How to Cite a Thesis or Dissertation in APA Format with Examples

Cite a Thesis or Dissertation in APA Format

Since APA is one of the most often used styles, many students are curious about how to reference a dissertation in this format. Citing and properly formatting materials, such as dissertations, is a surefire way to stay accurate and prevent plagiarism charges when working on a major research project.

One of the trickiest parts of writing an academic paper is citing the source properly. And things get trickier when you decide to reference your dissertation in APA style. One of the trickiest parts of writing an academic paper is citing sources. Furthermore, things get trickier when someone decides to reference a dissertation in APA style. 

The issue is that you may be ambiguous about the contents of your reference list. So here we have put up an extensive APA paper writer guide that will assist you in finishing your work perfectly. 

Here we’ve included examples and a framework for citing dissertations, published or unpublished. We have also gone into length regarding the definitions of a dissertation and the distinctions between these academic documents at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. 

To learn more, continue reading this article.

Difference Between Thesis and Dissertation

You will face a wide range of difficult coursework and assignments as a graduate student. Your thesis or dissertation, however, will be the largest assignment you work on while obtaining your master’s or doctoral degree. There are many distinctions between a thesis and a dissertation. This is due to the fact that each of these written works takes place at a distinct point in a person’s academic year.

To help you understand what’s expected of you, let’s go down what a dissertation and thesis are. A thesis or dissertation must demonstrate clear fluency and comprehension of the subject being studied.

What is a Thesis? 

A thesis is an academic research paper that has been prepared critically. It is usually turned in by students who are master’s program graduates. The thesis serves as a vehicle for the students to demonstrate their mastery of the material they have been studying during the program.

What is a Dissertation?

A dissertation is a scholarly work that is the result of a research assignment that students at various tertiary education levels must finish to be awarded a degree. In contrast to standard research assignments, a thesis is a longer study or academic project in which students actively engage in the field to produce a unique contribution to the body of literature that advances the conversation on that particular subject.

An academic dissertation is a longer work of writing that summarizes the research you conducted during your doctorate programme. A researcher who successfully submits and defends their dissertation is awarded a Ph.D. degree. It contains all of the details regarding the Ph.D. candidate’s original or expanded study on a specific subject or previously studied subjects.

Parts of a Dissertation or thesis

A dissertation or thesis consists of the following five major sections;

  • Introduction
  • Methodology
  • Findings
  • Discussion
  • Literature Review

But because of the complexity, which varies from subject to subject, each of these parts has several subsections that differ greatly.

Main Different Features Thesis vs. Dissertation

  • A thesis is grounded in previously conducted research, which is the primary distinction between it and a dissertation. However, a dissertation will almost certainly necessitate independent study and analysis on the part of the PhD candidate. 
  • Another significant distinction is that master’s students write a thesis, whereas PhD students write dissertations.
  • Certain programs require graduates to give an oral defence of their dissertation and thesis to a panel of faculty members.
  • An oral dissertation presentation typically lasts for several hours. A thesis, on the other hand, can be presented and answered in roughly one hour.
  • A thesis is written in at least 100 pages
  • A dissertation is two to three times longer.
  • A thesis reviews and evaluates previously conducted research.
  • The student is typically cited as the author of a dissertation.
  • Compared to a thesis, a dissertation is longer.
  • New research is needed for a dissertation.
  • A dissertation needs to start with a hypothesis and then prove it.
  • A thesis takes a position on an established concept and provides analytical support for it.
  • There is a longer oral presentation portion to a dissertation. 

Similarities Between Dissertation and Thesis

  • Each is a final project that must be completed in order to graduate.
  • Both need a deep comprehension of the subject matter, and completion of both requires written abilities.
  • They both cannot be copied.
  • Both are employed to support a position and both call for analytical abilities.
  • Both of your writing projects require drafting, revising, and editing.
  • It helps for both to have a second set of eyes review before submitting.
  • There are deadlines for both papers.

