Citing sources is a crucial part of academic writing. Proper citation ensures academic integrity and acknowledges the contributions of other scholars. Knowing how to cite a dissertation or thesis in APA Style is essential for students and researchers, as these documents serve as substantial evidence of one’s contribution to the academic field.

In this guide, we’ll take you through the steps of citing a nursing dissertation in APA Style, focusing on the latest 7th edition guidelines.

How to Cite a Dissertation or Thesis in APA 7th Edition

The American Psychological Association (APA) has specific guidelines for citing different sources. With dissertations and theses, the format depends on whether the work is published or not and where it is available.

Citing an unpublished thesis or dissertation

When citing an unpublished thesis or dissertation, the information is presented in a structured format to give the reader all the necessary details for identifying and locating the source. 

The first information you provide is the author’s last name, followed by their first and middle initials. This naming style ensures that you attribute the work correctly and helps your readers find other works by the same author more easily. Remember that the author’s name is always inverted, meaning the last name comes before the initials.

Next, you should state the year when the degree was awarded. Providing the year is vital because it places the research in a specific timeframe. It helps your reader understand the context in which the work was created and how current the research is. APA emphasizes the year, which is why it is usually provided right after the author’s name within parentheses.

Following the year, the title of the thesis or dissertation is presented in italics. The APA 7th Edition mandates that the title is in sentence case, meaning only the first word of the title, the first word after a colon or a dash, and proper nouns are capitalized. Formatting the title this way offers a standard, uniform way to present titles in the reference list, which aids in readability and organization.

Considering that the work is unpublished, it’s crucial to specify this in the citation. The phrase “Unpublished doctoral dissertation” or “Unpublished master’s thesis” indicates that the work hasn’t been published and identifies the nature of the document. This is an essential clarification because unpublished works have not gone through the same rigorous dissertation peer-review process as published works. This factor could be significant depending on the nature of your own research.

Finally, the name of the institution that awarded the degree is included. This gives the reader a point of reference for where the research was conducted and under whose auspices the author worked. Institutions often have particular areas of research strength, and including the institution’s name can provide additional contextual information.


Smith, J. A. (2020). Challenges in rural healthcare: A qualitative study (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Kentucky.

Citing a published dissertation or thesis from a database

Citing a published dissertation or thesis from a database involves a few more elements than citing an unpublished work, but the basic structure remains similar. One notable inclusion is the publication number, essential for identifying the specific work in a database.

Below is a breakdown of the key components you must include according to APA 7th Edition guidelines.

Starting with the author’s name, it follows the same format as the unpublished work: the last name followed by first and middle initials. This is the universally accepted method for author name citation in APA style and is intended for clear attribution.

The year of publication comes next and is placed in parentheses, just like in citations for unpublished dissertations. Including the year of publication is crucial as it establishes the temporal context of the work. This information is particularly useful for readers looking at how theories or practices have evolved over time.

The title of the dissertation follows, and it should be italicized to set it apart from the rest of the text. It should also be written in sentence case, meaning only the title’s first word following a colon or dash, and proper nouns are capitalized. The reason for this standardization is to ensure uniformity and readability in the list of references.

Including a publication number is one distinguishing feature when citing a published dissertation from a database. The database assigns this unique identification number and helps to locate the specific dissertation quickly. It is usually placed in parentheses following the title and is preceded by the phrase “Publication No.”

The next component is the descriptor. Because the work is published, you will specify the nature of the document, just like in an unpublished work. So, you would include the terms “Doctoral dissertation” or “Master’s thesis” depending on the academic level of the work. This helps the reader understand the academic rigor level and context in which the work was completed.

Then comes the name of the institution where the degree was awarded. This is consistent with the citation of an unpublished work and provides the reader with additional context. You may also include the institution’s location, depending on the style guide.

Finally, the name of the database is included at the end of the citation. This tells the reader where the dissertation or thesis can be found. Popular databases include ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global, but the exact title of the database will depend on where you accessed the work.


