May 22, 2014

“Me, Me, Me”: How to Talk About Yourself in an APA Style Paper

Chelsea blog 2
by Chelsea Lee

Any sleep-deprived student knows those papers don’t write themselves. A living, breathing, person must produce the words on the page, and in certain contexts, you have to acknowledge that fact in the text itself. Let’s go through several cases of how to write about yourself in an APA Style paper.

General Use of I or We

It is totally acceptable to write in the first person in an APA Style paper. If you did something, say, “I did it”—there’s no reason to hide your own agency by saying “the author [meaning you] did X” or to convolute things by using the passive “X was done [meaning done by you].”  If you’re writing a paper alone, use I as your pronoun. If you have coauthors, use we.

However, avoid using we to refer to broader sets of people—researchers, students, psychologists, Americans, people in general, or even all of humanity—without specifying who you mean (a practice called using the editorial “we”). This can introduce ambiguity into your writing.

For example, if you are writing about the history of attachment theory, write “Researchers have studied attachment since the 1970s” rather than “We have studied attachment since the 1970s.” The latter may allow the reader to erroneously believe that you have personally studied attachment for the last 40 years (which may be difficult for those dear readers under 40).

If you want to refer to yourself as well as a broader group, specify to whom we refers. Write “As young adults in college, we are tasked with learning to live independent lives” not “We are tasked with learning to live independent lives.” By stating that we refers here to young adults in college, readers understand the context (which could otherwise be any number of groups tasked with the same, such as individuals with developmental disabilities or infants).

Colorful people

Use of I or We in Personal Response or Reaction Papers

A common assignment in psychology classes is the personal response or reaction paper. The specifications of these assignments vary, but what they all have in common is that you are supposed to critique and/or give your personal thoughts about something you have read. This necessitates using the first person. In the professional psychology world, a similar type of paper exists, and it is called a Comment or a Reply.

The excerpt below illustrates how the first person should be used to express personal opinions. Here, South and DeYoung (2013), the authors, respond to papers by Hopwood (2013) and Skodol and Krueger (2013).

Research seems to be converging on a trait-dimensional system that can capture the majority of personality pathology, and this phenotypic work is supported by extant behavior genetic findings. We must ask, though, whether the ability to capture all multivariate personality pathology space with one structural model is sufficient for capturing disordered personality. Hopwood (2013) rightly pointed out that there is something unique about a personality disorder (PD) above and beyond traits, but in the DSM–5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2011) proposal the only difference between describing someone with a constellation of pathological traits and a PD “type” is the Criterion A requirement of impairment in self and interpersonal functioning. Skodol and Krueger (2013), partly in jest, suggested that PDs could conceivably be diagnosed on Axis I. We get the joke but worry that in an attempt to ameliorate the problems with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text rev.; DSM–IV–TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000) PDs a new system risks losing the forest (PD) for the trees (traits).

Notice how the authors state their opinions and reactions: They use plain, straightforward language. If you are tasked with writing a personal response paper, you can do the same. The authors have also used the pronoun we because there are two of them; if a single author had written this passage, she or he would have used the pronoun I.

Conclusion

It’s less hard than you might think to write about yourself in APA Style. Own your opinions by using the appropriate pronouns. If you have further questions about this topic, please leave a comment.

Reference:

South, S. C., & DeYoung, N. J. (2013). The remaining road to classifying personality pathology in the DSM–5: What behavior genetics can add. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 4, 291–292. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/per0000005

May 15, 2014

Comparing MLA and APA: The Reference List

David Becker



By David Becker

Today, we continue with our series of posts highlighting some differences between APA and MLA reference styles. Last week, I outlined how the two styles handle in-text citations. Today’s post focuses on the reference list (or the “Works Cited” list as it is called in MLA Style). Below are examples of how each style would handle two common sources—a print book and a journal article from a research database. I have color coded the text to help you better visualize the differences in the basic elements of a generic reference. The who is in red, the when is in blue, the what is in yellow, and the where is in purple, all of which can be mixed and matched to form the Frankenreference.

