APA references: the core components
You can easily generate APA references (and in-text citations) with a citation generator, but it’s helpful to have a general understanding of the composition of an APA reference. It enables you to review your own work and that of any tool you might be using.
Scribbr APA Citation Generator
The four components of an APA reference
Although the reference format differs depending on the type of source (e.g., a book, webpage, or video), they’re built from the same four components:
- Author: who is responsible for creating the work?
- Date: when was the work published?
- Title: what is the work called?
- Source: where can the work be retrieved?
The author is responsible for creating the work. This can be an individual, multiple people, an organization (such as a company, government agency, or workgroup), or a combination of them. The author can be the writer of a text, but also the host of a podcast or the director of a movie.
In an APA reference, the author’s name is inverted: start with the last name, followed by a comma and the initials, separated by a period and space.
Treat infixes, such as “Van” or “De”, as part of the last name. Don’t include personal titles such as Ph.D. or Dr., but do include suffixes.
Separate the names of multiple authors with commas. Before the last author’s name, you should also insert an ampersand (&).
A reference entry may contain up to 20 authors. If there are more than 20, list the first 19 authors, followed by an ellipsis (. . .) and the last author’s name.
Organizations or groups as author
Write the names of organizations or groups in full—don’t use abbreviations. If multiple organizations or groups are responsible for creating the work, include them all in the reference entry. Do not use a comma to separate two group authors.
An author’s name can also be a username (for example, a Twitter handle). If you don’t know the author’s real name, you only provide the username. If you do know the author’s real name, include the username in brackets after the author’s real name. Retain the @ symbol.
Indication of roles
If contributors have a different role than “author”, a description of their role is sometimes (but not always) included in parentheses. Check the table below to learn when to provide a role description.
|Source type||Role||In the reference entry|
|Last name, A. A.
Last name, A. A. (Ed.)
|Film||Director||Last name, A. A. (Director)|
|TV series||Executive producer||Last name, A. A. (Executive producer)|
|Podcast||Host||Last name, A. A. (Host)|
|Webinar||Instructor||Last name, A. A.|
|Artwork||Artist||Last name, A. A.|
|Photograph||Photographer||Last name, A. A.|
* Abbreviate the editor role to “Ed.” (one editor) or “Eds.” (multiple editors).
The author may not always be mentioned explicitly, but you can often infer it from the context. For example, an “About us” page on a website is usually written by the organization behind the website.
When you really cannot determine the author, you may omit the “author” component from the reference. The reference then begins with the source title.
The “date” component appears after the “author” component. Use the following guidelines to determine the publication date:
- For books, always take the copyright date.
- For journal articles, take the year in which the volume was published.
- For web pages, you may use the “Last updated” date if it applies to the content you’re citing. Don’t take the copyright date from the footer of a website.
The date of publication appears in parentheses and can take the following forms:
Only provide the retrieval date (i.e., the date you consulted the information) if a work is designed to change over time. Examples include:
- Online dictionary entries
- Social media profiles (not posts)
- Dashboards with statistics (like this world population counter)
The retrieval date appears after the source title and before the URL. Write the word “Retrieved” followed by the month, day, and year.
You do not need to include a retrieval date for an online newspaper article or blog post (like this one), even though the content might change a little over time. A retrieval date is also not needed if versions are archived, as is the case with Wikipedia articles.
Same author, same date
When citing multiple works from the same author, published in the same year, you need to add a lowercase letter after the year to distinguish between them. These lowercase letters are also included in the APA in-text citation.
Assign the letters using the following rules:
- References with only a year precede those with more specific dates.
- References with specific dates are ordered chronologically.
- References with identical dates are ordered by their titles (disregard “A”, “An”, and “The”).
Unknown publication date
If the publication date is unknown, write “n.d.” for “no date” in place of the publication date.
In the “title” component, you write the name of the work that you’re citing. This can be the title of a journal or a book (i.e., a stand-alone work) or a specific article or chapter from that journal or book (i.e., a work that is part of a greater whole). In the latter case, you need to include two titles.
When citing a stand-alone work, its title appears in the “title” component, in italics and sentence case.
When citing a work that is part of a larger whole, the title of the work appears in the “title” component (sentence case, no styling) and the title of the larger whole appears in the “source” component (italicized).
Bracketed source descriptions
Descriptions help identify sources. You include them for pretty much every source type, except for books, journal articles, reports, websites and newspaper articles.
Place the description in square brackets after the source title but before the period. Capitalize the first letter of the description, but don’t italicize it. Try to keep the descriptions short and consistent.
If a work does not have a title, provide a description of it in square brackets in the place of the title.
In the “source” component, you include information about where the work can be retrieved.
When citing a stand-alone work (e.g., a book or webpage), you include the name of the publisher, database, platform, or website (whichever is relevant to your source), and a DOI (Digital Object Identifier) or URL.
When citing a work that is part of a greater whole (e.g., an article in a journal), you include information about this greater whole, like its title, relevant edition, volume or issue information, relevant contributors (like editors), the page range and the publisher, as well as a DOI or URL of the work.
Title of the greater whole
The inclusion of titles is explained in the “title” component section. The title of the greater whole (e.g., a journal, newspaper, or edited book) is usually the first element in the “source” component and is italicized.
Edition information and volume and issue numbers
Books can have different editions, while periodicals (such as journals and magazines) usually have volume and issue numbers. This information appears after the title.
Put edition information in parentheses, but unlike the title, don’t italicize it.
Italicize the volume number and place it after the periodical title. The issue number appears after the volume number in parentheses (not italicized). Do not add a space between the volume and issue number.
If there are relevant contributors other than the author of the work you’re citing, you need to credit them as well. The most common examples are editors of collections and translators of books in a foreign language.
Unlike the author component, the names of the contributors are not inverted. You introduce contributors with the word “In” right after the “title” component. Don’t forget to include a role description in parentheses.
Page range of the work
When citing a work that is part of a greater whole, you need to provide the page number or page range of that work. This makes retrieving it easier. Depending on the type of source, the page numbers are preceded by “p.” or “pp.” and placed in parentheses or not.
Publisher, database, platform, or website name
Depending on the type of source, you should include the name of the publisher, database, platform, or website responsible for distributing the work. When the author of a work is the same as the publisher or website name, you may omit this information.
Some works are associated with a specific location—for example, an artwork in a museum or a conference presentation. In these cases, you include city and state/country in the reference.
DOI or URL
Works that can be accessed online usually have a URL or DOI (digital object identifier). A DOI is often used for scientific publications and books, while a URL is more common for other online publications.
Use the following guidelines:
- If available, always add a DOI
- A DOI is preferred over a URL (because it never changes)
- Include the protocol (http:// or https://) for both DOIs and URLs
- Do not add a period after the DOI or URL
If the source is unknown or not publicly available, the work that you’re citing cannot be retrieved by readers. In this case, you cannot include it as a reference entry. Instead, you should cite it as if it is personal communication.
Abbreviations in APA references
To save space in the reference entry, some common parts of works are abbreviated. Pay attention to the differences in capitalization and punctuation.
|Revised edition||Rev. ed.|
|Second edition||2nd ed.|
|Editor(s)||Ed. / Eds.|
|Narrator(s)||Narr. / Narrs.|
|Page(s)||p. / pp.|
|Volume(s)||Vol. / Vols.|