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November 19, 2009

The Three Rs of APA Style, Part 3

Chuckby Chuck

[Yesterday and the day before, we looked at the first two Rs of APA style, readability and replicability. Today, our short survey of the Rs concludes.]

Third R: retrievability. Our third R is directly connected to the first, readability, and is thematically similar to the second, replicability. Retrievability refers to the reference list at the end of your manuscript. This list is the repository of your intellectual source material. Chapter 6 of the sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association begins, “Scientific knowledge represents the accomplishments of many researchers over time. A critical part of the writing process is helping readers place your contribution in context by citing the researchers who influenced you” (p. 169). In our discussion of the first R back in Part 1, we saw that APA style improves readability by requiring just author name and year in the main text rather than a complex, heavily bibliographic footnoting apparatus.

Citing author name and year in the main text, however, is just the tip of the citation iceberg. Your reference list is the submerged remainder of that berg—and the majority of it. As you navigate through the sixth edition’s chapters on source crediting and reference examples (Chapters 6 & 7, respectively), you may feel somewhat frustrated both by the variety of references that APA recognizes and by the amount of punctilious detail within each individual reference-list entry.

My counsel? Try not to forget the true goal behind it all: retrievability. Any reference-list entry exists for the primary purpose of escorting an interested reader to a particular item you’ve used in your research and writing.

Just as the Method section makes the practical aspects of your study replicable, so does the reference list make the intellectual backdrop of your work retrievable. As the saying goes, it gives credit where credit is due. And all that information is backloaded into a reference list instead of being located elsewhere in the paper to render the main text, your text, more readable.

In the end, one writes to be understood. The three Rs of APA style I’ve identified here, working through the various parts of your manuscript as set out in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual, can bring maximum clarity to your descriptions of what you thought, what you did, and what you learned. Thereby, APA style can assist in giving your work its widest possible reach.

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