Answered By: Gabe [Research & Writing Studio]
Last Updated: Jan 09, 2018     Views: 43918

In most cases you should avoid using dictionaries and encyclopedias as cited sources in your papers. However, there may be some cases where it would be appropriate. This is how you would do it in those cases.

If you have an author for the entry use their name for the in-text citation and at the start of your reference list entry. When you don't have an author, which is often the case for these types of sources, follow the guidelines on page 176 of the APA Manual under example 6.15. There it states that “when a work has no identifiable author, cite the first few words of the reference list entry.”

Example in-text citation without an author:

The Charleston Index is one method for determining the mortality rate for patients with multiple diseases (Comorbidity, 2012).

Example reference list entry for the above in-text citation (note: also an example of an online reference source):

Comorbidity. (2012, November 24). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:50, November 27, 2012, from

Note: This is an example using Wikipedia, which is updated constantly. That is why there are more details than usual for the publication and retrieval date and time. For non-wiki reference works less detail is required.

Example in-text citation with an author:

Amnesty International was established in support of "prisoners of conscience" (Wong, 2012, p. 65).

Example reference list entry for the above in-text citation (note: also an example for a print source or source with a doi):

Wong, W. (2012). Amnesty International. In H. Anheier, & M. Juergensmeyer (Eds.), Encyclopedia of global studies. (pp. 65-67). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. doi:10.4135/9781452218557.n19

Comments (6)

  1. Here is an example of what I need. I need to reference the in-text word "money" for which I am giving the definition. I know how to cite the dictionary in the references section of the paper. What I need to know is how to identify the word in the text as a cited item. I used the Oxford Online Dictionary.

    Here is the sentence: Money is defined as a current medium of exchange in the form of coins and banknotes; coins and banknotes collectively.

    How do I let the reader know it is cited in the reference section?
    by Ethan on May 09, 2017.
  2. Hi Ethan,

    Thanks for your question. In this case, I would recommend using the components that you lead with in the APA reference. Since it is a reference work where you would not list an author, given the nature of the Oxford Online Dictionary, you would lead your reference list entry with Money, followed by the date. Since in-text citations are intended to let your reader connect the ideas and sources you are building upon to the information listed in the reference list the dictionary entry and the date are what you should use in-text. The APA Manual also notes that you should use double quotes around in-text citations when not using an author name (p. 176). So you might have an in-text citation that reads as ("Money," 2017).

    Let us know if you have any follow up questions.

    by Gabe Gossett on May 15, 2017.
  3. Would this be a correct citation for a reference list?

    betrothed. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved July 18, 2017, from website
    by James on Jul 20, 2017.
  4. Hi James,

    That's pretty close, but I recommend adding a few more details. I see that the site has a citation tool that formats it the way you have it here. However, those automated citation generators tend to have small errors, like capitalization. I recommend starting the entry with a capital letter. Also, in this case there is actually publication date hiding on the page. If you look just under the entries you will see that there is a 2010 copyright date. Next to the copyright date is the name of Douglas Harper. It's not clear if Harper is the author, but that might be another way to format this citation yet.

    I hope that helps!
    by Gabe Gossett on Jul 27, 2017.
  5. To preface my comment, if this seems like something obvious, I am sorry. I am also quite aware we're some months away from the original answer.

    I will, however, ask something that I didn't see answered in the original question and don't see clearly answered elsewhere: Why should one, in most cases, avoid using a dictionary? When would it, for instance, be appropriate?

    Thank you.
    by Vespe on Oct 08, 2018.
  6. Hi Vespe,

    In many cases it will make sense to use a dictionary as a source to develop, enhance, or confirm your understanding of words. However, in most cases you would not want to actually cite dictionaries as a source. That said, there are always exceptions. For example, if you needed to refer to a very specific dictionary description and it would be important for your readers to be able to locate that information, then citing a dictionary might make sense. It might also make sense to cite a dictionary if it made sense to directly quote from the dictionary definition. For example, if I were to say something like: according to the Oxford English Dictionary the word defenestration is defined as "The action of throwing a person out of a window" (Defenestration, 2018).

    I hope that helps!

    by Gabe [Research & Writing Studio] on Oct 09, 2018.

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