January 13, 2016

Coming Soon: APA Style CENTRAL

Last weekend, we did something fun: At the American Library Association’s midwinter conference, in Boston, we gave librarians a sneak peek at APA Style CENTRAL!

To get a glimpse for yourself, check out the video below!

To receive additional updates about APA Style CENTRAL as they become available, just complete the form at http://apastyle.org/asc.

December 10, 2015

Contractions in Formal Writing: What's Allowed, What's Not

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Asking whether you should use contractions in formal academic writing is sort of like asking whether you should wear a bathing suit to a party—it depends on the type of party. Is it a pool party or a fancy dinner? Therein lies your answer.

Likewise, when it comes to writing, some ways of expressing yourself are more formal than others, and different contexts come with different expectations about what is appropriate. On the informal end of the spectrum you have texts between friends. In the middle of the spectrum you have things like these blog posts. On the formal end of the spectrum, you have the scholarly writing you do for classroom assignments, theses and dissertations, and publications.

Contractions are a part of informal writing. Thus, avoid contractions in scholarly writing, except for under the following circumstances:

  • If you are reproducing a direct quotation that contains a contraction (e.g., a quotation from a research participant), leave the contraction as-is.
  • If you are writing about contractions (e.g., in a paper about language), naturally you must be able to use contractions as linguistic examples.
  • If you are reproducing an idiom that contains a contraction (e.g., “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”), leave the contraction (no need for “do not count your chickens…”).
  • If you are making an off-the-cuff or informal remark within an otherwise formal paper, it is okay to use a contraction as part of your writing voice. You might find this kind of remark in a footnote or a parenthetical statement. Scientific writing should be formal but it doesn’t have to be stuffy. It is okay to have a moment of informality as long as the overall tone is appropriately formal.

Do you have additional questions on the use of contractions? Ask them here!


November 25, 2015

Giving Thanks in APA Style

David Becker

By David Becker

It’s Thanksgiving, that time of year when you can thank your friends, family, and all the other important people in your life by bringing them together for a massive, fun-filled feast. If you’re a researcher about to publish the results of a recent study, you may also want to give thanks to those who helped you conduct it or prepare your manuscript. Inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner would certainly be a great way to express gratitude, but you can also thank them in an author note.

Thank You

The author note, which is explained on pages 24–25 in the Publication Manual, generally appears in the footer of a published journal article. In a draft manuscript, it is part of the title page (see the order of manuscript pages on page 229 in the Publication Manual). Most student papers do not include one. You can find examples of the author note through our Best of the Blog post. Sample paper 1 demonstrates the author note's typical location in a draft manuscript, and the sample published paper shows what an author note looks like in a journal article.

The author note usually lists the authors’ departmental affiliations and contact information, states any disclaimers and potential conflicts of interest, and provides acknowledgments. These acknowledgments can be included in the third paragraph and used to identify grants or other financial support, explain any special authorship agreements, and thank those who provided personal assistance. Generally, you don't need to acknowledge peer reviewers, journal editors, or others who routinely review and accept manuscripts.

Personal assistance encompasses individuals whose work may not warrant authorship credit—that is, they didn’t do any actual writing or make significant scientific contributions (see pages 18–19 in the Publication Manual and Standard 8.12 of the APA Ethics Code for more details about defining and assigning authorship)—but their assistance was nonetheless valuable and deserving of some form of credit. Maybe you would like to thank some students who helped recruit research participants and collect data, or perhaps a couple friends and colleagues who took some time out of their busy schedules to proofread the first draft of your manuscript before you submitted it for publication. You can thank them in the acknowledgments section of your author note. It may not be tasty—or even edible—like a Thanksgiving dinner, but I’m sure your benevolent contributors will appreciate the recognition.

Happy Acknowledgmentsgiving!

November 16, 2015

The Use of Singular “They” in APA Style

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Dear Style Experts,

Can I use the singular “they” in APA Style? Is it okay to use “they” or “their” to refer to a single person, or should I say “he or she” or “his or hers” instead?

