10 Tips for Tweaking Your Reference List -->

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10 Tips for Tweaking Your Reference List

Sarah Prince
By Sarah Prince

Let me propose a brief scenario that might sound familiar to many of you. Although you had initially planned to give yourself ample time to write your paper and format your reference list, you find yourself just hours before your paper is due in a frenzied rush to finish your writing assignment. After finally crafting a paper that you are proud of (or at least think is acceptable), you spend a few hurried minutes creating your reference list. Quickly glancing over your references, you decide that everything looks okay (or at least good enough). You save your paper one last time and get ready to submit your work.

I’m here to tell you to WAIT, PAUSE, HALT, STOP! Before your pointer finger hits send, upload, or submit, I’m suggesting you use these 10 simple tips to make sure your references meet 6th edition APA standards. Taking a little time to clean up some common errors in your reference list could make a big difference in your compliance with APA guidelines and even prevent you from losing unnecessary points on your paper.

1. Insert a page break: You should always insert a formal page break between the body of your text and your reference list. This formal page break will begin your reference list on a new page and keep your text from sliding down the page as you make changes and revisions to your document.

2. Format your reference title correctly: After you have inserted a formal page break, you want the word “References” (“Reference” if you only have used one source) to be centered in plain text (not bolded) at the top of your page. You should not have a colon (“:”) after your reference title.

3. Remove hyperlinks: Make sure to remove all hyperlinks from your reference list by right clicking on the link and selecting “Remove hyperlink.” After doing so, your link should no longer be bright blue and underlined; instead, it will appear in black (like the rest of your draft).

4. Format your references using a hanging indent: Instead of trying to manually create a hanging indent for each reference, you want MS Word to do the work for you! If you change your formatting settings (which I promise is really easy), your citations will remain perfectly indented no matter what revisions you make to your references. For quick help with formatting an automatic hanging indent, check out these tutorials.

5. Capitalize titles correctly: Per APA guidelines, the title’s first word, its first word after a colon (or the first word of a subtitle), and its proper nouns should be the only words capitalized (whether your title is from a book, a journal article, or a website). For example, let’s say I wrote a book. In my reference list, the title would read Sarah Prince: The woman, the hero, the legend. Notice that here, the first word, Sarah, is capitalized, the proper noun Sarah Prince is capitalized, and the first word after the colon, The, is capitalized. All other words remain in lower case.

6. Format titles correctly: Although APA style does not have different rules for the capitalization of titles in books, websites, and journals, it does have different rules for their formatting. Shorter works, such as journal articles and websites, are written in plain text in your reference list. However, longer works, such as books (I recommend the brilliant read above) and entire journals are italicized.

7. Find the DOI or URL: Per 6th edition APA guidelines, you should actually include a DOI (instead of database retrieval information) when citing journal articles found online. If no DOI can be found, you should then use the URL of the journal’s home page. In other words, if you are glancing at your reference page, and you see “Retrieved from Ebscohost,” chances are you need to take a look at our resource on reference entries for electronic sources.

8. Include publication information: If you are citing a print resource such as a book (like the brilliant one I’ve suggested above), you will want to include the city and the state postal code abbreviation in addition to the publisher. For instance, your publication information will look something like this: Atlanta, GA: Home Publishing Press. A common misstep is to leave off the state abbreviation or to fail to abbreviate it. If you are unsure, check out this list of state postal code abbreviations.

9. Use correct punctuation: When in a rush, it is very easy to look over missing or misplaced periods in your reference list. For most citations, you’ll just need to follow the simple rules below; however make sure to check out this APA Style Blog post for trickier sources.
• Periods should be inserted after the author name(s), date (which goes inside parentheses), title, and source.
• Periods should NOT be inserted after DOIs or URLs in reference list entries.

10. Double space your reference list: Your reference list should be double spaced, and it should not have any extra spaces between individual citations. Just like formatting your hanging indent, automatically double spacing your paper (including your reference list) can save you a lot of time and work. For more help on formatting double spacing, see these tutorials

So, before you click submit, go through this checklist to see if your reference list is up to code. And, if you still have questions, see the reference list in our course paper template or check out these common reference examples.


  1. I wish I had known about this sooner; great information here!

  2. I can't find an answer to this question ... I have three pages of references. If a particular reference at the bottom of one page spills over to the next page, should a page break be inserted so that the complete work being referenced shows up completely on the next page?

    1. Hi there - Thanks for your question! APA doesn't have specific guidelines for instances like this, so the protocol would be to follow standard spacing guidelines throughout your reference pages. I hope this helps!