A reference list entry generally has four elements: the author, date, title, and source. Each element answers a question:

  • author: Who is responsible for this work?
  • date: When was this work published?
  • title: What is this work called?
  • source: Where can I retrieve this work?

Answering these four questions will help you create a reference entry for any type of work, even if you do not see a specific example in the Publication Manual that matches it. Consistency in reference formatting allows readers to understand the types of works you consulted and the important reference elements with ease.

To learn more about content and format of the author, date, title, and source, visit the page on reference elements.

Correspondence between source and reference list entry

This figure shows the first page of a journal article. The locations of the reference elements are highlighted with different colors and callouts, and the same colors are used in the reference list entry to show how the entry corresponds to the source.

First page of a journal article in which the author (in purple), date (in blue), title (in yellow), and source (in green) are highlighted; below, the reference list entry presents the elements in this order with the same colors.

Additionally, the in-text citation for a work corresponds to the reference list entry. For example, the in-text citation for the work in the example is Botto and Rochat (2018) or (Botto & Rochat, 2018).

View the reference examples to see the basic principles of references in action.

The basic principles of reference list entries are covered in Sections 9.4 to 9.6 of the APA Publication Manual, Seventh Edition

Punctuation in reference list entries

Use punctuation marks in reference list entries to group information.

  • Ensure that a period appears after each reference element—that is, after the author, date, title, and source. However, do not put a period after a DOI or URL because it may interfere with link functionality. And if a title ends with a question mark, the question mark replaces the period.
  • Use punctuation marks (usually commas or parentheses) between parts of the same reference element. For example, in a reference for a journal article, use a comma between each author’s last name and initials and between different authors’ names, between the journal name and the volume number, and between the journal issue number and the page numbers.
  • Do not use a comma between the journal volume and issue numbers. Place the issue number in parentheses directly after the volume number instead.
  • Italicize punctuation marks that appear within an italic reference element (e.g., a comma or colon within a book title). Do not italicize punctuation between reference elements (e.g., the period after an italic book title or the comma after an italic journal title).

Suggested citations

Some works contain suggested citations. These citations often contain the information necessary to write an APA Style reference but need editing for style. For example, you may need to change the capitalization of the title or the punctuation between elements. You may also need to put elements in the proper order of author, date, title, and source.

Last updated: December 2021Date created: September 2019