45 posts categorized "Grammar and usage"

March 21, 2013

Punctuation Junction: Periods and Parentheses

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Punctuation Junction: A series about what happens when punctuation marks collide.

On their own, periods and parentheses aren’t too hard to use: Put a period at the end of a sentence; put material that’s helpful but not crucial to the main text inside parentheses.

But to use these two punctuation marks effectively in combination takes a little more finesse. Here are a few scenarios:

1. When part of a sentence falls inside parentheses and part falls outside, the period goes outside.

  • Correct: Students completed several psychology courses (social, personality, and clinical).
  • Incorrect: Students completed several psychology courses (social, personality, and clinical.)

The period is a strong punctuation mark—think of it as controlling the action in the sentence, which occurs outside the parentheses.

Confused streets

2. When a whole sentence falls inside parentheses, the period goes inside.

  • Correct: (Several other courses were offered, but they were not as popular.)
  • Incorrect: (Several other courses were offered, but they were not as popular).

Again, the period is strong and governs the main part of the sentence. Because the whole sentence is inside parentheses, the period goes with it.

3. These two approaches are incompatible.

  • Incorrect: Students completed several psychology courses (social, personality, and clinical. Several other courses were offered, but they were not as popular.).

Parentheses cannot enclose part of one sentence plus an additional whole sentence. If you follow one punctuation principle, then you violate the other; if you follow both principles (as shown above), you wind up with three periods for only two sentences—also an unworkable result. If you follow neither principle, you leave the reader hanging because one sentence has no ending punctuation.

Instead, there are three ways to allow the two approaches to work in parallel. 

You can separate the statements into separate sets of parentheses:

  • Students completed several psychology courses (social, personality, and clinical). (Several other courses were offered, but they were not as popular.

Rewrite the parenthetical so that it consists of one sentence rather than two:

  • Students completed several psychology courses (social, personality, and clinical; several other courses were offered, but they were not as popular).

Or drop one set of parentheses:

  • Students completed several psychology courses (social, personality, and clinical). Several other courses were offered, but they were not as popular.

Keep an eye out for more Punctuation Junction posts coming soon!

February 01, 2013

Quotation Mark Uses Other Than Quotes

Daisiesby Stefanie

Most people know how to use quotation marks to identify material directly quoted from a source (“That’s terrific!” the editor cried; Hendrik Willem van Loon once said, “Somewhere in the world there is an epigram for every dilemma”; the first item on the questionnaire was, “How often do you engage in this type of behavior?”). In APA Style, when else is it OK to use quotation marks? I’m so glad you asked! Here are two key quotes from page 91 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, sixth edition, to explain. (Before you awesome APA Style diehards point this out, I’m exercising some artistic license and taking advantage of the differing standards of an informal blog post and setting the two quotes as block quotes, even though they consist of fewer than 40 words each.)

To introduce a word or phrase used as an ironic comment, as slang, or as an invented or coined expression. Use quotation marks the first time the word or phrase is used; thereafter, do not use quotation marks. (p. 91)

Let’s take these cases one by one. An ironic comment is one that means something other than (often the opposite of) what it says. In the example provided in the Publication Manual, “considered ‘normal’ behavior,” the quotes around normal should indicate that the behavior under discussion deviates from what might immediately come to mind when thinking of the norm (whatever that might be). For example, what qualifies as normal behavior for an 8-year-old that has been awake for 24 hours straight with a stomach virus will not be the normal behavior of an 8-year-old child who has had a decent night’s sleep and no illness (not that I would know from experience. Actually, yes, I would). “Normal” is not precisely normal in the case of the sick, sleepless child.

Slang is an informal word or phrase that may not appear in a standard dictionary but is used colloquially; slang terms appear in scholarly writing most often when writers quote participants (yet another reason to use quotation marks!). For example, if a participant described a confederate’s relationship as “lolalam” (a slang word based on an acronym for the phrase love only lasts as long as the money) or said she was “LOLing” (laughing out loud) over the questions asked in the interview, those slang terms are loaded with meaning; using the slang term the participant used preserves and conveys that meaning to the reader.

