15 posts categorized "Websites"

October 05, 2015

The Myth of the Off-Limits Source

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Proper citation is an important component of any APA Style paper. However, many readers believe certain sources aren’t allowed in APA Style, and they write to us looking for a definitive list of what is off limits. Two of the most common questions are about whether it’s okay to cite websites and whether sources have to have been published within a certain time frame to be cited, such as the last 5 or 10 years.

Do not write sign

Let’s set the record straight: Anything that a reader can retrieve, you can cite as a source in an APA Style reference list. Things the reader can’t retrieve (like a conversation, an unrecorded webinar, or a personal e-mail) can be cited as personal communications (see PM § 6.20). And there are no limits on the age of sources.

But just because you can cite anything as a source doesn’t mean you should. Rather, APA recommends that sources be reliable, primary accounts that represent the most up-to-date information wherever possible. Let’s look at each of these aspects in more detail.

Reliable Sources

A reliable source is one you can trust. Two indicators of reliability are the expertise of the author and the vetting standards of the place of publication. For example, an article written by a researcher and published in a peer-reviewed journal is likely to contain reliable information and thus would make a good source. On the other hand, a random website written by an unknown person, for example, is less likely to be reliable, and thus we would not recommend you cite this source unless you have a good reason (e.g., to talk about the source’s unreliability) or you verify the information yourself using other reliable sources.

However, the mere fact that information is published online is not reason to dismiss it as unreliable. Many scientific, medical, and governmental organizations—such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health, U.S. Census Bureau, and even the APA—publish reliable information on their websites and social media sites. Scientists and research organizations might publish blogs or YouTube videos that are worth citing. Evaluate each source on its own merits for reliability when determining whether to cite it in a paper.

Primary Sources

A primary source presents information gathered firsthand, such as the results of an experiment or data from a survey. Secondary sources present information secondhand—an example would be a textbook summary of a topic or a Wikipedia article. APA recommends citing primary sources whenever possible, because this allows you to verify the accuracy and completeness of the information yourself rather than rely on someone else to do this for you. Secondary sources can be reliable, but it is a best practice of scholarly writing to investigate for yourself if you can. See here and here for more information on primary and secondary sources.

Up-to-Date Sources

APA recommends that you use the most up-to-date research you can find on your topic. However, the meaning of up-to-date will vary depending on the field. Some fields develop faster than others, and even within a field, some information will remain relevant for a long time, whereas other information will become outdated. For example, foundational works may be quite old but still worth citing when you are establishing the context for your own work. There is no year-related cutoff where sources must be published within the past x number of years to be used in a paper. Each source must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the information in it is timely and relevant.

If you have further questions about choosing sources for an APA Style paper, leave a comment below. 

February 04, 2015

How to Cite a Hashtag in #APAStyle

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

Note: To learn how to cite individual tweets or posts that include hashtags, see our post on citing social media. This post is about how to talk about the hashtags themselves.

The hashtag as an organizational tool wasn’t born on Twitter, but that's where I, and many others, first saw it used that way. And, as Chris Messina, who introduced the idea to Twitter, has said, "it's left nerd-dom and now it's out there in the world." Indeed, the hashtag is a common sight on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Google+, Flickr, Tumblr, Pinterest, Kickstarter, and other platforms. And its ubiquity makes the hashtag an incredibly useful search tool.

#APAStyle on Facebook
#APAStyle on Twitter
#APAStyle on Pinterest
#APAStyle on Google+

So how do you cite a hashtag? This may surprise you: You don’t!

That’s because, just like a search of a research database, finding and searching with the right hashtag is part of your research methodology. And just as with other aspects of your methodology, you can simply describe it the text of your paper.

That is, just as you might say “I searched the Public Affairs Information Service International database for Hong Kong, electoral system, and Umbrella Revolution,” you might also say “I searched Twitter, Vine, and Instragram for the hashtags #UmbrellaRevolution, #OccupyHK, and #HongKong that appeared between September 22, 2014 through October 22, 2014.” Interested readers and fellow researchers can then attempt to replicate the search if they are so inclined. If the reasoning behind the wording of the hashtag is not obvious, you might want to elaborate. In this example, you might want or need to explain the origin of the terms Umbrella Revolution and the Occupy movement, which led to the #UmbrellaRevolution and #OccupyHK hashtags.

