Friday, May 29, 2015

APA Basics, Part One

This blog post is the first of a two-part series that will cover some basic rules of APA (American Psychological Association) documentation style; I’ll call it APA 101.


     The American Psychological Association’s APA style website defines APA style as “the editorial style that many of the social and behavioral sciences have adopted to present written material in the field” (“About APA Style,” para. 3). APA style includes many rules. The Thesis Office divides these into rules covering formatting, or how things look on the page, and rules about style, or the method of giving credit to sources (system of acknowledgment). APA also provides rules regarding some language or wording best practices—I’ll cover those aspects in the second part of this series.
Note of Caution for NIU Thesis/Dissertation Writers

     The Thesis Office has adopted APA as the Graduate School’s default documentation style, though different disciplines will require different documentation styles. All formatting, however, regardless of any documentation style’s rules, must conform to the Thesis Office’s specifications, which do deviate somewhat from other styles. For example, while APA style calls for double-spaced entries on the reference list, the NIU thesis or dissertation formatting rules do not. In addition, the NIU rules for headings are different than what you see in this post, which follows APA format. (See the appropriate Format Guidelines on our website for more information.)

Differences Between Reference List and Body Text

     APA style is intricate, especially in that its rules apply differently depending on whether a source is attributed in the run of the text, in a parenthetical citation, or on the reference list only. (Reminder: a reference list is different than a bibliography. Reference lists contain all sources cited in the body of the paper, and only those sources, while a bibliography includes sources cited as well as consulted.) For instance, source titles, such as journal articles, books, news articles, and web pages, should be typed using sentence-style capitalization on the reference list. Sentence-style capitalizes only the first word of the item and any proper nouns, just like writing a sentence. The first word following a colon is capitalized too. Here is one example of how an article title looks on an APA reference list:

           Gaze patterns when looking at emotional pictures: Motivationally biased attention.

Note the absence of quotation marks.

     However, if any source title is mentioned in-text, it takes title-style capitalization, or the use of upper case letters for all main words. However, most citations in the body of an APA document will not include the title at all, as APA calls for concise signal phrases, with only the author or authors’ last name/s followed by the year of publication in parentheses. If used in-text, article and other shorter work titles are enclosed in quotation marks; book and journal titles are italicized.
On the reference list, large work titles are still italicized; but shorter works, such as articles and essays, are no longer enclosed in quotation marks, as shown above. One other tidbit about journals: ONLY journal titles take title-style capitalization on a reference list. In addition, the journal’s volume number is italicized, but not its issue number.
Stick with me. We’ll talk about authors now, an important topic!

Rules Concerning Authors

     Authors are mentioned in-text by last name only, but reference lists always include author’s last name followed by first initial, and these are always in inverted name order, such as the following: Roosevelt, T.

     Many sources have more than one author, and there are rules for those situations, too. All author names up to and including a seventh author are listed on the references page, and each is separated by a comma. If there are more than seven authors, though, the first six are listed, separated by commas, followed by three ellipses before the last author’s name, in inverted name order.

     The rules for citing coauthored works involve the word “and” and its shorthand symbol, the ampersand (&).  The ampersand should never be used in ordinary text, only in parenthetical citations and on the reference list. In the run of the text, always write out “and.” See the following (fictional) examples:

     In the body of the text:
Juarez and Johns (2012) have argued that textbooks are outdated for use in the classroom.
            The authors claimed that textbook use is no longer relevant (Juarez & Johns, 2012).
     Reference list entry:  
Juarez, M., & Johns, P. J. (2012). Books are outdated. New York, NY: Ross.

Best Sources of Help

     The best resource to have on hand is the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition), of course, but you’ll find helpful information, including frequently asked questions and an introductory tutorial, on the APA Style website.