An invented or coined expression is a new word or phrase often specific to the work it is used in (although sometimes a term will catch on and start being used elsewhere, which is part of the beauty of our ever-evolving language). The example provided in the Publication Manual is the “good-outcome variable.” This term is not likely to be used or understood outside of the study it was coined for, but within the context of the study, it makes perfect sense.

Then there is our second quote from the Publication Manual:

To set off the title of an article or chapter in a periodical or book when the title is mentioned in text. (p. 91)

Quotation marks are used for full or abbreviated titles of articles, book chapters, or web pages without authors that are mentioned or cited in text (see p. 176 of the Publication Manual; note that this is how they are presented in the text, not the reference list). Examples:

In Han Solo’s (2003) article, “With a Wookiee Beside Me: How I Became the Best Rebel Pilot in Any Galaxy,” Solo recounts how he won the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian in a game of Sabacc during the Cloud City Sabacc Tournament. The newspaper account of the tournament (“Sabacc Shenanigans,” 2000) corroborates Solo’s version of events.

More quotation mark questions? Let us know at [email protected] or in the comments below!

 

July 26, 2012

Data Is, or Data Are?

Tyler

 

 

by Tyler Krupa

This week, we address another item on the list of APA Style points that writers find most challenging (on the basis of the article by Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels, 2010; also see their guest post to our blog): the misuse of the word data.

As noted in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual (p. 79), the plural form of some nouns of foreign origin—particularly those that end in the letter a—may appear to be singular and can cause authors to select a verb that does not agree in number with the noun. This is certainly the case with the word data. As shown in the Publication Manual (p. 96), the word datum is singular, and the word data is plural. Plural nouns take plural verbs, so data should be followed by a plural verb. To help clear up any confusion regarding the proper use of these terms, I list examples of datum and data being used correctly below:

Each datum matches the location of an object to a coordinate on the map.

Although we have compiled the results, these data are the focus of another report and are not described here.

Keep in mind that most of the time the plural form data should be used. Scientific results are built upon testing things multiple times across multiple people, and we draw conclusions from the aggregate, not the individual, data points. Therefore, when referring to the collective results, be sure to use the plural form:

The data regarding age show that older participants performed just as well as younger participants.

The data challenge the notion that more directive questions are necessary when interviewing children who have mild intellectual disabilities.

Another helpful hint to remember is that the term data set is two words, but database is one word:

We generated 20 complete data sets.

It remains unlikely that the current empirical database could support such analyses.

We hope these examples help to clear up any confusion regarding the proper use of data. However, if you still have questions, feel free to leave a comment.

July 12, 2012

All or None

Tyler

 

 

by Tyler Krupa

This week, we address a common grammar error for writers: verb agreement with the pronouns all or none. Note that these pronouns can be singular or plural. The general rule to follow is that when the noun that follows all or none is singular, you should use a singular verb; when the noun is plural, you should use a plural verb (for additional information on collective nouns, see the supplemental materials to the Publication Manual). Examples of both terms being used correctly are listed below:

All of the information was correct.

None of the evidence was admissible.

All of the rats were tested daily.

None of the participants were aware of the purpose of the experiment.

All of Smith et al.’s (2010) research supports our findings.

None of the material provided by the university was used.

All of the experiments were conducted in the laboratory.

None of the data were used in the final analysis.

We hope these examples help to clear up any confusion regarding verb agreement with these terms. However, if you still have questions, feel free to leave a comment. 

June 28, 2012

Who Versus That

Tyler

 

 

by Tyler Krupa

This week, we address another item on the list of APA Style points that writers find most challenging (on the basis of the article by Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels, 2010; also see their guest post to our blog): the use of who instead of that.

According to the sixth edition of the Publication Manual (p. 79), APA prefers for writers to use the term who as a pronoun when referring to human beings. The term that should be used for nonhuman animals and for things.

