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5 posts from March 2011

March 31, 2011

How Do You Spell IQ? Abbreviations as Words in APA Style

Timothy McAdoo by Timothy McAdoo

In a recent guest post, Dr. Anthony Onwuegbuzie and colleagues (Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels, 2010) presented a list of common APA Style errors. “Failure to spell out abbreviations and acronyms as needed” is eighth on the list.

So, what does “as needed” mean? Shouldn’t all abbreviations and acronyms be defined?

Almost, but there are a handful of exceptions. These exceptions are words for which the abbreviated forms have become commonplace. These abbreviations are often better known than their spelled-out counterparts. IQ, for example, is better known than is intelligence quotient. Likewise, your readers are more likely to recognize REM sleep than rapid eye movement sleep.

If these seem arbitrary, don’t worry! You won’t have to phone a friend each time you consider using an abbreviation. Just follow these guidelines, as recommended by the Publication Manual (p. 107):

  • You may use “abbreviations that appear as word entries (i.e., that are not labeled abbr) in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2005).” For these few cases, you don’t need to define the abbreviations.
  • Conversely, entries that do include the abbr label are abbreviations that should be defined.
  • If an abbreviation does not appear in the dictionary, you should define it.

Finally, see pages 106108 of the Publication Manual for additional guidance on abbreviations, including how and when to introduce them, examples of under- and overuse, and more.

March 24, 2011

APA Publication Manual in Japanese

Japanese Publication Manual

 By Mary Lynn Skutley

 We received the Japanese translation of the sixth edition of the     Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association 2 days before  the earthquake and tsunamis struck northeastern Japan.   Our hearts are with those who are struggling with that great devastation. 

Igaku Shoin, publisher of the Japanese edition, has been dedicated to the advancement of medical and life sciences research since 1944.  The Japanese Psychological Association was formed in 1927 (2 years before the APA Publication Manual made its first appearance as a seven-page journal article), and its members have a long history of promoting psychological research and practice. Please join us in celebrating the launch of this Japanese edition.  We hope it succeeds in serving the spirit of inquiry and achievement.

March 18, 2011

Citing Paraphrased Work in APA Style

Timothy McAdoo by Timothy McAdoo

As the Publication Manual notes, citing your sources is imperative: “Whether paraphrasing, quoting an author directly, or describing an idea that influenced your work, you must credit the source” (p. 170).

But, we are sometimes asked how a writer can properly and clearly attribute multiple ideas within a paragraph yet maintain a readable and interesting text.

It’s a challenge! If you include a citation only at the end of the paragraph, the reader won’t know how many of the ideas in the previous sentences you are attributing to the cited author. But, including the citation at the end of each sentence, an absolutely clear and correct approach, can become redundant:

     The cross-pollination and fusion of musical genres over the last 2 decades has exposed children to a diversity of musical styles (Viglione, 2010). Technology has also made possible the distribution and sharing of music in exciting new ways (Viglione, 2010). Music is shared through social media sites, analyzed and tailored for the individual listener via sites like Pandora, and simply given away by musicians on their websites (Viglione, 2010). As a result, in the future, children will likely develop eclectic musical tastes early and expect a diversity of musical styles at younger and younger ages (Viglione, 2010).


The paragraph above clearly attributes the work of Viglione (2010), but imagine a 20-page literature review written in this style! Page 16 of the Publication Manual shows an example of how to paraphrase multiple ideas without this redundancy.

Can you rewrite the paragraph above in a way that avoids redundancy but maintains the attribution of all of the ideas? Submit your suggestions in the comments section! There are many ways to improve this paragraph, so we won’t  post a “winner,” but we will follow up with comments and commendations on the suggested rewrites!

March 10, 2011

Spelling Success in APA Style

Timothy McAdoo by Timothy McAdoo

Readers send us APA Style questions every week—by e-mail, phone, Twitter, and Facebook. We love hearing from you, and we love the variety of your questions!

