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.
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