To help clear up any confusion regarding the proper use of these terms, let’s begin with looking at some examples of who being used correctly:

In the psychological therapies, using methods such as the simple ranking of outcomes may penalize a therapist who has not contributed sufficient data to make a reliable estimate of effectiveness.

The researchers who used a between-subjects design produced results virtually identical to our earlier experiments.

Note that in each example above, the term who is referring to human beings (i.e., a “therapist” and “researchers”). Therefore, per APA Style, inserting that in place of who would not be accurate. However, if you were instead referring to “therapy” or “research” (which are things), you would then use that:

The cognitive therapy that was used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder lasted 15–20 sessions.

The research that Smith and Jones (2011) reviewed was also used in our analyses.

Also, per APA Style, remember to use that when referring to nonhuman animals:

The rats that completed the task successfully were rewarded.

The cats that were used in pet therapy did not leave the site.

Consistent use of who and that will help make your writing clear and precise. If you still have questions regarding the proper use of these terms after reviewing the examples above, feel free to leave a comment.

March 01, 2012

How to Capitalize and Format Reference Titles in APA Style

Chelsea blog 2 by Chelsea Lee

APA Style has special formatting rules for the titles of the sources you use in your paper, such as the titles of books, articles, book chapters, reports, and webpages. The different formats that might be applied are capitalization (see Publication Manual, section 4.15), italics (see section 4.21), and quotation marks (see section 4.07), and they are used in different combinations for different kinds of sources in different contexts.

The formatting of the titles of sources you use in your paper depends on two factors: (a) the independence of the source (stands alone vs. part of a greater whole) and (b) the location of the title (in the text of the paper vs. in the reference list entry). The table below provides formatting directions and examples:

Independence of source

Text

Reference list

Treatment

Example

Treatment

Example

Stands alone

(e.g., book, e-book, report [technical, government, etc.], dissertation, thesis, film, video, television series, podcast, YouTube video, artwork, map, music album, unpublished manuscript)

Italic, title case

Gone With the Wind

Italic, sentence case

Gone with the wind

Part of a greater whole

(e.g., journal article, book chapter, e-book chapter, newspaper article, magazine article, blog post, television episode, webisode, webpage, tweet, Facebook update, encyclopedia entry, Wikipedia entry, dictionary entry, song)

Inside double quotation marks, title case

“Longitudinal Impact of Parental and Adolescent Personality on Parenting”

Not inside any quotation marks, sentence case

Longitudinal impact of parental and adolescent personality on parenting


More on Italics Versus Nonitalics

As you can see in the table above, the titles of works that stand alone (such as a book or a report) are italicized in both the text and the reference list. In contrast, the titles of works that are part of a greater whole (such as an article, which is part of a journal, or a book chapter, which is part of a book) are not italicized in either place, and only in the text are they put inside quotation marks. If you are having difficulty determining whether something stands alone (such as a webpage that may or may not be part of a greater website), choose not to italicize.

More on Capitalization: Title Case Versus Sentence Case

APA Style uses two kinds of capitalization to format reference titles, which are also mentioned in the table above: title case and sentence case. APA’s title case refers to a capitalization style in which most words are capitalized, and sentence case refers to a capitalization style in which most words are lowercased. In both cases, proper nouns and certain other types of words are always capitalized. Here are more detailed directions for implementing title case and sentence case.


Text Examples

As shown in the table above, title case is used for the titles of references when they appear in the text of an APA Style paper. Here are some examples of titles written in title case (of an article and a book, respectively), as they might appear in a sentence in the text of a paper:

The article “Psychological Distress, Acculturation, and Mental Health-Seeking Attitudes Among People of African Descent in the United States: A Preliminary Investigation” (Obasi & Leong, 2009) makes an important contribution to the mental health and acculturation literature. 
Students read stories of visual agnosia in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales (Sacks, 1985). 


