127 posts categorized "References"

May 09, 2014

Comparing MLA and APA: Citing Resources


By David Becker

Last week, we touched on the general differences between MLA and APA styles. Today, I talk about what is probably the biggest difference between the two styles: how to cite resources. These divergent rules can make transitioning from one style to the other a frustrating process, particularly for students. A few style errors can mean the difference between an A and a B on a paper. As an English major who only used MLA Style in school, learned APA Style for my job, and then relearned MLA Style for a few online courses, I can personally attest to the difficulty of mentally juggling two sets of style rules.

Style Frustration

Despite their differences, the APA and MLA citation systems have the same overall function in a research paper—sources are acknowledged via in-text citations, each of which corresponds to an entry in an alphabetical list of works at the end of the paper, referred to as “Works Cited” in MLA Style and “References” in APA Style. However, the MLA Handbook also mentions some variations, such as a “Works Consulted” list, which contains sources not cited within the body of the paper, and an annotated bibliography, which includes a brief description or evaluation of each source. APA Style does not use these alternate methods (see our posts about reference lists vs. bibliographies and some topics the Publication Manual doesn’t cover).

The differences between the two styles become even more apparent when one is creating text citations. MLA Style includes the author’s last name and the page number, whether citing a direct quotation or not. However, APA Style text citations also include the publication date, because the timeliness of research is important in science writing, and the page number is required only for direct quotations. Below are some hypothetical examples of parenthetical citations in both styles:


(Adams 42)
(Lennon and McCartney 999)
(Hexum, Martinez, and Sexton 123)


(Adams, 1979) or (Adams, 1979, p. 42)
(Lennon & McCartney, 1968) or (Lennon & McCartney, 1968, p. 999)
(Hexum, Martinez, & Sexton, 1994) or (Hexum, Martinez, & Sexton, 1994, p. 123)

These citations lead readers to the reference list, which is where the differences between the two styles are most apparent, a topic I cover in my next post. In the meantime, I hope this overview has been helpful to those of you transitioning from MLA Style to APA Style. If you’re new to APA Style, the Publication Manual and this blog are your go-to resources. I also recommend that you try our free tutorial on the basics of APA Style and visit our FAQ page, as well as our pages that provide quick answers for citing sources and formatting your research paper. If you can’t find what you’re looking for after checking those resources, feel free to contact APA Style directly via e-mail or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

April 01, 2014

How to Cite a Smartwatch

Timothy McAdoo

by Timothy McAdoo

Happy April Fools' Day, everyone!Smartwatch

No, sorry, we haven't developed a format for citing a smartwatch. No matter how many we see on your collective wrists in the coming years, we're unlikely to need a new reference format. (Notice how I hedged on that?)
That's because references should point readers to retrievable sources. See the following posts for more detailed explanations from my colleagues:

  • Being (APA) Stylish (a post about what is and is not addressed in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association)

But, because you've clicked on a post about smart watches, I think you might be interested in this post on how to cite Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and other social media sites.

Photo: lucadp/iStock/Thinkstock

February 20, 2014

How to Cite a Psychological Test in APA Style

Timothy McAdoo
by Timothy McAdoo

A reference to a psychological test (also called a measure, scale, survey, quiz, or instrument) follows the usual who-when-what-where format.


Here’s an example of a test you might have retrieved directly from a website:

Purring, A. (2012). Charisma and Tenacity Survey [Measurement instrument].
     Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/tests/measures/instruments/surveys

A test's name is a proper noun, so be sure to capitalize it in the reference.

In other cases, you may actually be citing the database record rather than the test. If you found a record for the test in a database, you can cite it, whether or not the record contains a link to the test itself:

Barks, H., & Howls, I. (2013). Directions of Generosity [Database record].
     Retrieved from The McAdoo Database of Fictional Titles. http://dx.doi.org

how to cite psychological tests in APA Style: http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2014/02/how-to-cite-a-psychological-test-in-apa-style.htmlOr, perhaps you’ve used a test that is not available online. Not to worry, the format varies only in the "where" element. Use the first example above as your template, but replace “Retrieved from http://...” with the location and publisher (e.g., Petland, MD: E & K Press).

