How to Format an APA Reference Page
Published October 16, 2013. Updated December 28, 2021.
In APA, the “Works Cited” page is referred to as a “Reference List” or “Reference Page”. “Bibliography” also may be used interchangeably, even though there are some differences between the two.
If you are at the point in your article or research paper where you are looking up APA bibliography format, then congratulations! That means you’re almost done.
In this guide, you will learn how to successfully finish a paper by creating a properly formatted APA bibliography. More specifically, you will learn how to create a reference page. The guidelines presented here come from the 7th edition of the APA’s Publication Manual.
A note on APA reference page style: In this guide, “bibliography” and “references” may be used interchangeably, even though there are some differences between the two. The most important thing is to use the label “References” when writing your paper since APA style recommends including a reference page.
Here’s a run-through of everything this page includes:
- Difference between an APA bibliography and a reference page
- What about annotated bibliographies?
- Understanding APA reference page format
- APA reference page formatting: Alphabetizing by surname
- Q: What should not be on an APA reference page?
Difference between an APA bibliography and a reference page
The difference between a bibliography and a reference page is a matter of scope. A bibliography usually includes all materials and sources that were used to write the paper. A reference page, on the other hand, only includes entries for works that were specifically cited in the text of the paper.
What about annotated bibliographies?
There are some cases in which a professor or journal might request an annotated bibliography. An annotated bibliography is basically a reference page that includes your comments and insights on each source.
An annotated bibliography can be a document all on its own, or part of a bigger document. That means creating an annotated bibliography by itself could be an assignment, or you may have to include one as part of your research paper, journal submission, or other project.
If you do need to add an APA annotated bibliography, it goes after the reference page on its own page, inside the appendices.
Understanding APA reference page format
A properly formatted APA reference page begins on a new page, after the end of the text. It comes before any figures, tables, maps, or appendices. It’s double-spaced and features what’s called a hanging indent, where the first line of each reference is not indented, and the second line of each reference is indented 0.5 inches. The reference page is also labeled with a bold, center-justified, and capitalized “References.”
To summarize, the reference page should be:
- Placed on its own page, after the text but before any tables, figures, or appendices.
- In the same font as the rest of the paper.
- Formatted with hanging indents (each line after the first line of every entry indented 0.5 inches).
- Labeled with a bold, center-justified, and capitalized “References.”
Note: You can use the paragraph function of your word processing program to apply the hanging indent.
Q: What font am I supposed to use for the reference page or bibliography?
The APA reference page/bibliography should be in the same font as the rest of your paper. However, APA Style does not actually call for one specific font. According to Section 2.19 of the Publication Manual, the main requirement is to choose a font that is readable and accessible to all users. Some of the recommended font options for APA Style include:
- Sans serif fonts: Calibri (11pt), Arial (11pt), or Lucida (10pt).
- Serif fonts: Times New Roman (12pt), Georgia (11pt), or Normal/Computer Modern (10pt).
Q: What are the margins supposed to be for the reference page or bibliography?
Aside from the 0.5 inch hanging indent on the second line of each reference entry, you do not need to modify the margins of the reference page or bibliography. These should be the same as the rest of your paper, which according to APA is 1-inch margins on all sides of the page. This is the default margin setting for most computer word processors, so you probably won’t have to change anything.
Next, let’s take a look at a real example of a properly formatted APA reference page to see how these pieces come together.
APA reference page example
Creating an APA reference page is actually a lot easier than creating a bibliography with other style guides. In fact, as long as you are aware of the formatting rules, the reference page practically writes itself as you go.
A properly formatted APA reference page/bibliography needs to adhere to the following formatting guidelines:
- On its own page, after the text but before any annotations.
- Double-spaced the whole way through (including individual references).
- Formatted with hanging indents for each reference entry.
- Properly labeled with a bold, center-justified, capitalized “References.”
- Reference entries ordered alphabetically by author.
Now, let’s see how this looks when it all comes together.
APA reference page formatting: Alphabetizing by surname
All works included in the reference page should be ordered alphabetically, using the first word of the reference entry. In most cases, this is the author’s surname. However, there are times when a reference entry might begin with a different element.
Creating an alphabetized reference page or bibliography might seem like a simple task. But when you start dealing with multiple authors and similar last names, it can actually get a little tricky. Fortunately, there are a few basic rules that can keep you on track.
The “nothing precedes something” rule
When the surnames of two or more authors begin with the same letters, the “nothing precedes something” rule is how to figure it out. Here is an example of how it works.
Imagine your reference page includes the authors Berg, M.S. and Bergman, H.D. The first four letters of each author are the same. The fifth letters are M and H respectively. Since H comes before M in the alphabet, you might assume that Bergman, H.D. should be listed first.
APA Style requires that “nothing precede something,” which means that Berg will appear before Bergman. Similarly, a James would automatically appear before a Jameson, and a Michaels before a Michaelson.
Disregard spaces and punctuation marks
If a surname has a hyphen, apostrophe, or other punctuation mark, it can be ignored for alphabetization purposes. Similarly, anything that appears inside of parentheses or brackets should be disregarded.
Ordering multiple works by the same author
It is not uncommon for a research paper to reference multiple books by the same author. If you have more than one reference entry by the same person, then the entries should be listed chronologically by year of publication.
