112 posts categorized "How-to"

January 24, 2013

Asking the Right Question: How Can the Reader Find the Source?

Daisiesby Stefanie

Not surprisingly, we receive a lot of questions about how to create references for all sorts of different sources. As has been discussed in past blog posts, a reference can be put together by asking a number of (very good and pertinent) questions: Who? When? What? Where?
But (and you knew that was coming!) the most important question, the one you need to ask yourself before you even embark on the reference-generating journey (but especially when that journey is starting to look like Siri generated the directions), is embodied in one word: How.
More fully articulated, the “how” question you should ask when a reference is looking confusing is, How is my reader going to retrieve this source? The answer will often clarify how the reference should be formatted.
In fact, the retrieval question is the guiding beacon at the heart of many seemingly impossible reference questions we receive, such as How do I create a reference for a PowerPoint presentation? How do I create a reference for a piece of art at the museum? How do I create a reference for an e-book?
The PowerPoint question is a classic one here at Style Expert headquarters. But it’s not so tricky: A PowerPoint presentation posted online is no different than any other file posted online. Just get your reader there. If the presentation was seen during a lecture or meeting and cannot be retrieved by the audience of your paper, it’s a personal communication, which means that no reference is needed, but it should be cited accordingly.
Consider your paper’s audience when creating a reference for a piece of art—you could create a reference guiding readers to the museum in which it is housed (if, say, it is located close to your class, if you are writing a paper for a course) or a picture of the art elsewhere (if you have a broader audience that might not have access to the particular museum).
And that e-book? E-books are available from many different sources and in all different file formats. Show your readers how to retrieve the particular e-book file you read.
Do you have additional questions about how to get readers to your sources? E-mail us at styleexpert@apastyle.org or leave a comment!

November 29, 2012

The Finer Points of APA Style: When Authors Have the Same Surname

Anneby Anne Breitenbach

There really is a certain satisfaction one gets from knowing how to use a tool correctly and well. That’s as true of an editorial style as it is of a lathe or a chisel. Like a well-made tool, APA Style has been crafted and honed for a specific purpose, in this case, “to advance scholarship by setting sound and rigorous standards for scientific communication” (p. xiii). Part of that communication for authors is to be sure to be as clear as possible about who their sources are. Thus, we’ve developed rules for distinguishing between sources if there is any risk that they might be confused. And using those rules correctly pleases me.

The reason behind them is clear, but the need to apply them is rare enough that using them is a skill. Let’s make sure you know how to use them too.

The Publication Manual says this: “If the reference list includes different authors with the same surname and the first initial, the authors’ full first names may be given in brackets” (p. 184).

Thus, if you cited Danny Thomas’s biography Make Room for Danny and Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales, your reference list entries would look like this:

Thomas, D. [Danny], & Davidson, B. (1991). Make room for Danny. New York, NY: Putnam. 
Thomas, D. [Dylan]. (1954). A child’s Christmas in Wales. Norfolk, CT: New Directions.

You would also want to distinguish between the two references in your in-text citation by using both first and last names. Your format would be (Danny Thomas, 1991) and (Dylan Thomas, 1954).

For further information on how to order references by authors with the same last name in the reference list, see our posts on Citing the Recurring Author With Crystal Clarity and Order in the Reference List!

Wood shaving

November 15, 2012

How to Cite a Class in APA Style

Timothy.mcadooby Timothy McAdoo

Have you ever learned so much in a class that you wanted to cite the whole thing? If so, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, because a class is not a retrievable source, when you try to put together a reference, you won’t have a "where" there. There, there: Don’t worry, you do have other options!

Citing a Course Pack or Custom Textbookback to school

Sometimes people who ask about citing a course are really trying to cite the textbook, course pack, custom textbook, or other published materials used in the class. Our recent post on that topic provides a number of options.

Citing the Teacher’s PowerPoint File or Other Materials

In some cases, you might want to cite materials presented by the instructor that were not included in a course pack or a custom textbook (e.g., the instructor’s lecture itself or a PowerPoint presentation designed by the instructor). 