Let’s begin with a print book, one of the simplest sources to cite:

MLA

Gordin, Michael D. The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe. Chicago: U Chicago P, 2012. Print.

APA

Gordin, M. D. (2012). The pseudoscience wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the birth of the modern fringe. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

The two styles vary in a number of ways, including punctuation, capitalization, and placement of the date. Also, unlike APA Style, MLA Style includes the format of the source—either “Print” or “Web”—as an extra piece of “where” information, and it often requires writers to abbreviate publisher names.

Now let’s take a look at something a bit more complicated, a journal article from a research database:

MLA

Shafron, Gavin Ryan, and Mitchell P. Karno. “Heavy Metal Music and Emotional Dysphoria Among Listeners.” Psychology of Popular Media Culture 2.2 (2013): 74-85. PsycNET. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.

APA

Shafron, G. R., & Karno, M. P. (2013). Heavy metal music and emotional dysphoria among listeners. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 2, 74–85. doi:10.1037/a0031722

The most substantive difference is that MLA Style requires the name of the database from which you retrieved the article and the date of retrieval as well; it does not use the DOI. In contrast, APA Style requires a DOI (when there is one), but doesn’t require the date of access (see p. 198 of the Publication Manual for more detail). In most cases, the name of the database is not used in an APA Style reference, although a few exceptions are outlined in Chapter 7.

Understanding Style

I hope this comparison of MLA and APA styles is helpful to those of you who find yourself transitioning from one to the other. If you are a student switching from MLA to APA, your most important resources will be the Publication Manual and this blog. I also recommend that you try our free tutorial on the basics of APA Style and visit our FAQ page, in addition to our pages on quick answers for citing sources and formatting your research paper. If you have any questions after checking those resources, you can contact APA Style directly or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

May 09, 2014

Comparing MLA and APA: Citing Resources

DB2



By David Becker

Last week, we touched on the general differences between MLA and APA styles. Today, I talk about what is probably the biggest difference between the two styles: how to cite resources. These divergent rules can make transitioning from one style to the other a frustrating process, particularly for students. A few style errors can mean the difference between an A and a B on a paper. As an English major who only used MLA Style in school, learned APA Style for my job, and then relearned MLA Style for a few online courses, I can personally attest to the difficulty of mentally juggling two sets of style rules.

Style Frustration

Despite their differences, the APA and MLA citation systems have the same overall function in a research paper—sources are acknowledged via in-text citations, each of which corresponds to an entry in an alphabetical list of works at the end of the paper, referred to as “Works Cited” in MLA Style and “References” in APA Style. However, the MLA Handbook also mentions some variations, such as a “Works Consulted” list, which contains sources not cited within the body of the paper, and an annotated bibliography, which includes a brief description or evaluation of each source. APA Style does not use these alternate methods (see our posts about reference lists vs. bibliographies and some topics the Publication Manual doesn’t cover).

The differences between the two styles become even more apparent when one is creating text citations. MLA Style includes the author’s last name and the page number, whether citing a direct quotation or not. However, APA Style text citations also include the publication date, because the timeliness of research is important in science writing, and the page number is required only for direct quotations. Below are some hypothetical examples of parenthetical citations in both styles:

MLA

(Adams 42)
(Lennon and McCartney 999)
(Hexum, Martinez, and Sexton 123)

APA

(Adams, 1979) or (Adams, 1979, p. 42)
(Lennon & McCartney, 1968) or (Lennon & McCartney, 1968, p. 999)
(Hexum, Martinez, & Sexton, 1994) or (Hexum, Martinez, & Sexton, 1994, p. 123)

These citations lead readers to the reference list, which is where the differences between the two styles are most apparent, a topic I cover in my next post. In the meantime, I hope this overview has been helpful to those of you transitioning from MLA Style to APA Style. If you’re new to APA Style, the Publication Manual and this blog are your go-to resources. I also recommend that you try our free tutorial on the basics of APA Style and visit our FAQ page, as well as our pages that provide quick answers for citing sources and formatting your research paper. If you can’t find what you’re looking for after checking those resources, feel free to contact APA Style directly via e-mail or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

May 02, 2014

But I Already Learned MLA! Why Do I Need APA Style?

