49 posts categorized "Grammar and usage"

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.


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


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



five-factor personality model, associative learning model

Theory or philosophy

behaviorism, psychoanalytic theory, Freudian theory

Therapy or technique

client-centered therapy, cognitive behavior therapy


object permanence, confirmation bias, correlation


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


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.


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




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.

January 13, 2012

APA Style Interactive Learning

AnneGasqueAnne Gasque

Have you ever had the urge to read the Publication Manual from beginning to end? We thought not. 

It takes a special kind of stamina and devotion to approach a manual of writing guidance and style rules with the excitement a person might bring to, say, John Grisham’s latest legal thriller. To help you find your way in the manual, we’ve created an interactive online course. This course, available for continuing education credit, provides a comprehensive tour of the guidance in the Publication Manual

Basics of APA Style: An Online Course follows the organization of the manual and offers an in-depth overview of the types of articles used in psychological and social research, manuscript elements, heading style, reducing bias in language, punctuation, capitalization, italics, numbers, tables, figures, citing references in text, creating a reference list, and reference templates and examples. Many of the sections in the course include relevant examples to provide context, and each section ends with two or three review questions to help you learn as you go along. The course ends with 20 assessment questions and offers 4 CE credits upon successful completion. We hope you find the course a helpful tool for learning APA Style!

If you would like a broader less detailed overview of APA Style, we offer a free tutorial, The Basics of APA Style, which shows you how to structure and format your work, recommends ways to reduce bias in language, identifies how to avoid charges of plagiarism, shows how to cite references in text, and provides selected reference examples.

December 01, 2011

The Long and the Short of It

Daisiesby Stefanie

The goal of writing, especially scholarly writing, is to convey information. Accomplishing that task certainly involves choosing the right words, but have you also considered the length of the sentences and paragraphs in which those words appear? Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, and Frels (2010) include too-short and too-long paragraphs on their list of common APA Style mistakes. Labeling these style choices mistakes may seem harsh, but if you lose readers because of the style of your presentation, the term is apt.

The troubles that come with lengthy sentences and paragraphs are more obvious than those that accompany short ones. I suspect anyone who reads has, at some point, drifted off in the middle of a long, run-on sentence. And woe be to the person who has his or her reading interrupted in the middle of a page-long paragraph! Good luck finding your place and the train of thought after that. (Whatever you do, please don’t try to write the longest sentence in English; the current record holders are legendary.)

Short sentences (insert obligatory Hemingway reference here) and paragraphs can be easily read and digested, but a bunch of either can be choppy, abrupt, even boring. Imagine a Results section that followed this pattern throughout:

    The mean was 8.8.

    The standard deviation was 9.9.

    The results were nonsignificant.

This would get old fast. (Incidentally, you may want to consider a table rather than short or long sentences for numerical results.)

A blend of long and short sentences in a paragraph is ideal. Paragraph length is a little trickier. Single-sentence paragraphs are discouraged. As for long paragraphs, as noted on page 68 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, sixth edition, “if a paragraph runs longer than one double-spaced manuscript page, you may lose your readers. Look for a logical place to break a long paragraph, or reorganize the material.”

Have further questions about sentence and paragraph length? Please comment below or write to styleexpert@apa.org.


November 17, 2011

The Grammar of Mathematics: Percentage or %?

Timothy.mcadooby Timothy McAdoo

As Chelsea so succinctly noted in her recent post about how statistical terms are introduced and used in APA Style manuscripts, “in the social sciences, the worlds of grammar and mathematics intersect.” Thus, when you first start to write about statistical results, you may encounter style questions that you’ve not considered before. In today’s post, I answer one such question:

Question: How do you decide whether to use the percentage symbol (%) or the word percentage?

Answer: Use the symbol only when it is preceded by a numeral; otherwise, spell out the word percentage.

For example,

What percentage of wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? In Experiment 1, we used a computer simulation to address this timeless question. The woodchucks (who would chuck) chucked 86.4% of the wood available during the test. This was a larger percentage than we hypothesized. Two woodchucks (33.3% of the virtual subjects) would not chuck wood (see Table 1).

