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APA Tutorial: 3. Setting Up Your Reference List

Learn how to cite your sources in APA Style (7th edition).

How to Set Up Your Reference List (See also chapter 9 in the APA Manual, "Reference List")

What is a reference list?

Your reference list tells your reader exactly where they can find the sources you cited in the body of your paper. References are arranged in alphabetical order by the author's last name (or an organizational author's first letter). Because reference entries differ slightly according to the format of the source, your reference list also gives your readers an indication of what types of sources you used in your paper (books, reports, articles, etc.)  


What are the two types of sources that can be excluded from a reference list? 

1. Personal communications that are unrecoverable by your reader (such as emails, texts, and online chats) do not need to be included in your reference list. Personal communications only need an in-text citation. 

2. If you are simply mentioning a website or online tool in passing (without citing any specific information from it), the website does not need to be included in your reference list. You can simply provide the URL in the text.

  • Example of mentioning a website in passing:
    • Students are encouraged to utilize the APA Style website ( to learn the rules of APA. 


To summarize: Other than personal communications and mentioning a website in passing, every other source you use in your papers must be included in your reference list! Before you turn in your paper, check to make sure that your in-text citations match your reference list. 


American Psychological Association. (2020). Works included in a reference list. APA Style.


The references page is set up like this:  

  • Start your reference list on a new numbered page
  • Center and bold the word References at the top of the page
  • Alphabetize your entries by the author's last name (or the first letter in an organization name)
  • Use hanging indents for each reference entry
    • The first line of each entry is left-aligned
    • Each additional line beyond the first line of an entry should be indented 1/2 inch (one tabbed space).
    • Type all your references, select all, and then use the "hanging indent" function under the paragraph tools in Word.
  • Double-space throughout your reference list
  • URLs and DOIs should be live hyperlinks if your paper is submitted online.  

  • You can keep the default settings for hyperlinks in Word (blue and underlined).  

  • Do not manually break URLs or DOIs into separate lines.  

    • If your word processing program automatically breaks the URL/DOI into separate lines, that is fine.  

  • Before you turn in your paper, check to make sure every entry on your reference list corresponds with an in-text citation!

Watch this three-minute video by Excelsior Online Writing Lab to learn how to set up your reference list:

Excelsior College Online Writing Lab. (n.d). APA references 7th edition [Video].

The first step in formatting references in APA

In order to format your reference entries, you first need to determine what kind of source you are trying to cite. The APA manual categorizes references into four types: textual works, data sets, audiovisual media, and online media (APA, 2020, p. 313). Examples of textual works include journal articles and books; an example of an audiovisual work is a YouTube video; and online media includes social media posts or websites. Once you identify the type of source category you are looking at, you can then look up the appropriate reference formatting. Check out the following tabs to learn how to create reference entries for common source types.


What information do references include? 

A reference entry includes the author, date, title, and source.


What words are capitalized in my reference list? Which are italicized? 

The titles of books, magazines, newspapers, journals, and webpages are all italicized. Volume numbers of periodicals are italicized as well. Article titles, chapter titles, issue numbers of periodicals, and overall website titles are not italicized. 

Articles, books, and websites use title case capitalization (only capitalize first word, first word after a colon, and proper nouns). For titles of magazines, newspapers, journals and websites, capitalize all the major words in the title. Review the APA's style guidelines on capitalization and italics. 


A word of caution about citation generators

If you use a citation generator (such as EasyBib), be aware that these computer-generated citations often contain errors! It is your responsibility to double-check all of your citations against the APA's official guidelines. 



Matching Your References to Your In-Text Citations

  • Start your in-text citation with the same word that begins your reference entry. 
    • For example, if your reference begins with U.S. Food and Drug Administration then your in-text citation should also start with U.S. Food and Drug Administration


  • While reference list entries include a source's full date, you only need to include the year in your in-text citations.
    • Example: if a reference entry begins with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2020, March 15) your in-text citation for this source would only include the year. 
Reference Entry Corresponding In-Text Citation

Authored Book:

Decherney, P. (2012). Hollywood's copyright wars: From Edison to the internet. Columbus

University Press.

Narrative In-Text Citation:

Decherney (2012)

Parenthetical In-Text Citation:

(Decherney, 2012)

Journal Article:

Tian, K., Zhu, H., & Guan, T. (2019). The moderating role of social media on self-esteem

and life satisfaction: A case study of YouTube and Instagram. The Journal of Applied Business and Economics, 21(6), 208-216.

Narrative In-Text Citation:

Tian et al. (2019)

Parenthetical In-Text Citation:

(Tian et al., 2019)

*There are more than 3 authors so write "et al."

