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November 18, 2009

The Three Rs of APA Style, Part 2

Chuckby Chuck

[Yesterday, we looked at the first R of APA style, readability. Today, our short survey of the Rs continues.]

Second R: replicability. The first place where you, as a writer of research articles, will deal with replicability is in the Method section of your manuscript. There, you will explain how your experiments were set up, which hypotheses prompted your inquiry, what equipment you used, who your participants included, what type or types of data you gathered, how those raw data were obtained, and more.

Subsequently, in the Results section, you will detail how you analyzed your data and what was revealed by the analyses. Chapter 2 of the sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association goes into all this at length. It’s worth taking time here, however, to remind ourselves of why all this is necessary.

Simply put, your manuscript has to depict your work in enough detail so that any reader could, if he or she were minded to, replicate your study exactly. APA has no monopoly on this approach. Rather, the discipline of psychology shares it with all other sciences. Replicability allows for falsifiability.

I’m not calling your research into question or impugning your honor. Falsifiability is one of the cornerstones of the scientific method. Any experimental science involves it. It’s also referred to as refutability (hey, hey, hey, another R).

As Karl Popper, the noted philosopher of science, said, “The criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability” (Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, 1963, p. 36). He meant not that all scientific knowledge is false but that, to be scientific, knowledge must be testable so if it is false, this can be demonstrated and recognized. Built into the scientific method, then, is the belief that experiments must be repeatable, if only to show that their results are not flukes or errors.

And this is why you want to explain what you’ve done sufficiently well so that another person can replicate it.

[Tomorrow, “The 3 Rs of APA Style” will conclude with the third R.]

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