Anne breitenbach

 

 

by Anne Breitenbach

We know. It’s true: Most high schools teach MLA Style. You labored over it, you learned to tolerate if not love it—and now, bam, you get to college, and as soon as you begin to take psychology, or education, or business, or nursing, or whatever classes, you need to learn APA Style. Why? Why can’t all disciplines just convene a convention and hammer out one style that fits all needs?

It’s an attractive idea, but can you imagine representatives from all different studies gathering, United Nations like, to reach a consensus agreement? "Spell out the first name in the reference!," cries the MLA advocate. "No, use initials with a period after each initial," answers the ambassador from APA. "Initials are good, but no period, no space between!," counters the distinguished diplomat from AMA. The fight would rage into the night; heck, those fights would rage into the next 1,001 (spelled out?, comma?) nights on that and many another question. Use "and" or "&" and in what context? How shall we indicate pagination? What should the capitalization of a title in a reference be?

Yes, learning a style is a complicated and confusing process. Even within a given style, as times change, styles must adapt and its users must adapt with it. Needing different styles for different disciplines compounds that labor. All those picayune guideline differences aside, is there value to a specific style that makes it worth the pain?

One factor, of course, is that using a given style marks its user as a member of a specific culture. The corollary to that is how adept users are at using this "language" signals their expertise within that field (e.g., if you walk like a duck, quack like a duck, and swim like a duck, a fortiori, you’re a duck ). In addition, there are historical reasons at the heart of a style that can help you understand why it was created and that give shape and reason to its evolution. That’s certainly true of APA Style. Read the original 1929 Psychological Bulletin journal article (Bentley et al., 1929) in which it was introduced—it won’t take you long, it’s only seven pages—and you’ll see what I mean. Reading the suggested guidelines makes clear they were developed to address specific problems of exasperated journal editors: Too many authors were submitting wordy, messy, subjective, logically unpersuasive manuscripts and not adequately addressing the research that already existed on the issue they were writing about. Review and revision were expensive in editorial time, and overlong and wordy manuscripts wasted precious journal space.

Time passed, and what began as a guide specifically for authors seeking to publish their manuscripts in APA’s own journals became more widely used at the college level in the social sciences because it addressed equally important needs there. Using APA Style marks you as a member of a scientific community that uses and values concise expression, clarity of thought, and the value of attribution as an information ethic. In short, it marks you as a duck of the social sciences sort. Welcome to the pond!

 Reference

Bentley, M., Peerenboom, C. A., Hodge, F. W., Passano, E. B., Warren, H. C., & Washburn, M. F. (1929). Instructions in regard to preparation of manuscript. Psychological Bulletin, 26, 57–63. doi:10.1037/h0071487
Graduate duck

April 24, 2014

Why Does APA Style Use Hanging Indents?

Jeffby Jeff Hume-Pratuch

 

Dear Style Experts,

I’m curious about how certain things got to be that way in APA Style. For example, how did you decide on using a hanging indent for references? Does this improve the readability of the paragraph, compared with some other way of offsetting the information? Or is there some other advantage to the hanging indent, beyond readability?
                                                                                              —Chris in Canada

Dear Chris,

To answer that question, we need to set the dial on the Wayback Machine for 1894, when the first issue of Psychological Review (APA’s first journal) was published. As you can see from the snapshot below, the references in that issue were not exactly formatted in the APA Style we know and love, but they do use a hanging indent. So you might say that the hanging indent is part of our DNA.


