Alphabetizing References in APA Format

When writing any APA format document, it’s likely that you will need to use references at one stage during your writing. It’s common and is almost expected in most forms of APA writing. However, one thing that many people might not realize is that you need to have a specific set-up to your referencing page. For one, it should include the following:

check-mark A running head (this is the header of the page and should include the title plus page number).

check-mark A title for the page that should read “References” only.

However, did you know that you also need to keep your APA reference page in alphabetical format?

Many people are not aware of this fact, but it’s something you will need to get used to doing without a doubt. APA referencing must always be put in the alphabetical order that you are asked to. For the most part, this should begin with the surname of the first author of a source. The ‘first author’ is the name who appears first in a source list; so, if multiple people wrote something you need to keep that in mind.

If you have more than one publication from the same author(s), though, this can become quite confusing. The same, too, if you are using more than one author with the same surname. For example, Smith or Brown is a very common name so you might have more than one source with that name.

Here is a basic list of rules that you should try and stick to if you are going to do this. (Also learn about alphabetizing references in Chicago and MLA format)

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Example of alphabetizing reference in APA format
Example of alphabetizing references in APA format

Make sure you get used to prefixes

If you are writing a piece with several people who have a prefix, such as ‘MacAllister’ and ‘McAllister’, then the former will always come first. It’s taken as spelled, basically. So, MacNeil would come before McCarthy and so on, so forth. It’s a tough thing to get your head around, but it’s a vital part of referencing properly when you start dealing with APA referencing.

Handling multiple sources from one author

If you so happen to be using the same author more than once, then you will need to list that particularly clearly. So, for example, if they were sourced in 1998 and then in 2014, you would put something like:



Also, if this person is used in one publication that was in the future, and sourced in an older publication alongside someone else, the newer publication comes first. So, for example, it would be like this:



It’s important to get that right as the oldest one will always come first when it’s one author, and the newest source will always come first when it’s multiple authors. This can take some time to get your head around, but it’s going to be important in making sure you can hand over content to your assessor who will be happy with what they are seeing.

If there are more than two authors, then sort by the names based on the second author. The first author should always come first regardless to keep the right chronology and ordering. However, make sure that if you are using multiple sources from the one person then you do it correctly by following the above.

What about same date publishing?

If you have the same author and the same publication date, then you need to base it on the alphabetical order of the title. However, the title does not begin with A, An, The etc. – it’s the first ‘full’ word after this.

Once you get used to these processes, then you should be much more suited to lay out your APA formatted reference lists in a way that your assessor will be happy with.

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By Bizhan Romani

Dr. Bizhan Romani has a PhD in medical virology. When it comes to writing an article about science and research, he is one of our best writers. He is also an expert in blogging about writing styles, proofreading methods, and literature.

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