The facts about dissertations versus these are undeniably true. It is therefore improper for academics to use one phrase in place of another. Each has a function, which one must keep in mind and apply appropriately. But the other does not detract from the first.

Writing a thesis or a dissertation requires the same level of commitment and care. Critical technical and soft abilities are needed for both of them. Achieving success in both types of scholarly writing mostly depends on developing your time management and academic writing abilities.

Things to Consider when Citing a Dissertation or Thesis in APA Format 

Without the following details, creating a citation for your dissertation can be challenging:

  • The author’s last name, the initials of their first and middle names, and the year the dissertation was published.
  • The dissertation’s title
  • Document number from a dissertation that was published
  • Degree type: undergraduate, graduate, or doctorate, for instance
  • Name of the university where the degree is being awarded; DOI or URL, if relevant.

What Distinguishes a Doctoral, Master’s, and Graduation Dissertation?

The distinctions between an undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral dissertation are as follows.

  • For research purposes, a master’s or undergraduate dissertation demonstrates an understanding of established theories or research. A Ph.D. dissertation, on the other hand, advances the field of study by introducing fresh data, hypotheses, and methods.
  • Completion Time; You complete a dissertation to wrap up your master’s and undergraduate degrees. But you spend the entire time in your Ph.D. programme working on the dissertation while you’re pursuing it.
  • The research paper length a master’s dissertation should be between 10,000 and 15,000 words long, whereas an undergraduate dissertation should be between 5,000 and 8000 words long. A Ph.D. dissertation, however, is typically between 60,000 and 80,000 words long.

What Is the Difference Between Published and Unpublished Dissertations?

There are various formats for APA dissertation references for academic purposes. You are probably aware that the thesis may or may not be published if you have done any research in this field. After doing their tasks, an individual has two options. If their discoveries are very remarkable, they can publish it as a book or submit them to reputable online databases. By doing this, the paper would be published.

Conversely, when students choose not to distribute their work, it remains unread in the university’s archive. Not many people are aware of it, and even fewer have unrestricted access to it. You may still use these unreleased works as references in your writing. Being able to accomplish it is the most crucial thing.

How to Cite a Thesis or Dissertation in APA format

The most recent edition of APA is now the 7th edition, so you should adhere to its instructions when citing a doctoral research paper. We will describe an entry’s structure in a reference list as well as within the text.

Generally, this is how it should be;

  • The general structure of in-text entry

(Last name, date)


“(Myers, 2018)”

  • The general structure of reference list entry

“Last name, first and second name initials. (Year). Thesis title (Publication #) [Dissertation type, University]. Database”


“Myers, J. R. (2018). The use of insects in establishing time of death in victims of drowning (Publication #2137564) [Doctoral dissertation, Purdue University]. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses”

There are occasions when you may need to cite a two-author dissertation in APA format. Although it’s uncommon, it can occur, particularly when an author works with their supervisor. In this situation, that is how everything would appear;

  • General structure of in-text entry

“Last name of the first author & last name of the second author, date”


“(Novak & Roberts, 2020)”

  • Example in text

“Last name of the first author, their first and second name initials, & Last name of the second author, their first and second name initials. (Year). Thesis title (Publication #) [Ph.D. paper, University]. Database.”


“Novak, S. F., & Roberts, J. O. (2020). Law as applied to wealthy vs. poor families within America throughout history (Publication #4927538) [Master’s thesis, North Dakota University]. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses.”

How Do I Cite an Unpublished Dissertation or Thesis in APA Style?

It is hard to find dissertations that have not been published. The university library usually has printed copies of them. 

Here are some additional examples of how to properly credit an unpublished master’s thesis in APA format. Keep in mind that although some works won’t have publishers or connections, there is still sufficient information to characterise them. Follow the guidelines and examples below to learn how to properly reference an unpublished thesis or dissertation in APA format.

  • Reference Format

“Last name of the author, Initial of the first name of the author. The middle name of the author. (Year of publishing). Title of the dissertation written in sentence case  [Unpublished degree type thesis or dissertation]. Name of institution.”


