Understanding APA Reference Order – A Comprehensive Guide

28.06.23 APA citation & referencing Time to read: 3min

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When writing research papers, assignments, or dissertations, it’s crucial to give proper credit to sources. This not only maintains academic honesty but also enables readers to trace the origins of the information used. The APA style is a widely used citation format in academic and scientific writing. One of its vital features is the APA reference order. This guide will delve into the ordering of references in APA style, including single-author works, multiple-author works, and works with no author.

In a nutshell: APA reference order

  • It is crucial to adhere to specific ordering guidelines when creating APA style references.
  • In general, papers should be organised alphabetically by the first author’s surname.
  • When citing multiple works by the same author, we follow the chronological order.
  • When dealing with authors who share the same name, initials, and work titles, it is essential to find ways to differentiate between them in the APA reference order.
  • If the author of a work is unknown, the reference should be listed in alphabetical order according to its title.

Definition: APA reference order

The APA reference order pertains to the organised arrangement of cited sources in a paper or article, following APA style guidelines. This system aids in the easy accessibility and navigation of cited references for readers, ultimately improving the readability and credibility of the written work.

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Ordering works on the APA reference page

The following sections will explain the format for reference entries and in-text citations in APA style, including how to cite sources with a single author, multiple authors, and no authors.

General format for reference entry and in-text citations

Format Example
Reference entry Last name, Initials. (Year). Title of the work. Publisher. Smith, J. (2020). Title of the book. XYZ Publishing.
In-text citation (Last name, Year, p. Page Number) (Smith, 2020, p. 10)

Single author, multiple authors, and no author

In APA style, references are typically listed in alphabetical order by the author’s surname.


  • Smith, J. (2018). The Science of Climate Change. Penguin Publishing.

When you have multiple works by the same author, order the entries chronologically by year of publication, from oldest to most recent. If there are several works in the same year, append a, b, c, etc. to the year.


  • Smith, J. (2018). The Science of Climate Change. Penguin Publishing.
  • Smith, J. (2020a). Global Warming: A Modern Crisis. Harper Collins.
  • Smith, j (2020b), Title of the second book in 2020. XYZ Publishing.

If you have multiple authors with the same surname, include the initials in the citation to avoid confusion.


  • Smith, J. (2018). The Science of Climate Change. Penguin Publishing.
  • Smith, R. (2020). Global Warming: A Modern Crisis. Harper Collins.

When citing works from different authors who share the same last name, include the first initials in the in-text citations.


  • Smith (2020) and M. Smith (2021) have different views on the subject.

If no author is listed for a source, the reference should be listed by the title of the work. In this case, ignore leading articles (A, An, The) when alphabetizing.


  • The Science of Climate Change. (2018). Penguin Publishing.

APA reference order: Easing the process of ordering references

Using reference management software can simplify the process of organising references in APA reference order. Tools like

  • EndNote
  • Zotero,
  • and Mendeley

automatically format the citations and the reference list in the required style, including APA.


They are distinguished by adding lowercase letters (a, b, c, etc.) to the year.


  • Smith J. (2020a)
  • Smith, J. (2020b)

Corporate authors (organisation s, government agencies) are treated the same as individual authors in the reference list. However, if the name of the corporate author is long, it may be abbreviated in the in-text citation after the first mention.

For references without a date, use the abbreviation n.d. (for “no date”) in place of the year. These references are still ordered alphabetically by the author’s surname.