Citation Styles: What Is ASA Referencing?

If you proofread academic writing, you may come across a variety of referencing styles. And if you proofread sociology papers in particular, this will likely include ASA referencing.

But what is ASA style? And how does it work? In this post, we explain the basics.

What Is ASA Referencing?

ASA referencing is a citation style recommended by the American Sociological Association. As well as the ASA’s journals, many universities and publishers use ASA style.

The full ASA Style Guide (on its sixth edition as of the start of 2021) offers detailed advice on preparing papers and manuscripts for authors and editors. This includes guidance on every aspect of preparing a paper, from writing style and formatting to referencing and citations.

If you proofread a lot of sociology work, the full style guide is a good investment. However, the ASA has also produced a Quick Tips PDF, which covers the basic details of the citation system.

To get you started, we’ll set out a few things proofreaders may need to know about ASA referencing, including the basic citation style and reference list format.

Basic Source Citations in ASA Style

ASA referencing is an author–date citation style. Sources are thus cited by giving the author’s surname and a year of publication in parentheses. A basic citation might look like this:

Referencing is vital in research (Smith 2020).

This citation would be for a source by ‘Smith’, published in 2020.

This basic format can vary slightly depending on the situation. For instance, if you client has already named the author in the text, they should omit the surname from the citation:

Smith (2020) argues for the importance of referencing.

And if your client quotes a source, they should give page numbers after a colon:

This is ‘essential for academic honesty’ (Smith 2020:56).

Note that there is no space between the colon and the page number here.

Citing Sources with Multiple Authors

ASA referencing also has rules for citing sources with more than one author. For sources with two authors, this just means giving both surnames joined by ‘and’ (not an ampersand):

Cooperation improves productivity (Smith and Jones 1997).

The same applies for sources with three authors on the first citation. But for subsequent citations of the same source, only the first author’s surname and ‘et al.’ are given:

Michaels, Ramirez, and Hansen (2003) dispute this result.

Consensus on the matter is unlikely (Michaels et al. 2003).

And for sources with four or more authors, ‘et al.’ is used from the first citation:

Some researchers deny there is a solution (Bradbury et al. 2018).

However, all authors for all sources should be named in the reference list.

ASA Reference Lists

An ASA reference list should contain all sources cited in the main document, providing full bibliographic detail so readers can find the sources used.

When composing a reference list, authors should:

  • Start the list after the main text in a separate section titled ‘References’.
  • Double space all references.
  • Sort sources alphabetically by author surname.
  • Use title case for all source titles.
  • Invert the name of the first listed author in each reference (i.e. Surname, First Name). Additional author names are given in the standard order.
  • Give authors’ names in full unless the original publication uses initials in place of a full name (in which case, the reference should follow the example of the source).
  • Use a small hanging indent for each line after the first in each entry.

You should therefore check your client has used the correct format.

ASA Reference Formats

Key details in an ASA-style reference list entry typically include:

  • The author’s or authors’ name(s).
  • A year of publication.
  • The title and subtitle of the source.
  • Information about how and where the source was published (e.g. the publisher of a book, the journal an article was published in, or the URL of a web page).

However, the exact format for each source will depend on its type. You can see a few examples of references for a book, a journal article, and a website below:


Smith, John. 2020. Referencing and Sociology: A Comprehensive Guide. New York: Fictional Academic Publisher Inc.

Journal Article (Print)

Smith, John and Robert Jones. 1997. ‘Collaborative Working in Academic Environments: A Long-term Study into Working Practices’. Journal of Productive Efficiency 21(2):172–189.


Bradbury, Thomas, Eric Michaels, James Ramirez, and Alan Hansen. 2018. ‘An Open Letter to Our Colleagues in the Research Community’. New York: Sociological Researchers Online. Retrieved 1 December 2020 (

You can find examples of other source types online or in the full ASA Style Guide.

Becoming A Proofreader

If you’d like to see more about ASA referencing on this blog, let us know in the comments.

And if you want to know more about referencing in general, as well as major systems such as APA and MLA, the Becoming A Proofreader course has a full module on academic referencing. Sign up for a free trial today to find out how the course works.

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