APA Formatting : How to Create a Reference List in APA Style

In your APA Style thesis or dissertation, the reference list provides an alphabetical listing of all the sources you used to create your paper. When creating an APA Style reference list, which some people call a bibliography, you have to follow specific APA formatting rules, depending on the type of source involved.

First, let’s discuss some basic rules about the reference list.

AUTHORS. List the author’s last name, followed by the initials. If you have more than one author for a source, list each one individually, until you’ve listed the sixth author, then use “et al.” for any subsequent authors. When listing more than one author, use an ampersand (&) instead of the word “and” ahead of the final author in the list.

INDENTION. After the first line of each source, indent each subsequent line about one-half inch, creating a hanging indention for each source.

ORDERING. Alphabetize the entire list by the authors’ last names. If you have more than one source from an author, list the earliest source first.

PUNCTUATION. Capitalize all major words in the titles of the works that you’re citing for journals, but not books. With longer pieces of works, such as books and journals, italicize the titles. Do not italicize shorter pieces of work, such as essays.

I. Reference List Examples

Next, here are some examples for listing various sources in APA Style.

BOOKS. Include the year of publication, the book title, the publisher’s location and name, along with the author’s name(s).

*Johnson, T. J., & Smith, X. Q. (2003). Economic growth in Africa. New York: Jones Brothers Publishers.

ELECTRONIC SOURCES. List the author’s name, if known; date of publication, if known; title of the online article or Web page; volume or issue number, if known; date of retrieval; and Internet address. The first example is from an online periodical.

* Johnson, T. J., & Smith, X. Q. (2004). Determining technology’s role in economic growth. Retrieved August 20, 2007, from (website address)

If you’re simply referencing a standard Web page, use this format.

* Tracking the Economy Web site. (2006). Report on technology’s growth. Retrieved May 16, 2007, from (website address)

For sourcing an online lecture or presentation, follow this example.

* Johnson, T. J. (2006). Technology’s role in the economy [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from (website address)

GOVERNMENT DOCUMENT. Because such a document usually doesn’t include an author, list the governmental division in the alphabetical list.

* Department of the Treasury. (2005). Economic growth forecast, 2006-2010 (Publication number 2005-10-0032). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

PERIODICALS. When using a magazine or newspaper as a source, list the author, date of publication, article title, name of the periodical, and page numbers used.

* Johnson, J. T. (2006, November 29). Governments invest in technology. New York Times, p. B1.

A journal requires slightly different formatting. Be sure to include the issue number in italics ahead of the page number(s).

* Johnson, J. T. (2005). Technology controls local economies. Journal of Economic Growth, 7, 423-427.

VIDEO. If citing a movie as a source, list the producer, director, date of publication, title, country of origin, and studio.

* David, L., Bender, L., & Burns, S. Z. (Producers), Guggenheim, D. (Director). (2005). An inconvenient truth [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Classics.

II. Citing a television show follows a similar format.

* Jones, G. (Producer). (2000, Sept. 6). The nightly news [Television broadcast]. New York: Public Broadcasting System.

III. Odd Situations

SAME AUTHOR, SAME YEAR. If you end up with several sources from the same author, some of which were published in the same year, use an “a” and “b” designation to differentiate between the two sources in your alphabetical listing.

* Johnson, J. T. (2006a). Technology in economy. Economist Magazine, 113, 17-18.

* Johnson, J. T. (2006b). Economic conditions worldwide. Economist Magazine, 115, 23.

SECONDARY SOURCE. If you’ve used a secondary source in your paper that references another work, you should refer to the original work and use a citation for the secondary source in the main text. In the reference list, however, only list the secondary source.

IV. Finally, for additional information on formatting sources in a reference list, look at the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association or visit the APA Web site, where you’ll find some online resources designed specifically for formatting online sources.

Brian Scott is a professional freelance writer with over a decade of experience. He recommends using an APA formatting software to correctly write and format papers in APA Style, available at

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