—A Reader


Dear Reader,

In APA Style, whether it’s appropriate to use singular they depends on the context.

The Context of Gender Diversity

APA supports the choice of communities to determine their own descriptors. Thus, when transgender and gender nonconforming people (including agender, genderqueer, and other communities) use the singular they as their pronoun, writers should likewise use the singular they when writing about them. Although the usage isn’t explicitly outlined in the Publication Manual, APA’s guidelines for bias-free language clearly state that writers should be sensitive to labels:

Respect people’s preferences; call people what they prefer to be called. Accept that preferences change with time and that individuals within groups often disagree about the designations they prefer. Make an effort to determine what is appropriate for your situation; you may need to ask your participants which designations they prefer, particularly when preferred designations are being debated within groups. (APA Publication Manual, 2010, p. 72; see also the supplemental material to PM § 3.12)

Thus, choose the appropriate pronoun for the people you are writing about. Note, however, that many transgender people use the pronoun that matches their gender identity or gender expression, which would be she for a transgender woman and he for a transgender man. Other possible terms are noted in the supplemental material.

When writing with the singular they, use the forms they, them, their, and themselves.

The Context of General Use

The singular they is also commonly used to refer to a person whose gender is irrelevant or unknown—for example, imagine the sentence "The participant indicated their preferences." However, most formal writing and style guides, including the APA Publication Manual, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the AP Stylebook, do not currently support this usage, deeming it too informal and/or ungrammatical.

Instead, APA recommends several alternatives to the general singular they, including the following:

  • Make the sentence plural: "Participants indicated their preferences."
  • Rewrite the sentence to replace the pronoun with an article (a, an, or the): "The participant indicated a preference."
  • Rewrite the sentence to drop the pronoun: "The participant indicated preferences."
  • Combine both singular pronouns (he or she, she or he, his or her, her or his, etc.): "The participant indicated his or her preferences." (However, avoid overusing this strategy, as it can become cumbersome upon many repetitions.)

These alternatives are also available for you to use when writing in the context of gender diversity if you would prefer them or if you are unsure of the appropriate pronoun to use.

Other alternatives to the singular they are not recommended:

  • Avoid combination constructions like s/he, (s)he, and he/she because they can look awkward and distracting to the reader.
  • Do not use either he or she alone to refer to a generic individual—"use of either pronoun unavoidably suggests that specific gender to the reader" (PM § 3.12).
  • Do not alternate between he and she (e.g., using he in one sentence and she in the next), as this can also become confusing and distracting to the reader.

The Future of Singular They

The use of singular they has received a lot of attention in recent years, and the tide seems to be turning in favor of using it more generally, not just in the context of gender diversity. After all, the usage addresses a real need for a gender-neutral, singular, third-person pronoun in the English language. Indeed, some magazines and newspapers have officially endorsed the broad use of singular they in their pages.

It’s possible that APA might directly endorse the singular they in the future, but that decision lies in the hands of the task forces and committees that craft and approve the Publication Manual, not just in the hands of the writers of this blog.

In the meantime, we hope that this post clarifies the current ways in which it is appropriate to use the singular they in APA Style. You may also be interested to read APA's Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People, which discusses these issues in more detail and provides a glossary of terms and definitions.

We welcome your thoughts and feedback on this matter and hope you will share them with us in the comments below.

October 28, 2015

An Abbreviations FAQ

Chelsea blog 2
by Chelsea Lee

This post will address how to use FAQ-1200
abbreviations in APA Style—specifically, how to use acronyms, which are abbreviations made up of the first letters of each word in a phrase. Consider it a FAQ about abbreviations! You can find abbreviations discussed in the Publication Manual in section 4.22 (starting on p. 106).

Click a question below to jump straight to its answer. 

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When should I use an abbreviation?

