Writing a reference list according to the APA rules

In your reference list, you should write every source that you use in your dissertation. The reference list is located at the very end of your dissertation but before the appendices, and it may also be called a source list or literature list.

The APA has specific rules about how you should cite your sources and what your reference list should look like.

Basic rules for an APA reference list

The reference list must contain only those sources that you have actually used in writing your dissertation. Record every source in the reference list only once, even when you refer to the same source multiple times in the text.

The layout of the source follows set APA Style rules. Different types of sources require different layouts.

Example book
APA-formatAuthorSurname, FirstInitial. (Year). BookTitle (Edition). City, Country/State: Publisher.
In Reference listIbrahimovic, Z., Lagercrantz, D., & Urbom, R. (2012). I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Example journal article
APA-formatAuthorSurname, FirstInitial., & AuthorSurname, FirstInitial. (Year). Article title. Journal title, Volume number(Issue number), page numbers. https://doi.org/number
In Reference listMessi, L. (2014). To score is an art. Journal of Soccer, 3(2), 24-28. https://doi.org/10.1451/jos00234
Example article on the Internet
APA-formatAuthorSurname, FirstInitial. (Year, Month Day). ArticleTitle [PossiblyTypeOfInternetsource]. Retrieved on, Month Day, Year, from http://URL
In Reference listOgden, M. (2014, October 23). Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben says Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal honed his mind and body. Retrieved on July 31, 2015, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/bayern-munich/11183705/Bayern-Munich-winger-Arjen-Robben-says-Jose-Mourinho-and-Louis-van-Gaal-honed-his-mind-and-body.html

Check out more examples

Authors according to APA

Always cite all authors of the relevant source in the reference list. For the order of the names, use the order given by the source itself – not alphabetical order.

Always begin with the last name of the author followed by a comma and then the initial(s) of his or her first name(s). If the author has a surname prefix (e.g. ‘van’), write this after the initials. If a source has more than one author, put a comma between the authors’ names. Use an ampersand (&) before the last author’s name and a period after.

Example: Authors in reference list

Robben, A. (2013).

Robben, A., & Huntelaar, K. –J. (2013).

Robben, A., Huntelaar, K. –J., & Bommel, M. van. (2013).

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Source within a source

You may find that you want to use a source that is actually part of another source. This is called an indirect reference , and the APA Style has a special rule for it.

Missing information

What if information about the source is missing? This often occurs when you are using internet sources. See these examples of how to handle the source when information is missing.

APA Citation Generator

We have developed the APA Citation Generator so that you don’t have to learn the layout of each type of source. By filling in the information in the APA Citation Generator, you can easily generate the source citation.

Exceptions in a reference list

There are three exceptions where you don’t note the source in the reference list, even though you have used the source in the writing of your dissertation. You cite these sources as a reference directly in the text:

  1. Classical works such as the Bible
  2. Personal Communications such as email, private letters, telephone conversations and chat messages
  3. A website in its entirety

Alphabetical order of the reference list

The sources in the reference list must be sorted in alphabetical order. With the APA Citation Generator, you can easily alphabetize the reference list.

Difference between a reference list and a bibliography

As you can see, we don’t use ‘bibliography’ but instead use ‘reference list’. A bibliography is not the same as a reference list. With a bibliography, you record not only the sources that you have actually referred to in the text, but also all sources that you have consulted while writing your dissertation.

For example, in a bibliography you would also record the newspaper that you read while coming up with a subject for your dissertation. According to APA Style, these sources should not be recorded in the reference list.

Layout of the APA reference list

Once you have listed all sources in the reference list and sorted them in alphabetical order, you’re still not done. According to the APA Style, sources that take up more than one line must be indented starting with the second line.

Example: Reference list

Example APA Reference List

Reference list in APA Style

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Bas Swaen

Bas is co-founder of Scribbr. Bas loves to teach and is an experienced thesis writer. He tries to help students with writing clear and easy to comprehend articles about difficult topics.

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