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How to Cite a Dissertation or Thesis in APA 7 With Examples

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Written by
Dr. Isabel Larsen
  • Icon Calendar 18 May 2024
  • Icon Page 2063 words
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Dissertations are useful resources for academic writing, which implies that it is vital for students to learn the American Psychological Association (APA) style regulations for a thesis citation. Basically, this guide on how to cite a dissertation in APA begins with a detailed description of this type of paper and a discussion on the types of dissertations. In this case, the manual explains citation guidelines for unpublished thesis or dissertation sources, which represent the standard citation format. Then, the guide identifies and expounds on the modifications of the unpublished dissertation reference entry that students should implement to create correct reference list entries for published dissertations on databases and published dissertations that are not part of any databases.

Definition of a Dissertation

A dissertation is a piece of scholarly work, which is the output of a research task that students at different levels of tertiary education must complete in order to receive a degree. Unlike typical research assignments, a thesis is an extended research activity, where students actively participate in research to advance the discourse on a specific topic through an original contribution to the existing literature. In this case, a thesis has five main sections: introduction, literature review, methodology, results, and discussion. Also, subsections under each of these sections vary extensively due to differences in the complexity of the research.

How to cite a dissertation in APA

Types of Dissertations

There are three types of dissertations: undergraduate thesis, master’s thesis, and doctoral dissertation. For example, undergraduate students write an undergraduate thesis to earn their first post-high school degree. Similarly, a postgraduate student writes a master’s thesis in pursuit of a master’s degree and a doctoral dissertation to attain a doctor in philosophy degree at the university. In turn, the length and complexity of a thesis increase as the level of tertiary education rises.

Citing an Unpublished Thesis or Dissertation with an Author, Date, and Title

1. Author


The author’s name is the first component of any dissertation citation. Basically, the author’s name undergoes inversion, which results in the surname appearing before the other names of the author. In this case, surnames are the only names that appear in full in the author element of the thesis citation while the remaining author’s names are abbreviated. Moreover, a comma separates the author’s last name and the abbreviations of the other names of the author. Then, a period appears immediately after the initial that represents any of the author’s other names. Also, a single space separates the initials of the other names. In a case where the author’s other names contain hyphens, a period follows the initials of the individual hyphenated names. However, there is no space between the initials and the hyphen. Suffixes of the author’s name appear after the initials.

Spelling and Capitalization:

In the citing of a dissertation or thesis reference entry in APA, the author’s name is a duplicate of the author’s name as it appears in the byline. Basically, the citation should retain the hyphenation and spelling of the author’s name. In this case, two-part surnames or any non-English symbols should be similar to their original appearance in the work. Then, consultation of the other author’s works, bibliographic database records, or an online copy of the author’s curriculum vitae resolves issues regarding spelling, hyphenation, accents ambiguity. Moreover, the APA style emphasizes that reference entries should maintain the authors’ preferred capitalization of their names, which implies that they overrule conventional capitalization rules. If an author prefers their names to appear in lower case, inversion of the names occurs, but the names retain their lower case styling in both the reference entry and in-text citation.

2. Date

Appropriate Date:

The date is the second element when citing a dissertation reference entry in APA. Basically, the date element of the thesis reference list entry refers to the date of publication. In the case of an unpublished thesis or dissertation, the date of approval takes the place of the publication date because it is the only way to create a time-based context for the content of the work. Accordingly, the ‘date of publication’ for citing a dissertation or thesis in APA is the date of approval that appears on the actual manuscript.

Referencing Structure:

A period that follows the parentheses distinguishes the date element from other elements of the citation. Basically, the date can take four forms, where a comma separates the individual measures of time:

  • year only
  • year, month, and day
  • year and month
  • year and season

In APA, authors of a paper have the freedom to select any of the four forms when citing a dissertation source. Notwithstanding, the author must ensure that there is consistency in the date format for all entries in the reference list. The reference list entries for thesis sources do not contain retrieval dates because they exist in stable forms regardless of the source.

3. Title

Title of Source:

The title of the dissertation is readily accessible from the front page of the soft copy or hard copy version of the document. Basically, citing a dissertation source in APA means using a standalone work, which implies that it undergoes formatting that is identical to the styling of a book’s title. Moreover, sentence case capitalization and italicization are the only formatting requirements for the title of a thesis source. In turn, the user of a source creates an exact replication of the dissertation’s title to ensure ease of identification.

Bracketed Descriptions:

It may be challenging to discriminate between the numerous types of sources that are present on the reference list at a glance. Basically, the use of square brackets to describe the nature of the source is a common practice. In this case, it allows readers to distinguish a thesis from other sources with similar citation formats, for example, reports and books. Furthermore, the description enables the audience to differentiate between the various types of dissertations. Then, a single space separates the title of the source and square brackets. Usually, square brackets contain the words “Unpublished doctoral thesis” or its equivalents. In turn, APA style allows authors to use ‘back-to-back’ square brackets to provide any relevant additional information, for example, the translation of a foreign dissertation’s title. Besides, researchers include a single space between back-to-back square brackets.


