Owning the Intangible: Possession, Theft, and (Mis)Appropriation of Ideas

SamR's Variant of the American Psychological Association (APA) Guidelines for Citation and Bibliography



Much of the information presented herein comes from the fourth edition of the APA publication manual. The fourth edition is not the newest edition (the fifth is), but it suffices for most things. The fifth edition uses better guidelines for citing electronic resources, and I have used those instead.

I have also suggested some variants based on personal biases and years of time thinking about these issues.

American Psychological Association. (1994). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (4th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

American Psychological Association. (2003). Electronic references: General form for electronic references. Retrieved December 3, 2003 from http://www.apastyle.org/elecgeneral.html.


Almost all academic work borrows from previous work. It is our responsibility as academics to cite that work. Citation and bibliographical standards help ensure that readers can understand when and how an author is using a previous work and, as importantly, how to obtain that previous work. Bibliography entries can also provide readers with a sense of the authority of the cited work.

Unfortunately, different disciplines have different styles for citation and bibliography. Major guidelines include American Chemical Society, Chicago, and Modern Languages Association.

In this course, we will generally use American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines. APA guidelines are used in many of the social sciences. They are also used in at least one of my scholarly fields, educational technology. I like APA-style citation because the names of the authors appear in the text, which is helpful for those familiar with the discipline.

Note that I will not expect perfect APA-style citations. (I'll admit that I don't always use them, and since I don't publish in APA journals, I find that many of my editors don't expect perfection, either.) However, I do expect you to do your best to follow the format. I also expect you to include as much information as possible about sources, particularly author, date, title, and publisher (or, for electronic resources, site).


Different kinds of works are cited and referenced in different ways. However, they also have many commonalities. Here we consider some commonalities and some of the most common formats. In general, you can expect a source to have the following format.

Authors (Year). Title. Other information.

Presenting Author Names

Almost all works have authors. Unfortunately, some authors make themselves anonymous by accident or intent. Whenever possible, you should identify the author. APA provides many exceptions to this rule.

Sam's Variant: I prefer that if a work lists no individual author or authors, but is clearly the product of an organization (e.g., a company), you use that organization as the author. If you cannot even identify an organization, you should use Anonymous as the author.

In every case, authors appear in last-name plus initials format. For example,

Rebelsky, S. A.


Rebelsky, S. A. & Green, J.

In works with two authors, the author names are separated by an ampersand, as in the example above. In works with three or more authors, the author names are separated by commas and the final name is prefixed by an ampersand. For example,

Gum, B., Rebelsky, S. A., Stone, J. D., & Walker, H.

Sam's variant: At times, it may be appropriate to list first names, rather than just initials..


Dates typically follow authors and are enclosed in parentheses and followed by a period. The type of publication determines how precise you are in the date. Books typically have only the year. Journal articles have month and year. Newspaper articles have day, month, and year. In lists of references, you should write dates as (Year, Month Day) or (Year, Month) or (Year).

If you use two sources by the same authors from the same year, you add lowercase letters to the years so the citations can distinguish between bibliography entries. For example,

Green, J. & Rebelsky, S. A., Eds. (2003a). Owning bits: Intellectual property in the information age. Grinnell, IA: Glimmer Press.

Green, J. & Rebelsky, S. A. (2003b). An illustrative instance of inaccurate information on the Internet: Genome-related patents. In J. Green & S. A. Rebelsky (Eds.) Owning bits: Intellectual property in the information age (pp. 211-217). Grinnell, IA: Glimmer Press.

Common Entries


For books, the title is italicized. The extraneous information typical includes the location and the publisher.

Authors. (Year). Title. Location: Publisher.

For example,

Rebelsky, S. A. (2005). (Not Quite) Everything You Need to Know to Survive SamR's Tutorial, Fall 2005 Edition. Grinnell, Iowa: Grinnell College.