Newspaper Article:

Damour, L. (2020, April 21). Helping teens make room for uncomfortable emotions. The

New York Times.

Narrative In-Text Citation:

Damour (2020)

Parenthetical In-Text Citation:

(Damour, 2020)

*If you have a day in the reference list, you only need to put  the year in your in-text citation!

Magazine Article:

Olsen, E. (2019, December). Ocean vision. Scientific American, 321(6), 16.

Narrative In-Text Citation:

Olsen (2019)

Parenthetical In-Text Citation:

(Olsen, 2019)

Webpage on a News Website:

Hunt, K. (2020, April 21). How this tiny beetle could help millions of allergy

sufferers. CNN.,parts%20of%20Europe%2C%20scientists%20say.

Narrative In-Text Citation:

Hunt (2020)

Parenthetical In-Text Citation:

(Hunt, 2020)

*All you need is the year, not the full date

Government Agency Report:

U.S. Global Change Research Program. (2016). The impacts of climate change on   

human health in the United States: A scientific assessment.

Narrative In-Text Citation:

U.S. Global Change Research Program (2016)

Parenthetical In-Text Citation:

(U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2016)

Webpage on a Larger Website:

National Center on Birth Defects and Development Disabilities. (n.d.). What is ADHD? Centers for

Disease Control and Prevention.

Narrative In-Text Citation:

First Citation:

National Center on Birth Defects and Disabilities (NCBDDD, n.d.)

Subsequent Citations:

NCBDD (n.d)

Parenthetical In-Text Citation:

First Citation:

(National Center on Birth Defects and Development Disabilities [NCBDDD], n.d.)

Subsequent Citations:

(NCBDD, n.d.)

Social Media Post:

Thunberg, G. (2020, April 22). Every day is #EarthDay.The changes needed to

safeguard future living conditions for all species won’t come from governments or [Image attached] [Status update]. Facebook.

Narrative In-Text Citation:

Thunberg (2020)

Parenthetical In-Text Citation:

(Thunberg, 2020)


What is a DOI? How do I find it?

  • A DOI, or digital object identifier, is a number assigned to online articles and books to make electronic sources stable and easy to locate.
  • DOIs are the preferred method for citing the location of electronic resources.
  • Not every journal article or ebook will have a DOI assigned. 
  • If the DOI is not visible on the article or database record, you can try looking up the DOI at


How do I format a DOI in my reference entry?

  • You will need to present a DOI as a hyperlink, starting with http:// OR https://. 
  •  You can leave the link formatting that Microsoft Word uses by default (usually blue). 
  • If your paper will be read or published online you can leave the links live. 
  • Do not include a period at the end of the DOI, or you may mess up the link. 
  • If the article you are citing has a long DOI, you can use a URL shortener. APA recommends ShortDOI

(APA, 2020, DOIs and URLs)


How should I format URLs in my references?

  • You should include the full hyperlink (http:// OR https://). 
  • You can leave the link formatting that Microsoft Word uses by default (usually blue). 
  • Do not include a period at the end of the citation, or you might break the link.

(APA, 2020, DOIs and URLs)


When should I include a retrieval date for a webpage?

  • You should include a retrieval date if a source updates regularly.
    • A good example is a Facebook page or a site that covers an evolving topic (for example a CDC page on a disease).
  • For these types of sources, write the retrieval date like this: Retrieved Month, Day, Year, from https://www.xxxx

(APA, 2020, Elements of a Citation Reference, Retrieval dates)


Which date do I use on a webpage?

  • Try to find the date the specific page you are using was published or updated
  • The publication date/updated date for the page should be distinguishable from the one for the whole website.
  • Do not use the copyright year in a website footer. The copyright in a footer is for the whole website, not the page itself.
  • Do not use the "last reviewed" date of a webpage. A "last reviewed" date means that the content has been reviewed but not necessarily changed.
  • If you cannot determine a date, write "n.d." in the publication date field.

(APA, 2020, Elements of a Citation Reference, Format of the date; APA, 2020, Webpage on a website reference)


When should I include a database name in my reference entries?

  • You generally do not need to include database names (such as ProQuest or Gale) in your citations.
  • You should only include a database name if it's a database that publishes original, proprietary content that cannot be found elsewhere, such as EBSCO's Nursing Reference Center. 
  • The database name should also be included if the item cannot be accessed through any other database, such as the ERIC database. 

(APA, 2020, Database Information in References)


How do I cite organizational authors, especially if there is more than one on the website?

  • You want to use the organization that is directly responsible for the content as the main author.
  • If there a parent organization, you would add it after the title of the webpage. You don't need to reference the parent organization in your in-text citations.
  • Please visit Webpage on a website to see examples

(APA, 2020, Webpage on a website with a government agency group author)