Referencing using APA/Resources/Referencing

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Referencing using the APA system

So far in this the unit about referencing, you have understood the importance of acknowledging the ideas of other authors that you are incorporating into your writing.

To do this at Otago Polytechnic, the system developed by the American Psychological Association (APA) is used. This system is a very comprehensive description of how to order information in essays and other formal written texts.

You are expected to use the APA system carefully and accurately. For the written work you do in this course, you will be assessed on how well you use the APA system to refer to the work of others. For all of the written work you do as a student at Otago Polytechnic, you are expected to use the APA system correctly. You will often lose marks in your written work if you fail to acknowledge the ideas of authors you have read and used in your written work.

You can see that using the APA system correctly is therefore an important skill for you as a scholar.

There are other systems with which to refer to the work of other authors that you use in your writing. They include the Modern Language Association (MLA), Chicago, and Harvard. These systems were developed by different tertiary institutions or areas of study, and differ in their detail. The principles behind each system are the same, however.

The APA system is also commonly used for professional writing in the health sector.

Where can I get information about the APA referencing system and how to use it?

The American Psychological Association publishes a manual which explains not only how to acknowledge the work of others in your writing, but also how to use an appropriate academic style. The Bill Robertson Library has copies of this, which you will find under the Call number 808.06615 CON. In addition, you will find a section in your programme handbook about the APA system.

The American Psychological Association has its own website, and the page with information about the style guide is here. They also have a page with tips on using the APA referencing system.

A condensed version of the APA style guide can be found here. Note that there is a lot of information about how to use, for example, abbreviations, capital letters, and commas, as well as how to reference information.

Studying these guides, you will see that it is a very comprehensive system. It is not expected that you learn the system off by heart. However, you will need to be familiar with some of the main ideas, such as the need to include at least the name of the author and the year of publication in your text (and the page number when quoting), and the requirement to include the name of the publication and the publisher in your reference list.

Information you might access for any of your written assignments now and for the future may be published in different forms. Most frequently, it will be published in books, journal or magazine articles, or on the internet. However, information may be got from interviews, television programmes, documentaries, letters, and government documents. The APA system explains what information you need to include in your reference list and how you order that information.

An explanation of how to use the APA documentation style is also available from the Writing Centre at the university of Wisconsin-Madison.


  • Marc Doesburg, Otago Polytechnic, 2007
  • David McQuillan, Otago Polytechnic, 2007