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4 posts from March 2014

March 27, 2014

Over the Hedge

Daisiesby Stefanie

I am as guilty of hedging as anyone here, if not more so. I am not, by nature, a decisive person. Couple that with work for almost two decades in scientific (Strike 1) writing (Strike 2), and I can tell you that the “facts” known today do not necessarily match those of yesterday.

Oh, oh, look what I did there! My first hedge! Using quotation marks to soften or make ironic something that does not need such treatment should be avoided.

And there, I just did it again! The words should be take the sting out of avoided, don’t they? But being to the point is helpful here. Avoid using quotation marks to hedge. There, that is much clearer. Also avoid using words like should, could, sometimes, may, and others to hedge on a point that does not need hedging.

Does not need hedging? Is that another hedge? No. The thing about scientific and scholarly writing is that hypotheses are always being tested. Theories are pushed to their limits with different experiments, be they physical or thought experiments, which are then reported in articles and books. Hedge I have yet to see an article or book end with the words “no more research is needed on this topic.” Sometimes experimental results are inconclusive. Sometimes their meaning is not clear under current paradigms. Sometimes the results are as clear as the nose on your face. When you are writing about your research, state confidently what you are confident about and qualify what you are not as certain of (or what you are certain is not certain; see my use of the word sometimes in the three previous sentences). Take time to think about what elements of your article fall into each category and present them accordingly.

When talking about other authors’ work, take your linguistic cues from them if you are equally convinced of the accuracy of their claims and conclusions. For example, let’s say I’m (a) in a fictional world and (b) writing about the Ark of the Covenant. As part of the research for my paper, I read an article in Archeology Today in which some guy named Henry Jones, Jr., says unequivocally that he found the Ark of the Covenant in the Well of Souls in Jerusalem. Maybe I’ve met Dr. Jones at a conference and I feel confident that he’s a stand-up guy, or maybe I’ve read his other work and that has all seemed legitimate, or maybe his article contains so many facts and credible sources that I’m convinced he’s telling the truth. When I am mentioning Dr. Jones’s claim, which I believe, in my paper, I am not going to say, “Jones (1963) suggests that the Ark of the Covenant was found in 1936” but “In an article published decades ago, Jones (1963) announced that in 1936, he found the Ark of the Covenant in the Well of Souls in Jerusalem.” In fact, the second example works even if I do not believe Dr. Jones’s claim: He did make that announcement in his 1963 article (he did in my fictional world, anyway). The point is, in this situation, there is no reason to hedge. “Jones (1963) found and lost the Ark of the Convenant in 1936” would be a way to uncritically report this key point from Jones’s article. If I take a more skeptical approach to Dr. Jones’s article, I can express that, too: “Jones (1963) claimed to have found and lost the Ark of the Convenant in 1936, but no other evidence supports this assertion and, in fact, the U.S. Government vehemently denied its alleged involvement.” I have clearly stated Jones’s claim, and I have countered that claim with some big grains of salt, to painfully strain a metaphor.

If the authors of your source articles are not committing to definite conclusions, though, follow their lead. If Henry Jones, Sr., writes, “I have reason to believe that Alexandretta is the starting point for the path to the Holy Grail, but I have yet to find conclusive proof,” it is misleading to report, “Jones (1937) reported Alexandretta is the city in which the Holy Grail journey starts.” It is not up to you to clean up someone else’s hedging. In fact, it’s best if you report the uncertainty. To put it in perspective, the difference between “I think the parachute is packed correctly” and “the parachute is packed correctly” is huge. Which parachute will you choose to strap on?

Hedge only if you must. Otherwise, be as decisive in your writing as your sources and circumstances allow.

Photo: Falombini/iStock/Thinkstock.

March 20, 2014

Rising Citation Trick

Daisiesby Stefanie

Let’s say you are writing a paper, and you have a great point to make that stems from a number of sources, all needing in-text citation. Let’s say one of those sources is head and shoulders above the rest, though, in inspiring your thought and supporting what you have said. You look at the source, and the lead author’s surname begins with Z. Your heart sinks. According to APA Style, citations are listed alphabetically. Is this terrific source doomed to remain at the tail end of a long list of citations, or is there some way you can bump this source to the front of the line?


Good news! Like a magician, you can direct your audience’s attention where you would like it go to. You just need a few extra words (not abracadabra, but close) and voila! The deed is done!

This, like all great magic tricks, is best illustrated by example. Blog magician


 
Sleight of hand is not for the faint of heart and can, in fact, be counterintuitive: When you think you are seeing something being manipulated in front of you, you may well not be at all (Zarrow, 2001; see also Copperfield, 2008; Jay, 2013; Penn & Teller, 2012; Stone, 2012; Thurston, 1930).


 
Here, I wanted to make sure Herb Zarrow, inventor of the Zarrow Shuffle, got his due, so I put his source as the first citation. The rest of the citations are included, but they appear after the words see also. Some other words and phrases that could be used, depending on the situation, are for more information; for a review, see; or a specific phrase that fits your particular situation (e.g., for other counterintuitive sleight-of-hand tricks, see). 
 
Another separating term is cf., but proceed carefully. When cf., the Latin abbreviation for compare, is used, the citations that follow may be assumed to contradict or otherwise differ from the point being made. Think of it as being short for “see, by way of comparison.”


 
Even physical magic is about appearances: Although we in the audience worry about the assistant in the box, we do not really think that she is going to end up sawed in half (Thurston, 1925; cf. Blaine, 1999, 2000, 2002; Houdini, 1901, 1912a, 1912b).
 


If you have another turn of phrase that you like to use in these situations, please share it in the comments!

Photo: SurkovDimitri/iStock/Thinkstock. 

March 13, 2014

Reference List or Bibliography: What’s the Difference?

Jeffby Jeff Hume-Pratuch

Did  you know that there’s no such thing as a bibliography in APA Style? It’s a fact! APA Style uses text citations and a reference list, rather than footnotes and a bibliography, to document sources.

A reference list and a bibliography look a lot alike: They’re both composed of entries arranged alphabetically by author, for example, and they include the same basic information. The difference lies not so much in how they look as in what they contain.

QuestionA bibliography usually contains all the works cited in a paper, but it may also include other works that the author consulted, even if they are not mentioned in the text. Some bibliographies contain only the sources that the author feels are most significant or useful to readers.

In APA Style, however, each reference cited in text must appear in the reference list, and each entry in the reference list must be cited in text. If you cite only three sources in your paper, your reference list will be very short—even if you had to read 50 sources to find those three gems! (Hopefully, that hard work will pay off on your next assignment.)

The APA Style Experts are often asked to provide the “official APA-approved format” for annotated bibliographies (i.e., bibliographies that contain the author’s comments on each source). As you may have guessed, there isn’t one; APA Style doesn’t use bibliographies of any sort. In addition, though, the reference list in APA Style contains only the information that is necessary to help the reader uniquely identify and access each source. That’s why there is no format for an annotated bibliography in the Publication Manual.

March 04, 2014

2014 National Grammar Day

  National Grammar Day 2014

 
Happy National Grammar Day from the APA Style team!
 
For more, see http://nationalgrammarday.com/ (or #GrammarDay on Twitter)!

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