Of course, in your paper you might also refer to individual tweets, Facebook posts, pictures, or other online items that include hashtags. For instance, you might want to quote the most popular Tweet that used the hashtag or just show some representative cases. You can (and should) create references and cite tweets or other online posts that you’ve quoted, paraphrased, or otherwise relied on in a paper.

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!

November 20, 2014

How to Cite Multiple Pages From the Same Website

Timothy McAdoo

by Timothy McAdoo

Sometimes one's research relies on a very narrow thread of the World Wide Web.

What do I mean? We are sometimes asked how to cite multiple web pages from the same website. “Can’t I just cite the entire website?” our efficiency-minded readers ask. If you merely mention a website, yes.

But, if you quote or paraphrase information from individual pages on a website, create a unique reference for each one. This allows your reader to find your exact source. This may mean your reference list contains a number of references with similar, but distinct, URLs. That’s okay!

Laptop-filesLet’s look at an example:

Say you are writing a paper about Division 47 (Exercise and Sport Psychology) of the American Psychological Association (APA). In your paper, you begin by providing some background information about APA and about APA’s divisions, and then you provide more detailed information about Division 47 itself. In the process, you might quote or paraphrase from a number of pages on the APA website, and your reference list would include a unique reference for each.

American Psychological Association. (n.d.-a). Divisions. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/about/division/
American Psychological Association. (n.d.-b). Exercise and Sport Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/about/division/div47.aspx
American Psychological Association. (n.d.-c). For division leaders. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/about/division/officers/index.aspx
American Psychological Association. (n.d.-d). For division members. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/about/division/activities/index.aspx
American Psychological Association. (n.d.-e). Sample articles. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/spy/sample.aspx

It may seems a little unusual to have so many similar references, but in the context of this research topic, it makes perfect sense.

In-Text Citations

When you quote directly from a web page, be sure to include the paragraph number, in lieu of a page number, with the in-text citation. You may also include a paragraph number when paraphrasing. This will help readers locate the part of the page you are relying on.

Related Readings

August 21, 2014

When to Include Retrieval Dates for Online Sources

David Becker

By David Becker

We’ve all had that experience when a dog or a child walks up to you holding something dangerous, disgusting, or some other d-word that you absolutely do not want in the house. What’s the one question we’ve all asked in that situation? “Where did you get that?” If it’s something particularly strange, we might also ask, “What in the world is that?” But rarely do we ask, “When did you get that?” We don’t care. We know it’s in the room now. We just want it to go back where it came from.

Dog Doing Research

APA Style generally asks the same thing: “What are you citing, and where did you get it?” We also ask, “Who created it, and when?” But we usually don’t ask, “When did you consult that source?” One exception to this rule would be for material that is subject to frequent change, such as Wikipedia entries. Because this information is designed to be constantly updated, it’s important to let readers know when you retrieved it.

So the next time you ask your dog to fetch sources for your research paper, make sure he tells you what they are, where he got them, who created them, and when they were created. You probably won’t need to ask when he got them, unless he’s a lazy dog who does all his research in Wikipedia. And if he comes back with a stick, don’t cite that.

January 17, 2014

Timestamps for Audiovisual Materials in APA Style

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Audiovisual materials like videos, podcasts, movies, and television shows can make excellent sources for academic papers. To point the reader of a paper to a specific spot in an audiovisual source—such as when you cite a direct quotation—include a timestamp in the APA Style in-text citation, just as you would include a page number under analogous circumstances for a print source like a book or journal article. This post will show you how.


Use a Timestamp to Cite a Direct Quotation

To cite a direct quotation from an audiovisual source, include a timestamp in the in-text citation alongside the author and date indicating the point at which the quotation begins.

Here are two examples from a YouTube video about cognitive behavioral therapy that features interviews with both practitioners and clients. The first citation is for a block quotation, and the second is for a shorter quotation (<40 words).



