How to Cite a Thesis or Dissertation in APA

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If you need to learn how to cite a thesis or dissertation in your next essay or research paper, then you’ve come to the right place! In this citation guide you will learn how to reference and cite an undergraduate thesis, master’s thesis, or doctoral dissertation. This guide will also review the differences between a thesis or dissertation that is published and one that has remained unpublished.

All of the guidelines below come straight from the source: the 7th edition of the Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (2020a). If you’d like to follow along, you can find the official guidelines on pages 333 and 334. Please note that the association is not officially connected to this guide.

Alternatively, you can visit EasyBib.com for helpful citation tools to cite your thesis or dissertation.

Are you looking for help in citing something different? Check out the additional EasyBib citation guides on MLA format or Chicago style.


What You Need

To start things off, let’s take a look at the different types of literature that are classified under Chapter 10.6 of the Publication manual:

  • Undergraduate thesis
  • Master’s thesis
  • Doctoral dissertation

You will need to know which type you are citing. You’ll also need to know if it is published or unpublished.

When you decide to cite a dissertation or thesis, you’ll need to look for the following information to use in your citation:

  1. Author’s last name, and first and middle initials
  2. Year published
  3. Title of thesis or dissertation
  4. If it is unpublished
  5. Publication or document number (if applicable; for published work)
  6. Degree type (bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral)
  7. Thesis or dissertation
  8. Name of institution awarding degree
  9. DOI (https://doi.org/xxxxx) or URL (if applicable)

Since theses and dissertations are directly linked to educational degrees, it is necessary to list the name of the associated institution; i.e., the college, university, or school that is awarding the associated degree. 

To get an idea of the proper form, take a look at the examples below. There are three outliend scenarios:

  1. Unpublished thesis or dissertation
  2. Published thesis or dissertation from a database
  3. Thesis or dissertation published online but not from a database

Citing an Unpublished Thesis or Dissertation

Since unpublished theses can usually only be sourced in print form from a university library, the correct citation structure includes the university name where the publisher element usually goes.

Structure:

Author’s Last, F. M. (Year published). Title in sentence case [Unpublished Degree type thesis or dissertation]. Name of institution.

Example:

Ames, J. H., & Doughty, L. H. (1911). The proposed plans for the Iowa State College athletic field including the design of a reinforced concrete grandstand and wall [Unpublished bachelor’s thesis]. Iowa State University.

In-text citation example:

  • Parenthetical:  (Ames & Doughty, 1911)
  • Narrative:  Ames & Doughty (1911)

Citing a Published Dissertation or Thesis from a Database

If a thesis or dissertation has been published and is found on a database, then follow the structure below. It’s similar to the format for an unpublished dissertation/thesis, but with a few differences:

  • The institution is presented in brackets after the title
  • The archive or database name is included

Structure:

Author’s Last, F. M. (Year published). Title in sentence case (Publication or Document No.) [Degree type thesis or dissertation, Name of institution]. Database name.

Examples 1:

Knight, K.A. (2011). Media epidemics: Viral structures in literature and new media (Accession No. 2013420395) [Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Example dissertation-thesis

Example 2:

Trotman, J.B. (2018). New insights into the biochemistry and cell biology of RNA recapping (Document No. osu1523896565730483) [Doctoral dissertation, Ohio State University]. OhioLINK Electronic Theses & Dissertations Center.

In the example given above, the dissertation is presented with a Document Number (Document No.). Sometimes called a database number or publication number, this is the identifier that is used by the database’s indexing system. If the database you are using provides you with such a number, then include it directly after the work’s title in parentheses. 

If you are interested in learning more about how to handle works that were accessed via academic research databases, see Section 9.3 of the Publication manual.

In-text citation examples:

  • Parenthetical citation: (Trotman, 2018)
  • Narrative citation: Trotman (2018)

Citing a Thesis or Dissertation Published Online but Not From a Database

Structure:

Author’s Last, F. M. (Year Published). Title in sentence case [Degree type thesis or dissertation, Name of institution]. Name of archive or collection. URL

Examples:

Kim, O. (2019). Soviet tableau: cinema and history under late socialism [Doctoral dissertation, University of Pittsburgh]. Institutional Repository at the University of Pittsburgh. https://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/37669/7/Olga%20Kim%20Final%20ETD.pdf

Stiles, T. W. (2001). Doing science: Teachers’ authentic experiences at the Lone Star Dinosaur Field Institute [Master’s thesis, Texas A&M University]. OAKTrust. https://hdl.handle.net/1969.1/ETD-TAMU-2001-THESIS-S745

It is important to note that not every thesis or dissertation published online will be associated with a specific archive or collection. If the work is published on a private website, provide only the URL as the source element.

In-text citation examples:

  • Parenthetical citation: (Kim, 2019)
  • Narrative citation: Kim (2019)

 

  • Parenthetical citation: (Stiles, 2001)
  • Narrative citation: Stiles (2001)

Citing a Thesis or Dissertation: Reference Overview

dissertation and thesis Citations for APA 7

We hope that the information provided here will serve as an effective guide for your research. If you’re looking for even more citation info, visit EasyBib.com for a comprehensive collection of educational materials covering multiple source types. For example, learn how to cite a website in MLA, or how to create an APA book citation. 

If you’re citing a variety of different sources, consider taking the EasyBib citation generator for a spin. It can help you cite easily and offers citation forms for several different kinds of sources.


References

American Psychological Association. (2020a). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1037/0000165-000

American Psychological Association. (2020b). Style-Grammar-Guidelines. https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/citations/basic-principles/parenthetical-versus-narrative


Published August 10, 2012. Updated March 24, 2020.

Written and edited by Michele Kirschenbaum and Elise Barbeau. Michele Kirschenbaum is a school library media specialist and the in-house librarian at EasyBib.com. Elise Barbeau is the Citation Specialist at Chegg. She has worked in digital marketing, libraries, and publishing.


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