Referencing can be tricky even if you have all the source details. But what do you do when you can’t find an author’s name or a date of publication? In this post, we look at how to deal with missing information in APA referencing.
No Named Author: Organizational Authors
Not every source will name the person who wrote it. When this happens, you can cite an organizational author instead (i.e., the company or organization that produced the source):
Anonymity can affect the psyche over prolonged periods (American Psychological Association, 2008).
Here, for example, we’re citing the American Psychological Association. We would then cite the same organizational author in the reference list at the end of the document. For instance:
American Psychological Association (2008). The psychological affects of anonymity on self-esteem. APA Press Inc.
If you cite a source like this more than once, you may also want to abbreviate the organization’s name. You can do this within a citation by adding the abbreviation in square brackets:
Anonymity can affect the psyche over prolonged periods (American Psychological Association [APA], 2008).
On the next citation, we would then use the abbreviation by itself instead of repeating the full organization name again.
No Named Author: Anonymous Authors
If a source truly has no author to name, APA style recommends using the title in place of a name for citations and the reference list.
If the title is quite long, you should also shorten it. For instance, we could cite an anonymous book called How to Cite Sources Effectively like this:
Citing sources can be difficult (How to Cite, 2001).
You would then use the source title in place of an author’s name in the reference list as well (the only time you should attribute something to “Anonymous” is when the author is listed as such on the source). For example:
How to cite sources effectively. (2001). Proofed Books.
You’d also use the first word of the title when sorting sources alphabetically.
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Sources Without a Year of Publication
If you cannot find a date of publication for a source, use the phrase “n.d.” This is short for “no date.” We would use it in a citation like this, for instance:
Time makes fools of us all (Smith, n.d.).
We would then also use “n.d.” in place of a year in the reference list:
Smith, A. (n.d.). A book beyond time. Proofed Books.
Sources Without a Title
It is rare for sources to lack a title, but it can happen occasionally (e.g., for a painting or another work of visual art). In these cases, you can use a description in square brackets place of a title in references. For instance:
Kannaght, Y. (1989). [Finger painting of old lady in party hat]. The Museum of Bad Art, London, United Kingdom.
If the source lacks a named author and a title, you can use the description (or a shortened version of the description) in citations as well. However, make sure you’ve checked thoroughly for these details before leaving them out!
Sources Without Page Numbers
Possibly the most common issues of missing information in APA referencing is that some sources, such as websites, do not have page numbers. In cases like this, APA says you can use a paragraph number in citations:
Smith (2003) rejects the “supposed need for page numbers” (para. 6).
As a rule, paragraph numbers are most useful for shorter documents where you can quickly count the number of paragraphs therein (or for sources that come with pre-numbered paragraphs). For longer works without paragraph or page numbers in the text, you can cite chapter, section, or part numbers instead when available.
Summary: Missing Information in APA Referencing
If you cannot find full source information, APA referencing suggests:
Cite an organizational author if a source is missing a named author. If there is no suitable organizational author either, use the source title instead.
Use the abbreviation “n.d.” if a source has no year of publication.
A description in square brackets when a source has no title.
Use paragraph numbers if a source has no page numbers.
The points above should cover most cases of missing information in APA.
However, remember to check carefully before using these methods. Most sources will have the information you need available, even if it is not easy to spot at first. And don’t forget that you can have your work proofread to make sure your referencing is complete.