The treatments of cognitive behavioral therapy may seem extreme to a person who does not experience the difficulties associated with a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Professor Paul Salkovskis addresses this concern:

That’s rather like saying, if someone’s got a broken leg . . . “Why should you have a plaster cast on? That’s extremely unnatural. No one else has a plaster cast.” And the idea is you often have to do things in a very different way in order to put them right. (OCD-UK, 2009, 4:03)

One patient who experienced the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy stated that it was so remarkable for her that “I began to think impossible things, like I could even invite people home” (OCD-UK, 2009, 4:50).

 The timestamp reflects the format shown on the source—here, the video is counted in minutes and seconds. To cite a quotation appearing before the 1-minute mark, or from a video less than 1 minute long, include a zero in the minutes column (e.g., 0:32).

 This example also demonstrates how to incorporate details into the narrative to provide context. Neither of the individuals quoted above are the author of the video (which for retrieval in the reference is the name of the user who posted the video to YouTube, OCD-UK). Thus the quoted individuals’ names or descriptions appear in the narrative, and the citation appears parenthetically.

 Reference list entry: 

OCD-UK. (2009, February 26). A guide to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ds3wHkwiuCo


Use a Timestamp to Help the Reader Locate Paraphrased Information

 You can also include a timestamp for a citation of paraphrased information if you decide the timestamp would help the reader find the information—for example, if you’ve used information from only a part of a long video. Again, this same principle governs when you should include page numbers (or section names, or any other part of a source [link to post]) in paraphrased citations to print materials.

 Here is an example from a video interview with Aaron Beck, a pioneer of cognitive behavioral therapy. The video is more than 2 hours long, so the timestamp will help the reader find the part we’ve referenced, even though the information is only paraphrased.



Beck has stated that the future of cognitive behavioral therapy should be founded in evidence-based treatment (Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, 2012, 1:30:40). He hypothesized that scientists may even be able to learn which therapies (such as cognitive behavioral therapy, pharmacotherapy, or even gene therapy or psychogenomics) will be most effective for a given individual, allowing therapists to personalize treatment for best results.


Reference list entry: 

Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy. (2012, March 30). Aaron T. Beck, M.D. interviewed by Judith S. Beck, Ph.D. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BZp7ZiAE3c


 Timestamp Ranges

 Although it’s sufficient as far as APA Style is concerned to provide the timestamp at which the cited information begins, you can also include a timestamp range if you think it would help the reader. To refer to a range of time in an audiovisual source, use an en dash between the two timestamps, just as you would use an en dash in a page range. Present both timestamps in full, just as you would present two page numbers in a range in full (e.g., pp. 219–227, not pp. 219–27). 

 Here is an example:

Beck provided several examples of how evidence-based treatments should form the foundation of cognitive behavioral therapy (Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, 2012, 1:30:40–1:33:35).



 We hope this post has helped you understand how to use timestamps when citing audiovisual materials in an APA Style paper. You may also be interested in our posts on citing YouTube videos, videos from the PsycTHERAPY streaming video database, podcasts, and speeches. See Publication Manual§ 7.07 and the APA Style Guide to Electronic References for more example reference formats.  

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!


October 24, 2013

How Do I Cite a Search in APA Style?




by Jeff Hume-Pratuch

Q: In my paper I am writing about a Google search that I performed and the resulting number of websites on a specific topic. Do I need to cite this source in my reference list?

A: No, but thanks for stopping by!

Slightly Longer A: A search is not a source of information; it’s part of your research methodology. Describe it in the Method section of your paper and acknowledge the tools that you used (e.g., Google, Web of Science, PsycINFO). Don’t cite it in text or in the reference list. 

Here’s an example from a recently published article. It shows one way to describe a search for studies that met the criteria of the authors’ research project. Notice that the authors included

• where they searched (PsycINFO, Web of Science),
• the criteria for the search,
• how they used the search, and
• what they did with the results.

Although you may not be writing a meta-analysis article for publication, this is a good model of how to describe a search in your paper.


