Michael S. Ofsowitz
Associate Professor, Psychology



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Author:   Michael Ofsowitz  
Posted: 9/18/2005; 10:36:31 AM
Topic: A brief guide to APA style (and good links)
Msg #: 31 (top msg in thread)
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Making the most of APA: Citing Internet sources without getting into trouble.


  • The 6th edition of the APA Publication Manual (publication date 2010) contains rules for citing electronic media. Some of the examples provided in the Publication Manual can be found at apastyle.org and you should consult that site if you don't yet have access to the 6th edition of the Publication Manual. However, the information made available to the public for free there is limited; see the bottom of this page for a few more informative links.

The most authoritative guide is the APA itself, and its Publication Manual, (about $35 softcover), but "authoritative" and "value" (in terms of what's offered) are two separate factors; personally, I no longer think it's expensive: prior versions cost much more than this.

First, before I show examples, let me cover some basic rules concerning the references list:

  • If there is an author (or authors) who can be identified, the reference begins with the author's last name. No first names are shown - only initials. There is a space between initials. If there is more than one author, there is a comma after each author's name and there is an ampersand (&) prior to the final author's name. If there are more than seven authors, list the first six, then an ellipsis (three dots), then the last author.

  • If no author is identifiable, show the publisher as author (it may be a corporation, a nonprofit group, a political organization, an agency, etc.). If it's a newsletter, use the title as the main identifying component (and a short version of the title in the in-text citation). For online sources that are missing information, see this very useful document from APA.

  • Titles of works are in lowercase except the first word, the first word of a subtitle (following a full colon), and proper nouns, which are all capitalized. Even if the original is all uppercase; in other words, ignore the case of the title as you see it on the book, the web page, or the periodical article, and follow this APA rule for capitalizations.

  • Titles of periodicals are capitalized throughout (except words like or, and, of...). For example, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

  • Treat web site page titles like the title of a journal article, not a journal or book (i.e., don't capitalize throughout, and don't italicize).

  • The reference begins flush with the left margin and is thereafter indented about ½ inch on each subsequent line. All references should use this "hanging indent" style, which you see in the reference sections of publications that follow APA style. Learn how to set these up in your word processors; do not rely on carriage returns and spacing or tab stops - set the paragraph alignment to do it right as you write.

  • There are no quotation marks around article titles, web page titles, book titles, periodical titles, or journal titles. Quotation marks are used only when found within the title of the piece one is citing.

  • Book titles, periodical titles, and journal titles are italicized. (But not the titles of articles in journals, or most web pages.)

  • Electronic source material from peer-reviewed and other formal publications frequently come with something called a digital object identifier, or DOI. The DOI is typically a very long number with a format similar to: 10.1023/0513-85645.25.3.445 It should be included in the reference whenever available, preceded by the URL, http://dx.doi.org/ - for example: http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/0513-85645.25.3.445 (and it will not end with a period). If no DOI is available, use the URL of the source (web address in the format of: http://www.whatever.edu - but not the database; see below). The DOI is often found in the upper-right corner of title page publication data on the PDF copy of the journal article; it can also be found in the publication summary provided by some library database systems.

  • Even print source DOI's should be used. If you have a print copy in hand and a DOI is available, use it as described for electronic source references.

  • Every comma, period, colon, capital letter, and so on counts! Watch out where they are. To learn APA reference styles, find an example that corresponds to the type of source you have (such as a web page or a book or a journal article), and then use the example as a template, following its system of punctuation, capitalizing, italicizing, indenting, order of components, and so on precisely.

Okay, here is a generic reference style for most of the web sites you might come across:

Author, I. I. (201X). Title of the piece: With subtitle if available [Type of source]. 
     Retrieved from http://www.fullurl.whatever/and/its/entire/path

Using this page as an example:

Ofsowitz, M. S. (2009). Making the most of APA: Citing Internet sources 
     without getting into trouble [Website]. Retrieved from 

Common types of web sources are: website, blog, facebook page, newsgroup. The type is included in brackets following the title. Other media types, such as Youtube videos, have somewhat different reference formats, and the only way to get it exactly right is to consult the APA Style Guide to Electronic References.

Note how the example for this page follows the generic example: it begins with the author's last name, then there's a comma followed by the initials (some authors have no middle initial available, some do), each with a period, then the date inside parentheses, followed by a period, and then the non-italicized title of the page with capitalization guided by APA rules, and so on.
Note that the hanging indent is made here by using carriage returns, but that's because web-page scripting has limitations that word processors don't (so if it looks wrong, sorry - I only used my computer to check it out). Note that there is no longer a date of retrieval. APA now only requires a date of retrieval if the source changes over time, such as a Wiki or Facebook posting (in which case it would show: Retrieved August 6, 2008, from... instead of just: Retrieved from...). Note that the date of publication may not be shown on the web page, in which case you either show the date of last update (revision) or you write "n.d." (for "no date") as the date (without quotation marks): Author, I. I. (n.d.). Title....

And here is an example for an online periodical, which differs somewhat. An online periodical is "published" on the Internet, not in print. This example is direct from the APA.