1894PsycReview


DNA_double_helix_vertikalAPA Style (like every other reference style) is less like a purpose-built machine and more like a set of family traditions. Some features, such as the DOI, have been added over the years for carefully articulated reasons; others, like the hanging indent, appeared unannounced. Taken together, they constitute “a standard of procedure . . . to which reference might be made in cases of doubt, and which might be cited to authors for their general guidance in the preparation of scientific articles” (Bentley et al., 1929, p. 57).


When Bentley et al. wrote that sentence in 1929, they probably did not suspect that the standard they outlined in seven pages would grow to embrace six editions, several revisions, and a host of supporting products, including this blog. I think it’s pretty cool to be part of something that has its roots in the Victorian Era and its head in the 21st century. That’s my kind of family tree!

 

References

Bentley, M., Peerenboom, C. A., Hodge, F. W., Passano, E. B., Warren,
     H. C., & Washburn, M. F. (1929). Instructions in regard to
     preparation of manuscript. Psychological Bulletin, 26, 57-63.
     doi:10.1037/h0071487

Butler, N. B. (1894). Psychological literature: Educational. Psychological
     Review, 
1, 82-83. doi:10.1037/h0067178

April 18, 2014

Gimme Structure

Daisiesby Stefanie

Abstracts have been addressed on the APA Style blog before (twice, in fact, and very well both times—do give them a read or reread!). The following is a humble contribution to the literature on APA Style abstracts that discusses a particular type: the structured abstract.

The structured abstract is a way of writing and formatting abstracts that is very, well, structured. Gimme structure photo Often used with empirical articles (i.e., those detailing experiments), structured abstracts include headings that run into the text and identify the different elements of the article that are described in the abstract. According to the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health,

These formats were developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s to assist health professionals in selecting clinically relevant and methodologically valid journal articles. They also guide authors in summarizing the content of their manuscripts precisely, facilitate the peer-review process for manuscripts submitted for publication, and enhance computerized literature searching. (para. 1)

The headings do count toward your word limit, which is typically somewhere in the range of 150 to 250 words (for APA journals; other publications, databases, or projects may have different limits). However, headings add around four to six words to the total, depending on which headings you use, so the strain should not be great.

Set in bold and italic type, each heading is followed by a colon and the first sentence of that subsection. The headings and their subsequent text immediately follow each other; that is, your abstract is going to be a single paragraph, so please do not hit Enter after each heading’s text. The usual headings for APA journals requiring them (with some variations; see the Instructions to Authors for each journal) are Objective, Method, Results, and Conclusion(s). The Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal author instructions provide an excellent example of abstract instructions with heading options to better fit different types of articles.

When should you use structured abstracts? When someone asks you to or if the headings help you write your abstract. You can always remove the headings on request and still be left with a strong, comprehensive abstract.

Example abstract:

Objective: In this study, we investigated the psychological effects of radical gamma-radiation-caused mutation and transformation to determine whether the transformation affects personality and mood as well as physicality. Method: The single participant filled out the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory—2 and other self-report measures assessing his state of mind, stress (Acute Stress Disorder Scale), and depression (Beck Depression Inventory). The participant was then asked to mediate an argument between 2 confederates, who had been told to not yield on any point of their entirely unreasonable positions. Once the participant had experienced a massive cellular shift triggered by adrenalin (“hulked out”), he (eventually) filled out the various self-report measures again. Results: The participant’s results showed significant differences in both personality and mood. Among other results, the participant maxed out his pretransformation Hypochondriasis scale score, whereas the score bottomed out posttransformation. Scores pre- and posttransformation were similar on the Paranoia scale, whereas Hypomania and Schizophrenia scale scores were low pretransformation and high posttransformation. Stress and depression scores were high at both testing occasions, but we observed that the madder he got, the stronger his scores became. Conclusions: Gamma radiation changes people exposed to it psychologically as well as physically; it also affects mood. More research is needed to replicate these results; participant recruitment is underway.

Photo: Viktors Ignatenko/Hemera/Thinkstock.