Coming soon: APA 102! Don’t forget—you can subscribe to this blog and never miss a post.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Upcoming Workshop for Engineering Students

The Graduate School is excited to announce an upcoming workshop specifically designed to provide support for thesis writers in the following field: College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

When? Tuesday May 19 & Wednesday May 20

What time? 2pm to 4pm
Where? Founders Library, room 297

Each session will be conducted by staff from the Graduate School Thesis Office and will cover a wide range of issues that thesis writers find most troublesome including:

  • Documentation style
  • References
  • Specific Graduate School format requirements
All workshop attendees are encouraged to bring an electronic copy of your thesis regardless of where you are at in the writing process. Time will be allotted to work with each of you on your thesis as our workshops offer you guidance, support, and individualized attention free of charge! 

Space is limited. Students who are expected to graduate summer 2015 will be given priority.
In order to register, visit the NIU Thesis and Dissertation Office homepage (click here). 

Keep in mind: This two day workshop will NOT be addressing the electronic submission process that every graduate student will go through once their thesis is ready to be submitted for final approval by our office. Submission guidelines will be addressed in a separate workshop that is meeting Thursday May 21 in Founders Library, room 297. Registration for this separate workshop is not required. All are welcome to attend.

Be sure to keep your eye on the NIU Thesis Office webpage, our Facebook group, and the blog for announcements on future workshops!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Freelancers for Hire!

If you read our last blog post, you know that the University Writing Center (UWC) is offering a free summer Dissertation Bootcamp for doctoral students to learn what, exactly, is expected of a dissertation. These sessions demystify the process and product, and, of course, the UWC offers extensive writing help to all NIU students and faculty every semester.

But dissertation and thesis writers still have a huge feat: they must write a lengthy, formal, scholarly work that follows conventions of scholarly style, formatting, and documentation.  Some may not have the time or proclivity to master all the conventions; some may need to focus all available energy on the content of the work. Some may have the added difficulty of being English language learners. For those and other reasons, the Thesis and Dissertation Office maintains a list of Freelance Formatters and Editors who can help with a thesis or dissertation’s grammar, mechanics, and/or layout … for a fee.

If you go to our Thesis and Dissertation webpage, you’ll find a group of links at bottom under “Additional Support.” The first link takes you to our list of Freelance Formatters and Editors. These professionals offer different services with different fee schedules. However, the important thing to remember when considering a freelancer is, like anything else in grad school, to plan ahead.

Carol Abrahamson, who has been working with NIU students for seven years, told a little about the process as she sees it. She says a typical experience starts with students contacting a few freelancers early in the semester prior to their expected graduation semester. Students should round up fee rates (some freelancers charge by the page and some by the hour), contract or payment requirements, and available timetables for completion. Abrahamson advises students to make a decision in that penultimate semester and get on the freelancer’s schedule. Abrahamson blocks out week/s as necessary for a student’s work, and she cautions students to allow enough time, especially if they need extensive editing work.

Editing, for Abrahamson, consists of pointing out errors according to the appropriate style guidelines in terms of “idea flow, typos, grammar, punctuation, academic language, and consistency of expression,” as well as cross-checking citations and reference entries for accuracy, while formatting consists of “altering people’s documents in Word” to meet NIU regulations, again including citation checks for accuracy, and is a much faster activity. Abrahamson cautions that hourly rates cannot be equally assessed without determining an editor or formatter’s pace, and she prefers to work on some pages of text before estimating the project total, as every writing is different. The student pays for her initial work and receives valuable editing and feedback in exchange, even if an agreement isn’t reached.

Carolyn Law often quips that many working graduate students have more money than time. Not everyone’s schedule allows them to master all the editing and formatting rules. As Abrahamson says, “A great many students are surprised there are dozens of APA rules to worry about besides those that apply to reference list entries and citations[, such as] which title words to capitalize; which numbers to write in words and which in digits; when to use a colon, semicolon, and dash; the many prefixes that APA says should not be followed by a hyphen; when to say "that" and when to say "which"; the tense to use when discussing research completed by others …”

If these ideas are making your head spin, check out our freelancer list and make some calls! Otherwise, get the latest edition of the appropriate style guide for your discipline, and definitely read NIU’s Format Guidelines for a thesis or dissertation, posted on our website. Good luck!