Search Strategy

From “Marital Quality and Health: A Meta-Analytic Review,” by T. F. Robles, R. B. Slatcher, J. M. Trombello, and M. M. McGinn, 2013, Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/a0031859. Copyright 2013 by the American Psychological Association.


October 18, 2013

How to Cite Social Media in APA Style (Twitter, Facebook, and Google+)

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Thanks to developments in technology and feedback from our users, the APA Style team has updated the formats for citing social media, including content from Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. These guidelines are the same as you’ll find in our APA Style Guide to Electronic References, Sixth Edition (available in PDF and Kindle formats).

Three Ways to Cite Social Media

There are three main ways to cite social media content in an APA Style paper:

  • generally with a URL,
  • as a personal communication, and
  • with a typical APA Style in-text citation and reference list entry.

We'll look at each of these along with examples. 

General Mentions With a URL

If you discuss any website or page in general in a paper (including but not limited to social media), it is sufficient to give the URL in the text the first time it is mentioned. No reference list entry is needed. Here is an example:

News agencies like CNN provide breaking news coverage to millions of people every day on their website (http://www.cnn.com) and Twitter account (http://twitter.com/CNN). In our first investigation, we analyzed the content of CNN’s Twitter feed during the year 2012.

Personal Communications

If you paraphrase or quote specific information from social media but your readership will be unable to access the content (e.g., because of friends-only privacy settings or because the exchange occurred in a private message), cite the content as a personal communication (see Publication Manual § 6.20). A personal communication citation should be used because there is no direct, reliable path for all readers to retrieve the source. Here is an example: 

K. M. Ingraham (personal communication, October 5, 2013) stated that she found her career as an educational psychologist intellectually stimulating as well as emotionally fulfilling.

In-Text Citations and Reference List Entries

Finally, if you paraphrase or quote specific, retrievable information from social media, provide an in-text citation (with the author and date) and a reference list entry (with the author, date, title, and source URL). The guidelines below explain how to format each of these elements for any social media citation, and examples follow.


  • First, provide either an individual author’s real last name and initials in inverted format (Author, A. A.) or the full name of a group. This allows the reference to be associated with and alphabetized alongside any other works by that author.
  • Second, provide social media identity information. On Twitter, provide the author’s screen name in square brackets (if only the screen name is known, provide it without brackets). On Facebook and Google+, when the author is an individual, spell out his or her given name in square brackets.
  • The author reflects who posted the content, not necessarily who created it. Credit additional individuals in the narrative if necessary.


  • Provide the year, month, and day for items that have a specific date associated with them, such as status updates, tweets, photos, and videos; otherwise, provide only the year.
  • If the date is unknown, use “n.d.” (for no date) instead.
  • If the date is unknown but can be reasonably approximated, use “ca.” (for circa) followed by the approximated year, in square brackets.
  • For multiple citations from the same author in the same year (regardless of the month or day), alphabetize the entries by title and add a lowercase letter after the year (e.g., 2013a, 2013b; n.d.-a, n.d.-b; or [ca. 2013a], [ca. 2013b]). Ignore nonletter characters such as the at sign (@) and pound sign (#) when alphabetizing.


  • Provide the name of the page or the content or caption of the post (up to the first 40 words) as the title.
  • Do not italicize the titles of status updates, tweets, pages, or photographs; do italicize the titles of items that stand alone, such as videos and photo albums.
  • If the item contains no words (e.g., a photograph without a caption), provide a description of the item in square brackets.
  • Describe the content form (e.g., tweet, Facebook status update, photograph, timeline, video file) after the title in square brackets.


  • Provide a retrieval URL that leads as directly and reliably to the cited content as possible (click a post’s date stamp to access its archived URL).
  • Provide a retrieval date if the content may change (e.g., whole feeds or pages). Do not provide a retrieval date if the post has a specific date associated with it already (e.g., status updates, tweets, photos, and videos).


Example Citations

Tweet, Individual Author


Gates, B. [BillGates]. (2013, February 26). #Polio is 99% eradicated. Join me & @FCBarcelona as we work to finish the job and #EndPolio. VIDEO: http://b-gat.es/X75Lvy [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/BillGates/status/306195345845665792
  • In-text citation: (Gates, 2013).

