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January 07, 2010

The Generic Reference: Who?

Chelsea blog by Chelsea Lee

This post is part of an ongoing series about how references work.

When you need a reference citation but nothing in the Publication Manual seems to fit, it helps to understand the generic template that all APA Style references follow. As discussed previously, the generic reference answers four interrogative questions: Who? When? What? and Where?

This post addresses the “who” or author element. Upcoming posts discuss the "when," "what," and "where" questions, as well as give advice on adding supplementary information in brackets and on mixing and matching elements of example references when what you need isn’t in the manual.

Who Is Responsible for This Content?

To determine authorship, ask yourself, “who is responsible for this content?” Most often, the “who” will be one person, or several people, who have served as authors or editors. But keep in mind that entities (governments, associations, agencies, companies, etc.) can also function as authors or editors. See pp. 196–197 of the Publication Manual for an index of the author variation examples available.
“No Author”: Are You Sure?

Oftentimes when it appears there is no author, a company or organization of some sort is actually responsible for the content. For example, if you are reporting on H1N1/swine flu pandemic of 2009, one of your sources might be a CDC brief like the one cited below, which was authored by an entity (the CDC) rather than a specific person:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). CDC recommendations 
for the amount of time persons with influenza-like illness should
be away from others.
Retrieved from

In other cases, there might be no author explicitly stated but you can be reasonably certain who it is. Example 67 in the manual shows an author name in square brackets to show that the author is “reasonably certain but not stated on the document” (p. 214). This is a new style guideline for APA, so we don’t have much practice in using it, but it’s available to you. 

“No Author”: For Sure

In some cases, there truly is no way to pin down who the author is. We treat this as “no author.” In reference citations, we handle this by moving the content’s title into the author position (with no quotation marks around it). This most commonly occurs for wiki entries, dictionary entries, and unattributed website content. In the in-text citation, the title (put inside double quotation marks) likewise takes the place of the author’s name.

Other Resources on Authorship in References

Pages 196–197 in the 6th ed. of the Publication Manual list the author variations in the reference examples.

These FAQs and blogs address how to cite when there is no author:

How to cite....


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