Some of you may have read our May 29 blog post, APA Basics, Part One. Today’s post is APA Basics, Part Two. This post focuses on wording practices according the APA Publication Manual. In both posts, I tried to follow APA guidelines for style and formatting. Questions or comments are welcome!
A Quick Note About Periods
First, let’s dispense with the debate over how many spaces appear at the end of a sentence. Though the APA Publication Manual (2010) has stated, “Spacing twice after punctuation marks at the end of a sentence aids readers of draft manuscripts” (p. 88), the organization does not specifically require two spaces at the close of a sentence. According to Carolyn Law, Thesis and Dissertation Advisor at NIU, “The standard practice in all publishing is now one space after a period. Period.” For those interested in this practice’s development, Dave Bricker’s blog, The World’s Greatest Book, offers a quick look at its history. For now, though, let’s cover language guidelines.
“Writing Clearly and Concisely”
“Writing Clearly and Concisely” is the third chapter in the Publication Manual. This chapter delineates many guidelines for APA style. Aside from the overarching goal of communication via the fewest words necessary (“Say only what needs to be said,” APA, 2010, p. 67), APA finds headings (and subheadings) necessary for organization of material. APA also promotes divisions of material into parallel bits, such as bulleted or numbered lists. While writers should emphasize the research and not the researchers, writers still should construct active voice sentences whenever possible, except for in the abstract. Oh, and “we” writers should NOT use the editorial “we”; a writer should use “we” only when the writer is part of a research team referenced.
Verb Tense and “Noun Strings”
APA instructs writers to use only past tense and/or present perfect verbs in literature reviews and in descriptions of procedures done in the past (e.g., “Juarez found” or “The researchers have discovered”). Past tense must also be used to describe study results, while the present tense is utilized only to “discuss implications of the results and to present the conclusions” (APA, 2010, p. 66). For instance, a statement beginning with the words, “The findings point to a need for …” would be appropriate.
APA also tells writers to untangle, or to rearrange, “noun strings” (66). These strings happen when several nouns accrue “to modify a final noun” (APA, 2010, p. 66). I found the following example of a noun string from Wikipedia helpful: “Underground Mine Worker Safety Protection Procedures”; see Wikipedia’s Noun string entry for more ideas here. Moreover, APA discourages wordiness of any type, such as the use of a phrase when only one word is needed For example, avoid the ubiquitous expression “due to the fact that”; instead say, “because.” Other redundant words or expressions should also be expunged. Writers should avoid phrases like “summarize briefly…” when a summary, by definition, is brief. So proofread carefully!
See section 3.09 of the Publication Manual for more tips for clarity.
Finally, APA is committed to reducing bias in language. As stated in the Publication Manual (2010), “Scientific writing must be free of implied or irrelevant evaluation of the group or groups being studied” (p. 70). The general guidelines for doing so are good for any type of writing: be specific and be deliberate in word choice. APA writers must acknowledge study participants and describe them with sensitivity for, and understanding of, the social construction of identity. An example statement that acknowledges participants while specifying the exact group would read: “Of the tenth-graders who completed the survey …” as opposed to the following: “Of the students who were given the study to complete …” When naming groups, use the identifying terms that each group prefers, and avoid language that “objectifies a person,” such as “wheelchair bound” (APA, 2010, p. 76). Here, rather state, “People who require wheelchairs” instead. Most biases are cleared up by being as precise as possible in description.
Simply, APA style calls for clear, concise, and specific writing, with some arbitrary rules for certain sections of a document. As mentioned in our previous APA post, the best source for information is the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition) as well as the website.