April 10, 2014

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (or Is It Lay?)

Daisiesby Stefanie

Here is my dog. Rooster_1
His name is Rooster. Rooster is a grammatical dog, and he is going to help me illustrate the difference between lay and lie.

Lay down, Rooster!

Rooster_1

 

Hmm, he doesn’t seem to have done anything. That’s because he’s waiting for me to tell him what to lay down. The verb lay requires a direct object, something that can be laid down (a toy, an egg, his spiffy bandana), but I didn’t specify, so he was right to wait for clarification.

 

 

 

OK, let’s try lie. Lie down, Rooster!  

Rooster_2Good boy! When I tell him to lie down, I’m telling him that he needs to get himself down. Now that he’s down, he’s snoozing away. I really am going to let a sleeping dog lie. (Consider the titular question answered!)

Now let’s change tenses to talk about what Rooster did. Here’s where the word choices get tricky. Laid is the past tense of lay; lay is the past tense of lie. So, When I told Rooster to lay down, he didn’t know what I wanted laid down. When I told Rooster to lie down, he lay down.

 

Finally, laid is the past participle form of lay, and lain is the past participle form of lie.

Rooster had laid his rawhide chew in the ivy patch at the corner of the house.

Rooster has lain there for a while; should I wake him up?

The next time you are debating whether to use lay or lie, it may help to picture the standing dog who is waiting for instructions on what he should lay down or the lying dog who obediently followed the order to lie down.

Photo credits: @2013 by Stefanie Lazer.

April 01, 2014

How to Cite a Smartwatch

Timothy McAdoo

by Timothy McAdoo

Happy April Fools' Day, everyone!Smartwatch

No, sorry, we haven't developed a format for citing a smartwatch. No matter how many we see on your collective wrists in the coming years, we're unlikely to need a new reference format. (Notice how I hedged on that?)
 
That's because references should point readers to retrievable sources. See the following posts for more detailed explanations from my colleagues:

  • Being (APA) Stylish (a post about what is and is not addressed in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association)

But, because you've clicked on a post about smart watches, I think you might be interested in this post on how to cite Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and other social media sites.

Photo: lucadp/iStock/Thinkstock

March 27, 2014

Over the Hedge

Daisiesby Stefanie

I am as guilty of hedging as anyone here, if not more so. I am not, by nature, a decisive person. Couple that with work for almost two decades in scientific (Strike 1) writing (Strike 2), and I can tell you that the “facts” known today do not necessarily match those of yesterday.

Oh, oh, look what I did there! My first hedge! Using quotation marks to soften or make ironic something that does not need such treatment should be avoided.

And there, I just did it again! The words should be take the sting out of avoided, don’t they? But being to the point is helpful here. Avoid using quotation marks to hedge. There, that is much clearer. Also avoid using words like should, could, sometimes, may, and others to hedge on a point that does not need hedging.

Does not need hedging? Is that another hedge? No. The thing about scientific and scholarly writing is that hypotheses are always being tested. Theories are pushed to their limits with different experiments, be they physical or thought experiments, which are then reported in articles and books. Hedge I have yet to see an article or book end with the words “no more research is needed on this topic.” Sometimes experimental results are inconclusive. Sometimes their meaning is not clear under current paradigms. Sometimes the results are as clear as the nose on your face. When you are writing about your research, state confidently what you are confident about and qualify what you are not as certain of (or what you are certain is not certain; see my use of the word sometimes in the three previous sentences). Take time to think about what elements of your article fall into each category and present them accordingly.