Reference List Entry Examples

In contrast, sentence case is used for titles of references when they appear in reference list entries. See how the book and article titles look when capitalized in sentence case in these example reference list entries:

Obasi, E. M., & Leong, F. T. L. (2009). Psychological distress, acculturation, and mental health-seeking attitudes among people of African descent in the United States: A preliminary investigation. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56, 227–238. doi:10.1037/a0014865
Sacks, O. (1985). The man who mistook his wife for a hat and other clinical tales. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

We hope this helps you understand how to capitalize and format reference titles in APA Style. 

More Posts on Capitalization

February 23, 2012

How to Capitalize Author Names in APA Style

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Dear Style Experts,

I am citing an article by an author whose name begins with a lowercase letter. How should I write her name in my paper? Should I capitalize it if it comes at the beginning of a sentence? What about capitalizing it in the reference list entry? Thanks for your help!

— Olivia in Ottawa 

Dear Olivia,

As discussed in our post about the capitalization of specific words, author names are capitalized in APA Style because they are proper nouns. For most author names this poses no difficulty, because most names begin with capital letters anyway. However, some names begin with lowercase letters, such as lowercase prefixes like de, d’, van, or von.

Thus, a more specific guideline is that when writing author names, your first goal should be to write the name as the author him- or herself has presented it in scholarly work. (On a related note, if an author writes under a pseudonym, cite whatever name is used by the source.) Capitalize and spell the name just as you see it in the byline of the article you’re citing. If it starts with a lowercase letter, keep that presentation.

Here are two examples of how an author name beginning with a lowercase letter keeps that presentation when written within a sentence:

  • To examine the impact of parental and adolescent personality on parenting, de Haan, Deković, and Prinzie (2012) employed a longitudinal methodology.
  • Parental and adolescent personality have significant effects on parenting (de Haan, Deković, & Prinzie, 2012).


Keep the author’s original capitalization even in reference list entries:

de Haan, A. D., Deković, M., & Prinzie, P. (2012). Longitudinal impact of parental and adolescent personality on parenting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 189–199. doi:10.1037/a0025254


However, capitalize the name if it (a) begins a sentence or (b) is the first word after a colon when what follows the colon is an independent clause:

  • De Haan, Deković, and Prinzie (2012) studied the impact of parental and adolescent personality on parenting.
  • Recently, researchers have explored the impact of personality on parenting: De Haan, Deković, and Prinzie (2012) used longitudinal analyses to untangle the effects.

You can read more about this method of capitalization in the Publication Manual in section 4.14 (p. 101). We also have advice in another blog post if you are having trouble determining who the author is to begin with.

Finally, be aware that some publishers apply idiosyncratic formatting to author names in the byline, such as using all capital letters to write full names or surnames. This is a stylistic choice on the part of the publisher as a way to set the byline and not something that you need to reproduce in your APA Style paper. So if you see an author’s name capitalized as “Thomas J. SMITH” in the byline of an article, you should write the name as “Smith” when citing it in your paper. If the byline capitalization obscures the regular capitalization an author would use, look for the author name in the text or elsewhere to see how it is normally formatted.

With these guidelines, you should be able to capitalize author names in any context of an APA Style paper.

—Chelsea

More Posts on Capitalization

February 16, 2012

Do I Capitalize This Word?

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee


Dear Style Experts,

I am writing a paper in APA Style, and I have a question about the capitalization of a specific word. Can you tell me how to capitalize it? Also, I need to know what the proper APA Style spelling of the word is. Thanks for your help!

— Wally in Washington, DC


Dear Wally, 

Your first stop in answering questions about the capitalization or spelling of a specific word in an APA Style paper should be the dictionary. APA uses Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2005) as its standard reference for capitalization and spelling, along with the APA Dictionary of Psychology for psychology-related terms. Along with the guidance provided in the Publication Manual (see pp. 101–104 for capitalization rules), follow the capitalization and spelling you see in those dictionaries for words in your APA Style paper. If more than one option for capitalization and spelling is provided, use the first entry.

