How to Format an AMA Reference List
  • 4-minute read
  • 16th January 2021

How to Format an AMA Reference List

If you are using AMA referencing, you will need to list the sources you cite in a reference list at the end of your document. But how do you format an AMA reference list? In this post, we offer some pointers on writing your references.

How to Format an AMA Reference List

An AMA style reference list should appear at the end of your work, titled “Reference List” or “References.” The key rules to follow here are:

  • All sources should be listed in the order they were first cited. As such, the first source you cite will be the first source in your reference list, the second source you cite will be the second in the list, the third will be the third, etc.
  • No source should appear more than once in the reference list (to cite a source more than once, you simply use the same citation number each time).
  • Include all published sources, but do not list unpublished sources (e.g., letters or emails). These should be cited parenthetically in the text instead.
  • Make sure to include enough information on each source for a reader to find and retrieve the same version that you have used in your research.

Individual source formats vary in an AMA referencing list. You can find guides to key source types on our blog, so you can check there if you have a source in mind.

For general advice on how to present author names and source titles, see below.

Author Names in AMA References

The rules for presenting author names in an AMA reference list are:

  • Give surnames first, followed by initials (e.g., “Smith JB”).
  • Do not use a comma between the first name and initials
  • Do not use periods or spaces between initials.
  • Include the names of all authors for sources with six or fewer.
  • For sources with more than six authors, give the first three names listed on the source followed by “et al.” (a Latin phrase meaning “and others”).
  • Place a comma between authors when a source has more than one, but do not use “and” or “&” before the final named author.
  • Use Jr, Sr, or roman numerals in names where applicable. These should go after the initials (e.g., “Smith JB Jr” or “Jones R III”).

The main variation on the above comes when a group or organization is the named author of a source. In this case, you have two options:

  1. Cite the source with the organization name alone. This is appropriate where no writers’ names are known or when no lead writers can be identified.
  2. Cite the named authors and the publishing group or groups.

There are no strict rules on which approach to use, but it is worth checking your style guide for advice if you have one. You can see examples of these below:

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Organizational Authors
1. Medical Research Limited; New York Society for Public Health. The role of education in achieving long term public health goals: a detailed study into three New York communities. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2018;133(12):1408–1414.

Individual and Organizational Authors
1. Featherstone GN, Ruiz X, Wanchope Y; Medical Research Limited; New York Society for Public Health. The role of education in achieving long term public health goals: a detailed study into three New York communities. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2018;133(12):1408–1414.

If a source has no identifiable author, simply start the reference with the title.

Source Titles in AMA References

AMA style also has rules for presenting source titles in a reference list:

  • Italicize the titles of books and journals, but not other sources.
  • Use title case for book and journal titles (i.e., capitalize the first letter of each major word, but not prepositions or coordinating conjunctions).
  • Use sentence case for other source types (i.e., only capitalize the first letter of the first word, proper names, and abbreviations).
  • Where possible, use the official NLM abbreviations for journal titles.
  • Use a colon between the title and subtitle for a source.

Otherwise, simply try to follow the style of the original title (e.g., spelling preferences, use of numerals or words for numbers, use of abbreviations in titles).

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