If the instructor has posted the materials somewhere online, you can cite them directly. But, it’s more likely that he or she is the only source for the materials. In that case, cite as a personal communication (see the Provide a Reliable Path to the Source section of our post on what belongs in a reference list).

Citing Your Own Class Notes 

In other cases, you might want to cite your own notes from the class. Again, because these notes will not be a retrievable source for most readers, cite them as a personal communication (see the Provide a Reliable Path to the Source section of our post on what belongs in a reference list).

Citing the Course Itself 

Your experience of attending the class simply cannot be replicated or retrieved. But, although the course itself is not retrievable, you may be able to find a description of the course on your school’s website. If you can find it online, you can cite it!

October 25, 2012

How to Cite a Podcast

Timothy.mcadooby Timothy McAdoo

Podcasts are new—okay podcasts were new about 10 years ago—but the reference format will look familiar. As with other retrievable documents, just follow the basic guidelines for creating a reference: Tell the reader who, when, what, and where. When in doubt, this post on citing something you found on a website always helps me!

For a podcast, the “who” might be a producer, a writer, or a speaker. You can use parentheses to identify the contribution of the person in the "who" position—when you know it.

For example, here’s a reference for an audio podcast:

Rissian, L. C. (Producer). (2012, May 4). Twelve parsecs [Audio podcast].
    Retrieved from http://itunes.apple.com

Notice that the “Retrieved from” line includes the homepage URL, not the full URL, of where you found the podcast. (In this example, it was an iTunes page, but it could be an organization's webpage or even a website devoted solely to the podcast.) A full URL might feel more direct, but the homepage URL is more likely to be correct as the days, months, and years pass between when you create your reference and when a reader sees your work and wants to find the podcast.

Video podcasts are also new—okay video podcasts were also new about 5 years ago—but you can cite them in the same fashion. In an earlier post, you’ll find an excellent sample reference to a video podcast.

October 11, 2012

British Spellings

Timothy.mcadooby Timothy McAdooUnion Jack

This week, I look at another frequently asked APA Style question! Though the answer is true for other languages, too, the question is most often framed around British spellings.


When an article or book title includes British spellings, should I “fix” them in my reference list? Also, what if I include a direct quote? Should I change spellings or use [sic]? I read somewhere that APA Style requires spellings to match those in the APA Dictionary of Psychology or Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.


The Publication Manual’s spelling guidelines apply only to the original writing in your paper.

For references, keep the spelling in titles and other elements exactly as they appeared in the original. That is, cite what you see.

For instance, if you cite this scholarly tome, keep that u in colour!

Trooping, T. C. (2012). Who rotated my colour wheel? London, England:
    Neal’s Yard Publishing.

Likewise, if you quote from the text, keep the original spellings. There’s no need to use [sic], as these are not errors.

    Trooping (2012) said, “only when you allow your colour wheel to turn will you recognise the aesthetic ‘complements’ you’ve received” (p. 10).

September 27, 2012

How to Cite Course Packs, Custom Textbooks, and Other Classroom Compendiums

Jeffby Jeff Hume-Pratuch

If you’ve taken a college course in the last 20 years, you’ve probably used a course pack—a collection of information put together specifically for your class. Course packs can be as simple as a stapled packet or as fancy as a hardbound book with a four-color cover. They’re usually compiled by the instructor from relevant articles, chapters, and original material; they may be printed by the college print shop, outsourced to a local copy shop, or ordered through a custom textbook manufacturer. It’s increasingly common to provide all or part of the book in electronic form as well.

Course packs are seldom cited in journal articles, but students are often given the assignment of writing on a specific extract from the textbook. The plethora of sources in a course pack often creates a conundrum for students: Who’s the author? Who’s the publisher? Below I suggest a technique for handling the types of sources most commonly encountered in course packs.