If a reference entry has no year of publication available, then it should precede any entries that do have a date. Here’s an example of a properly alphabetized order for multiple entries from the same author:
Guzman, M.B. (n.d.).
Guzman, M.B. (2016).
Guzman, M.B. (2017).
Guzman, M.B. (2019).
Guzman, M.B. (in press).
“In press” papers do not yet have a year of publication associated with them. All “in press” sources are listed last, like the one shown above.
Ordering works with the same author and same date
If the same author has multiple entries with the same year of publication, you need to differentiate them with lowercase letters. Otherwise, the in-text citations in your paper will correspond to more than one reference page entry.
Same author and same year of publication
Here’s a look at how to use lowercase letters to differentiate between entries with the same author and same year of publication:
Guzman, M.B. (2020a).
Guzman, M.B. (2020b).
Guzman, M.B. (2020c).
These lowercase letters are assigned to make the in-text citations more specific. However, it does not change the fact that their year of publication is the same. If no month or day is available for any of the sources, then they should be ordered alphabetically using the title of the work.
When alphabetizing by title, ignore the words “A,” “An,”,and “The” if they’re the first word of the title.
Same author and same year of publication, with more specific dates
If more specific dates are provided, such as a month or day, then it becomes possible to order these entries chronologically.
Guzman, M.B. (2020a).
Guzman, M.B. (2020b, April 2).
Guzman, M.B. (2020c, October 15).
Ordering authors with the same surname but different initials
Authors who share the same surname but have different first or middle names can be alphabetized by their first initial or second initial.
Guzman, M.B. (2020c, October 15).
Guzman, R.L. (2015).
Ordering works with no listed author, or an anonymous author
If you have reference entries with no listed author, the first thing to double-check is whether or not there was a group author instead. Group authors can be businesses, task forces, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, etc.
If there is no individual author listed, then have another look at the source. If it is published on a government agency website, for instance, there is a good chance that the agency was the author of the work, and should be listed as such in the reference entry. You can read more about how to handle group authors in Section 9.11 of the Publication Manual.
What if the work is actually authored by “Anonymous”?
If the work you’re referencing actually has the word “Anonymous” listed as the author, then you can list it as the author and alphabetize it as if it were a real name. But this is only if the work is actually signed “Anonymous.”
What if there is no listed author and it’s definitely not a group author?
If you have confirmed that there is no individual or group author for the work, then you can use the work’s title as the author element in the reference entry. In any case where you’re using the work’s title to alphabetize, you should skip the words “A,” “An,” and “The.”
Q: What should not be on an APA reference page?
An APA reference page should not contain any of the following:
- The content of your paper (the reference page should start on its own page after the end of your paper).
- Entries for works for further reading or background information or entries for an epigraph from a famous person (the reference page should only include works that are referenced or quoted in your paper as part of your argument).
- Entries for personal communications such as emails, phone calls, text messages, etc. (since the reader would not be able to access them).
- Entries for whole websites, periodicals, etc. (if needed, the names of these can be mentioned within the body of your paper instead).
- Entries for quotations from research participants (since they are part of your original research, they do not need to be included).
Published October 28, 2020.
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- When should I include a DOI or URL in an APA reference list?
The following rules will help you identify when to use DOIs and when to use URLs in references:
- Use a DOI wherever available, be it a print version or online version.
- For a print publication that does not have a DOI, do not add a DOI or URL (even if a URL is available).
- For an online publication, if both a DOI and URL are given, include only the DOI.
- For online publications that only have a URL (and no DOI), follow the below recommendations:
- Add a URL in the reference list entry for publications from websites (other than databases). Double check that the URL will work for readers.
- For publications from most academic research databases, which are easily accessible, do not include a URL or database information in the reference. In this case, the reference will be the same as the print version.
- For publications from databases that publish limited/proprietary work that would only be available in that database, include the database name and the URL. If the URL would require a login, include the URL for the database home page or login page instead of the URL for the work.
- If a URL will not work for the reader or is no longer accessible, follow the guidance for citing works with no source.
- How do I format my references list?
To format your APA references list, follow these recommendations:
- Begin the references on a new page. This page should be placed at the end of the paper.
- All sides of the paper should have a 1-inch margin.
- Set the heading as “References” in bold text and center it.
- Arrange the reference entries alphabetically according to the first item within the entries (usually the author surname or title).
- Add a hanging indent of 0.5 inches (i.e., indent any line after the first line of a reference list entry).
See above for a visual example of a reference page and additional examples.
Multiple entries with the same author(s) are arranged by publication year. Entries with no dates first, then in chronological order. If the year published is also the same, a letter is added to the year and the entries are arranged alphabetically (after arrangement by year).
- Robin, M. T. (n.d.)
- Robin, M. T. (1987)
- Robin, M. T. (1989a)
- Robin, M. T. (1989b)
Single-author source and multi-author source that share one author. One-author entries are listed first even if the multi-author entries were published earlier.
- Dave, S. P., Jr. (2006)
- Dave, S. P., Jr., & Glyn, T. L. (2005)
For references with multiple authors that have the same first author but different subsequent authors, alphabetize the entries by the last name of the second author (or third if the first two authors are the same).