Using Acronyms

Although some tests are better known by their acronyms than by their full titles, the acronym is not included in the reference.* Rather, introduce the acronym at the first use in the body of the paper, as shown in the examples below.

In-Text Citations

In the body of your paper, be careful to write the name exactly as it appears in your reference. And here again, capitalize the test name, because it is a proper noun. However, capitalize the word survey (or instrument, quiz, etc.) only if it’s part of the test’s name:

“In this study, we used Purring’s (2012) Charisma and Tenacity Survey (CATS) rather than Barks and Howls’s (2013) Directions of Generosity survey.”

The abbreviation need not be introduced if the test name is mentioned only once. However, if the test name appears frequently in the paper (i.e., generally three or more times), define it the first time, and use the abbreviation consistently thereafter. Note also that the test names are not italicized when used in the text. 

Finally, although you don’t need to include the author and date every time you mention the test by name, do include the author–date citation if you quote directly from the test or paraphrase it in any way.

If you’ve read this far, you’ve passed my test! Give yourself an A+.


*The exception is the rare case where the acronym is the only official name of the test (i.e., an official spelled-out title no longer exists, which is an uncommon occurrence; the most famous example is the SAT, which no longer has a spelled-out name).

February 13, 2014

Footnotes for Source Citations in APA Style?

Jeffby Jeff Hume-Pratuch

Dear Style Experts,

I am writing a paper in APA Style. I have the sixth edition of the Publication Manual, but I’ve been unable to find instructions for how to format my citations in footnote form. All I see in the manual is examples of references. Can you help me? 
                                                                               —J. D. Scotus, Paris, TX

Dear J. D.,

There are a number of very good style manuals that use the footnote–bibliography method of citation, but the APA Publication Manual is not among them. APA Style uses text citations, not footnotes or endnotes, to direct the reader to a source in the reference list. This differs from other source documentation styles that use a combination of footnotes or endnotes and a bibliography for that purpose.

The only use for footnotes in APA Style is to provide additional content that supplements the text (e.g., to briefly acknowledge a tangential idea that is nevertheless important to the discussion or to note copyright permission for reprinting a lengthy quote). Endnotes are never used in APA Style, but you’ll find more about content footnotes in section 2.12 of the APA Publication Manual.

Dear Style Experts,

Author–date citations don’t give the reader enough information—I really prefer to give the source up front. What if I formatted the footnotes exactly like APA Style references, but put them at the bottom of the page? That would still be in APA Style, right? 
                                                                                         —J. D.

Dear J. D.,

The use of author–date text citations, rather than footnotes, is part of the essence of APA Style. It’s not optional.

Blueberry_heart_pancakesSuppose you asked me to make your favorite blueberry pancakes for Valentine’s Day. The store was out of blueberries, due to the latest snowpocalypse, so I used bananas; and the cat had gotten into the skillet, so I had to bake the batter in a muffin tin. The result might be delicious, but it wouldn’t be blueberry pancakes, would it? (Not even if we put maple syrup on them.)

Don’t put syrup on your muffins, and don’t use footnote citations in APA Style.

February 07, 2014

How to Cite an Annual Report in APA Style

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

Annual reports are usually easy to find on a company's website. The APA Style Guide to Electronic References says to "format references to technical and research reports and other gray literature as you would a book retrieved online." Thus, a reference to an annual report follows the usual who-when-what-where format.

For example,

American Psychological Association. (2013). 2012 annual report of the American
    Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs

If you used a print version of the report, replace the URL with the location and name of the publisher, like a reference to a book. And, note that when the author is the publisher, the word Author is used.

For example,

National Association of Social Workers. (2012). 2011–2012 annual report.
    Washington, DC: Author.