Previously Published Articles or Chapters

Let’s say you’re working from a course pack for a neuropsychology class, and you need to cite a journal article included in it. The source should be clearly identified as part of the copyright/permissions statement, which is required by law.1  In this case, you can eliminate the middleman—just cite it as if you found it in the original source:

Wenner, A. M. (1962). Sound production during the waggle dance of the 
honey bee. Animal Behaviour, 10, 79–95. doi:10.1016/


Original or Unattributed Material

Instructors frequently include unpublished material in their course packs, particularly in rapidly developing areas of research. Since the only source for this material is the course pack itself, treat it as part of an anthology compiled by the instructor and published by the university. If authorship is not stated, treat it as an unauthored work. The title of the compilation is whatever is on the cover or title page—often (but not always) this consists of the course name and number, as in the first example below:

Diagram of the tibia–basitarsis joint in Apis melifera. (2011). In B. 
Haave (Comp.), NEU 451: Movement and perception (pp. 44–45).
Davenport, IA: St. Ambrose University.

MacGyver, A. (1990). Five steps to repelling an attack by killer bees.
In R. D. Anderson (Comp.), Selected readings in survival, escape,
and evasion
(pp. 31-34). Davenport, IA: St. Ambrose University.

Supplemental Material

Many custom textbook publishers offer supplemental materials such as CDs, DVDs, or online materials that are accessible only with the purchase of the text. Since these are essentially extensions of the course pack or text itself, it makes sense to cite them as supplemental materials:

“Varroa mite blues” and other songs of the honey bee [Supplemental 
material]. (2012). In B. Haave (Comp.), NEU 451: Movement and
(pp. 44–45). Davenport, IA: St. Ambrose University.

If you find other challenges in citing materials from course packs, please let us know in the comments below.

1 Prior to 1991, course packs were often reproduced without acknowledging or obtaining permission from copyright owner(s), under the assumption that all copying for educational purposes qualified as “fair use.” Two federal cases (Basic Books Inc. v. Kinko’s Graphics Corp, 1991, and Princeton Univ. v. Michigan Document Servs., 1996) established that there is no educational exception for course packs under U.S. copyright law. See http://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyright_and_Fair_Use_Overview/chapter7/7-a.html for a good overview of this issue.

September 20, 2012

Citing a Whole Periodical

Dear Style Experts,

I consulted a newspaper, a magazine, and a journal for my research. How can I create a citation for the whole issue of each of these periodicals?


Nancy in Newcastle    

Dear Nancy,

Actually, you don’t usually need to cite a whole issue of a periodical. For readers unfamiliar with the term, a periodical is any publication that is released at regular intervals, or “periods”—typically, journals, magazines, and newspapers.  Rather than make a citation for the whole periodical, you can just mention its name and the relevant volume and issue information in the text, for example, “I surveyed an issue of The Washington Post from September 15, 2012.” Then, for each individual article that you use as a source in the paper, create individual citations. Formats for periodical article citations can be found in the Publication Manual (§7.01).

You can find examples of this technique in a meta-analysis. In a meta-analysis, authors typically survey various databases and journals for articles relevant to their research question. In the text they might state something like, “We searched the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology for articles on major depression published between 1991 and 2011.” The reference list would not contain a citation for each issue of the journal that the authors examined. Instead, it would contain citations only for the articles that the authors actually used in their research.

The only exception to this pattern is that you can create a citation for a whole special issue of a periodical (click the link for example citations)—precisely by virtue of its specialness. A special issue has a narrow focus to which all the articles pertain (say, the self and social identity), unlike a typical issue, which has a broader focus (personality and social psychology in general). In that way, a special issue functions sort of like an edited book, and the reader can be referred to the issue as a whole in a citation. Thanks for this interesting question.

Best regards,

Chelsea Lee 



May 31, 2012

A Prescription for Success: How to Cite Product Information in APA Style

Jeffby Jeff Hume-Pratuch

Dear Style Experts,

I am writing a paper on the use of certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs. I took some of my information from those little package inserts that come in the box or bag when you get a prescription. I’m not sure how to cite it. Help!

