Writing tip: APA style references checklist

Theresa Bell

If you're using the APA Style rules and want to review your references before you submit your document for grading or publication, check for these 10 common problem areas:

1.  Placement in document

References usually appear after the main text but before appendices (American Psychological Association [APA], 2010, p. 230). If you’re unsure of the order expected in your work, please check with your instructor or publishing editor.

2.  Start references on a new page titled “References”

References should begin on a new page (APA, 2010, p. 230), and the page should be titled “References”, not “Bibliography” (p. 230). Since “References” is a page title, not a section heading, the title should not be formatted as a section heading. Accordingly, centre the title, but don’t bold, italicize, or underline the text (as shown on page 9 in the Sample One-Experiment Paper). See How should I format my references in APA style? for more information.

3.  Double-space references

The references should be double-spaced (APA, 2010, p. 180). See the references in the Sample One-Experiment Paper for an example of the correct line-spacing, and How should I format my references in APA style? for more information.

4.  Left-align references with a hanging indent

The first line of a reference should start flush to the left margin, and references should be left-aligned with a ragged right margin (APA, 2010, p. 229). Do not break words or URLs at the end of a line (p. 229); instead, use your word processor’s automatic line-wrapping function. Second and subsequent lines of every reference should have a hanging indent (p. 180); unless instructed otherwise, use your word processor’s default setting for the hanging indent, which will usually be 1.27 cm/0.5 inches. Use your word processor’s settings to set up an automatic hanging indent. For example:


See How should I format my references in APA style? for more information.

5.  Check spacing after punctuation

Provide one space after a comma or period, including between an author’s initials e.g., Author, A. A.

6.  Check capitalization of resource titles

Use sentence case (i.e., capitalize the first word of a title, the first word of a subtitle, and proper nouns) in the title of a journal article, book or e-book, book chapter, e-book chapter, report, dissertation, thesis, YouTube or TED Talk video, webpage, newspaper article, magazine article, blog post, social media post, or encyclopedia or dictionary entry (Lee, 2012a, Table row 1). The titles of book reviews, brochures, press releases, and conference papers should also be in sentence case.

Use title case (i.e., all major words capitalized) in periodical titles (e.g., journal, newspaper, magazine) (Lee, 2012b, Title Case section).

7.  Check italicization of resource titles

Italicize the title of a journal, book or e-book, report, dissertation or thesis, newspaper, magazine, encyclopedia, or dictionary (Lee, 2012a, Table row 1).

Do not italicize the title of a journal article, book chapter, e-book chapter, newspaper article, magazine article, blog post, webpage, social media post, encyclopedia entry, or dictionary entry (Lee, 2012a, Table row 2).

When deciding whether to italicize the title of a resource, consider if the resource stands alone (e.g., book) or is part of a larger resource (e.g., book chapter). Stand-alone resources should be italicized, whereas resources that are part of a larger resource should not be italicized (Lee, 2012a, para. 3). If you’re not sure “whether something stands alone (such as a webpage that may or may not be part of a greater website), choose not to italicize” (para. 3).

8.  Provide publisher details for print resources

If you referred to a print resource (e.g., a report that was published in print, versus a report that you accessed electronically and then printed), provide the publisher’s location and name in the reference. These details can usually be found on the reverse side of the resource’s title page. If the location is in the United States, provide the city and state abbreviation (APA, 2010, p. 186) e.g., Newbury Park, CA: Sage. If the location is outside the United States, provide the city and country (p. 186) e.g., Don Mills, Canada: Oxford University Press Canada. Do not abbreviate the country’s name. If the publisher lists many locations, use the first one in your reference as it’s likely to be the company’s headquarters (p. 187). If the publisher is also the author, use “Author” after the colon (p. 187) e.g., Washington, DC: Author. For more information, see How should I present publisher information in my reference in APA style?.

9.  Provide electronic retrieval information for electronic resources

If you accessed a resource electronically, provide the electronic retrieval information in the reference, such as a DOI or URL (APA, 2010, p. 187). Please see How do I reference a journal article in APA Style? or How do I reference a book/ebook in APA style? for information on how to reference resources without DOIs that were retrieved from an online database. Usually, URLs that aren’t hyperlinked are easier to read (Lee, 2015, para. 3), but if your instructor or editor prefers hyperlinks, the APA Style rules do not prohibit them (para. 2).

10.  Do not include personal communication in the references

If your resource isn’t public or doesn’t provide recoverable data, use the format for personal communication to cite the resource only in text (APA, 2010, p. 180). Personal communication isn’t included in the references because readers can’t access the resource. See How do I cite or reference personal communication in APA style? for more information.

Other resources:

For extensive information on references to specific resource types, including examples, please search WriteAnswers by keyword.

If you have any questions about this writing tip, please contact the Writing Centre.


American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Lee, C. (2012a, March 1). How to capitalize and format reference titles in APA Style [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2012/03/how-to-capitalize-and-format-reference-titles-in-apa-style.html

Lee, C. (2012b, March 9). Title case and sentence case capitalization in APA Style [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2012/03/title-case-and-sentence-case-capitalization-in-apa-style.html

Lee, C. (2015, April 21). Should links be live in APA Style? [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2015/04/should-links-be-live-in-apa-style.html