Reference Basic Mechanics

It can be intimidating at first trying to piece together a reference. However, with a little practice it will become second nature and quite easy, that is if you put in a little time and a little effort thinking. Remember that as a writer it is always your job to make it as easy as possible on your reader and complete and accurate references is a big part of that. Below are some general formatting issues to keep in mind. They will make more sense when you look at the examples presented later.

First let’s discuss the order of the references in the reference list. It is very simple. Arrange the entries in alphabetical order. That’s it. The APA publication manual has two pages of examples on how to arrange the references. Sure there are always a few strange exceptions, but just put together your 100% accurate references and then arrange in alphabetical order using standard alphabetizing rules.

A reference should contain all of the information needed to locate the source material. The APA publication manual has an entire chapter (32 pages) of reference examples. We will just cover the most common types. If you find yourself in a situation that is not covered here you can look it up in the publication manual, which you should own if you plan on continuing in this field. However, another good well-known place to find accurate information is the Purdue Online Writing Lab (

You should be using strong sources obtained from library resources to support your assertions. You should not be using random webpages. Therefore, most of the references you use will be articles published in periodicals or journals. Below is the basic format for such a source.  I have used different colors to try to separate out the individual parts of the reference.

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (year). Title of the article. Title of Periodical, xx, pp-pp. doi: xxx.xxxxxxxx

First comes the authors’ last names (sur name) and any initials used. Pay close attention to the use of periods, commas, and the ampersand (&).

Next is the year that the article was published. Notice that the year is in ( ) and followed immediately by a period.

After the year comes the title of the article followed by a period. Notice how the title is capitalized. Only capitalize the first word, proper nouns, and the first word after a “:”.

The title of the journal is next and it is followed by a comma. After the comma comes the volume number of the journal followed by another comma. Use the punctuation and capitalization just as the journal uses. Notice that both the title and volume are in italics.

The page numbers are next followed by a “.”

The final part of the reference is the doi or digital object identifier, if there is one available. We won’t go into what exactly a doi is, but it helps to track documents in the digital world. Older documents don’t neccesarily have these. If you look at a reference lists in published in a journal you may or may not see doi’s, but their use has been increasing.

Test Yourself

 1. Which of the following is a correctly formatted APA reference article title?

Lillian Gilbreth and the mental revolution at Macy's, 1925-1928
Lillian Gilbreth and the Mental Revolution at Macy's, 1925-1928


2. Which of the following is a correctly formated APA reference journal title?

Journal of experimental psychology: Animal learning and cognition
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition
Jour. of Experimental Psych: Animal Learning & Cog.


3. Which of the following correctly lists the names of authors’ in an APA style reference?

QuestionImage5 3

R. J., Defillippi, & M. B. Arthur
Defillippi, R, & Arthur, M
Defillippi, R. J., & Arthur, M. B.
Robert J. Defillippi and Michael B. Arthur
Arthur, M. B., & Defillippi, R. J.


4. Which of the following is the correct way to include this author’s name, Edwin A. Locke, in an APA style reference?

EA Locke
Locke, EA
Locke, E. A.


5. What is the correct way to list the year in an APA style reference?



6. Which of the following correctly formats in APA style the article title shown below?

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Effects of Procedural and Distributive Justice on Reactions to Pay Raise Decisions
Effects of procedural and distributive justice on reactions to pay raise decisions