51 posts categorized "Grammar and usage"

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…

Example

Notes

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

DB

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.).

May 19, 2011

Properly Using While

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 recent article by Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels, 2010; also see their recent guest post to our blog): the misuse of while.

According to the 6th edition of the APA Publication Manual (p. 84), the use of while should be limited to its temporal meaning (i.e., to link events occurring simultaneously). When that is not what is meant, the terms although, whereas, and, or but should be substituted in its place. To help clarify, examples of while being used correctly are listed below:

  • One woman abused by her father sobbed while describing why she had not pressed charges against him.
  • The participant stared at the computer monitor while he listened to the audiotapes.
  • The patient took deep breaths while the doctor listened with a stethoscope. 

For comparison, examples of when it would be more precise not to use while are listed below:

  • Although the results are encouraging, future research still needs to be performed.
  • Risk factors focus on pathology and hazards, whereas protective factors emphasize positivism and hope for change.

We hope these examples help to clear up any confusion regarding the proper use of this term. If not, feel free to leave a comment while this topic is on your mind!

May 12, 2011

Since Versus Because

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 recent article by Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels, 2010; also see their recent guest post to our blog): the use of since instead of because.

According to the 6th edition of the APA Publication Manual (p. 84), the use of since is more precise when it is used to refer only to time (to mean “after”). You should replace it with because when that is what is really meant. Examples of both terms being used correctly are listed below:

  • Since Smith’s (2000) research was conducted, many additional researchers have achieved similar results.
  • The participants were excluded from the experiment because they did not meet the inclusion criteria.
  • Because the data were not complete, the results were excluded from the study.
  • No additional testing has been performed since the last experiment.

We hope these examples help to clear up any confusion regarding the proper use of these terms. If not, feel free to leave a comment because we really would like to help!

 

 

 

April 07, 2011

Using Serial Commas

DBphoto

by David Becker

This week we address the serial comma, seventh in the list of the Top 10 most common APA Style errors as identified by Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, and Frels (2010).

Also known as the Oxford comma, the serial comma is the final comma in a list of three items or more, and it is used immediately before and, or, and occasionally nor. For example, if Simon & Garfunkel had recorded their classic album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme under APA Records, which doesn't actually exist, then that album would have been titled Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme with the serial comma included. This rule also applies to parenthetical citations, in which ampersands are used in place of the full word and. For instance, one would say (Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, & Starr, 1964) instead of (Lennon, McCartney, Harrison & Starr, 1964).

There are various aesthetic and technical arguments for why serial commas should or should not be used. Although they aren’t required in journalistic writing, a distinct advantage of using serial commas is clear, unambiguous language, which is a necessity in scientific writing.

As an example of how omitting a serial comma can create ambiguity, if I were to say, "I had lunch with my parents, Barack Obama and the Prime Minister of Australia," it might seem like Barack Obama and the Australian Prime Minister were my parents, which I can personally assure you is not true. On the other hand, if I were to say, "I had lunch with my parents, Barack Obama, and the Prime Minister of Australia," then each of those items is clearly distinct from one another, and Barack Obama and the Australian Prime Minister are no longer my parents, all thanks to the addition of a serial comma.

For more information about commas and their proper usage in APA Style, see pages 88 and 89 of the Publication Manual, Sixth Edition (4.03 Comma). Also, pages 63–65 go into greater detail about creating lists (3.04 Seriation). You may also find it helpful to read two previous APA Style blog entries about creating lists: one on parallelism and another on commas and semicolons.

March 31, 2011

How Do You Spell IQ? Abbreviations as Words in APA Style

Timothy McAdoo by Timothy McAdoo

In a recent guest post, Dr. Anthony Onwuegbuzie and colleagues (Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels, 2010) presented a list of common APA Style errors. “Failure to spell out abbreviations and acronyms as needed” is eighth on the list.

So, what does “as needed” mean? Shouldn’t all abbreviations and acronyms be defined?

Almost, but there are a handful of exceptions. These exceptions are words for which the abbreviated forms have become commonplace. These abbreviations are often better known than their spelled-out counterparts. IQ, for example, is better known than is intelligence quotient. Likewise, your readers are more likely to recognize REM sleep than rapid eye movement sleep.

