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2 posts from November 2015

November 25, 2015

Giving Thanks in APA Style

David Becker



By David Becker

It’s Thanksgiving, that time of year when you can thank your friends, family, and all the other important people in your life by bringing them together for a massive, fun-filled feast. If you’re a researcher about to publish the results of a recent study, you may also want to give thanks to those who helped you conduct it or prepare your manuscript. Inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner would certainly be a great way to express gratitude, but you can also thank them in an author note.

Thank You

The author note, which is explained on pages 24–25 in the Publication Manual, generally appears in the footer of a published journal article. In a draft manuscript, it is part of the title page (see the order of manuscript pages on page 229 in the Publication Manual). Most student papers do not include one. You can find examples of the author note through our Best of the Blog post. Sample paper 1 demonstrates the author note's typical location in a draft manuscript, and the sample published paper shows what an author note looks like in a journal article.

The author note usually lists the authors’ departmental affiliations and contact information, states any disclaimers and potential conflicts of interest, and provides acknowledgments. These acknowledgments can be included in the third paragraph and used to identify grants or other financial support, explain any special authorship agreements, and thank those who provided personal assistance. Generally, you don't need to acknowledge peer reviewers, journal editors, or others who routinely review and accept manuscripts.

Personal assistance encompasses individuals whose work may not warrant authorship credit—that is, they didn’t do any actual writing or make significant scientific contributions (see pages 18–19 in the Publication Manual and Standard 8.12 of the APA Ethics Code for more details about defining and assigning authorship)—but their assistance was nonetheless valuable and deserving of some form of credit. Maybe you would like to thank some students who helped recruit research participants and collect data, or perhaps a couple friends and colleagues who took some time out of their busy schedules to proofread the first draft of your manuscript before you submitted it for publication. You can thank them in the acknowledgments section of your author note. It may not be tasty—or even edible—like a Thanksgiving dinner, but I’m sure your benevolent contributors will appreciate the recognition.

Happy Acknowledgmentsgiving!

November 16, 2015

The Use of Singular “They” in APA Style

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Dear Style Experts,


Can I use the singular “they” in APA Style? Is it okay to use “they” or “their” to refer to a single person, or should I say “he or she” or “his or hers” instead?

—A Reader

People-chain-1200

Dear Reader,

In APA Style, whether it’s appropriate to use singular they depends on the context.

The Context of Gender Diversity

APA supports the choice of communities to determine their own descriptors. Thus, when transgender and gender nonconforming people (including agender, genderqueer, and other communities) use the singular they as their pronoun, writers should likewise use the singular they when writing about them. Although the usage isn’t explicitly outlined in the Publication Manual, APA’s guidelines for bias-free language clearly state that writers should be sensitive to labels:

Respect people’s preferences; call people what they prefer to be called. Accept that preferences change with time and that individuals within groups often disagree about the designations they prefer. Make an effort to determine what is appropriate for your situation; you may need to ask your participants which designations they prefer, particularly when preferred designations are being debated within groups. (APA Publication Manual, 2010, p. 72; see also the supplemental material to PM § 3.12)

Thus, choose the appropriate pronoun for the people you are writing about. Note, however, that many transgender people use the pronoun that matches their gender identity or gender expression, which would be she for a transgender woman and he for a transgender man. Other possible terms are noted in the supplemental material.

When writing with the singular they, use the forms they, them, their, and themselves.

The Context of General Use

The singular they is also commonly used to refer to a person whose gender is irrelevant or unknown—for example, imagine the sentence "The participant indicated their preferences." However, most formal writing and style guides, including the APA Publication Manual, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the AP Stylebook, do not currently support this usage, deeming it too informal and/or ungrammatical.

Instead, APA recommends several alternatives to the general singular they, including the following:

  • Make the sentence plural: "Participants indicated their preferences."
  • Rewrite the sentence to replace the pronoun with an article (a, an, or the): "The participant indicated a preference."
  • Rewrite the sentence to drop the pronoun: "The participant indicated preferences."
  • Combine both singular pronouns (he or she, she or he, his or her, her or his, etc.): "The participant indicated his or her preferences." (However, avoid overusing this strategy, as it can become cumbersome upon many repetitions.)

These alternatives are also available for you to use when writing in the context of gender diversity if you would prefer them or if you are unsure of the appropriate pronoun to use.

Other alternatives to the singular they are not recommended:

  • Avoid combination constructions like s/he, (s)he, and he/she because they can look awkward and distracting to the reader.
  • Do not use either he or she alone to refer to a generic individual—"use of either pronoun unavoidably suggests that specific gender to the reader" (PM § 3.12).
  • Do not alternate between he and she (e.g., using he in one sentence and she in the next), as this can also become confusing and distracting to the reader.

The Future of Singular They

The use of singular they has received a lot of attention in recent years, and the tide seems to be turning in favor of using it more generally, not just in the context of gender diversity. After all, the usage addresses a real need for a gender-neutral, singular, third-person pronoun in the English language. Indeed, some magazines and newspapers have officially endorsed the broad use of singular they in their pages.

It’s possible that APA might directly endorse the singular they in the future, but that decision lies in the hands of the task forces and committees that craft and approve the Publication Manual, not just in the hands of the writers of this blog.

In the meantime, we hope that this post clarifies the current ways in which it is appropriate to use the singular they in APA Style. You may also be interested to read APA's Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People, which discusses these issues in more detail and provides a glossary of terms and definitions.

We welcome your thoughts and feedback on this matter and hope you will share them with us in the comments below.

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