When talking about other authors’ work, take your linguistic cues from them if you are equally convinced of the accuracy of their claims and conclusions. For example, let’s say I’m (a) in a fictional world and (b) writing about the Ark of the Covenant. As part of the research for my paper, I read an article in Archeology Today in which some guy named Henry Jones, Jr., says unequivocally that he found the Ark of the Covenant in the Well of Souls in Jerusalem. Maybe I’ve met Dr. Jones at a conference and I feel confident that he’s a stand-up guy, or maybe I’ve read his other work and that has all seemed legitimate, or maybe his article contains so many facts and credible sources that I’m convinced he’s telling the truth. When I am mentioning Dr. Jones’s claim, which I believe, in my paper, I am not going to say, “Jones (1963) suggests that the Ark of the Covenant was found in 1936” but “In an article published decades ago, Jones (1963) announced that in 1936, he found the Ark of the Covenant in the Well of Souls in Jerusalem.” In fact, the second example works even if I do not believe Dr. Jones’s claim: He did make that announcement in his 1963 article (he did in my fictional world, anyway). The point is, in this situation, there is no reason to hedge. “Jones (1963) found and lost the Ark of the Convenant in 1936” would be a way to uncritically report this key point from Jones’s article. If I take a more skeptical approach to Dr. Jones’s article, I can express that, too: “Jones (1963) claimed to have found and lost the Ark of the Convenant in 1936, but no other evidence supports this assertion and, in fact, the U.S. Government vehemently denied its alleged involvement.” I have clearly stated Jones’s claim, and I have countered that claim with some big grains of salt, to painfully strain a metaphor.

If the authors of your source articles are not committing to definite conclusions, though, follow their lead. If Henry Jones, Sr., writes, “I have reason to believe that Alexandretta is the starting point for the path to the Holy Grail, but I have yet to find conclusive proof,” it is misleading to report, “Jones (1937) reported Alexandretta is the city in which the Holy Grail journey starts.” It is not up to you to clean up someone else’s hedging. In fact, it’s best if you report the uncertainty. To put it in perspective, the difference between “I think the parachute is packed correctly” and “the parachute is packed correctly” is huge. Which parachute will you choose to strap on?

Hedge only if you must. Otherwise, be as decisive in your writing as your sources and circumstances allow.

Photo: Falombini/iStock/Thinkstock.

March 20, 2014

Rising Citation Trick

Daisiesby Stefanie

Let’s say you are writing a paper, and you have a great point to make that stems from a number of sources, all needing in-text citation. Let’s say one of those sources is head and shoulders above the rest, though, in inspiring your thought and supporting what you have said. You look at the source, and the lead author’s surname begins with Z. Your heart sinks. According to APA Style, citations are listed alphabetically. Is this terrific source doomed to remain at the tail end of a long list of citations, or is there some way you can bump this source to the front of the line?


Good news! Like a magician, you can direct your audience’s attention where you would like it go to. You just need a few extra words (not abracadabra, but close) and voila! The deed is done!

This, like all great magic tricks, is best illustrated by example. Blog magician


 
Sleight of hand is not for the faint of heart and can, in fact, be counterintuitive: When you think you are seeing something being manipulated in front of you, you may well not be at all (Zarrow, 2001; see also Copperfield, 2008; Jay, 2013; Penn & Teller, 2012; Stone, 2012; Thurston, 1930).


 
Here, I wanted to make sure Herb Zarrow, inventor of the Zarrow Shuffle, got his due, so I put his source as the first citation. The rest of the citations are included, but they appear after the words see also. Some other words and phrases that could be used, depending on the situation, are for more information; for a review, see; or a specific phrase that fits your particular situation (e.g., for other counterintuitive sleight-of-hand tricks, see). 
 
Another separating term is cf., but proceed carefully. When cf., the Latin abbreviation for compare, is used, the citations that follow may be assumed to contradict or otherwise differ from the point being made. Think of it as being short for “see, by way of comparison.”


 
Even physical magic is about appearances: Although we in the audience worry about the assistant in the box, we do not really think that she is going to end up sawed in half (Thurston, 1925; cf. Blaine, 1999, 2000, 2002; Houdini, 1901, 1912a, 1912b).
 


If you have another turn of phrase that you like to use in these situations, please share it in the comments!

Photo: SurkovDimitri/iStock/Thinkstock. 

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