—A Frustrated Pharmacologist in Philly

Dear Frustrated,

Fear not! We can solve this citation conundrum with our four favorite questions: Who? When? What? Where?

Let’s say you’re exploring treatments for head lice and need to cite the pharmaceutical insert for Ulesfia lotion.

  • Who is responsible for the content of the package insert? The distributor is listed on the insert as Shionogi Pharma, so we’ll put that in the author position (in accordance with our principle of “cite what you see”).
  • When was it made? The date on the insert is 2010, so that goes in the date position.
  • What is the document called? The title at the top of the insert (Highlights of Prescribing Information) is not too informative, but together with the name of the product, it should do the trick.
  • Where did it come from? The publisher and author of the package insert are the same, so we’ll use the author’s info in the publisher position.

And here is your reference:

Shionogi Pharma. (2010). Ulesfia lotion: Highlights of prescribing 
    information. Atlanta, GA: Author.

Text citation: (Shionogi Pharma, 2010)

If you retrieved the prescribing information from the manufacturer’s website (which also provides printable coloring pages of “Louie the Louse” to keep your kids occupied during the 10-min application process), you would cite it like this:

Shionogi Pharma. (2010). Ulesfia lotion: Highlights of prescribing 
    information. Retrieved from http://www.ulesfialotion.com/pdf/     Ulesfia_Prescribing_Information.pdf

Text citation: (Shionogi Pharma, 2010)

However, if your interest in pediculicides were purely academic, you might have downloaded the product insert from the FDA website, in which case you would cite it like this:

Shionogi Pharma. (2010). Ulesfia lotion: Highlights of prescribing 
    information. Retrieved from http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/     cder/drugsatfda/index.cfm

This technique can be applied to citations for any kind of product information, including package inserts for small appliances, hand tools, and adhesive tiles.


May 24, 2012

The Writing Dead: How to Cite a Deceased (Yet Strangely Prolific) Author

.rev3by Jeff Hume-Pratuch

Who is the author of Fowler’s Modern English Usage? (Go ahead and Google it; I’ll just wait here and hum the “Jeopardy” theme until you get back. . . .)

I’ll admit that it’s a bit of a trick question. The classic style guide was written by Henry W. Fowler and published in 1926 as A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. It quickly dwarfed most of the competition due to its pithy, antipedantic, and somewhat idiosyncratic advice.*

The name of Fowler became so closely tied to the notion of clear and correct writing that the second edition (1965) was published as Fowler’s Modern English Usage, even though its eponymous author had died in 1933. His presence continues to hover over the work as it approaches the century mark (Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 2004). The content has been almost completely rewritten, but it has never gone out of print.

Similarly, H. M. Robert’s Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies was first published in 1876 and is now in its 11th (highly revised) edition. When a work is in its third, fourth, or (in the case of Robert’s Rules of Order) 11th edition, there may not be much left that was actually written by the person who penned the first edition. How should these works be cited? Should we credit the dead hand of the original author or those who carry on the franchise?

The answer follows from one of our basic principles of citation: “Cite what you see.” Whose name is on the cover and/or title page? Unless another role is specified (e.g., editor, compiler), that person—dead or alive—is the author.  Fowler and Robert can rest in peace while their successors carry on.


Burchfield, R. W. (2004). Fowler’s modern English usage (3rd ed. rev.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Fowler, H. W. (1926). A dictionary of modern English usage. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Fowler, H. W., & Gowers, E. (Ed.). (1965). Fowler’s modern English usage (2nd ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Robert, H. M. (1876). Pocket manual of rules of order for deliberative assemblies. Chicago, IL: Griggs.

Robert, H. M., III, Honemann, D. H., & Balch, T. J. (2011). Robert’s rules of order newly revised (11th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Perseus Books.

*E.g., “To shrink with horror from ending [a sentence] with a preposition is no more than foolish superstition; but there are often particular reasons for not choosing that alternative” (Fowler, 1926, p. 635).

