WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines recommend that URLs in online works have descriptive text. For example, in the preceding sentence, the words “URLs in online works have descriptive text” are linked to the page at https://www.w3.org/TR/UNDERSTANDING-WCAG20/navigation-mechanisms-refs.html.
However, APA Style references include links with anchor text that is simply the destination DOI or URL (vs. anchor text that is natural, descriptive language)—does this mean that APA Style references are not accessible?
APA Style References Meet Accessibility Standards
To answer this question, the APA Style team consulted with accessibility experts at David Berman Communications to develop our strategy for seventh edition references. Although we considered creating references that included descriptive text links (e.g., linking the title of the work), we settled on the current approach for a few reasons:
- A reference list is not meant to be read from start to finish but rather consulted as needed if readers want more information on works cited in the text. Thus any reader—including a person using a screen reader—would not be expected to follow every link in a reference list. Even if the links in the reference list were beneath descriptive text, the list of links in the reference list would not be particularly helpful on its own because those links need the context of the in-text citation for readers to understand why the links are relevant.
- APA Style governs how manuscripts meant for publication and student papers are prepared. These papers might be read either in print or online. Thus, it is helpful to preserve the actual link address to account for the case in which the work is printed. This approach also produces one set of general guidelines rather than multiple sets, which simplifies writers’ task of understanding and implementing the APA Style reference system.
Because reference lists are not meant to be read from start to finish and because works in APA Style may be published either online or in print, our guidelines recommend that links show the DOI or URL of the work rather than be beneath descriptive text. Links in the text (which are relatively rare—they are only used for general mentions of websites) are treated in the same way; the URL should immediately follow the name of the page being linked to. To reduce the length of links, shortDOIs and shortened URLs are also acceptable.
Using Descriptive Links in APA Style
Although the Publication Manual addresses how to use APA Style for journal publication and student papers, APA Style is used in other contexts as well. Users who develop online-only resources should adapt APA Style to fit their needs. This adaption includes, but is not limited to, the use of descriptive links throughout texts and reference lists.
For example, on this very webpage and throughout the APA Style website, all links appear beneath descriptive text. Other users of APA Style in online contexts should follow this practice as well.
Likewise, in references, people creating online works in APA Style can put the DOI or URL beneath descriptive text. Some reference databases put DOIs or URLs beneath buttons labeled “Article.” Another approach is to link the title of the work to the work’s URL or DOI, as in the following examples.
American Psychological Association. (2019). Talking with your children about stress.
Warne, R. T., Astle, M. C., & Hill, J. C. (2018). What do undergraduates learn about human intelligence? An analysis of introductory psychology textbooks. Archives of Scientific Psychology, 6(1), 32–50.