APA Style: It's the Little Things...

The Often Missed 'Little Things' in APA Style

When grading papers, I often find that the little things take up a lot of time. They also can take a lot of time to correct when writing a paper. So this is a guide to the 'little things' of APA style that are often missed. Students often don't bother paying much attention to them or correcting them because they are small and not all that significant. However, when writing a dissertation or a journal article, correcting these mistakes up front can save you a great deal of time and increase your chance of getting a paper published. I've also included may "quick fix tips" for formatting your paper and correcting mistakes.

Punctuation & Quotation Marks | Spaces after Period | 1 Inch Margins | Hanging Indents on References |
Running Head & Page Headers | Commas and "and" | The First Person Plural |
Gender Inclusive Language | Emphasis | Boldface, Italics, & Underlining |
Avoid Double Parentheses with Brackets | Avoid Back to Back Parentheses with Semicolon |
The Use of a Colon | Plurals in Numbers | A Quote in a Quote | Other Uses of Quotation Marks |

Punctuation and Quotation Marks: Periods and commas when used with a quote go inside the quotation marks in APA style. Additional punctuation, such as a colon, semicolon, or question mark, may go outside the quotation marks unless they are part of the original quote. Examples:

Incorrect Example:

According to Hoffman (2006), "APA style places commas inside the quotation marks", however, other writing styles may place them outside the quotation marks.

However, it remains to be asked, "Did the student forget to give the research participants an informed consent?"

Correct Example :

According to Hoffman (2006), "APA style places commas inside the quotation marks," however, other writing styles may place them outside the quotation marks.

However, it remains to be asked, "Did the student forget to give the research participants an informed consent"?

Spaces after the period: In APA style, you only put one space after a period. In many other styles, two spaces is used behind the period.

Quick fix trick: If you are trying to break the habit of two spaces after the period, try this to make corrections. In Microsoft Word, hit "control-h" which brings up the replace option. In the find what box, put ".  " (period with 2 spaces) and then in the replace box put ". " (period with one space). Then click "replace all" to search your document making all the corrections.

1 inch Margins: In APA style, margins are to be set at 1 inch unless otherwise noted (for example, dissertations printed for binding may use a 1.5 left inch margin to allow for space for the binding).

Quick Application Trick: If you will be primarily writing in APA style, it may be best to set your defaults to 1 inch so that you do not have to always try to remember to change your margins with each paper you write. In Microsoft Word, click on the "file" drop down menu and then on "page setup." Set your left and right margin to 1" and then click on the default button at the bottom. It will allow you to change your default settings to 1 inch.

Hanging Indents on References: This is more of just a quick fix trick. Many people type in the hanging lines on references because they do not know there is an automatic function in Microsoft Word which will do this for you. First, highlight the references you are going use with the special indenting. Next, click on "format" on the drop down menu and then "paragraph," it will bring up a formatting box. Under indentation, click on "special" and select "hanging." Then set the hanging to ".5" and it put the references automatically into APA style. This should save you a lot of time on your reference section.

Running Head & Page Headers: There several confusing factors here which I'll try to address. First, let me distinguish between the running head and the page headers. The running head appears on the first page and is an abbreviated title that should not exceed 50 characters. The page headers appears in the upper right hand corner of each page (except for figure pages) along with the page number.

Running Head: The running head is basically pretty simple. First, you type "Running head:" as shown here. Note that the "R" is capitalized, but the "h" is not. After this, you place the actual running head in all capital letter. For example, below is a correct example of a running head:

Running head: THE LITTLE THINGS OF APA STYLE

Page Headers: The page header is the first 2-3 words of the running head and appears on each page in the upper right hand column along with the page number. Note, the page header should match the beginning of the running head. Many people put different words with the page header and the running head. While this is a minor mistake, it's more accurate to make sure they match. The page header is not in all capital letters like the running head, though. Instead, you capitalize the first words as you would in a title. Next, place five to ten spaces between the end of the header and the page number. Below is an example of what the header would be for the above running head (look to the right):

The Little Things      1

Quick Application Tip: Microsoft Word, along with most word processors, will automatically input the page header and page number for you. To set this up, click on the "view" drop down menu followed by clicking on "Header and Footer." This will place a little dotted box where headers or footers would appear. Click in the box at the top of the page and type in your header, then type 5-10 spaces, and click on button with the "#" in the floating menu bar. If you are on the first page, this will put a "1" on the page. If you scroll down you'll notice that it calculates the page and adds the correct page number on each page. Next, on the top menu bar (not the floating one that appeared with the Header and Footer box), click on the left alignment button (the one with five lines all aligned to the left). If this button is not on your top menu bar, there is another option. First, click on the header so that your cursor is located in the header area. Next, click on the "format" drop down menu and then on "paragraph." In the section title "General," click on the alignment button to set to left. Now, Word will take care of all your headers so you don't have to worry about them!

Commas and "and": In APA style, you always use a comma in the before "and" when stringing three or more items together. When stringing just two items together you do not use a comma. Many people forget the comma before the "and" when connecting three or more items. See page 79 of the style manual. Example:

Incorrect Example:

Hoffman, Hoffman and Hoffman (2006) believe good writing skills are key to succeeding in a career as a psychologist.

Correct Example:

Hoffman, Hoffman, and Hoffman (2006) believe good writing skills are key to succeeding in a career as a psychologist.

The First Person Plural: This is a really common error, but also an important one in APA style. The use of the first person plural is only to be used when referring to the authors in papers with more than one author. It should not be used to refer to people in general or all people.

Incorrect Example:

In life, we all are going to make mistakes.

Corrected:

In life, all people make mistakes.

