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How to Cite a Government Document Accessed Online in APA Format


An effective paper, whether in MLA or APA format, is only as good as its primary and secondary sources. The key to strong research is finding credible sources of information. There are a few ways to do this successfully. Universities and nonprofit organizations publish credible research findings all the time. However, prospective paper writers would do themselves a disservice by limiting their options. International, federal, state and local governments produce research all the time. The key is to cite them effectively when using APA format.

Citing Online Government Documents

Paraphrase or quote from one of the documents. Sum up the document and where it originated. If you mention the author's name in the lead-up, only the year needs to go at the end. For example: A. Surname at the Center for Disease Control makes claims about schizophrenia (2010). If putting the document into your own words, format it this way: This is a paraphrase of CDC data about schizophrenia (Surname, 2010).

Distinguish between human authors and institutional authors. Sometimes, federal agencies will publish research without an author's name. In this instance, the agency should be credited as the author. If using the signal method of summary, the in-text citation should look like: The Center of Disease Control has statistics regarding the SARS virus (2010). If not using a signal phrase, it should read like: this is a sentence about the SARS virus (Center for Disease Control, 2010).

Follow this order, assuming we are creating a reference list entry for a CDC document called "SARS Facts" by A. Writer:

Surname, First Initial and Co-writer Surname, First Initial. (Year of Publication) Title of document. Publisher. Volume. Page numbers. Retrieval data.

It should look like this fictionalized example:

Writer, A. (2010) SARS facts. CDC Update. 12(2). Retrieved from http://www.thisisnotarealwebsite.gov/cdc/Sarsfacts.htm

Add the document to your alphabetized reference list at the end of your paper. Follow this order, assuming the citation is a for a CDC document called "SARS facts": Surname, First Initial and Co-writer Surname, First Initial. (Year of Publication) Title of document. Publisher. Volume. Page numbers. Retrieval data.

It should look like this fictionalized example: Writer, A. (2010) SARS facts. CDC Update. 12(2). Retrieved from http://www.thisisnotarealwebsite.gov/cdc/Sarsfacts.htm

Differentiate between regular government documents and those found using the ERIC database. You will also need to put where you accessed the database. For example, this would be a reference list entry for a fictionalized ERIC document titled "Education aims and outbreak data":

Writer, A. (2010). Education aims and outbreak data (Report No. XXX--X-XX). Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University, Wise Library. ERIC Document EDXXXX.

Note: The letter X is taking the place of real identifying numbers.

Tip
  • Print out hard copies of everything.
Warning
  • While paraphrasing, if ever in doubt as to whether you should use a citation, use a citation.
About the Author

Richard Ristow has written for journals, newspapers and websites since 2002. His work has appeared in "2009 Nebula Showcase" and elsewhere. He is a winner of the Science Fiction Poetry Association's Rhysling Award and he edits poetry for Belfire Press. He also holds a Master of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and has managed an automotive department at WalMart.

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