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February 27, 2014

Being (APA) Stylish

Daisiesby Stefanie

APA Style—is there anything it can’t do?

Let’s get back to that. First, let’s talk about what it is. The first version of the publication manual, titled “Instructions in Regard to Preparation of Manuscript,”* was seven pages long (!) and published in 1929 as an article in Psychological Bulletin. Flash forward to today: We’re up to the sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, but the main purpose is still to give people guidance on writing scholarly journal articles. There’s information on everything from font type and size to heading structure, language choices, statistics, tables, figures, and (everyone’s favorite!) citation and reference style, along with much, much more, within those hallowed pages. The manual has come a long way from its early days, but so has scientific inquiry and thought about health and mental health. The ways of talking and writing about these fields have evolved and changed, and the Publication Manual has changed with them. Further, APA Style has been adopted by a number of fields as an anchor for their writing, too. As someone who works with APA Style every day, it’s humbling to observe its reach, and it’s a pleasure to help clarify some of APA Style’s finer points here and by responding to the astute questions that come via [email protected].

Now, APA Style covers a lot of things. It gives plenty of general advice on good writing, especially of the scholarly kind, and is one of the only sources of guidance on bias-free language. It provides specific formatting advice for those writing for scholarly journals. But our guidelines and formatting might not directly apply to, say, your company’s annual report or your class assignment.

Here are a few other things not specifically covered by the Publication Manual or APA Style:

  • Bibliographies
  • Annotated bibliographies
  • Dissertations
  • Tables of contents
  • Books
  • Newsletters
  • Mediation between students and professors on APA Style disagreements

That being said, we encourage you to borrow and adapt APA Style for your purposes. If you want to apply APA Style to your dissertation, terrific! But I’m afraid I won’t have an official answer for you when you call or write to ask how your chapter titles should appear. I wouldn’t treat those as Level 1 headings (rather, I’d format the chapter title as if it were an article title), but you and your dissertation advisor are the better judges of how your dissertation should look. If there is a secret or at least a key to APA Style, it is this: Figure out the best way to most clearly express your thoughts. Be consistent in structure, formatting, and heading style. You can and will create your own style, based on APA Style, that will fit your particular situation.

When in doubt, you will not be amiss in letting the underlying spirit of APA Style—focusing on clarity, accuracy, and kindness in expression—lead the way in your writing, even if we don’t have specific guidelines for your document type.

 

*That is not a typo: The original title omits the a before Manuscript or an s after it.

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