Use abbreviations sparingly and only when they will help readers understand your work. Ask yourself these questions each time you consider using a particular abbreviation:

  • Is the reader familiar with the abbreviation?
    • Use an existing, accepted abbreviation if one exists, because familiarity helps understanding. If a standard abbreviation does not exist, then you can create your own.
  • Will you use the abbreviation at least three times in the paper?
    • Use an abbreviation at least three times in a paper if you are going to use it at all. If you won’t use it three times, then spell out the term every time. The reader might have a hard time remembering what the abbreviation means if you use it infrequently.
  • Would spelling out the term every time be overly repetitive and cumbersome?
    • Use abbreviations to avoid cumbersome repetition and enhance understanding, not just as a writing shortcut. For example, it is usually easier to read a two-word phrase than it is to remember the meaning of a two-letter abbreviation. Longer phrases make better candidates for abbreviation.
  • How many total abbreviations do you have in the paper?
    • There’s no hard line of how many abbreviations is too many, but writing is generally easier to understand when most words are spelled out than when it is overflowing with abbreviations. Only abbreviate when it helps the reader.

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How do I introduce an abbreviation in the text?

The first time you use an abbreviation in the text, present both the spelled-out version and the short form.

When the spelled-out version first appears in the narrative of the sentence, put the abbreviation in parentheses after it:

  • Example: We studied attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

When the spelled-out version first appears in parentheses, put the abbreviation in brackets after it:

  • Example: The diagnosis (i.e., attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD]) was confirmed via behavioral observation.

After you define an abbreviation (regardless of whether it is in parentheses), use only the abbreviation. Do not alternate between spelling out the term and abbreviating it.

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How do I abbreviate group authors in in-text citations and reference list entries?

If your reference has a group author, the name of the group can sometimes be abbreviated—for example, American Psychological Association can be abbreviated to APA. You are not obligated to abbreviate the name of a group author, but you can if the abbreviation would help avoid cumbersome repetition and will appear more than three times in the paper.

As with other abbreviations, spell out the name of the group upon first mention in the text and then provide the abbreviation.

If the name of the group first appears in the narrative, put the abbreviation, a comma, and the year for the citation in parentheses after it.

  • Example: The American Psychological Association (APA, 2011) suggested that parents talk to their children about family finances in age-appropriate ways.

If the name of the group first appears in parentheses, put the abbreviation in brackets after it, followed by a comma and the year for the citation.

  • Example: Children should learn about family finances in age-appropriate ways (American Psychological Association [APA], 2011).

In the reference list entry, do not include the abbreviation for the group author. Instead, spell out the full name of the group.

Correct reference entry:

American Psychological Association. (2011). Dollars and sense: Talking to your children about the economy. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/learning/enhance-memory.aspx

Incorrect reference entry:

American Psychological Association (APA). (2011). Dollars and sense: Talking to your children about the economy. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/learning/enhance-memory.aspx

If you have several references by the same group author, you only need to abbreviate the name once (see here for how to handle references with the same author and date). Note that if two different groups would abbreviate to the same form (e.g., both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association abbreviate to APA), you cannot use the abbreviation in your paper—instead you must spell out the term every time to avoid ambiguity. 

An exception to abbreviations in the reference list is when works have been published using abbreviations as part of the author, title, or source. Retain these abbreviations because the reader will need them to retrieve the source (you also do not need to define them—just present them as-is). See more about this in our post on cite what you see.

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How do I present an abbreviation in conjunction with an in-text citation?

Sometimes an abbreviation is presented along with an in-text citation. For example, you might cite a test or measure that has an abbreviation and then provide its citation (for a common case, here is how to cite the DSM-5).

If the spelled-out version of the term appears in the narrative for the first time, put the abbreviation and the author–date citation in parentheses after it, separated by a semicolon. Do not use back-to-back parentheses.