Tweet, Group Author


Stanford Medicine [SUMedicine]. (2012, October 9). Animal study shows sleeping brain behaves as if it's remembering: http://stan.md/RrqyEt #sleep #neuroscience #research [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/SUMedicine/status/255644688630046720
  • In-text citation: (Stanford Medicine, 2012).

Facebook Status Update, Individual Author


Gaiman, N. [Neil]. (2012, February 29). Please celebrate Leap Year Day in the traditional manner by taking a writer out for dinner. It’s been four years since many authors had a good dinner. We are waiting. Many of us have our forks or chopsticks at the [Facebook status update]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/neilgaiman/posts/10150574185041016
  • In-text citation: (Gaiman, 2012). 

Facebook Status Update, Group Author

APA Style

APA Style. (2011, March 10). How do you spell success in APA Style? Easy! Consult Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or APA’s Dictionary of Psychology. Read more over at the APA Style Blog [Facebook status update]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/APAStyle/posts/206877529328877
  • In-text citation: (APA Style, 2011).

Google+ Post


Cornell University. (2012, October 11). Having a cup of coffee before closing your eyes is the most effective way to combat daytime drowsiness, according to research. Sounds counterintuitive, but it takes 20 minutes for the caffeine to get into your bloodstream. So if you take [Google+ post]. Retrieved from https://plus.google.com/116871314286286422580/posts/NqCFGr4eveT
  • In-text citation: (Cornell University, 2012). 

Social Media Video

APA video

American Psychological Association. (2011, September 19). This is psychology: Family caregivers [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150303396563992&set=vb.290103137578
  • In-text citation: (American Psychological Association, 2011).

Social Media Photo or Graphic, With Caption

National Geographic

National Geographic. (2012, November 20). A supertelephoto lens allowed Colleen Pinski to capture this image of an annual solar eclipse. See more top shots: http://on.natgeo.com/UasjJH [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151148294503951&set=pb.23497828950.-2207520000.1357225190
  • In-text citation: (National Geographic, 2012).
  • The photographer can be credited in the narrative, for example, “Colleen Pinski photographed a solar eclipse using a telephoto lens (National Geographic, 2012).”

Social Media Photo or Graphic, Without Caption

US Census Bureau

U.S. Census Bureau. (2012, October 10). [Pathways after a bachelor’s degree in psychology: Educational attainment, common occupations, and synthetic work-life earnings and estimates] [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151027855527364&set=a.10151027848052364.407698.202626512363
  • In-text citation: (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).

Social Media Photo Album

Red Bull Stratos

Red Bull Stratos. (2012, October 15). Mission to the edge of space, accomplished [Photo album]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.507275739283434.122701.122924687718543
  • In-text citation: (Red Bull Stratos, 2012). 
  • Include other details in the narrative, for example, "Felix Baumgartner broke the speed of sound in freefall during his jump from the edge of space (for photos from mission day, see Red Bull Stratos, 2012)." 

Social Media Page

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Timeline [Facebook page]. Retrieved September 27, 2013, from https://www.facebook.com/AmericanPsychologicalAssociation/info
  • In-text citation: (American Psychological Association, n.d.).

Day, F. [Felicia]. [ca. 2013]. Posts [Google+ page]. Retrieved July 8, 2013, from https://plus.google.com/+FeliciaDay/posts

  • In-text citation: (Day, [ca. 2013]).

National Institute of Mental Health [NIMHgov]. (n.d.). Tweets [Twitter page]. Retrieved October 17, 2013, from https://twitter.com/NIMHgov
  • In-text citation: (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.).

For More

For more information on all kinds of electronic references, see the APA Style Guide to Electronic References, Sixth Edition (available in PDF and Kindle formats), as well as the APA Publication Manual. To cite social media items not covered here, follow the format that is most similar, and also see our post on what to do if your reference isn’t in the manual.

Thank you to all our readers who helped us develop these formats. Your feedback is always appreciated.

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!

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