“James, J. H., & David, L. H. (1991). The proposed plans for the Howa State College athletic field together with the design of a toughened concrete grandstand and wall [Unpublished bachelor’s thesis]. Howa State University.”

“Ramsey, B. H. (2006). New strategies for solving cold murder cases. [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Washington University.”

“Miles, R. D., & Norr, T. A. (2010). Psychology behind belief in encounters with extraterrestrials. [Unpublished Master’s thesis]. University of Columbia.”

  • In-text citation Format

“Last name of the first author & last name of the second author, year of publishing”


“Parenthetical:  (James & David, 1911)”

“Narrative:  Ames & David (1911)”

How to Cite a Published Thesis or Dissertation in APA Style?

If you have a question about how to properly cite a published thesis or dissertation using APA format, just adhere to the guidelines provided below. The guidelines are very similar to those for an unpublished one. But there are also some variations, like;

  • The institution’s name appears after the title. It needs to be enclosed in parentheses as well.
  • The reference should contain the archive’s or database’s name.

Reference Format

“Last name of the author, First name of the author. The middle name of the author. (Year of publishing). Title of the dissertation written in sentence case (Publication or Document No.) [Degree type thesis or dissertation, Name of the institution]. Name of the Database.”


“Knight, M. A. (2021). Media epidemics: Viral arrangements in narrative and new media (Accession No. 2013420395) [Doctoral dissertation, University of New York, New York]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.”

“Lahey, E. S. (2010). Obscure effects fast food has that most people know nothing about. (Publication #4996073) [Doctoral dissertation, WV University]. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses.”

“Truman, L.B. (2019). New insights into the biochemistry and cell biology of RNA recapping (Document No. osu1523896565730483) [Doctoral dissertation, California State University]. Barbarous LINK Electronic Theses & Dissertations Centre.”

Occasionally, a dissertation may not have a number when cited in APA style. Then following is the format;

“Last name, first and second name initials. (Year). Thesis title [Dissertation type, University]. Database.”


“Morgan, K. S. (2018). Effects of asexuality on family dynamics. [Master’s thesis, Washington University]. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses.”

How to Cite a Paper that is not Published by a Database in APA Style

Here is the format for a dissertation or thesis which is not from a database;

“Last name, first and second name initials. (Year). Thesis title [Ph.D. paper type, University]. Name of archive/collection. URL.”


“Simons, L. P. (2012). Obscure effects of fast food that most people know nothing about. [Doctoral dissertation, NY University]. Institutional Repository at the University of New York.

“Ackles, J. C. (2009). The impact of Christian faith on cancer survivors. [Master’s thesis, University of California]. Campus California Repository.” 

“Cosleks, J. M., & Michaella, A. G. (2017). Role of politics in everyday life of American Christian youth. [Master’s thesis, University of Illinois]. Illinois Campus Archive.” 

How to Cite an Abstract of Dissertation in APA Style

Dissertation abstract citation guidelines are not specifically addressed in the 7th APA edition manually. So the format of this type of citation is more similar to that of a journal article;


“Lastname, F. M. (Year). Title of dissertation. Dissertation Abstracts International, Vol., Page.”


“Angeli, E. L. (2012). Networks of communication in emergency medical services. Dissertation Abstracts International, 74, 03(E)”

Wrapping Up

So till now, we have discussed all the formats to adopt when citing any dissertation or thesis in APA format. 

Generally speaking, if you have located the dissertation or thesis in ProQuest, Google Scholar, or the PubMed database, you will have all your desired bibliographic information there. You can select the most well-known writing style formats by looking in the upper right corner. But if those are not there, look for the DOI at the bottom of the page. You might discover the APA citation or APA style for thesis references already made when you enter the number or reference code on the university’s website. Just make sure it implies the guidelines.

Most likely, you’ll locate all the information on the website or the database that published that article, but if the dissertation or the thesis was not published online,. Look up information in your library, where you originally obtained the information.