5.3 What is a Reference List Citation?

Sarah Adams and Debbie Feisst

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you should be able to

  • Identify the key questions answered in a reference citation

Let’s begin by discussing what a reference list is. A reference list is placed on a separate page at the end of your academic paper or business report. The list includes a reference citation only for each source you used and cited in your paper or report. The list is arranged in alphabetical order by author.

Each reference citation answers four key questions or Four Ws:

Author Date Title Source Location
Who? When? What? Where?
Writer with a long black ponytail wears a green collared shirt with a shining lightbulb above their head symbolizing having an idea. The writer is typing on a red typewriter in a teal coloured room with a brown bookcase filled with books and a globe. Twelve images of each month of the year, each with a different coloured banner showing the month and a white space where the dates would be shown. The images are organized in month order and in a 4 by 3 months rectangle grid pattern. Image of a stack of fiction and non-fiction books ordered from largest to smallest book size of varying colours and format. An image of a mouse cursor hovering over zoomed in web browser address bar showing the beginning of web address https://www.

Asking these four questions helps identify the key elements needed for a reference list citation.

You are not expected to memorize APA guidelines. Instead, use available resources (this tutorial guide or Dalhousie’s APA Quickguide) to help guide you. Over time you will become more comfortable with creating citations yourself.

Using APA resources to help create a reference citation is like using a recipe. The ingredients are the key pieces of information about a source (the 4Ws). If you’re missing an ingredient, leave it out or substitute it.

Following a recipe’s directions is like following a citation example. If you follow the directions and add the ingredients at the right point, then your recipe (i.e. your citation) will turn out.


Photo by Sorin Gheorghita on unsplash




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5.3 What is a Reference List Citation? Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Adams and Debbie Feisst is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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