  • Correct: We assessed depression using the Beck Depression Inventory–II (BDI-II; Beck, Brown, & Steer, 1996).
  • Incorrect: We used the Beck Depression Inventory—II (BDI-II) (Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1996).

If the spelled-out version of the term appears in parentheses for the first time, put the abbreviation in brackets after it, followed by a semicolon and the author–date citation.  

  • Example: Our assessment of depression (as measured via scores on the Beck Depression Inventory–II [BDI-II]; Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1996) showed significant incidence of this disorder in the population.

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Can I use abbreviations in the title of a paper?

Avoid using abbreviations in the title of a paper. Writing out the full term in the title will ensure potential readers know exactly what you mean, and if your article is formally published, it will ensure it is accurately indexed. 

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Can I use abbreviations in the running head?

There is no official guidance on whether to use abbreviations in the running head. We recommend that you avoid them, unless the abbreviation is well-known and there is no alternative running head that would be better. If you do use an abbreviation in a running head, you can use it straightaway without definition. Instead, define the abbreviation the first time you use it in the text. 

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Can I use abbreviations in the abstract?

In general, it is not necessary to use abbreviations in the abstract because the abstract is so short. However, if the abbreviation would help the reader recognize a term or find your article via search, then it is permissible to include an abbreviation in the abstract, even if it is not used three times. When you use an abbreviation in both the abstract and the text, define it in both places upon first use.  

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Can I use abbreviations in headings?

The Publication Manual does not offer official guidance on whether to use abbreviations in headings. We recommend that you avoid them—for example, the reader may skim the paper before reading it in full, and abbreviations in headings may be difficult to understand out of context. So, if a term you intend to abbreviate appears in a heading (e.g., the name of a test or measure), spell out the term in the heading and then when it first appears in the text, spell it out again and define it there. 

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Can I use abbreviations in tables and figures?

Yes, you can use abbreviations in tables and figures. All abbreviations used in tables and figures should be defined in the table note or figure caption, respectively, even though the abbreviations will be also be defined in the text if they are used there. The purpose of defining abbreviations in the table note or figure caption is that if other authors reuse your graphical display in a future paper, the definitions of the terms will be attached. Additionally, many readers will skim an article before reading it closely, and defining abbreviations in tables and figures will allow the readers to understand the abbreviations immediately.

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Do all abbreviations needs to be defined?

Not all abbreviations need to be defined. Consult Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary to determine what to do: If the abbreviation has the designation abbr. after it in the dictionary, that means it needs to be defined; if it does not have this designation, the abbreviation is considered a word on its own and can be used straight off the bat, without definition. You also do not need to define abbreviations for units of measurement (e.g., cm for centimeters, hr for hour).

  • Examples of abbreviations that are considered words: IQ, REM, HIV, AIDS, FAQ

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How do I use the words and an before abbreviations?

Use the article that matches the way the abbreviation is pronounced—an before a vowel sound and a before a consonant sound. Some abbreviations are pronounced as words (e.g., RAM), and some abbreviations are pronounced letter-by-letter, which is also called an initialism (e.g., HMO, IQ). If you are unsure of the pronunciation of an abbreviation, look it up in the dictionary or ask a colleague. If an abbreviation has multiple pronunciations, use the first one shown in the dictionary entry.

  • Examples: an FBI agent, a DSM-5 disorder, a U.S. citizen, an IQ score

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Are abbreviations written with periods?

Generally, do not use periods in abbreviations. Some exceptions are that you should use periods in the abbreviations for United States and United Kingdom when these terms are used as adjectives (don’t abbreviate them if they are used as nouns). And if you have created an identity-concealing label for a participant, use a period after each letter.

  • Examples: U.S. Census Bureau, U.K. population, participant R.E.C.

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How do I make an abbreviation plural?

To make an abbreviation plural, add an –s (or –es, for abbreviations ending in s already). Do not add an apostrophe. For more, see our dedicated post on plural abbreviations and numbers.

  • Examples: IQs, RTs, CSes.