For edited volumes, you add a comma and the term Eds. after the last editor. For example,

Green, J. & Rebelsky, S. A., Eds. (2003a). Owning bits: Intellectual property in the information age. Grinnell, IA: Glimmer Press.

Sam's Variant: The fourth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association suggests that you underline titles. I believe that the advent of modern desktop publishing and word-processing applications permits you to use italics for titles. I understand that the fifth edition of the publication manual follows the new convention. You should only underline titles when you cannot italicize them, such as in typewritten or hand-written manuscripts.


For articles, you often provide more of the date. The title of the article is not placed in italics, but the periodical that published the article is. Article titles should only have the initial word and proper names capitalized. You also provide the volume and number of the journal and the pages, where appropriate. In general,

Authors. (Date). Article title. Periodical, Volume (Number), pages.

If the magazine, journal, or newspaper lacks a volume or number, you can skip that part of the bibliography entry.

In newspapers only, you should precede the page numbers with p. or pp..

Sam's Variant: It strikes me as silly that we use p. and pp. in some cases and not in others. I am comfortable if you use them in all cases.

Book Chapters

Authors. (Year). Article title. In Editors (Eds.), Book Title (pp. pages). Location: Publisher.

Write editors in Initials LastName format. For example,

Rebelsky, S. A. (2003). Topics for further research. In J. Green and S. A. Rebelsky (Eds.), Owning bits: Intellectual property in the information age (Vol. 1), pp. 205-210. Grinnell, Iowa: Glimmer Press.

Variants of the Preceding

Most other kinds of works fit into the general format of the preceding. For example, a pamphlet entry looks much like a book entry and an article in an on-line publication looks much like an article in a journal. For particular details, refer to the APA guide.

Online Sources

Online sources are much like the preceding kinds of sources, except that you append the following to your entry.

Retrieved Month Day, Year, from Source.

Note that you should include the preceding phrase whenever you obtain something electronically, even if it is also available in traditional printed form.

Sam's Variant: I prefer a longer series of dates that describe not just when I visited the page, but when the page was last modified. Hence, I typically use something closer to the following.

Electronic resource at URL (Dated Day Month Year; Visited Day Month Year; Last Modified Day Month Year).

In-Text Citations

Whenever you use a source in the text of your document (e.g., with a direct quote, paraphrase, or summary), you have a responsibility to cite that source. The most common form of citation takes the form (Author, Date). You need only provide the last names of the authors, unless a first initial is necessary to distinguish bibliography entries.

If you use an author's name directly in your text, you need only put the date of the reference directly after the name. For example,

Green and Rebelsky (2004b) claim that even authoritative sources of information can contain inaccuracies.

Parts of larger sources (e.g., chapters in books, pages in articles) often provide the central basis for citation. When you use part of a source, you should include information about the part in your citation by adding a comma and the name of the part (e.g., p. 5, chap. 3) after the date. For portions of long electronic sources, use section number or paragraph number.



Wednesday, 3 December 2003 [Samuel A. Rebelsky]

Early August, 2005 [Samuel A. Rebelsky]

Sunday, 21 August 2005 [Samuel A. Rebelsky]

Sunday, 20 August 2007 [Samuel A. Rebelsky]


Disclaimer: I usually create these pages on the fly, which means that I rarely proofread them and they may contain bad grammar and incorrect details. It also means that I tend to update them regularly (see the history for more details). Feel free to contact me with any suggestions for changes.

This document was generated by Siteweaver on Tue Aug 24 10:49:16 2010.
The source to the document was last modified on Sun Mar 28 11:58:38 2010.
This document may be found at http://www.cs.grinnell.edu/~rebelsky/Courses/Tutorial/2010F/Handouts/apa.html.

You may wish to validate this document's HTML ; Valid CSS! ; Check with Bobby

Copyright © 2005-2010 Samuel A. Rebelsky. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

Samuel A. Rebelsky, rebelsky@grinnell.edu