentiate them.

How Does the In-Text Citation Correspond to the Reference List Entry?

Ensure that the name of the government author you use in the in-text citation matches the name of the author in the reference list entry exactly. Do not use the long form in one spot and the short form in the other. An exception is that you can introduce an abbreviation for the government agency in the text if you will be referring to it frequently. Read this blog post to learn how to abbreviate group author names.

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