In both cases, the in-text citation follows the author–date format (e.g., American Psychological Association, 2013; National Association of Social Workers, 2012).

January 30, 2014

How to Cite References Containing Lead Authors With the Same Surname and Publication Date




by Tyler Krupa

In a previous post, I provided guidelines on how to properly cite different groups of authors with the same lead author and publication date. As shown in that post, when you have two or more references of more than three surnames with the same year and they shorten to the same form (e.g., both Smith, Jones, Young, Brown, & Stanley, 2001, and Smith, Jones, Ward, Lee, & Stanley, 2001, shorten to Smith et al., 2001), you need to clarify which one you are citing each time. To do this, on the second and all subsequent citations, you should cite the surnames of the first two authors and of as many of the next authors as necessary to distinguish the two references, followed by a comma and et al. (see the sixth edition of the Publication Manual, p. 175).

Smith, Jones, Young, et al., 2001

Smith, Jones, Ward, et al., 2001

Now let’s add a twist and use references that contain different lead authors with the same surname and year of publication. Do you know what you should do differently? Let’s find out by looking at the following references:

Jones, B. T., Corbin, W., & Fromme, K. (2001). A review of expectancy theory and alcohol consumption. Addiction, 96, 57–72. http://dx.doi.org/10.1046/j.1360-0443.2001.961575.x

Jones, S. E., Oeltmann, J., Wilson, T. W., Brener, N. D., & Hill, C. V. (2001). Binge drinking among undergraduate college students in the United States: Implications for other substance use. Journal of American College Health, 50, 33–38. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07448480109595709

On the second and all subsequent citations, are you tempted to add the names of the additional authors to distinguish the two references? Although this seems like a logical way to proceed, because the lead authors are not the same person, you should instead include the lead author’s initials in all the text citations (for more information about when to use author initials for text citations, see my recent post). Therefore, the text cites for these two references would be as follows:


First citation: Previous studies (e.g., B. T. Jones, Corbin, & Fromme, 2001; S. E. Jones, Oeltmann, Wilson, Brener, & Hill, 2001) have shown that . . .

Subsequent citations: Both B. T. Jones et al. (2001) and S. E. Jones et al. (2001) produced similar results . . .


First citation: Previous studies (e.g., Jones, Corbin, & Fromme, 2001; Jones, Oeltmann, Wilson, Brener, & Hill, 2001) have shown that . . .

Subsequent citations: Both Jones, Corbin, and Fromme (2001) and Jones, Oeltmann, et al. (2001) produced similar results . . .


Subsequent citations: Both B. T. Jones, Corbin, and Fromme (2001) and S. E. Jones, Oeltmann, et al. (2001) produced similar results . . .

In these citations, because the lead authors are different, the lead author’s initials should be included in all text citations, regardless of how often they appear. In addition, there is no need to add the names of the additional authors to distinguish the two references on the second and subsequent citations because the initials before the surnames of the lead authors already accomplish that.

Questions? Leave us a comment.

January 23, 2014

When to Use Author Initials for Text Citations




by Tyler Krupa

You probably already know that references in APA Style are cited in text with an author–date system (e.g., Adams, 2012). But do you know how to proceed when a reference list includes publications by two or more different primary authors with the same surname? When this occurs, include the lead author’s initials in all text citations, even if the year of publication differs (see the sixth edition of the Publication Manual, p. 176). Including the initials helps the reader avoid confusion within the text and locate the entry in the reference list. For example, let’s look at the following two references and their corresponding text citations.


Campbell, A., Muncer, M., & Gorman, B. (1993). Sex and social representations of aggression: A communal-agentic analysis. Aggressive Behavior, 19, 125–135. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/1098-2337(1993)19:2<125::AID-AB2480190205>3.0.CO;2-1

Campbell, W. K., Bush, C. P., & Brunell, A. B. (2005). Understanding the social costs of narcissism: The case of the tragedy of the commons. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 1358–1368. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0146167205274855

Text Citations

First citation: Many studies (A. Campbell, Muncer, & Gorman, 1993; W. K. Campbell, Bush, & Brunell, 2005) have shown . . . .

