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3 posts from April 2015

April 21, 2015

Should Links Be Live in APA Style?

Dear Style Experts,

My reference list includes many URLs and I am wondering whether they should be live and how they should be formatted (e.g., with underlining or blue font). In the Publication Manual it looks like links aren’t live, but it would be helpful for them to be in my paper because I am submitting it online. What do I do?


—Harry H.


Dear Harry,

The Publication Manual does not explicitly address whether hyperlinks should be live in APA Style (as previously discussed here), but we have some additional thoughts on the matter (naturally).

First, it is fine for links to be live in a paper, though not specifically required. Live hyperlinks are particularly helpful when a paper is being read in an online environment. In fact, the online versions of articles published in APA journals include live links in both the PDF and HTML versions.

However, aesthetics are also a concern. The default formatting for links in many word-processing programs, including Microsoft Word, is to make them blue and underlined. Although this makes the links stand out, it can also make them look distracting or hard to read, especially if the paper has been printed out. Thus, we remove the underlining from the link and set the font color to black. You can easily adjust the formatting after you have finished writing the paper or you can change the Word style for hyperlinks.

Finally, note that our recommendations apply for people writing papers, which conceivably might be viewed either online or in print. If you are using APA Style in another context, such as on a website, you might apply different formatting standards (e.g., color) to best suit the viewing needs of your audience. Thus, keep context and audience in mind when formatting your links in a paper.

Hope that helps!

—Chelsea Lee

April 14, 2015

Using Italics for Technical (or Key) Terms

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

(Note: Key terms are not the same as keywords, which appear under an abstract. For more about keywords, see my previous post.)

In creative writing, italics are commonly used to emphasize a particular word, simulating the emphasis you would give a word if you read the sentence aloud. You see that all the time, right? But the APA Publication Manual recommends using careful syntax, rather than italics, for emphasis.

However, the Manual (on p. 105) does recommend using italics for the “introduction of a new, technical, or key term or label," adding "(after a term has been used once, do not italicize it).” I give examples of each below.

New or Technical Terms

To determine whether you have a new or technical term, consider your audience. A term might be new or technical for one audience and not for another. As an illustration, let’s look at two different uses of the phrase conditioned taste aversion.

This phrase might be considered commonplace in behavioral neuroscience or biological psychology research and thus likely not italicized at the first use in journal articles within that field.

Example sentence: “Of course, conditioned taste aversion may be a factor when studying children with these benign illnesses.”

But, let’s say you are instead writing for a journal about childhood development. Because this audience has a different expertise, you may think they are less familiar with the concept of conditioned taste aversion. In that context, you might consider the phrase technical and italicize the first case in your paper.

Example sentence: “Of course even much later in life these children may avoid avocados simply because of conditioned taste aversion, associating them, consciously or unconsciously, with feelings of illness.”

Key termsKey Terms

(Note: Key terms are not the same as keywords, which appear under an abstract. For more about keywords, see my previous post.)

A key term italicized in an APA Style paper signals to readers that they should pay close attention. This might be because you are defining a word or phrase in a unique manner or simply because the term is key to the understanding of your paper. For example, I might italicize a term that will be used throughout the remainder of a paper about conditioning:

Example sentence: “Conditioned taste aversion is a concept not to be overlooked.”

That statement would very likely be followed by a definition and examples of the concept, but subsequent uses of the term would not be italicized.

APA does not maintain a list of technical or key terms—this is intentional. Only you, the author, can know, or reasonably surmise, whether a term is technical to your audience or key to your paper. Let’s look at one more example:

Let’s say you’re writing a paper about the psychological benefits of owning a cat. You might naturally use the term feline many times. Nonetheless, you probably won’t italicize its first use because, for most audiences, it’s a familiar word. Still, as a careful author, if you’ve used the word many times, it’s worth considering why. Let’s say you’ve discussed in great detail how you believe feline traits differ from similar traits of other household pets. In that case, you might consider the understanding of the word feline key to your paper, and you could italicize the first use and perhaps include a definition.

As you can tell, deciding whether you have key, new, or technical terms is subjective. Your paper may have none. Or, if you need to delineate multiple important concepts within a paper, you may have several.


I’ve saved the easiest category for last! Use italics for labels. The Manual gives this example: “box labeled empty.”

For these, you should italicize each time the word is used as a label.

Example sentence: "The box labeled empty was full. Boxes labeled empty should remain empty."


Use italics for the first case of a new or technical term, a key term, or a label. Don’t italicize the subsequent appearances of new or technical terms or key terms.

April 02, 2015

Keywords in APA Style

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

What are keywords?

If you’ve searched PsycINFO, Google Scholar, or other databases, you’ve probably run across keywords. In APA Style articles, they appear just under the abstract. They are usually supplied by an article’s author(s), and they help databases create accurate search results.

Key lightbulbsHow do I pick my keywords?

Keywords are words or phrases that you feel capture the most important aspects of your paper. To create yours, just think about the topics in your paper: What words would you enter into a search box to find your paper? Use those!

We call these natural-language words, because they reflect the way people really talk about, and search for, a topic. In fact, in some databases, to provide comprehensive results, the “keywords” search option actually searches the article titles and abstracts along with these designated keywords.

In short, when later researchers are searching PsycINFO or other research databases, the keywords help them find your work.

For example, if you’ve written a paper about the benefits of social media for people with anxiety, your keywords line might be as follows:

Keywords: anxiety, social media, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat

Note how I’ve included the social media platform names. Keywords don’t have to be formal; they just have to be useful! These keywords will help the later researcher who searches for one of those terms or a combinations of them (e.g., “anxiety and social media,” “anxiety, Facebook, and Twitter”).

Also, because these are natural-language words, keywords can include acronyms. Keywords for a paper on using the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test with patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder might look like this:

Keywords: Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, WCST, OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder

The Publication Manual does not place a limit on how many keywords you may use. However, to be most effective, keywords should be a concise summary of your paper’s content. We recommend three to five keywords.

Where do they go?

The keywords line should begin indented like a paragraph. (In typeset APA journal articles, the keywords line is aligned under the abstract.)  Keywords: should be italicized, followed by a space. The words themselves should not be italicized. You can see an example under the abstract in this APA Style sample paper.

Note (02/01/2016): An earlier version of this post indicated that the keywords line should be centered. This was corrected in the paragraph above.

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