Learn and Generate Bibliographies, Citations, and Works Cited

Citing a Reference Book in APA

One frequently asked question by students is how to properly cite a reference book, such as a dictionary or encyclopedia, in APA format. Reference books are useful to supplement your research. However, you should use them primarily as a secondary sources to find more primary sources to back up your thesis. That will make for a stronger APA 7 style paper.

Citation generator

Creating an APA Citation

Creating a reference book citation follows the APA book format. Typically, there are editors rather than authors. So, place the name of the editor(s) first in each references list entry.


VandenBos, G.R. (Ed.). (2007). APA dictionary of psychology. American Psychological Association.

For reference books that have been translated into English, follow the same format. Place the translation of the title in brackets, but don’t italicize the translated title.


Real Academia Espanola. (2005). Diccionario Panhispanico de dedas [Panhispanic Dictionary of Doubts] (22nd ed.). Author.

If you’re citing an online reference work, follow the same format and add the URL or DOI at the end. Remember, you don’t put a period after the URL.


Zalta, E. N. (Ed.). (2019). The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Summer 2019 ed.).  https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2019

To cite a definition in an online dictionary in APA format, follow this example:


Merriam-Webster. (n.d.) Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary (11 ed.). Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com

Note: Include the edition number for an online reference book if the print edition is referred.


Types of Reference Books

Citing a Reference Book in APA

Most people think of reference books as just dictionaries and encyclopedias. However, there are many other types of reference books. Atlases, how-to manuals, medical guides and grammar books are just a few examples. Basically, a reference book is one that provides the reader with a quick way to look up facts or definitions.

Some other types of reference books include:

  • Biographies
  • Chronologies
  • Indexes
  • Directories

There are fun reference books as well, such as:

  • The Dictionary of Imaginary Places
  • The Atlas of Remote Places
  • Bullfinch’s Mythology

Annotated bibliographies  are also reference works. They are very helpful in tracking down reliable sources in your subject area. These bibliographies may be published in book form or within journals. You can find these annotated bibliographies online. Simply search using your topic and the keywords “annotated bibliography.”

For Your Reference

There are many interesting reference books available for your use. It’s definitely worth your time to find sources using these materials. Follow your teacher’s instructions so you will know how many secondary sources you can use in your APA format school paper. And, be sure to cite them all correctly in your bibliography!

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