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I don't see my question!

Got more questions about abbreviations? Ask us in a comment!

October 05, 2015

The Myth of the Off-Limits Source

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Proper citation is an important component of any APA Style paper. However, many readers believe certain sources aren’t allowed in APA Style, and they write to us looking for a definitive list of what is off limits. Two of the most common questions are about whether it’s okay to cite websites and whether sources have to have been published within a certain time frame to be cited, such as the last 5 or 10 years.

Do not write sign

Let’s set the record straight: Anything that a reader can retrieve, you can cite as a source in an APA Style reference list. Things the reader can’t retrieve (like a conversation, an unrecorded webinar, or a personal e-mail) can be cited as personal communications (see PM § 6.20). And there are no limits on the age of sources.

But just because you can cite anything as a source doesn’t mean you should. Rather, APA recommends that sources be reliable, primary accounts that represent the most up-to-date information wherever possible. Let’s look at each of these aspects in more detail.

Reliable Sources

A reliable source is one you can trust. Two indicators of reliability are the expertise of the author and the vetting standards of the place of publication. For example, an article written by a researcher and published in a peer-reviewed journal is likely to contain reliable information and thus would make a good source. On the other hand, a random website written by an unknown person, for example, is less likely to be reliable, and thus we would not recommend you cite this source unless you have a good reason (e.g., to talk about the source’s unreliability) or you verify the information yourself using other reliable sources.

However, the mere fact that information is published online is not reason to dismiss it as unreliable. Many scientific, medical, and governmental organizations—such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health, U.S. Census Bureau, and even the APA—publish reliable information on their websites and social media sites. Scientists and research organizations might publish blogs or YouTube videos that are worth citing. Evaluate each source on its own merits for reliability when determining whether to cite it in a paper.

Primary Sources

A primary source presents information gathered firsthand, such as the results of an experiment or data from a survey. Secondary sources present information secondhand—an example would be a textbook summary of a topic or a Wikipedia article. APA recommends citing primary sources whenever possible, because this allows you to verify the accuracy and completeness of the information yourself rather than rely on someone else to do this for you. Secondary sources can be reliable, but it is a best practice of scholarly writing to investigate for yourself if you can. See here and here for more information on primary and secondary sources.

Up-to-Date Sources

APA recommends that you use the most up-to-date research you can find on your topic. However, the meaning of up-to-date will vary depending on the field. Some fields develop faster than others, and even within a field, some information will remain relevant for a long time, whereas other information will become outdated. For example, foundational works may be quite old but still worth citing when you are establishing the context for your own work. There is no year-related cutoff where sources must be published within the past x number of years to be used in a paper. Each source must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the information in it is timely and relevant.

If you have further questions about choosing sources for an APA Style paper, leave a comment below. 

September 17, 2015

Principles of Writing: How to Avoid Wordiness

Chelsea blog 2
By Chelsea Lee Information filter

 A series on the principles of good scholarly writing.

Scholarly writing requires clear communication. 

To achieve this, writers must be concise—meaning they say only what needs to be said. When writers load sentences with extra verbiage or include asides that aren’t relevant to the argument, it’s called wordiness. Wordiness hurts communication because it forces readers to disentangle the useful parts of the writing from the unnecessary parts, which can slow down or even impede readers’ understanding. Your message will be lost if your writing is too wordy.

In this post I will discuss some practical strategies for reducing wordiness by highlighting several common wordy phrases and their alternatives.

  1. Phrases involving “the facts.” Examples: based on the fact that, due to the fact that, in spite of the fact that, because of the fact that, and so forth: 

    Any phrase that involves “the facts” is potentially wordy; instead, when possible, use because or although. Here are some examples: 
    • Wordy: Due to the fact that the measure was unavailable, I selected another.
    • Concise: Because the measure was unavailable, I selected another.