Brown, B. R. (2017). Nursing strategies for managing stress in emergency situations (Publication No. 1234567) [Doctoral dissertation, University of Virginia]. Quester Dissertations and Theses Global.

Citing a thesis or dissertation published online but not from a database

When citing a thesis or dissertation freely available online but not from a database, the APA 7th Edition provides specific guidelines to ensure readers can locate the document. The major difference from database citations is the inclusion of a URL or DOI, as applicable, and the exclusion of a publication number.

First, the author’s name is cited, with the last name appearing before the first and middle initials, in line with APA style. The year the degree was awarded follows in parentheses, similar to other citation formats. Providing this information to place the research in a temporal context is crucial.

The title of the dissertation or thesis comes next and should be italicized for clarity and standardization. This title should be written in sentence case, meaning only the first word of the title, the first word following any colon or dash, and proper nouns are capitalized. The aim here is to maintain consistency and readability in your citation list.

Instead of a publication number—which you would find when citing dissertations or theses from a database—you include the URL where the thesis or dissertation can be found. This is one of the key differences when citing an online thesis, not from a database; the URL is the primary identifier that directs the reader to the source.

If a DOI (Digital Object Identifier) is available, that is the preferred identifier. DOIs offer a more stable link to the document, and most academic journals and repositories have started to provide DOIs for electronic copies of works.

The nature of the document should also be indicated using the terms “Doctoral dissertation” or “Master’s thesis,” followed by a comma and the name of the academic institution where the degree was awarded. This specification helps readers discern the level of the work and provides context for the academic setting in which the research was conducted.


Williams, H. L. (2018). The role of simulation in nursing education [Master's thesis, University of Nevada, Reno].

Citing a Nursing dissertation: Reference overview

Citing a thesis or dissertation involves including specific information in a particular sequence, following the APA 7th Edition guidelines, to ensure consistency and a comprehensive description of the referenced work.

Whether the thesis or dissertation is published or unpublished, from a database or freely accessible on the internet, a proper citation serves multiple functions.

It allows the reader to locate the source easily, confirms the integrity of your research, and acknowledges the author’s original work being cited.

Basic Elements

The basic elements required for citing a thesis or dissertation in APA style generally include:

  • Author’s Name: Always list the author’s last name first, followed by the initials for their first and middle names. This ordering allows for easier alphabetization in the reference list.
  • Year of Publication: The year the degree was conferred is used, enclosed in parentheses, followed by a period.
  • Title of the Work: This is displayed in italics and should be in sentence case, which means only the first word of the title, the first word after a colon or a dash, and proper nouns should be capitalized.
  • Publication Details: These can vary depending on the nature of the thesis or dissertation (published, unpublished, from a database, etc.). It could include information like the publication or document number for published works and the statement “Unpublished” for those not formally published.
  • Degree Type: Specify whether the document is a doctoral dissertation or a master’s thesis.
  • Academic Institution: The name of the university or institution that awarded the degree must be mentioned.
  • DOI or URL: For online theses and dissertations, a DOI (Digital Object Identifier) or URL should be included at the end of the citation to guide the reader to the source.

Variations by Source

The way these elements are assembled can vary based on the nature of the publication:

  • Unpublished: If it’s an unpublished work, you need to mention that it is unpublished right after the title, followed by the name of the institution that awarded the degree.
  • From a Database: You would usually include a unique identifier or publication number for dissertations from a well-known repository or database.
  • Online but not from a Database: If you’re citing a thesis or dissertation that is freely available online but not from a database, you must include the URL or DOI at the end of the reference.

Conclusion on APA Citations for a Dissertation

Accurate citation upholds academic integrity and allows your reader to locate your sources independently. Understanding the nuances of APA 7th edition for citing dissertations and theses is particularly important for graduate students and researchers in nursing. With this guide, citing should now be a more straightforward task.

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