Sillick, T.J., & Schutte, N.S. (2006). Emotional intelligence and self-esteem
     mediate between perceived early parental love and adult happiness.
     E-Journal of Applied Psychology, 2(2), 38-48. Retrieved from

(You can have a quick look at the abstract for that article here: Sillick abstract. Notice when you look at that original that every word in the title begins with a capital letter; but in the reference, which is correct APA style, it doesn't.)

Note that volume and other identifying numbers are shown if available, and in this example an issue number (the (2) after the volume number) is also shown, which is only done if each new issue begins at page 1. Most journals do not begin each issue at page 1, but instead start each volume (each year) at page 1 and run page numbers continuously until the end of the year. (For example, the November issue - #11 of a monthly - might begin on page 849 and end on page 963, and then issue #12 picks up at p. 964.)

If you use a journal article that you read online, for example one that is retrieved from a database system (such as the full texts provided by PsycArticles from our MCC library databases), you treat it like a normal print article except that you include the DOI. This example is also direct from the APA:

Herbst-Damm, K. L., & Kulik, J. A. (2005). Volunteer support, marital status,
     and the survival times of terminally ill patients. Health Psychology, 
     24, 225-229. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0278-6133.24.2.225

Note that there is a period after the page numbers just preceding the DOI. Note that except for the DOI, nothing else indicates that the source was viewed online rather than in print. If a DOI is not available, then use the URL for the home page of the journal preceded by the words "Retrieved from" but no date. If accessed through an electronic database, you will have to do some google searches to find the journal's home. Don't list the database.

For example, if the source above had no DOI, and was retrieved using the Elsevier Science Direct database, you'd google "Health Psychology" and the reference would look like this:

Herbst-Damm, K. L., & Kulik, J. A. (2005). Volunteer support, marital status,
     and the survival times of terminally ill patients. Health Psychology,
     24, 225-229. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/hea/

Click on the URLs in both of those examples to see what they refer to.

Use of volume, issue, and page numbers: I mentioned this above, but will repeat it since there is some confusion about the use of issue numbers. In general, APA style omits the issue number, with one rare exception: if a journal (periodical) comes out, say, four times per year (that's four issues in one volume), and each issue begins with a new page 1 (rather than the page number continuing from the previous issue), then and only then is the issue number provided next to the volume number, in parentheses, such as 26(3), 27-35. Most scholarly journals do not follow the practice of starting each issue with a new page 1.

There are also guidelines for the in-text citations you make within the body of your writing:

  • Use last names only. Your in-text citation, contained in parentheses, should include only the last name or names of the authors, and then the date of publication, for example: (Kuwalski, 2004). No initials, no prefixes or suffixes, only the last name(s).

  • Consider syntax and grammar. A parenthetical citation is not something we read, so do not consider components of it to be tied grammatically into your sentence. If you include the names of authors in the sentence, then only the year of publication is shown as the citation in parentheses. For example:
    Correct: According to Taylor (2009), psychological misconceptions are....
    Incorrect: According to (Taylor, 2009) psychological misconceptions are...
    Note that in the incorrect example, the structure of the sentence reads: "According to psychological misconceptions are...." To use both the name and date in the citation, don't think of its contents as part of your sentence.

  • Punctuate after the citation. If a comma or full stop (such as a period) is needed, place these after the in-text citation, not before.

  • When using a citation that contains information about the specific location of the cited material, use page numbers if available. A typical citation when quoting from a source would look like: (Arkin & Oleson, 2000, p. 49). Of course, not in red. And if the quotation spanned two pages, you introduce the pages with the abbreviation pp. instead of p. as in: (Arkin & Oleson, 2000, pp. 49-50).

  • If page numbers aren't available, use other identifying information. For paraphrased information, simply describing the chapter can suffice, as in: (Duck, 1998, chap. 3); note that "chap." is the abbreviation for chapter.

  • When specific locations are required (such as for a quotation), and page numbers are unavailable, use paragraph numbers, for example: (Barber & Smith, para. 16); the "para." is the abbreviation for paragraph. If a paragraph number isn't available, list the heading and count paragraphs to the correct location, for example: (Higgins, 2000, Discussion, para. 2), which refers to the second paragraph in the discussion section.

APA now recommends including specific locations for both quoted and paraphrased (or summarized) material, but still only requires it for quoted material.

Although not a citation or reference issue, one final note on the serial or "Oxford" comma: When you have a list of three or more items where the last item is preceded by a conjunction (and, but, or...), always, yes, you read it right, always include the final comma prior to the conjunction. This rule is found not only in APA style, but MLA and Chicago as well. For example: The serial comma is demanded by APA, MLA, and (notice the comma?) Chicago styles.

The material above only scratches the surface of APA style. If you need more help, additional examples, or detail concerning other issues (such as headings, title pages, pagination, tables, etc.) I recommend the following, which have all been updated for the APA's 6th edition:

If you use one of these online sources, you might have to closely examine a "sample APA paper" to see the application of some APA rules. (The "template paper..." is a sample, with extensive comments.)


Michael S. Ofsowitz, 2001/2012