You’ll find these guidelines on page 118 of the Publication Manual. On the same page, the Manual also notes just one exception: "In table headings and figure legends, use the symbol % to conserve space."

Table 1

August 25, 2011

The Grammar of Mathematics: Writing About Variables

Chelsea blog 2 by Chelsea Lee

In the social sciences, the worlds of grammar and mathematics intersect, as authors must not only run statistical tests but also write about their results in a clear, consistent way. To help achieve that end, this post focuses on some of the grammar of mathematics: how to introduce and use statistical terms in text when you are reporting your results. 

The sixth edition Publication Manual provides a listing of many mathematical variables and terms that commonly appear in APA Style papers (see Table 4.5 on pp. 119–123). The table below excerpts some of the most common statistics, showing their written-out and abbreviated forms in both the singular and the plural. Following that, we discuss the ins and outs of using them in an APA Style paper. 


Written-out form






Cohen’s d

Cohen’s ds



degree of freedom

degrees of freedom



F statistic or F value

F statistics or F values







sample size (subsample)

sample sizes (subsample)



sample size (full sample)

sample sizes (full sample)



p value

p values



r value

r values



R2 value

R2 values



standard deviation

standard deviations



standard error

standard errors



t value

t values



z score

z scores



Cronbach’s alpha

Cronbach’s alphas

Cronbach’s α

Cronbach’s αs













Singular Versus Plural

  • The syntax of your sentence will dictate whether you need to use the singular or plural form of the variable.
  • All plural abbreviated forms are made by adding a nonitalic lowercase “s.” Do not use an apostrophe plus an “s,” an italic “s,” or a capital “S.”
    • Correct: ps < .05; Ms = 3.70 and 4.22; degrees of freedom.
    • Incorrect: ps < .05, p’s < .05; Ms= 3.70 and 4.22; Means = 3.70 and 4.22; degree’s of freedom.

Written-Out Form Versus Abbreviated Form

  • Use the written-out form of the variable in prose; use the symbol in conjunction with all mathematical operators (such as the equals sign or the greater than/less than signs).
  • As usual, use singular or plural as needed by the context.

Italic Versus Nonitalic

  • Variables are italicized.
  • Superscript numbers are not italicized (e.g., R2).
  • Identifiers (which can be superscript or subscript words, letters, or numbers) are not italicized. For example, if Mgirls = 4.22 and Mboys = 3.78, the symbol for mean is italicized, but the nonvariable identifiers (here identifying the two groups, “girls” and “boys”) are not italicized.  

An Example

The means and standard deviations are reported in Table 1. We calculated Cronbach’s alpha as the reliability statistic and then ran a chi-square test. The read-aloud group (M = 4.55, SD = 0.65) and the read-silently group (M = 2.72, SD = 0.53) differed significantly on the test of reading comprehension, χ2(1, 50) = 4.25, p < .05. Boys and girls did not differ significantly (Mgirls = 4.22 and Mboys = 3.78). The sample size for each testing group was 25, but several participants in each group (ns= 5 and 6, respectively) had missing data on the final question, and these were replaced with the participant’s mean score. This did not affect reliability (Cronbach’s α = .83). 

August 11, 2011

Punctuating Around Quotation Marks

Chelsea blog 2

Dear APA,

I’m quoting from a couple of different sources in my APA Style paper, and I can’t figure out what to do with all the quotation marks and periods and commas. Do I put the period inside or outside the quotation marks? What about question marks and quotation marks? I’ve been told so many different things over the years that the answers have just blurred together. Please help!

—Quizzical in Queens

Dear Quizzical,

We’re not surprised that you have been told different ways to punctuate over the years, because there do indeed exist different practices in the world. On the upside, if you are writing an APA Style paper, we have some nice, straightforward solutions for you.

To begin, let’s take a brief look at the two punctuation systems you’ve probably encountered, which are called American style (or North American Style) and British style.

