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APA Referencing - Education & Counselling students: Questions about referencing

This guide provides information on how to reference using the APA 6th edition referencing style. PLEASE NOTE: Theology students should use Chicago Footnote Style

Questions (click a tab to see the question and answer)

Can I reference a dissertation/thesis?

Dissertation is a North American term for the long research papers written by students undertaking post-graduate degrees at university. In Australia the term thesis is commonly used instead of dissertation.

Caution is advised as a doctoral or master’s thesis may be an immature work, with the researcher’s mature work being published in journal articles (based on their doctoral or later work). Referencing a source implies (in APA 6 ed.) that you have read it.  A thesis is often very dense and long so it is questionable as to how thoroughly a student could have read and understood it in the preparation of a short assignment.

I advise that master's theses (plural of thesis) be avoided as some of the methodological quality and rigor might be questionable. If you found an outstanding master's thesis or a good doctoral thesis, were sure that your interpretation and use was appropriate, and it contained a key idea that you had not been able to trace back to another credible source (after checking the thesis' reference lists), then go ahead and use it. (Theses are, to my mind, most useful for the collation of sources on a topic represented by their reference lists.)

The principle is to use scholarly, peer-reviewed published journal articles and books written later than the journal articles by those published researchers. If you can’t find anything on EBSCO, ProQuest, Google Scholar, the Recommended Readings for the unit, and the education journal list supplied with some units, but there is a thesis, then use it (but perhaps just one) with the balance of sources being peer-reviewed journal articles and authoritative books. 

By the way, it is a good idea to check the Recommended Readings supplied with each unit three or four times each semester to be sure you have not overlooked sources listed there when writing your assignments. The list of Recommended Readings supplies valuable sources that are in addition to the set readings and text readings in the tutorials.

Dr N. Norris

Do I have to read every journal article I reference in my assignments?

In APA 6th Edition style, referencing a source in an assignment implies that you have read the source. So the answer to the question is yes, definitely. However, do you have to read all of every journal article and book you reference in your assignments? Probably not (unless the source is a set reading for the course of study).

As a cross-disciplinary qualitative researcher, I haven't read every quantitative journal article I’ve referenced in its entirety, however, many contain a key idea that is important to me and that I am obligated to reference in order to accurately attribute each idea to its source. For example, I recently re-read the salient sections of a journal article I read and made notes about many years ago to be sure that I remembered it correctly before using it as a source for a unit I am writing: I am not interested in the statistical elements of this paper but the definitions and findings are highly significant for me.

The danger to be avoided is reading only a sentence, paragraph, or section, taking it out of context, and attributing an idea to the author when their paper is actually supporting a contrary idea.

In short, if you have read (or at least closely scanned) the introduction, literature review, method, discussion and conclusion of a paper, and are sure that you are accurately representing the key ideas, that is an appropriate treatment of a source. (If you are of a quantitative mind, the statistics elements of a quantitative paper may be highly interesting but your eyes may glaze over at the long wordy descriptions in a qualitative paper’s results.)

Remember, the goal of all your reading is your deep learning

Surface learning focuses on memorisation of knowledge and facts, often through rote practices, whereas deep learning has a focus on developing understanding through more active and constructive processes. Today, most educators would argue that understanding is indeed a very deep, or at least complex, endeavour and not in any way a lower-order skill... (Blythe & Associates, 1998; E. O. Keene, 2008: Wiggin & McTighe, 1998). Indeed, understanding is often put forward as a primary goal of teaching. (Ritchhart & Morrison (2011)

Dr N. Norris


Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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