Subsequent citations: Both A. Campbell et al. (1993) and W. K. Campbell et al. (2005) provided participants with . . . .

As you can see from the examples above, even though the year of publication differs in the two Campbell references, the lead author’s initials should be included in all text citations, regardless of how often they appear.

Although this rule seems straightforward, one thing that trips up some writers is how to proceed when different lead authors with the same surname are also listed in other references in which they are not the lead author. To help illustrate what should you do, let’s look at the earlier Campbell examples again, but now let’s add some additional references.


Brown, Y., & Campbell, W. K. (2004).

Campbell, A., Muncer, M., & Gorman, B. (1993).

Campbell, W. K., Bush, C. P., & Brunell, A. B. (2005).

Smith, L. N., Campbell, A., & Adams, K. (1992).

Although you may be tempted to include the initials every time the surname Campbell appears in the text citations, note that per APA Style, the initials should be included only when Campbell is the lead author. Therefore, initials should be used for only two of the above four references in the text citations.

Text Citations

First citation: Many studies (Brown & Campbell, 2004; A. Campbell, Muncer, & Gorman, 1993; W. K. Campbell, Bush, & Brunell, 2005; Smith, Campbell, & Adams, 1992) have shown that . . .

Subsequent citations: . . . as was done in previous studies (Brown & Campbell, 2004; A. Campbell et al., 1993; W. K. Campbell et al., 2005; Smith et al., 1992).

Another related item to note is that if the reference list includes different lead authors who share the same surname and first initial, you should provide the authors’ full first names in brackets (see the Publication Manual, p. 184).


Janet, P. [Paul]. (1876).

Janet, P. [Pierre]. (1906).

Text Citations

(Paul Janet, 1876; Pierre Janet, 1906)

We hope these examples clear up any points of possible uncertainty. Still have questions? Leave us a comment.

January 09, 2014

Intranet Intrigue

Daisiesby Stefanie

Dear Style Expert,

I’m writing a paper for class, and I’m using some obscure sources my professor posted on the class website (but aren’t available elsewhere—I checked!). But this website is on my school’s intranet, so only students and faculty at my university can access these sources. How do I include them in my reference list?

—Serious Student


Dear Serious,

That’s an excellent question! You’ve noted that the reference list is provided to help readers find the sources you used in preparing your paper, and thus it doesn’t make sense to include sources that your readers cannot retrieve. My question for you is, Who is your intended audience? If this paper is for class only, then provide a complete reference for your electronic source. But if class is only the first step for this paper—for example, you may plan on submitting it for publication, or it may be posted on your school’s Internet website, where anyone could read it—then you can treat the source as an irretrievable personal communication (see the Provide a Reliable Path to the Source section of the What Belongs in the Reference List? blog post).


Thank you for your question, and good luck with your paper!


December 05, 2013

How to Cite a Data Set in APA Style

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

Whether you’re a "numbers person" or not, if you’re a psychology student or an early-career psychologist, you may find yourself doing some data mining.  Psychologists are increasingly encouraged to provide their data online for other researchers to use and analyze.  And big-data psychologist is one of the hot new jobs in the industry.

Because big data is a big deal, you’ll want to know how to cite a data set.

Reference Example

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental
    Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. (2013). Treatment
    episode data set -- discharges (TEDS-D) -- concatenated, 2006 to 2009
    set]. doi:10.3886/ICPSR30122.v2

Because this data set has a DOI, the reference includes that DOI. For data sets without a DOI, the URL should be included in the reference, like this: "Retrieved from http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/SDA/SAMHDA/30122-0001/CODEBOOK/conc.htm"

Also note that the name of the data set is italicized. And, a description of the material is included in brackets after the title, but before the ending period, for maximum clarity.

big dataIn-Text Citation Example

The in-text citation for this reference would be "U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies (2013)" or "(U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, 2013)."  Of course, if you cite that a number of times, you’ll probably want to abbreviate the author name.

