Person thinking about using hyperlinks in APA Style referencesYou’re pasting a DOI or URL into a reference list entry, and as soon as you hit the enter key, the text you’ve written turns blue and gets underlined. Your program has turned it into a hyperlink . . . but is that how it should appear in your submitted copy? And should there be blue underlined hyperlinks in APA Style papers at all?

The APA 7 manual addresses this question: 

“It is acceptable to use either the default display settings for hyperlinks in your word processing program (e.g., usually blue font, underlined) or plain text that is not underlined” (Section 9.35). 

The manual further advises that if your paper is going to be published online, links should be live (i.e., working) 

In our experience, it’s helpful to use live links even for manuscripts that will eventually be printed on paper and for course papers that will not be publicly available. Live links make it easy for reviewers or profs to look up a source if they wish. Plus, it is easier for you to check that all links are up to date and working prior to final submission.

Note on APA 6 

The sixth edition of the Publication Manual, published in 2009, did not specify how to format hyperlinks. In a later blog post, however, APA clarified that blue and underlined hyperlinks should be avoided in documents intended to be read on paper.  

When printed, the blue becomes grey, the underlining impedes readability, and obviously the links are of no use anyway. Presenting the links as plain text makes for easier and cleaner reading. The manual itself, intended to be read in print, illustrates this guidance. None of the URLs in any of the APA 6 reference list examples show any underlining.  

How to change the look of hyperlinks 

Whether you choose the default display settings or plain textyou’ll want to be sure that all hyperlinks in your paper are formatted consistently. Do not switch between formatting styles. It’s all or nothing! 

Here’s what to do for either scenario.

1. Getting hyperlinks to be blue and underlined 

If your paper will be published online or is likely to be read online, choose this option. The default display settings in MS Word and other word processing programs should activate the hyperlinks automatically for any URLs you type in.  

If this is not happening in your paper, check your settings. Under the File tab, click on Options, Proofing, and AutoCorrect Options. A second dialogue box will open. Under AutoFormat As You Type, make sure “Internet and network paths with hyperlinks” is selected. 

Screenshot of Autocorrect Options to Format Hyperlinks Automatically
To make plain text a hyperlink in MS Word, go to the Insert tab and click on the Link icon.  

Screenshot of Link Icon on Insert Tab to Insert a Hyperlink

The Insert Hyperlink dialogue box will open. Paste the URL into the Address field at the bottom. Identical text will appear up top in the Text to display field.   

Insert Hyperlink Dialogue Box

When you click OK, you’ll have an active, working link. 

2. Getting hyperlinks to look and act like plain text

Choose this option if your paper is likely to be printed or if the journal or program guidelines you are following call for plain text. If you don’t care about keeping the links active, you can deactivate the autoformatting. Simply follow the steps above, but in this case, deselect “Internet and network paths with hyperlinks.” No more pesky autoformatting you don’t want.

A second way to avoid default hyperlink formatting is to paste using the Keep Text Only option. Copy the link from the web and position your cursor where you want to paste it into your paper. Rather than using Ctrl+V to paste, which by default keeps the source formatting, right click. From the menu that pops up, choose “Keep Text Only” from the paste options.

Selecting your paste option with care can save you from having to undo a bunch of wonky formatting regardless of what you’re pasting. Copying the text of a title or an author name from a site to paste into your refs usually also picks up font size, colour, and spacing preferences. Save yourself seven more clicks to get everything looking as you want it by not pasting the formatting with the text.

3. Getting hyperlinks to look like plain text but function as live links

We’ve saved the best for last. Plain text URLs that don’t link anywhere can be frustrating for early manuscript reviewers and authors alike because sources cannot be checked easily prior to publication. Happily, you can have the best of both worlds: an easy-to read plain text manuscript with fully functioning stealth hyperlinks.

Under the Styles Gallery window on the Home tab, click the dropdown arrow to open the Styles pane (or use the keyboard shortcut Alt+Ctrl+Shift+S).

Screenshot of Styles Pane dropdown arrow

By default, all styles currently in use in the file will be listed. Find Hyperlink and click the dropdown arrow on the right to open a menu of options. Choose Modify.

Screenshot of modifying hyperlinks in the Styles Pane

(If you’re not seeing Hyperlink in the list, it’s because you don’t have one in the file. The easiest solution is to paste in a URL and then reopen the Styles pane.)

The Modify Style dialogue box will open, and you’ll see the blue, underlined text in the preview pane:

Modify hyperlinks dialogue box

Using the formatting fields, change the colour from blue to automatic (or black), remove the underline, and apply your font and font size. Your screen will now look something like this:

Modify Style dialogue box showing plain text hyperlinks formatting

Click OK. You should now have active links (your cursor will change to an arrow) that look like normal text.

Now you should have a great understanding of how to deal with blue underlined hyperlinks in your APA Style paper!


In ShortYou should keep hyperlinks active. Consider your reader and the paper’s final delivery method (print or digital) when deciding whether to format links as blue text with underline or as plain text. If you choose plain text for your links, you can keep them active by changing the underlying formatting of the hyperlink style in MS Word.

Check out our other blog posts for more awesome APA tips and tricks!