Now, you might wonder, why is it helpful to look up a word in a dictionary if you want to know how to capitalize it and not just how to spell it? Well, it’s helpful because the dictionary tells you whether a word is a proper noun (i.e., a specific person, place, or thing), and proper nouns are capitalized in English and therefore in APA Style (see Publication Manual sections 4.16 and 4.18). Their opposite, regular or “common” nouns (which refer to general persons, places, or things), are lowercase in English and thus in APA Style as well.

What to Capitalize

Here are some examples of different types of (capitalized) proper nouns, along with some (lowercased) regular or common noun corollaries:

Noun type

Proper noun example

Common noun example

Author or person

Freud, Skinner, von Neumann

the author, the investigator, the mathematician

Company,  institution, or agency

American Psychological Association, University of Washington, Department of Sociology

the association, a university, a sociology department

Product

Advil, Xerox, Prozac (brand names)

ibuprofen, photocopy, fluoxetine (generic names)

Test or inventory

Beck Depression Inventory, Child Behavior Checklist

a depression inventory, a behavior checklist

Website or database

PsycINFO, Facebook, Survey Monkey, Internet

a database, a social media page, a website, online

Periodical (journal, magazine, newspaper)

Journal of Counseling Psychology, Time, The Washington Post

a psychology journal, a magazine, a newspaper

Software, program, or app

SPSS, Mplus, Davis’s Drug Guide for iPhone

statistical software, a computer program, a mobile app drug guide

Legal materials (statutes, acts, codes, bills, regulations, constitutions, etc.; see also PM Appendix 7.1 and the Legal Bluebook) 

Americans With Disabilities Act, FDA Prescription Drug Advertising Rule, U.S. Constitution

antidiscrimination laws, drug advertising legislation, a constitution 


Along with the proper nouns listed in the table above, you should also always capitalize:

  • the first word of a sentence,
  • the first word after a colon when what follows the colon is an independent clause,
  • factor names in a factor analysis (see section 4.20),
  • most nouns when they are followed by numerals or letters (e.g., Table 1, Figure 2, Panel A; see section 4.17), and
  • words in an interaction when there is a multiplication sign between them (e.g., Age x Sex effect; see section 4.20).

What Not to Capitalize

This section provides some examples of what not to capitalize—especially the types of words that writers tend to capitalize by mistake. Note that proper nouns (such as personal names) within these terms usually retain their capitalization.

Noun type

Example

Model

five-factor personality model, associative learning model

Theory or philosophy

behaviorism, psychoanalytic theory, Freudian theory

Therapy or technique

client-centered therapy, cognitive behavior therapy

Concept

object permanence, confirmation bias, correlation

Disease/disorder

major depressive disorder, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder

Hypothesis

null hypothesis, experimental hypothesis

Condition or group in an experiment

control group, experimental group, no-information group

Variable (for factors in a factor analysis, see above)

the age variable, the effect of gender

Statistical procedure or test 

analysis of variance, t test, standard deviation

Academic subject/discipline

social psychology, nursing, English, Spanish,  business

Law (scientific; for legal, see above table)

law of symmetry, Newton’s three laws of motion


Again, the dictionary corroborates this style of capitalization, so if you have questions, start there.

Parting Thoughts

Capitalization is a big topic, and this post covers only some of the basics. For more on the capitalization of specific words in APA Style, including copious specifics, exceptions, and examples, see the Publication Manual (pp. 101–104). In future posts, we will cover capitalization in author names, source titles, the reference list, abbreviations, and more. If there is an area of capitalization that you would like to hear more about, please leave us a note in the comments section.

—Chelsea

More Posts on Capitalization

 

February 09, 2012

A Little Respect

Daisiesby Stefanie

It’s hard not to be sentimental, emotional, even sensitive around February 14, while surrounded as we are by hearts, flowers, chocolate, and conversation hearts. Although scholarly writing would seem to not have much in common with a holiday revolving around love, the lesson of sensitivity that comes with the day is worth exploring.