The source element of the thesis or dissertation refers to the ‘location’ researcher acquired the document. In the case of an unpublished thesis or dissertation, any researcher can gain access to the dissertation by visiting the university library where a print form of the source is available. Therefore, the name of the institution that awards the degree upon completion and approval of the thesis is the source. In turn, the name of the university appears as the final element of the reference list entry for citing an unpublished dissertation in APA and retains the institution’s name capitalization preferences.

4. Citing Alterations of a Dissertation to the Standard Reference List Entry Format in APA

  • Discussions under this section of the guide point out the modifications of the unpublished thesis reference list entry that occur for correct citation of other forms of dissertations.
  • Explanations for the author, date, title, and source elements of the unpublished dissertation citation are universal unless there are explicit changes identified in this section for particular types of sources.

Citing a Thesis or Dissertation from a Database in APA

1. Name of Awarding Institution:

A database is the source of a published dissertation, which implies that the database name occupies the source element and displaces the name of the institution. As a result, the title element of a reference list entry for citing a dissertation in APA located on a database has the name of the awarding institution as a minor element because it is still an essential piece of bibliographical information. Moreover, the name of the university follows the description of the nature of the thesis source in the square brackets. In turn, a comma and space separate the two items that exist within the squared brackets.

2. Publication Number:

The reference list entry for a published citation may contain a publication number that the database assigns the document for ready location. In this case, the publication number can take various formats, for example, “Paper No. 123.” Then, a writer places the publication number between the title of the source and the square bracketed descriptions while using single spaces as separators before and after the publication number. Parentheses enclose publication numbers. However, publication numbers are not a mandatory element of dissertation citations because electronic databases contain search engines that can locate the document using the name or title of the source.

3. Date of Publication

The date element for citing a dissertation in APA does not prioritize the database publication date. Instead, a writer uses the approval date. Moreover, the date of publication on a database is not accurate for dating the source because the approval of a thesis may occur a couple of years before the work finds its way to a database. In turn, the date the dissertation is available on the database has no value in the creation of a reference list entry.

4. Source Element:

This element of the reference list entry contains the name of the database. Basically, this information tells the audience of the specific database where they can access the published dissertation material. In this case, researchers should accurately present the database name in full to follow the rules on how to cite a dissertation in APA. Moreover, the capitalization of the database’s name borrows from the preferred styling of the database owners, for example, ProQuest. In turn, the name of the database does not undergo italicization.

Citing Theses or Dissertations Published Online in APA

  • Modifications of the title and date elements for the published dissertations in databases apply to the citation of dissertations published online.

1. Archive-Name:

The source of a dissertation, which is available online but does not exist within a database, is an online archive. Basically, the online archive is not a database because the links to thesis sources generate the works directly, which is not possible for a database where logins and passwords prohibit direct access to sources from links. In this case, the name of the archive is often a derivative of the hosting educational institution’s name, which the writer may identify from the archive’s home page. Mostly, the archive name maintains the formatting preferences of the owner of the archive, except for italicization.

2. Universal Resource Locator

A universal resource locator (URL) accompanies the citation for a dissertation source in APA that is not in a database container. For example, writers present the URL as a hyperlink with black font and underlined text. Alternatively, researchers may format the URL as plain text with no underlining. In turn, the ‘copy and paste’ technique is ideal for the inclusion of URLs in the reference list because it prevents any alterations that may result in a URL that does not work.

Referencing Templates for Citing a Dissertation or Thesis in APA

1. Unpublished Thesis or Dissertation


Last Name, Initials of Other Names. (Date). Title of the dissertation [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Name of the College that Awards the Degree.


Brooks, J. D. (2015). Bamboo as a strengthening agent in concrete beams for medium height structures [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. The University of Washington.

2. Thesis or Dissertation From a Database


Last Name, Initials of Other Names. (Date). Title of the dissertation [Doctoral dissertation, Name of the University that Awarded the Degree]. Database Name.


Purat, F. (2015). Internationalization in European minority language literature: A case study of Faeroese, Catalan, and Irish Gaelic in translation [Master’s thesis, The American University of Paris]. ProQuest Dissertation & Thesis Global.

3. Thesis or Dissertation Published Online (Not in a Database)


Last Name, Initials of Other Names. (Date). Title of the dissertation [Doctoral dissertation, Name of the University that Awarded the Degree]. Archive Name. URL


Nordin, H. (2007). Pricing credit derivatives using the Hull-White two-factor model [Master’s thesis, University of Gothenburg]. University of Gothenburg Digital Assets. https://gu.se/digitalAssets/1342/1342762_mscthesisnordin.pdf

Tips on How to Cite a Dissertation or Thesis in APA

  • Square bracketed descriptions distinguish the type of thesis source.
  • The source of an unpublished dissertation is the university that awards the degree.
  • The source of a published dissertation is a database or an online archive.
  • URLs are present in citations of published theses that do not exist in databases.

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