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How to Cite a Dissertation in APA Style

Dissertations are valuable sources of original research in academic writing. Citing dissertations in APA style requires specific elements: author’s name, dissertation title, institution name, year, and publication status. These details apply to both in-text citations and reference list entries.

Published vs. Unpublished Dissertations

The main distinction between published and unpublished dissertations lies in their accessibility. Published dissertations are readily available to the public, while unpublished ones are more restricted in their distribution. This difference affects how they are cited in APA style, as the citation must reflect their availability and source.

Differences in Citation Requirements

When citing a published dissertation, you need to include details like the author’s name, the year of publication, the title of the dissertation, the institution awarding the degree, and a URL if accessed online. For unpublished dissertations, the citation is slightly different. It typically includes the author’s name, the year, the title of the dissertation, and a note that it is an unpublished doctoral dissertation along with the institution name.

Citing a Published Dissertation

Elements of a Published Dissertation Citation

A complete citation for a published dissertation includes several critical elements:

  • The author’s last name and initials
  • The year of publication in parentheses
  • The title of the dissertation in italics
  • The institution awarding the degree
  • A URL or database name if accessed online

For example:

Smith, J. A. (2020). Exploring the Effects of Climate Change on Coastal Erosion (Doctoral dissertation, University of California). Retrieved from

Formatting Rules and Examples

The formatting of a published dissertation citation follows specific APA guidelines. Ensure the title is italicized and the institution and database names are correctly formatted. Proper punctuation and capitalization are crucial for maintaining accuracy.

Another example:

Brown, L. B. (2018). The Role of Social Media in Modern Marketing (Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University). ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Citing an Unpublished Dissertation

Essential Elements for Unpublished Dissertations

Citing an unpublished dissertation involves a slightly different set of elements. These include:

  • The author’s name
  • The year of completion
  • The title of the dissertation in italics
  • The label “Unpublished doctoral dissertation”
  • The name of the institution

For example:

Johnson, M. C. (2019). Innovations in Renewable Energy Technologies (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Stanford University.

Citation Guide with Examples

Creating an accurate citation for an unpublished dissertation requires attention to detail. Start with the author’s last name, followed by initials. Next, include the year in parentheses, the italicized title, the “Unpublished doctoral dissertation” label, and the institution name. Here’s another example:

Davis, R. T. (2021). Advancements in Quantum Computing Algorithms (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Handling Electronic Dissertations

Citing Dissertations from Online Databases

When citing dissertations accessed from online databases, it’s essential to include the URL or database name. This ensures that readers can locate the original document. The citation should follow the standard format for published dissertations but with the addition of the URL or database. For instance:

Lee, K. Y. (2017). The Impact of Urbanization on Wildlife Habitats (Doctoral dissertation, University of Chicago). Retrieved from

Unique Considerations for Digital Sources

Digital dissertations often have unique identifiers like DOIs or specific database URLs. Including these details can enhance the accuracy of your citation. Ensure you use the correct format for URLs and DOIs, and always check for any additional requirements from your institution or the database provider.

In-Text Citations for Dissertations

When and How to Cite Dissertations Within the Text

In-text citations are crucial for acknowledging sources and avoiding plagiarism. When citing a dissertation within your text, include the author’s last name and the year of publication. For direct quotes, add the page number. For example:

According to Smith (2020), the effects of climate change are becoming more pronounced in coastal regions.

Practical Examples and Common Mistakes

Proper in-text citation helps maintain academic integrity. Avoid common mistakes like omitting the year or page number. Here are a few practical examples:

  • Paraphrase: (Brown, 2018)
  • Direct quote: (Johnson, 2019, p. 45)

Creating a Reference List Entry for a Dissertation

Comprehensive Guide to Formatting Reference Entries

The reference list entry for a dissertation should include all necessary details to help readers locate the source. Follow these steps:

  1. Author’s last name, initials
  2. Year of publication in parentheses
  3. Title in italics
  4. Label and institution (if unpublished)
  5. URL or database name (if applicable)

Ensuring Accuracy and Consistency

Accuracy in your reference list is vital. Double-check each element for correct formatting and spelling. Consistency throughout your reference list enhances professionalism and readability. Compare your entries to official APA style examples to ensure compliance.

Tools and Resources for APA Citations

Consider our tool WriterBuddy’s APA Dissertation Citation generator to ensure precise and efficient citations. Such tools simplify the citation process and help maintain accuracy and consistency.


What are the key differences between citing published and unpublished dissertations in APA style?

Citing a published dissertation in APA style involves including the author’s name, year of publication, dissertation title in italics, the awarding institution, and a URL if accessed online. For unpublished dissertations, you also include the author’s name, year, title in italics, but add “Unpublished doctoral dissertation” followed by the institution’s name.

How do I cite a dissertation accessed from an online database in APA style?

When citing a dissertation from an online database, include the author’s last name and initials, year of publication, title in italics, institution, and the URL or database name. For example: Smith, J. A. (2020). Exploring the Effects of Climate Change on Coastal Erosion (Doctoral dissertation, University of California). Retrieved from

What common mistakes should I avoid when citing dissertations in APA style?

Common mistakes include incorrect formatting, missing elements like publication year or institution, and improper use of italics. Double-check each component against APA guidelines and use citation tools or manuals to ensure accuracy. Peer reviews can also help catch errors.

Why is it important to use proper APA style citations in academic writing?

Proper APA style citations ensure clarity, credibility, and consistency in academic writing. They help avoid plagiarism by giving credit to original sources and allow readers to locate and verify the referenced material, enhancing the overall integrity of your work.

Final Thoughts

Accurate citation of dissertations in APA format is essential for academic credibility. The process involves including author information, title, institution, year, and publication details. Following these guidelines helps properly attribute original research and provides readers with necessary information to locate the dissertation.

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