APA style: How to format the references list?

Referencing causes a great number of mistakes in APA formatting (see also our recent analysis of manuscripts submitted to JEPS). This is perhaps not surprising, given the amount of details a writer has to observe when enlisting a single item in the references list. Should the titles be capitalised throughout or not? What is in italics what is not? Where do commas and full stops go? Why is there a standardised way of reporting references in the first place?

Perhaps the key to avoiding mistakes done in this area is to understand the importance (and, paradoxically the ease) of following the APA style.

To begin with, referencing is there to show which sources you rely on when building the theory for your research. Most importantly, not referencing equals plagiarism, it’s presenting someone else’s ideas as your own. The purpose of referencing then is to guide the reader to the source, but not only—the reader should also have enough information to evaluate the quality of the source. This is why also inaccurate referencing won’t do the trick when, say, the reliability of the source is at stake. Also, not mentioning the volume number or the pages will prolong the search process should someone want to look the source up.

Moreover, accurate referencing, making sure all the details are in order, increases the fluency of reading the references. Try sorting out references in another field where APA style is not used, say history. Understanding the sources there takes considerably longer than with the accustomed format designed by the American Psychological Association.

Still, ensuring all the details are right is not at all as difficult as it might seem from reading the APA manual. There are several references management programs which do all the referencing in just 3 clicks: one to download the citation from internet and two to insert it to the appointed place in your text, while it’ll also show up in the references list in the end of the document. JEPS Bulletin will soon publish an overview of the references management programs you could consider using. Until then, some simple tips to follow for the two most common sources: books and journal articles.

When formatting reference’s list pay attention to:

  1. Authors’ last name should be followed by a comma, their initial(s) and another comma. Should there be more than one author, the last one should be separated by an ampersand (&) from the penultimate one. The last author’s initials should not end with a comma. This is how it should look like (bold is added):
    • Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority: An experimental view. London: Harper & Row
    • McCrae, R.R., & Costa, P.T. (1987). Validation of the five-factor model of personality across instruments and observers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(1), 81–90. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.52.1.81
    • Watson, J. D., & Crick, F. H. C. (1953). A Structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid. Nature, 171, 737-738
  2. Year of publication is presented in brackets after the authors, followed by a full stop (bold added):
    • Watson, J. D., & Crick, F. H. C. (1953). A Structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid. Nature, 171, 737-738
  3. The tile of the article is not capitalised throughout, only the first word is. If there is a full stop, a colon, question mark or an exclamation mark, the first word after the punctuation also starts with capitalisation (bold added).
    • Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority: An experimental view. London: Harper & Row
    • McCrae, R.R., & Costa, P.T. (1987). Validation of the five-factor model of personality across instruments and observers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(1), 81–90. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.52.1.81
    • Watson, J. D., & Crick, F. H. C. (1953). A structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid. Nature, 171, 737-738
  4. For books, the publishing location and publisher should also be shown, in that order, separated by a colon (bold added):
    • Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority: An experimental view. London: Harper & Row
  5. For articles in journals, the name of the journal should be presented in italics followed by the volume number separated by a comma and still in italic, followed by the issue number in brackets with no space in between, in regular font (bold added):
    • McCrae, R.R., & Costa, P.T.  (1987). Validation of the five-factor model of personality across instruments and observers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(1), 81–90. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.52.1.81
    • Watson, J. D., & Crick, F. H. C. (1953). A structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid. Nature, 171, 737-738
  6. Page numbers are presented after the journal name, volume and issue (bold added):
    • Watson, J. D., & Crick, F. H. C. (1953). A structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid. Nature, 171, 737-738
  7. DOI, the digital object identifier should be shown for the articles found online (bold added):
    • McCrae, R.R., & Costa, P.T.  (1987). Validation of the five-factor model of personality across instruments and observers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(1), 81–90. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.52.1.81

 

About the author

Maris Vainre

Facebooktwitterrss
  • bob

    Or/and just use zotero, mendeley, endnote, etc.

  • http://journal.efpsa.org Maris Vainre

    Yes, using a references management program is the easiest, even though these do make mistakes too here and there. So an additional manual check will not hurt.

  • Sina Scherer

    Thank you for your contribution Bob. As you have already stated, Zotero is an interesting referencing tool we will inform about in the upcoming post. Feel free to inform us about the other tools you have mentioned.

  • http://www.referencepointsoftware.com/ Keith

    The reference list is always the hardest part of the paper to keep accurate. The reference management programs do help allot. The templates for MLA and APA papers seem to work the best for me.