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Putting APA References in Alphabetical Order

You’ve finished your paper and organized your references. Now you’re ready to alphabetize the entries in your APA 7 format reference list. However, you have authors with the same name, weird letters, and numbers. What should you do? APA citation order is getting confusing. Rather than panic, learn how to create an APA reference list in alphabetical order by following these quick and easy steps.

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How to Put an APA Reference List in Alphabetical Order

Putting an APA reference list in alphabetical order is as easy as ABC… or is it? Most of the time, yes. For authors, you alphabetize the entries by the author’s last or surname. Entries that have no author are alphabetized in APA by the title of the work.

how to alphabetize an APA reference listHowever, when you have three separate works written by the same author and two articles written by people with the same last name but different first names, things get a little tricky. Let’s explore every situation you might encounter when alphabetizing your reference list in APA.

Author Last Name (Surname) – APA Citation Order

When it comes to putting the APA reference list in alphabetical order, the first place to look is the author’s surname. The author’s surname is first, followed by their initials. Alphabetize the reference list letter-by-letter.

Author Surname Example:

Ring, A. A.
Ring, J.
Ringing, A. B.

Note: Nothing precedes something. That’s why you place Ring before Ringing.


This surname/given name format is commonly used in the U.S.; however, in other countries, it may be different. If you don’t know how a particular author’s name should be formatted, look for other publications or resources, such as the author’s web page, to figure it out.

Same Surname, Different First Names

When you have authors with the same surname, but different first names, alphabetize based on their first initial.

Different First Name APA Citation Order Example:

Lopez, G.
Lopez, J.

Note: If the last name is spelled Lopes, then it precedes Lopez. The surnames are spelled differently and are alphabetized accordingly.


Several Works by the Same Author 

It’s common to have several works cited by the same author, who may be experts in their field. When that happens, place them in order by publication date, from oldest to newest. However, if the publication has the same author and date, you add a lowercase letter.

Multiple Works Example:

Hayman, D. (2001).
Hayman, D. (2005).

Same Author, Same Date Example:

Hayman, D., & Bella, T. (2001a).
Hayman, D., & Bella, T. (2001b).
Hayman, D., & Bella, T. (2001c, March 26).
Hayman, D., & Bella, T. (2001d, April).

Note: You decide who gets an a, b, c, etc. based on the alphabetical order of the title or by month and days added after the year.


Single Author vs. Multiple Authors

When looking at a single author vs. multiple authors, the single authors go first.

Single vs. Multiple Author Example:

Hayman, D. (2001).
Hayman, D., & Forrest, R. (1999).

Note: Even when the publication date of the multi-author work is earlier, the one author still comes first


Author Prefixes

An author prefix is a part that comes before the name like da Vinci. The da is the prefix. If the prefix is commonly part of a surname, use it for alphabetizing.

Prefix Example:  

da Vinci, L.
De Vries, A.
Duncan, D.

Note: Always follow the capitalization the author uses for their name.


Mc and Mac

Another confusing alphabetization point is Mc vs. Mac. However, using the letter by letter alphabetization system, Mac comes before Mc.

Mc vs. Mac Example:

MacDonald, R.
McDonald, A. J.

Apostrophes in Surnames 

Ignore apostrophes, spaces, and capitals when you are organizing your APA reference list.

Apostrophe in Surname Example:

Damner, J.
D’Arcy, A.

putting APA references in alphabetical order
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Group Authors in APA Alphabetical Order

Organizations and government agencies are alphabetized by the organization or agency’s title spelled out in full. You do not use the acronym. Additionally, the parent body precedes the department.

Organization Author Example:

American Medical Association (not AMA)
Central Intelligence Agency (not CIA)

Parent Body and Department Example:

The University of New Mexico, Department of Anthropology

No Author – APA Reference List Alphabetical Order

If there is no author, move the title to the author’s position. Then, alphabetize it by the first significant word in the title. When it comes to the title, you ignore the words “A,” “An,” and “The.” Additionally, numbers are alphabetized as they sound. Therefore, one-hundred comes before ten.

No Author APA Alphabetical Order Example:

The code of warfare
Top 100 nursing schools
Top 10 business programs

If Anonymous sign the work, then spell it out and alphabetize it as though it was a real name.

Anonymous Example:

Agry, P.
Avery, E.

Putting Legal Cases in APA Citation Order

Finally, you alphabetize legal cases by the case name.

Legal Cases Alphabetical Order Example:

Damner, J.
Lessard v. Santos
Lessard v. Schmidt
Lopez, G.

APA Reference List Alphabetical Order

Now you have a good idea of how to put your APA reference list in alphabetical order. Go ahead and give it a try. Just remember to follow the basic letter by letter system, and you’ll do great with your APA citations.

Related Articles:

FAQ Putting APA References in Alphabetical Order

In what order should references be listed APA?

In an APA reference list, you put each citation in alphabetical order by the author's last name (surname). APA follows the letter by letter system; therefore, A comes before B and so on. When you have authors with the same last name, you move to the first and middle initials. If there is no author, then you alphabetized by the title.

How do you put a reference list in alphabetical order?

To put a reference list in alphabetical order in APA, you follow the letter by letter system, starting with the author's last name. Therefore, in an APA citation, John Adams (Adams, J.) comes before Benjamin Franklin (Franklin, B.)

Do numbers or letters come first in APA references?

In an APA reference page, numbers are alphabetized by how they are spelled out; therefore, a number or letter could come first on the references page. For example:
Adams, J.
360history (alphabetized by the t in three hundred sixty)
Zachary, T.

Is APA reference page in alphabetical order?

Yes, an APA reference page is listed in alphabetical order by the author's last name. When you have authors with the same last name, you alphabetize them by the first or middle initial. When you have multiple sources with the same author, use the publication year.

How do you list sources in APA format?

In APA format, you list your sources alphabetically by the author's last name. If there is no author of the work, then you alphabetize the source by the title of the work. APA clearly states out the formatting rules for every situation in APA format.

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