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.

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