    • Wordy: In spite of the fact that half the participants dropped out the study, we still conducted Phase 2.
    • Concise: Although half the participants dropped out of the study, we still conducted Phase 2.
  1. Phrases involving “purpose” and “order.” Examples: for the purpose of, in order to, in order that, and so forth.

    Wordiness can creep in when you’re describing why something happened. Often phrases like for the purpose of can be eliminated, and others, like in order to, can be streamlined (in this case, to just to). Here are some examples:
    • Wordy: We administered surveys for the purpose of assessing motivation. 
    • Concise: We administered surveys to assess motivation.

    • Wordy: We designed the study in order to investigate different aspects of personality.
    • Concise: We designed the study to investigate different aspects of personality.
  1. Phrases involving “importance” and “interestingness.” Examples: it is important to note that, importantly, interestingly, it is interesting to note that, it is essential that, and so forth. 

    Leave things that aren’t important or interesting out of your paper. Write your sentences to highlight what is actually important or interesting—for example, begin by noting the result or the implication, not the fact that you are noting it. Also place an important concept at the beginning of a section or paragraph to draw more attention to it, rather than burying it. Here are some examples: 
    • Wordy: It is important to note that our study has implications for counseling practice.
    • Concise: Our study has important implications for counseling practice. 

    • Wordy: It is interesting to note that results diverged from the hypothesis.
    • Concise: Results diverged from the hypothesis. We found it interesting that…

These are just three examples of how writers can avoid wordiness in their scholarly writing. For more on this topic, see Publication Manual § 3.08 on Economy of Expression. If you have further questions about this topic, leave a comment below. 

September 01, 2015

Best of the APA Style Blog: 2015 Edition

Each fall the APA Style Blog Team puts together a “best of” feature, and this year we continue the tradition with an updated set of posts from the APA Style Blog and our parent site, apastyle.org. We hope it will be helpful as new batches of students set upon the task of learning and implementing APA Style. You can get the full story in our sixth edition Publication Manual (also available as an e-book for Kindle) and our APA Style Guide to Electronic References, plus more information via the links below.

Getting Started

What is APA Style?
Why is APA Style needed?
Basics of APA Style Tutorial (free)
FAQs about APA Style

Sample Papers

Sample Paper 1
Sample Paper 2
Sample meta-analysis paper
Sample published APA article

70869049-edit-smAPA Style Basics Principles

How in-text citations work
How reference list entries work
How to handle missing information
How to find the best example you need
   in the Publication Manual
"Cite what you see, cite what you use"

Grammar and spelling

Punctuation Junction (what happens when punctuation marks collide)
Use of first person
Spelling tips
Grammar tips

Student Resources

Citing a class or lecture
School intranet or Canvas/Blackboard class website materials
Classroom course packs and custom textbooks
Research participant interview data
Reference lists versus bibliographies
MLA versus APA Style (in-text citations and the reference list)
Student Research Webinars From APA and Psi Chi

References to Electronic Resources

Mobile apps
Website material (and multiple pages from the same website)
Social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Google+) pages and posts
Online-only journal articles
YouTube videos

Other “How-To” Citation Help

Translated Sources (vs. your own translation)
Secondary sources (sources you found in another source) and why to avoid them
illustrators and illustrated Books
Legal references
Paraphrased work

Paper Formatting

Direct quotes and Block quotations
Lists (lettered, numbered, or bulleted)
Running heads

Keywords (vs. key terms)
Hyperlink formatting

Keep in Touch!

We hope that these resources will be helpful to you as you write using APA Style. If you are interested in receiving tips about APA Style as well as general writing advice, we encourage you to follow us on social media. You can find us (and tell your friends) on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

August 04, 2015

How to Cite Online Maps in APA Style

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

I was recently asked how to cite the directions created with Google Maps. Because Google Maps is not addressed specifically in the reference examples in the Publication Manual, it’s time to stitch together a Frankenreference.  