When meeting a new person of (romantic) interest, do you call him or her by whatever name you choose or by his or her actual name? I hope you would use the name or nickname your potential beloved prefers. In the same way, be conscious of the labels and tone you use when discussing individuals and groups of people in your work. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) has a large section (Reducing Bias in Language, pp. 70–77) as well as supplemental material (see also these documents on gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities) devoted to explaining how to discuss individuals with respect and accuracy. It is all important reading for specific recommendations; in the meantime, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind.

Be precise. For example, school-age females could mean different things to different people. Fifth-grade African American girls who score in the top 10% of their class in math is a much more specific and thus more helpful description.

Mention differences only when relevant. If marital status, sexual orientation, racial or ethnic identity, or disability don’t have an effect in your experiment, don’t mention those characteristics gratuitously in your article or report.

Call people what they want to be called. Some terms can be perceived as pejorative or patronizing (e.g., the elderly, handi-capable); do not use them.

Don’t reduce a person or group of people to a condition (e.g., the demented, the autistic). Instead, identify participants first as people (e.g., people with dementia, people with autism).

Also, consider whether the terms you are using have any unintended or colloquial meaning(s) that you do not want to bring to your article or paper. For example, see the beginning of my second paragraph. “Person of interest”? Anyone who has seen any police procedural show (or, indeed, Person of Interest) knows that person of interest is often used as a euphemism for someone suspected by the police of committing a crime. (The smooth operators among you can spin this into “the crime—of stealing my heart!” but the rest of us may be more likely to shy away from a real-life person of interest, and we certainly wouldn't want to be one.)

Finally, if you’re talking about colleagues or researchers who disagree with your outlook or argument, afford them the same respect and sensitivity in your paper that you would like them to extend to you in theirs. As the Publication Manual says, “differences should be presented in a professional, noncombative manner” (p. 66). For example, Dr. Jones may be right in reporting, “Satipo betrayed his lack of character by not throwing me the whip after I threw him the idol,” but the editors of Archeology Today would likely prefer a more neutral wording, such as “Satipo did not throw me the whip after I threw him the idol.”

In the end, keep in mind that both in writing and in life, a little sensitivity can go a long way!

 

 

January 19, 2012

That Versus Which

Tyler

 

 

by Tyler Krupa

This week, we address another item on the list of frequent APA Style points that writers find most challenging (on the basis of the article by Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels, 2010; also see their guest post to our blog): the use of that instead of which.

According to the 6th edition of the APA Publication Manual (p. 83), APA prefers for writers to use the term that for clauses that are essential to the meaning of the sentence. These types of clauses are referred to as restrictive clauses. The term which should be used for clauses that merely add further information to the sentence that is not essential to its meaning. These types of clauses are referred to as nonrestrictive clauses and should be set off with commas.

To help clear up any confusion regarding the proper use of these terms, let’s begin with looking at some examples of that being used correctly:

It is important to include additional predictors of alcohol or other substance use disorders that were present before treatment.

A poor economy can create and stimulate forces that operate at multiple levels of a society to influence those operating within it.

One way to predict who may benefit from posttraumatic stress disorder treatment is to investigate variables that impact naturalistic recovery.

Note that in each example above, the meaning of the sentence is not properly conveyed if the that clause is not included. These clauses are essential to understanding the sentences and therefore are restrictive.

Now for comparison, let’s look at some examples of which being used correctly:

In the Level 2 equations, the r terms represent random effects, which describe provider variation for the intercept and various client effects.

Binge eating disorder symptom counts, which are identified in Figure 2, were used at each time point.

One key difficult child characteristic is hyperactivity/impulsivity, which has been proposed to contribute to the development of oppositional defiant disorder by eliciting negative family functioning.

Note that in these examples, if you remove the which clause from the sentences, the meaning of each sentence is still conveyed. The which clauses are just providing additional information to the reader and therefore are nonrestrictive.

Consistent use of that for restrictive clauses and which for nonrestrictive clauses will help make your writing clear and precise. If you still have questions regarding the proper use of these terms after reviewing the examples above, feel free to leave a comment, which we will reply to as soon as possible.

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