If these seem arbitrary, don’t worry! You won’t have to phone a friend each time you consider using an abbreviation. Just follow these guidelines, as recommended by the Publication Manual (p. 107):

  • You may use “abbreviations that appear as word entries (i.e., that are not labeled abbr) in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2005).” For these few cases, you don’t need to define the abbreviations.
  • Conversely, entries that do include the abbr label are abbreviations that should be defined.
  • If an abbreviation does not appear in the dictionary, you should define it.

Finally, see pages 106108 of the Publication Manual for additional guidance on abbreviations, including how and when to introduce them, examples of under- and overuse, and more.

March 10, 2011

Spelling Success in APA Style

Timothy McAdoo by Timothy McAdoo

Readers send us APA Style questions every week—by e-mail, phone, Twitter, and Facebook. We love hearing from you, and we love the variety of your questions!

People sometimes contact us just to verify how a word is spelled or formatted. For example, “Is the word Internet capitalized?” Yes, Internet, a proper noun, is always capitalized, whereas website is not. Some people may believe that the word Internet has taken on a more general use, but until this change is reflected in dictionaries, most style guides will likely continue to advise writers to capitalize it.

As this example shows, questions of spelling are often about, or overlap with, guidelines for capitalization, hyphenation, and other stylistic areas. We can look at those in later posts, but today I’ll stick with the first—and easiest—answer: When in doubt about a word’s spelling, consult a dictionary!

For psychological terms, see the APA Dictionary of Psychology. In all other cases, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (p. 96) indicates that “spelling should conform to standard American English as exemplified in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2005).” If you don’t find a word there, check “the more comprehensive Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (2002).”

We have just one request about spelling (per p. 96 of the Manual): When the dictionary provides multiple options, use the first one. For example, use toward (not towards) and canceled (not cancelled).

Spelling Success in APA Style

Readers send us APA Style questions every week—by e-mail, phone, Twitter, and Facebook. We love hearing from you, and we love the variety of your questions!

People sometimes write us just to verify how a particular word is spelled or formatted. For example, “Is the word Internet capitalized?” Yes, Internet, a proper noun, is always capitalized, whereas website is not. Some people may believe that the word Internet has taken on a more general use, but until this change is reflected in dictionaries, most style guides will continue to advise writers to capitalize it.

As this example shows, questions of spelling are often about, or overlap with, guidelines for capitalization, hyphenation, and other stylistic areas. We can look at more stylistic areas in later posts, but today I’ll stick with the first—and easiest—answer: When in doubt about a word’s spelling, consult a dictionary!

For psychological terms, see the APA Dictionary of Psychology. In all other cases, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (p. 96) indicates that “spelling should conform to standard American English as exemplified in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2005).” If you don’t find a word there, check “the more comprehensive Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (2002).”

We have just one request about spelling (per p. 96 of the the Manual): When the dictionary provides multiple options, use the first one. For example, use toward (not towards) and canceled (not cancelled).

January 06, 2011

Have You Found Some APA Style Rules More Challenging to Learn Than Others?

  

Tony JohnSlate_PhotoJulieCombs_PhotoRebeccaFrels_Photo by Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie, John R. Slate, Julie P. Combs, and Rebecca K. Frels

 

When you pick up the APA Publication Manual, do you ask yourself “Where do I begin?” If so, you are not alone. For the past several years, we have conducted research to identify the most common challenges to writers. We were pleased to be asked to describe our work in this guest blog post. We are coeditors and first-round copyeditors of Research in the Schools (John & Tony), outgoing editor and associate editor of Educational Researcher (Tony & Julie, respectively), guest editors of the International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches (Tony & Rebecca), and editorial assistant/production editor of Research in the Schools (Rebecca). We have also served as reviewers and editorial board members of numerous journals. Those roles have given us ample opportunities to observe the difficulties that many authors experience in conforming to APA Style guidelines.