Here is a quick chart of the differences:

Style issue American Style British Style
To enclose a quotation, use… Double quotation marks Single quotation marks
To enclose a quotation within a quotation, use… Single quotation marks Double quotation marks
Place periods and commas… Inside quotation marks Outside quotation marks
Place other punctuation (colons, semi-colons, question marks, etc.)… Outside quotation marks* Outside quotation marks*

*Place other punctuation inside quotation marks when that punctuation is part of what is being quoted, such as a quoted question.


As you might guess from our name, APA Style uses American style punctuation (see p. 92 of the 6th ed. Publication Manual), as do several other major style guides (such as AP, Chicago, and MLA). The table below elaborates, with examples for each punctuation mark.

Punctuation mark

In relation to closing quotation mark, place it…



Period Inside Participants who kept dream diaries described themselves as “introspective” and “thoughtful.”  
Comma Inside Many dream images were characterized as “raw,” “powerful,” and “evocative.”  
Parentheses Outside Barris (2010) argued that “dreams express and work with the logic of gaining a sense of and a relation to ourselves, our lives, or our sense of reality as a whole” (p. 4). See more examples of how to cite direct quotations here.
Semi-colon Outside At the beginning of the study, participants described their dream recall rate as “low to moderate”; at the end, they described it as “moderate to high.”  
Colon Outside Participants stated they were “excited to begin”: We controlled for participants' expectations in our study.  
Question mark or exclamation point (part of quoted material) Inside The Dream Questionnaire items included “How often do you remember your dreams?” and “What do you most often dream about?” We found intriguing results. When a quotation ending in a question mark or exclamation point ends a sentence, no extra period is needed.
Question mark or exclamation point (not part of quoted material) Outside How will this study impact participants who stated at the outset, “I never remember my dreams”? We hypothesized their dream recall would increase.  
Quotation within a quotation + period or comma Inside Some participants were skeptical about the process: “I don’t put any stock in these ‘dream diaries.’” When multiple quotation marks are used for quotations within quotations, keep the quotation marks together (put periods and commas inside both; put semi-colons, colons, etc., outside both).


As a final note, we’d like to say that we realize APA Style is used in many places across the world that may not usually follow American style punctuation rules and that not all fields or publishers in the United States and Canada use American style punctuation. Does this mean that you should change to American style punctuation when you’re writing an APA Style paper? If you’re writing for publication with APA or you’ve been told to “follow the APA Publication Manual,” then the answer is yes. However, if you typically use British style punctuation (or some other style) and you have doubts about what to do, check with your publisher or professor to find out their preference.

We hope that this clears up how to punctuate around those quotation marks in your APA Style paper.

Quotably yours, 

Chelsea Lee

June 30, 2011

Capitalization After Colons


by David Becker

One basic rule of APA Style is to capitalize the first word after the colon in a title. For example, in the movie title Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the is capitalized because it is placed directly after the colon. The same would be true for titles in a reference list where only the first word, proper nouns, and the first word after a colon or an em dash should be capitalized. Here’s an example:

Braucher, D. (1998). Darth Vader vs. Superman: Aggression and intimacy in two preadolescent boys' groups. Journal of Child & Adolescent Group Therapy, 8(3), 115–134. doi:10.1023/A:1022936202071

The first word directly after a colon that begins an independent clause should also be capitalized. For example, one would write, “There is a valuable lesson to be learned in The Princess Bride: One should never get involved in a land war in Asia.” However, if the sentence were reworked to say, “The Princess Bride teaches us the most famous of the classic blunders: getting involved in a land war in Asia,” then getting is not capitalized because the clause directly after the colon cannot stand on its own as an independent clause.

Occasionally, a numbered or bulleted list follows a colon. The same basic rules described above apply to these situations. To learn more, read our previous blog posts about numbered lists and bulleted lists. You can also read more about proper capitalization after colons in section 4.05 on page 90 and sections 4.14 and 4.15 on page 101 of the Publication Manual (6th ed.).

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