People sometimes contact us just to verify how a word is spelled or formatted. For example, “Is the word Internet capitalized?” Yes, Internet, a proper noun, is always capitalized, whereas website is not. Some people may believe that the word Internet has taken on a more general use, but until this change is reflected in dictionaries, most style guides will likely continue to advise writers to capitalize it.

As this example shows, questions of spelling are often about, or overlap with, guidelines for capitalization, hyphenation, and other stylistic areas. We can look at those in later posts, but today I’ll stick with the first—and easiest—answer: When in doubt about a word’s spelling, consult a dictionary!

For psychological terms, see the APA Dictionary of Psychology. In all other cases, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (p. 96) indicates that “spelling should conform to standard American English as exemplified in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2005).” If you don’t find a word there, check “the more comprehensive Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (2002).”

We have just one request about spelling (per p. 96 of the Manual): When the dictionary provides multiple options, use the first one. For example, use toward (not towards) and canceled (not cancelled).

Spelling Success in APA Style

Readers send us APA Style questions every week—by e-mail, phone, Twitter, and Facebook. We love hearing from you, and we love the variety of your questions!

People sometimes write us just to verify how a particular word is spelled or formatted. For example, “Is the word Internet capitalized?” Yes, Internet, a proper noun, is always capitalized, whereas website is not. Some people may believe that the word Internet has taken on a more general use, but until this change is reflected in dictionaries, most style guides will continue to advise writers to capitalize it.

As this example shows, questions of spelling are often about, or overlap with, guidelines for capitalization, hyphenation, and other stylistic areas. We can look at more stylistic areas in later posts, but today I’ll stick with the first—and easiest—answer: When in doubt about a word’s spelling, consult a dictionary!

For psychological terms, see the APA Dictionary of Psychology. In all other cases, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (p. 96) indicates that “spelling should conform to standard American English as exemplified in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2005).” If you don’t find a word there, check “the more comprehensive Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (2002).”

We have just one request about spelling (per p. 96 of the the Manual): When the dictionary provides multiple options, use the first one. For example, use toward (not towards) and canceled (not cancelled).

March 03, 2011

Making a Concrete Abstract

Anne   by Anne Breitenbach

  The Publication Manual (2.04) states that “A well-prepared abstract can be the most important single paragraph in an article.”  Indeed, it would be hard to overstate the abstract’s importance if you want to publish and actually have your work read and cited. Your article (or dissertation or conference presentation) uses a ploy similar to that of an anglerfish.  The abstract is the lure that beguiles the elusive researcher to the article, much as the fleshy growth suspended from an anglerfish’s head entices its prey.  (There are differenceHumpback_anglerfishs, of course. The anglerfish lurks in underwater caves and lures its prey by a long filament, whereas your article lurks in a journal and seductively waves its abstract from a bibliographic database such as Dissertation Abstracts or APA’s own PsycINFO. Other differences include that most research doesn’t try to engulf its reader whole.)  

The abstract’s special functions determine the specifics of its form. Rule 2.04 tells us that it should do three things well:


First, it needs to find its audience. Practically, that means you need to embed keywords that “enhance the user’s ability to find it.”  This is an excellent example of a place where Mark Twain’s dictum applies. “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” You need to use current, intuitive, and accurate terminology. We’ll talk more about keywords in an upcoming post.


Second, it’s got to be a good abstract. That is, it needs to encapsulate the essence of the article in a way that gives all essential information but sifts out the inessential. The core of that information is consistent across articles, but specific kinds of articles—for example, a literature review or meta-analysis, a theory-oriented paper, or a case study—also have specific requirements.  We’ll talk more about what elements all articles require and what particular elements specific kinds of articles require in an upcoming post.


Third, yep, it needs to be in APA Style.  And because there are special rules that apply to abstracts in terms of length (word limits vary from journal to journal and typically range from 150 to 250 words), required elements, and need to make sense in isolation from the article, there are a number of rules that are unique to the abstract. For example, there are specific rules that apply to numbers, to abbreviations, to citations. Those too we’ll explore in an upcoming post. 

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