To help you and others learn APA Style in an efficient way, we collected evidence about the most common APA Style errors. Our detective work over the past 6 years with a nationally and internationally peer-reviewed journal, Research in the Schools, led us to uncover the 60 most common APA Style errors. We published our findings in the editorial "Evidence-Based Guidelines for Avoiding the Most Common APA Errors in Journal Article Submissions."

Which APA Style Rules Are the Most Challenging to Learn?

Many of you are probably wondering what error reached Number 1 in our Top 60 list. Great question! Well, the most common APA Style error is the incorrect use of numbers. Even though we examined manuscripts written by authors who used the fifth edition of the APA Publication Manual (because the sixth edition of the APA manual is so new), all of the APA Style rules violated still apply in the sixth edition.

Falling into this category are (a) numbers expressed in numerals (APA, 2010, section 4.31), (b) numbers expressed in words (section 4.32), and (c) combining numerals and words to express numbers (section 4.33; see pp. 111–112).

The Top 10

Maybe you’ve mastered the use of numbers but are wondering about other common errors. The Top 10 errors we discovered are

1.   Incorrect use of numbers
2.   Incorrect use of hyphenation
3.   Incorrect use of et al.
4.   Incorrect capitalization and punctuation in headings
5.   Use of since instead of because
6.   Improperly prepared tables and figures
7.   Failure to use the serial comma
8.   Failure to spell out abbreviations and acronyms as needed
9.   Inconsistent use of double-spacing between lines
10. Incorrect use of and versus the ampersand

For other common errors, we urge you to consult the detailed list in our article. Our hope is that by identifying the most challenging APA Style rules, we will help you identify the style rules that may require extra attention for mastery.

Which APA Style rules are most problematic for you and your students? Does this list support your experience?

July 29, 2010

Oops, I Did It Again!

Timothy McAdoo by Timothy McAdoo

Page 67 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) notes that “writers often use redundant language in an effort to be emphatic.” Instead, the redundant wording can be distracting.


The Manual provides a few examples of commonly used redundancies: “were both alike,” “were exactly the same,” “absolutely essential,” and others.

On Twitter, the APA Style team has had fun coming up with additional examples. Can you think of more?  Post them in the comments below and/or on Twitter with a hashtag of #DoRD (for Department of Redundancy Department)!

May 27, 2010

“My Professor Says...”

.rev3 by Jeff Hume-Pratuch  

Dear APA,

My professor says that you can only use a comma in APA Style if there is a rule for it in the book. I told her there are lots of places where you need commas that the book doesn't cover, like after introductory phrases (e.g., “For instance”). She agreed with me but said there was nothing she could do, it's an APA rule. Is this correct?

--Anguished in Austin

Dear Anguished,

Your professor is misinformed. The APA Publication Manual is not intended to be exhaustive in its coverage of grammar and style. Consequently, there are some things outside its purview. If it’s not in the manual, it’s not an APA rule.

Unfortunately, Anguished, we receive letters like yours every day.

“My professor told me my outline had to be in APA Style, but I can’t find any examples of outlines in the manual!”

“My professor said it was against APA Style to use the first person.”

“My professor told me to do a PowerPoint presentation in APA Style. I’ve read the whole book and I can’t find a format for slideshows.”

If your professor’s instructions and the manual seem out of joint, don’t panic! There are several things you can do to ameliorate the situation.

1. Ask your professor to clarify the assignment. Perhaps “do the PowerPoint in APA Style” really means “put the references in your slideshow in APA Style.” And sometimes “APA Style” is just shorthand for “use the author–date system for references, instead of footnotes.”

2. If the professor’s instructions seem to contradict APA Style, ask whether this is intentional. For example, APA Style does not include the use of an outline at the start of a paper, but your professor may have a valid reason for requiring one.

3. Ask the professor if there is a list of specific exceptions to APA Style. The Publication Manual (6th ed.) contains many useful tips for clear and concise writing, but it was written predominantly for scholars seeking publication rather than for students seeking term paper formats. Your department or institution may have its own set of style rules that supersede the Publication Manual in whole or part.

Most problems can be resolved with a modicum of good will on both sides. But if you find yourself really stumped on a point of APA Style, contact APA’s Style Experts (styleexpert@apastyle.org).

Hope this helps!

--Jeff



 

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