Correct Example:

We believe it is important for all people to recognize that people make mistakes in life.

Click here for more information on correctly using the first person in APA style.

Gender Inclusive Language: Okay, I don't see this as a "little thing" in APA style or in writing in general. Rather, this is a really important issue that writers should take seriously. In APA style, avoid using "man" or any other masculine wording to refer to all people. This is something that I strongly emphasize in classes I teach and one of the APA style issues which is guaranteed to cost students some points on papers.

Incorrect Examples:

1. All of mankind is bound to a life full of mistakes.

2. Man cannot endure his own littleness unless he can connect it to meaningfulness on the largest possible level. (from Becker, 1973)

Corrected Example:

1. All people are bound to a life full of mistakes.

2. People cannot endure their own littleness unless they can connect it to meaningfulness on the largest possible level. (paraphrase of Becker, 1973)

Emphasis: If you wan to emphasize an idea in APA style, you place it in italics. Do not use boldface or underlining for this. Underlining used to be a common way to emphasize an idea; however, this changed when underlining became a common way to signifying a web address or URL. While using italics for emphasis is encouraged, this should not be used too frequently.

Incorrect Examples:

In APA style, the use of underlining is reserved for identifying a web link in electronic documents. You should not underline an idea for emphasis.

Corrected Examples:

In APA style, the use of underlining is reserved for identifying a web link in electronic documents. You should not underline an idea for emphasis.

Boldface, Italics, and Underlining: More likely than not, if you are using underlining or boldface type in APA style you are using it incorrectly. There are very few places where this is acceptable. The only place boldface is used is symbols for vectors, which are not commonly used in psychological writing. Boldface print is not used in titles or for emphasis. Similarly, underlying is used very rarely in APA style. It is only used for identifying a web link in an electronic document. Underlining is not used for headings, book titles, emphasis, or identifying a URL or web page in non-electronic documents.

Most of the time, when underlining or boldface type is used in documents, it should be replaced with italics. Italics is used for emphasis, the title of books, introducing a new term, and words that could easily be misread. When using italics for emphasis or to introduce a new word, it should be placed in italics only the first time and then in normal type after the first mention. Additional appropriate usage of italics which are less commonly used can be found on page 100-102 of the APA Style Manual.

Avoid Double Parentheses with Brackets : In APA style , you should never use double parentheses. If you are in a situation which calls for an abbreviation inside the parentheses or when you need to set off a second set of information, use brackets. See page 85 of the style manual.

Incorrect Example:

Several mental health governing bodies have made official statements prohibiting re-birthing therapy (e.g., the American Psychological Association (APA)).

Corrected Example:

Several mental health governing bodies have made official statements prohibiting re-birthing therapy (e.g., the American Psychological Association [APA]).

Avoiding Back to Back Parentheses with a Semicolon: Using parentheses back to back can be confusing in the text of a paper. For this reason, APA style indicates that a semicolon should be used to avoid this. See page 85 of the style manual.

Incorrect Example:

While some professional writing styles, such as Chicago Style, allow for the use of footnotes or endnotes, other professional styles strongly discourage this practice (e.g., APA style) (American Psychological Association, 2001).

Corrected Example:

While some professional writing styles, such as Chicago Style, allow for the use of footnotes or endnotes, other professional styles strongly discourage this practice (e.g., APA style; American Psychological Association, 2001).

The Use of a Colon: When using a colon in a sentence, whether you use a capital or small letter following the colon depends upon whether it is a phrase that is a complete or incomplete sentence. If it is a complete sentence, then use a capital letter; if not, use a small letter.

Incorrect Examples:

Hoffman (2006) states that people easily get confused by the use of a colon in APA style: it is not as easy as it seems.

Hoffman (2006) wrote of two types of common writing errors in the social sciences: Grammar and APA style.

Corrected Examples:

Hoffman (2006) states that people easily get confused by the use of a colon in APA style: It is not as easy as it seems.

Hoffman (2006) wrote of two types of common writing errors in the social sciences: grammar and APA style.

Conclusion: You can note that the first example has a complete sentence after the colon, so it uses a capital "I." The second example is not a complete sentence, so the correct beginning is with a small "g." See page 80-81 in the APA style manual.

Plurals of Numbers: In APA style, plurals of numbers do not need an apostrophe before the "s" following the numbers. See page 130 of the style manual.

Incorrect Example:

The events of the 1980's and early 1990's played an important role in the transition to a managed health care model of treatment in mental health.

Corrected Example:

The events of the 1980s and early 1990s played an important role in the transition to a managed health care model of treatment in mental health.

A Quote in a Quote: When a quote occurs inside a quote, use double quotation marks for the full quote and single quotation marks for the quote within the quote. If applicable, include the full reference information inside the quotes. See the APA Style Manual page 292-293.

Incorrect Example:

Hoffman (2006) reported, "APA style mistakes are common for students. However, this is "no excuse not to learn APA style" (Harris, 2003). Students must learn to write well to avoid later problems with their dissertation or in their professional field" (p. 231).

Corrected Example:

Hoffman (2006) reported, "APA style mistakes are common for students. However, this is 'no excuse not to learn APA style' (Harris, 2003). Students must learn to write well to avoid later problems with their dissertation or in their professional field" (p. 231).

Other Uses of Quotation Marks: Quotation marks can also be used to indicate an ironic or slang statement. When used in this manner, it should only be used the first time this phrase or word is used. See the APA Style Manual page 82-83.

References

* All information regarding APA Style is from:

American Psychological Association (2001). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.). Washington, DC: author.

Becker, E. (1973). The denial of death. New York: Free Press.

 

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