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November 25, 2009

Books That Provoke Our Thanks

 Puffin  
by Jeff Hume-Pratuch

Writers in psychology and the social and behavioral sciences reach for the APA Publication Manual first when they have style and usage questions. But inevitably, some topics are outside its scope, while others are covered in less detail than one might like.

At APA, there are a few resource books we turn to in gratitude on a daily basis. You’ll find them on the desk of almost every editor here, and they just might have the answers you’re looking for.

Grammar, Usage, and Style

The Publication Manual contains valuable basic information on writing clearly and correctly but by no means covers all the bases. When I’ve been wrestling with a thorny sentence for the last half hour and it still looks wrong, I reach for Words Into Type.  If you’re looking for guidance on coordinate conjunctions or collective nouns, this is the place.

Some issues may arise infrequently in psychology and the social sciences (e.g., “In what context should I capitalize Platonic ideas?” “Where can I find a conversion chart from Wade-Giles to Pinyin?”), but they do arise. For questions with a humanities slant, the Chicago Manual of Style can be helpful. It has extensive information on foreign language references, titles of historical persons, and other topics that are beyond APA's purview.

Finally, a lighter approach sometimes helps when you’re trying to get your head around language problems. In The Elephants of Style and Lapsing Into a Comma, Bill Walsh offers tips on contemporary usage in a humorous and thoroughly approachable way. Another classic in this vein is The Careful Writer, by Theodore M. Bernstein.

Spelling and Word Division

For everyday spelling issues, APA uses Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. But when you need to know whether it’s “Alzheimer syndrome” or “Alzheimer’s disease,” we (naturally) recommend the APA Dictionary of Psychology: a thousand pages of terminology specific to the psychological sciences.

Legal References

Appendix 7.1 of the Publication Manual gives a good introduction to the use of legal materials in APA style. For most authors, this is all you’ll ever need. But researchers in some fields, such as forensic psychology, may need a more comprehensive guide. In that case, go straight to the source: The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. (Then head over to the nearest law school librarian for help, because legal citation is an art unto itself.)

What reference works are you grateful for?

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