Related Documents

Data sets sometimes have many other documents associated with them (e.g., reports, papers, and analyses about the data; tests and measures used to procure the data; user manuals; code books). When you are citing one of these related items, whether instead of or in addition to the data, be sure to describe the format in brackets after the title. For example, in this example from the APA Style Guide to Electronic References, Sixth Edition, "Data file and code book" is used to describe the format:

Pew Hispanic Center. (2004). Changing channels and crisscrossing cultures:
    A survey of Latinos on the news media
[Data file and code book]. Retrieved
    from http://pewhispanic.org/datasets/

The in-text citation would be "Pew Hispanic Center (2004)" or "(Pew Hispanic Center, 2004)."

For more about big data, you may be interested in these pages on the APA website:

Note: I modified this post on 12/23/2013 to include the DOI of the data set in the first reference example.

November 14, 2013

How to Cite Part of a Work

Chelsea blog 2
by Chelsea Lee

This post will explain how to cite just part of a work—such as a footnote, table, figure, chapter in an authored book, paragraph, section, or page—in an APA Style paper. It’s actually quite simple: Just provide a citation for the whole work in the reference list, and in the text, include the regular author–date citation plus information about the specific part to which you want to bring the reader’s attention.

Puzzle pieces

The idea is to provide a path to the source. The in-text citation refers the reader to the reference list entry, which in turn provides enough information for the reader to find the source itself. The extra information in the in-text citation further specifies which part of the reference the reader should attend to.  If you need to cite a part within a part (such as a row within a table), just add that information into the text citation (e.g., Smith, 2013, Table 1, column 4).

Note that if you want to cite a chapter in an edited book, a separate format applies. Chapters in edited books, unlike those in authored books, receive their own reference list entries because different authors write different chapters in the book, and it is important to properly attribute the citation in the paper. Chapters in authored books, on the other hand, can be cited in the text, but the reference list entry should be to the whole book because that is what the reader would look up in a library catalog or database.

Example In-Text Citations to Parts of Sources

Here are a few examples showing how to cite part of a work in the text:

  • (Woo & Leon, 2013, Figure 3)
  • Caswell, Morgan, and Duka (2013, Table 1, row 3)
  • (Park, Van Bavel, Vasey, & Thayer, 2013, footnote 3)
  • Dweck (2006, Chapter 3)
  • (Ebrahim, Steen, & Paradise, 2012, Appendix)
  • (Breska, Ben-Shakhar, & Gronau, 2012, Method section)
  • Cook et al. (2012, General Discussion section, para. 2)
  • (Ferguson, 2012, pp. 64–67)

In each case, the reference list entry would reflect the larger work containing the piece, formatted according to the document type.

For example, the reference entry for the citation to Figure 3 in Woo and Leon’s (2013) article, shown in the illustration, would follow the format for a journal article.

Woo, C. C., & Leon, M. (2013). Environmental enrichment as an effective treatment for autism: A randomized controlled trial. Behavioral Neuroscience, 127, 487–497. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0033010

And the reference entry to Chapter 3 in the book by Dweck (2006) would follow the format for an authored book, and so on.

Dweck, C. S. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Formatting Requirements

In looking at the examples above, you may have noticed that the names of some parts were capitalized or abbreviated. Capitalization and formatting rules are described in section 4.17 of the Publication Manual and a condensed version of that advice is provided in the table below.



Abbreviated in parentheses



page (p.)



pages (pp.)



paragraph (para.)

Official section names or headings (e.g., Method section)

Descriptive section names (e.g., introduction, when introduction is not an actual heading in the document)



Keep in mind these rules will apply to any part of a source you can think of. If the particular part you have in mind is not listed above or addressed in section 4.17, feel free to ask about it in the comments.

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