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May 27, 2010

“My Professor Says...”

.rev3 by Jeff Hume-Pratuch  

Dear APA,

My professor says that you can only use a comma in APA Style if there is a rule for it in the book. I told her there are lots of places where you need commas that the book doesn't cover, like after introductory phrases (e.g., “For instance”). She agreed with me but said there was nothing she could do, it's an APA rule. Is this correct?

--Anguished in Austin

Dear Anguished,

Your professor is misinformed. The APA Publication Manual is not intended to be exhaustive in its coverage of grammar and style. Consequently, there are some things outside its purview. If it’s not in the manual, it’s not an APA rule.

Unfortunately, Anguished, we receive letters like yours every day.

“My professor told me my outline had to be in APA Style, but I can’t find any examples of outlines in the manual!”

“My professor said it was against APA Style to use the first person.”

“My professor told me to do a PowerPoint presentation in APA Style. I’ve read the whole book and I can’t find a format for slideshows.”

If your professor’s instructions and the manual seem out of joint, don’t panic! There are several things you can do to ameliorate the situation.

1. Ask your professor to clarify the assignment. Perhaps “do the PowerPoint in APA Style” really means “put the references in your slideshow in APA Style.” And sometimes “APA Style” is just shorthand for “use the author–date system for references, instead of footnotes.”

2. If the professor’s instructions seem to contradict APA Style, ask whether this is intentional. For example, APA Style does not include the use of an outline at the start of a paper, but your professor may have a valid reason for requiring one.

3. Ask the professor if there is a list of specific exceptions to APA Style. The Publication Manual (6th ed.) contains many useful tips for clear and concise writing, but it was written predominantly for scholars seeking publication rather than for students seeking term paper formats. Your department or institution may have its own set of style rules that supersede the Publication Manual in whole or part.

Most problems can be resolved with a modicum of good will on both sides. But if you find yourself really stumped on a point of APA Style, contact APA’s Style Experts (styleexpert@apastyle.org).

Hope this helps!

--Jeff



 

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