A Match Made in Heaven: Reference Entries and Citations in APA -->

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A Match Made in Heaven: Reference Entries and Citations in APA

To me, knowing how and why rules apply to me always makes them more relevant and makes me more inclined to learn and use them. This approach makes sense when talking about APA Style because APA rules can seem so arbitrary. So, with the approach of helping students understand the reasoning behind the APA rules, let’s start at the beginning: the reference list.

Reference entry: full publication information. Citation: author, publication year.

What is a reference list? 

The reference list is the foundation for citing sources in APA. In APA, writers include all sources they use within the body of the paper, but only those sources, in the reference list. This is a little different from a works cited or bibliography (lists of sources used in other citation styles, like MLA and Chicago), which sometimes include sources the author consulted but did not end up using in the paper.

In APA, if you cite a source anywhere within the paragraphs of the paper, it should also appear in the reference list. Similarly, only sources used within the body of the paper are included in the reference list. It’s always a good idea to proof for this relationship before finishing your paper. If you take just one thing away from this post, remember this: Every source cited in your paper must have an entry in the reference list, and your reference list should not contain any sources that you didn’t cite in your paper. This rule applies for almost every source you cite in-text. The only exception to this rule is personal communication citations, which do not have corresponding entries in the reference list.

What is its purpose?

The reason you need to list all of the sources you cite in the body of your paper in the reference list is so the reader can trace the information you used to inform your writing. Imagine that you incorporate a statistic regarding high school graduation rates in your paper; you include a citation to your source in the sentence that uses the statistic. The reader could then use that citation to find that source and its full publication information in your reference list, allowing the reader to find the source itself.

This function of the reference list is also why citations are structured the way they are. Because sources are listed alphabetically by author in the reference list, citations include the author(s) of a source and the source’s publication year.

How do you create reference entries? 

Because the purpose of the reference list is to help the reader track the sources you used, a reference entry must include enough information for the reader to find the original source. This includes the following basic information:
  • Author(s) of the source

  • Publication year of the source

  • Title of the source

  • Publication information of the source
Of course, the publication information for sources can vary widely because there are so many ways sources are published. It is the publication information, then, that usually varies from reference entry to reference entry, and it is the publication information that can cause confusion when creating a reference entry.  

The publication information is the part of the reference entry that will change the most, depending on the source.

Check out these great resources to help you create reference entries:
And, of course, if you ever get stuck creating a reference entry, simply let us know via e-mail at writingsupport@waldenu.edu.

Now that you know the reasoning behind a reference list and how it relates to the in-text citations in your writing, I hope you’ll have a better understanding of why the reference list is so important.

Beth Oyler author image

Beth Oyler
 is a Writing Instructor and the Webinar Coordinator for the Writing Center. She lives in Minneapolis and recently graduated with her MA in English.

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  1. In regards to the title of an article, if there is a colon in the title, and the last word before the colon is an abbreviation, what is the proper use of period and colon?
    Would it be '..... Walmart Inc.: The dominant ....', or is there an exception and it is formatted differently? Thank you. Greg Brown

    1. Hi Greg, great question!
      You would still follow the format of the article title. For instance, if the title of the article is “Walmart Inc.: Exploring larger corporations”, then the period would be included after the abbreviation and a colon would be included after the period. However, abbreviations would usually not be included in titles, so for a title of your own work, we suggest not using an abbreviation. As well, a period isn’t needed after acronyms, and APA recommends not using them with a couple of exception, such as when using “U.S.” for United States and “U.K.” for United Kingdom when they are used as adjectives (but not when they are nouns).