May 17, 2012

Missing Pieces: How to Write an APA Style Reference Even Without All the Information

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Most APA Style references are straightforward to write—the guidance and examples in Chapter 7 of the Publication Manual and on this blog make that possible. We’ve written a good deal about the architecture of a generic reference (the four basic pieces of author, date, title, and source). Sometimes, however, one or more of those pieces is missing, and writing the reference can get more difficult. This post will help you adapt the classic APA Style reference template to fit any situation where information might be missing, as well as show you how to create the corresponding in-text citations for those references. 

The table below shows how to write an APA Style reference when information is missing. It is also available for download as a PDF.

What’s missing?


Reference template

Position A

Position B

Position C

Position D

Nothing—all pieces are present

List information in the order of author, date, title (with description in square brackets if necessary for explanation of nonroutine information), and source

Author, A. A.


Title of document [Format].


Title of document [Format].

Retrieved from http://xxxxx


Retrieved Month Day, Year, from http://xxxxx


Location: Publisher.



Author is missing

Substitute title for author; then provide date and source

Title of document [Format].


Title of document [Format].



Date is missing

Provide author, substitute n.d. for no date, and then give title and source

Author, A. A.


Title of document [Format].


Title of document [Format].

Title is missing

Provide author and date, describe document inside square brackets, and then give source

Author, A. A.


[Description of document].

Author and date are both missing

Substitute title for author and n.d. for no date; then give source

Title of document [Format].


Title of document [Format].



Author and title are both missing

Substitute description of document inside square brackets for author; then give date and source

[Description of document].



Date and title are both missing

Provide author, substitute n.d. for no date, describe document inside square brackets, and then give source

Author, A. A.


[Description of document].

Author, date, and title are all missing

Substitute description of document inside square brackets for author, substitute n.d. for no date, and then give source

[Description of document].



Source is missing

Cite as personal communication (see §6.20) or find a substitute





Title Variations

As shown in the table, the title of a document is only sometimes italicized, depending on the independence of the source. That is, do italicize the title of a document that stands alone (books, reports, etc.), but do not italicize the title of a document that is part of a greater whole (chapters, articles, etc., which are part of edited books or journals, respectively). Also do not italicize the titles of software, instruments, and apparatus (see §7.08 in the Publication Manual). If you have trouble determining whether something stands alone (such as for a document on a website), choose not to italicize. For examples and more explanation, see the blog post on capitalization and formatting of reference titles in the reference list.

Source Variations

As shown in the Position D column of the table, the source part of a reference list entry can vary as well. It should reflect either a retrieval URL (for online documents without DOIs), a publisher location and name (for print sources), or a DOI (for any document that has one, whether print or online). It is not usually necessary to include a retrieval date for online sources; one should be provided only if the source is likely to change over time, such as with an unarchived wiki page.

Sometimes source information is incomplete but with a little detective work you can find what you need; for example, if you know a publisher name but not its location, you can research the publisher to find the location. Even sources of limited availability can be cited in APA Style, including unpublished and informally published works (see §7.09) and archival documents and collections (see §7.10).

Note, however, that it is not possible to write a traditional APA Style reference if source information is truly missing. The purpose of an APA Style reference is to provide readers with information on how to locate the source that you used, and if you cannot tell them how to do so, you either have to find a substitute or cite the source as personal communication (see §6.20 in the Publication Manual).

Creating In-Text Citations

Create an in-text citation for any reference by using the pieces from Positions A and B in the table above. For most references, this will be the author and date (Author, date). For titles in Position A, use italics for works that stand alone (Title of Document, date) and quotation marks for works that are part of a greater whole (“Title of Document,” date). Retain square brackets for descriptions of documents in Position A ([Description of document], date). For examples and more explanation, see our post on formatting and capitalization of titles in the text.  

We hope this guide to missing pieces will help you as you create your APA Style references.

Search the APA Style Blog


My Photo

About Us

Blog Guidelines

APA Style FAQs


rss Follow us on Twitter

American Psychological Association APA Style Blog

Twitter Updates