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 style. Reference books are useful to supplement your research but use them as a secondary source to help you find primary sources to back up your thesis.

Citing a Reference Book in APA

Creating an APA Citation

Creating a reference book citation follows the APA book format. Typically, there are editors rather than authors, so place the editor (s) name first.

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


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


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


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


Rosen, G. (2018).  Abstract objects. In E.N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Winter 2018 ed.).  Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2018/entries/abstract-objects


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

Reference. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary (11 ed.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reference


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


Types of Reference Books

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

  • 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 reference works and 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, using a simple search using your topic and the keywords “annotated bibliography”.

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 school paper.

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About the author

Adrienne Mathewson

Adrienne Mathewson, Editor-in-Chief of Bibliography.com, is an Information Professional with a Master’s in Library, Information & Science from San José State University with an emphasis on information literacy and scholarly publishing. She is a certified librarian through the State of New Mexico.

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