Sourcing Surveys (APA 6th Ed.)

Author(s): Brandy Perkl, Ph.D.

Originally posted: February 25, 2016
Tech Recommendations Disclaimer: The tools the University pays for change periodically so this advice may go out of date easily or not apply other places than the University of Arizona or my lab specifically, I always recommend using the tech your school supports so you can call them for help and so it's free to you. Unless you're planning to go to graduate school, then find what works best for you and get comfortable with it fast because you'll be using it for YEARS.
APA Disclaimer: I am NOT an APA expert, I've just been using it a long time. I look things up and ask questions about how to cite all the time. Paperpile is a huge help, as it will generate cites for me for any reference I drop into it. It doesn't get everything perfect (no reference manager or website does), but it's much easier to learn 2-3 rules for fixing Paperpile generated references (put the last names in correctly, fix capitalization before I copy a cite, etc.) than it is to try to learn ALL the rules of APA.

This week in two of my classes, both Organizational Behavior (LDRV 305) and Industrial-Organizational Psychology (PSYV375) students were looking for and using online surveys. As the citations started to roll in, it became clear just how difficult it is to figure those out. (I knew that, I just forget every semester somehow.)

Luckily this group of students (personal communications, February, 2016) spawned a very helpful discussion thread on the topic. Thank you so much Jeremy W., Jose A., Sharon T., & Kitrina P. Which had the added benefit of pressuring me to write this post.

Why Citations Matter

Before you look at the How, I urge you to understand the Why. I've written extensively on this subject in this post. Tl;dr version: Citations give you credibility and expert power. You only need to cite retrievable sources in a References section.

How to Cite a Survey

Example: online survey, with author

Example survey needing a reference/citation: OutofService survey

Citation: Potter, J. (2015). The Big Five project personality test [Survey]. Retrieved February 21, 2016, from

Explanation: I used a general APA website citation, but added a little extra information in brackets to indicate it was a survey. That little extra bit wouldn't necessarily be required, but it's much clearer this way.

Example: online survey, no author

Example survey needing a reference/citation: MindTools survey*

Citation: How good are your leadership skills? (n.d.). Retrieved February 14, 2016, from

Explanation: I used a general APA website citation, with no added information. You could add a survey indication in brackets if you wanted, but it's not required.

*MindTools surveys are not scientifically valid or reliable surveys, so they should be used with extreme caution or not at all. If you ran most of them through the gamut for evaluating sources, they wouldn't pass. However, for prompting general self-reflection, they might be useful (as long as you look for scientific information to interpret your results).

An online survey provided by me to the class

As noted before, citations confer credibility to your work. So there are two different ways you might handle these, depending on where you are citing them.

Outside of My Classes

Explanation: In this situation, your audience probably needs to know that the survey you used was based on scientific peer-reviewed sources (which means it is reliable and valid). The format used below is a bit of a hybrid approach based on recommendations I received by email from an APA Style Expert (personal communication, February 24, 2016) which combines methods for websites, electronic materials, and secondary sources - this combined approach makes sure we're communicating everything about this reference the audience might need (that it's a survey, that it's based in valid research, etc.)

Example survey needing a reference/citation: Helping Scale.

Citation: Helping Scale [Survey]. (n.d.). Based on: Dyne, L. V., & Lepine, J. A. (1998). Helping and voice extrarole behaviors: Evidence of construct and predictive validity. Academy of Management Journal, 41(1), 108-119. Retrieved February 21, 2016, from

For My Classes

Explanation: In this situation if you got the survey from me, you can be brief and follow standard basic APA conventions for website citations.

Item needing a reference/citation: Helping Scale.

Citation: Helping Scale. (n.d.) Retrieved February 21, 2016, from*

*Many of the scales I have given out in class in the past are being improved upon to provide more support for scoring and some other advanced features, so just keep in mind - if the survey notes authors and dates, etc., you need to note those things too!

From a textbook

If you're sourcing a survey that's in your textbook, which likely notes the original source, you would use the secondary source method.

Self-Created Survey

In the case of a survey you create yourself, as some of my PSYV375 students have done, you should reference a full text copy of the survey in an Appendix.

Example of an in-text citation (you don't need all of this text): Participants were asked via email to complete a short five-question survey on cupcake preferences created specifically for this purpose (personal communication, Feb. 21, 2016; see Appendix for full survey text). This survey utilizes a 5-point Likert scale to measure cupcake preferences. No reliability or validity information is available at this time.

Appendix Section: Your Appendix should be it's own section of the paper starting on a new page following the References section, and as stated above should include the full text of your survey, or if you emailed it out the full email with survey should be included.

Images sourced from the author's survey results.