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January 06, 2011

Have You Found Some APA Style Rules More Challenging to Learn Than Others?

  

Tony JohnSlate_PhotoJulieCombs_PhotoRebeccaFrels_Photo by Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie, John R. Slate, Julie P. Combs, and Rebecca K. Frels

 

When you pick up the APA Publication Manual, do you ask yourself “Where do I begin?” If so, you are not alone. For the past several years, we have conducted research to identify the most common challenges to writers. We were pleased to be asked to describe our work in this guest blog post. We are coeditors and first-round copyeditors of Research in the Schools (John & Tony), outgoing editor and associate editor of Educational Researcher (Tony & Julie, respectively), guest editors of the International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches (Tony & Rebecca), and editorial assistant/production editor of Research in the Schools (Rebecca). We have also served as reviewers and editorial board members of numerous journals. Those roles have given us ample opportunities to observe the difficulties that many authors experience in conforming to APA Style guidelines.

To help you and others learn APA Style in an efficient way, we collected evidence about the most common APA Style errors. Our detective work over the past 6 years with a nationally and internationally peer-reviewed journal, Research in the Schools, led us to uncover the 60 most common APA Style errors. We published our findings in the editorial "Evidence-Based Guidelines for Avoiding the Most Common APA Errors in Journal Article Submissions."

Which APA Style Rules Are the Most Challenging to Learn?

Many of you are probably wondering what error reached Number 1 in our Top 60 list. Great question! Well, the most common APA Style error is the incorrect use of numbers. Even though we examined manuscripts written by authors who used the fifth edition of the APA Publication Manual (because the sixth edition of the APA manual is so new), all of the APA Style rules violated still apply in the sixth edition.

Falling into this category are (a) numbers expressed in numerals (APA, 2010, section 4.31), (b) numbers expressed in words (section 4.32), and (c) combining numerals and words to express numbers (section 4.33; see pp. 111–112).

The Top 10

Maybe you’ve mastered the use of numbers but are wondering about other common errors. The Top 10 errors we discovered are

1.   Incorrect use of numbers
2.   Incorrect use of hyphenation
3.   Incorrect use of et al.
4.   Incorrect capitalization and punctuation in headings
5.   Use of since instead of because
6.   Improperly prepared tables and figures
7.   Failure to use the serial comma
8.   Failure to spell out abbreviations and acronyms as needed
9.   Inconsistent use of double-spacing between lines
10. Incorrect use of and versus the ampersand

For other common errors, we urge you to consult the detailed list in our article. Our hope is that by identifying the most challenging APA Style rules, we will help you identify the style rules that may require extra attention for mastery.

Which APA Style rules are most problematic for you and your students? Does this list support your experience?

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