For this example, let’s say you want to travel from Ingolstadt, Germany, to Geneva, Switzerland (as Frankenstein’s monster did in part of his journeys). And, let's assume you're driving, not walking or bicycling. Your reference for the directions would look like this:

Google. (n.d.). [Google Maps directions for driving from Ingolstadt, Germany, to Geneva, Switzerland]. Retrieved August 4, 2015, from https://goo.gl/maps/ILt8O

I assembled this Frankenreference from the four following pieces:

Who: The author is Google. (Google Maps is a service provided by Google, Inc.  We recommend dropping “Inc.” and “Co.” from names in references. See also our post on Group Authors.)

Sm.edit.iStock_000066763803_FullWhen: Because Google Maps pages are created on the fly, they have no published date. Use “n.d.”
What: When a page has no title, we recommend creating a description, in brackets.  Because the page has no title, the exact wording to use is up to you.  In this example, I'll use "[Google Maps directions for driving from Ingolstadt, Germany, to Geneva, Switzerland]." Note that I included “driving” in my description. I recommend including the mode of transportation (walking, driving, biking, etc.) in the description because it does affect the URL that Google provides.
Where:  Note that I’ve included the retrieval date. Although retrieval dates are not necessary for most APA Style references, we recommend them for pages that might change or be updated over time. Directions are certainly subject to change, so we recommend including the retrieval date in this case.

Google Maps Reference

I’ve used Google Maps in this example, but the reference format would be similar for other online mapping sites. I hope you’ve found this helpful. Happy travels!

July 01, 2015

Punctuation Junction: Punctuation Before Quotation Marks

Chelsea blog 2
by Chelsea Lee

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

We have previously addressed how to use single and double quotation marks to enclose a quotation, and today we expand upon that topic to address how to use punctuation before a quotation. A few principles are at work here:

  1. To identify the speaker of a quotation before the quotation appears, put a comma after the speaking-related verb (said, replied, stated, wrote, etc.).
    • Correct: Koval, vanDellen, Fitzsimons, and Ranby (2015) stated, “Although many factors likely predict who is asked to do what (e.g., collegiality; cooking skills), the current research suggests that one robust predictor of being relied on is being high in self-control” (p. 763).
    • Incorrect: Koval, vanDellen, Fitzsimons, and Ranby (2015) stated “Although many factors likely predict who is asked to do what (e.g., collegiality; cooking skills), the current research suggests that one robust predictor of being relied on is being high in self-control” (p. 763).
  1. To present a quotation after a complete sentence (e.g., those ending in thus or as follows), put a colon after the introductory sentence and before the quotation marks. Start the quotation that follows with a capital letter if the quotation itself is a full sentence; start the quotation with a lowercase letter if it is a sentence fragment.
    • Correct: Although some people believe tasks are easier for individuals with high self-control, the research has indicated as follows: “Participants actually working on the task found it equally difficult and draining, regardless of their own self-control” (Koval et al., 2015, p. 763).
    • Incorrect: Although some people believe tasks are easier for individuals with high self-control, the research has indicated as follows, “Participants actually working on the task found it equally difficult and draining, regardless of their own self-control” (Koval et al., 2015, p. 763).
  1. For other scenarios, punctuate according to the grammar of the sentence, as though the quotation marks were not there. This means sometimes no punctuation is required before quotation marks. 
    • Correct: Koval et al. (2015) found that “individuals with high self-control may feel tired, annoyed, and perhaps even resentful of the fact that others ask and expect more of them” (p. 763).
    • Incorrect: Koval et al. (2015) found that, “individuals with high self-control may feel tired, annoyed, and perhaps even resentful of the fact that others ask and expect more of them” (p. 763).

Do you have other questions related to using punctuation before quotation marks? Leave a comment below.

Balloon and net


Koval, C. Z., vanDellen, M. R., Fitzsimons, G. M., & Ranby, K. W. (2015). The burden of responsibility: Interpersonal costs of high self-control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108, 750–766. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000015

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