April 02, 2015

Keywords in APA Style

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

What are keywords?

If you’ve searched PsycINFO, Google Scholar, or other databases, you’ve probably run across keywords. In APA Style articles, they appear just under the abstract. They are usually supplied by an article’s author(s), and they help databases create accurate search results.

Key lightbulbsHow do I pick my keywords?

Keywords are words or phrases that you feel capture the most important aspects of your paper. To create yours, just think about the topics in your paper: What words would you enter into a search box to find your paper? Use those!

We call these natural-language words, because they reflect the way people really talk about, and search for, a topic. In fact, in some databases, to provide comprehensive results, the “keywords” search option actually searches the article titles and abstracts along with these designated keywords.

In short, when later researchers are searching PsycINFO or other research databases, the keywords help them find your work.

For example, if you’ve written a paper about the benefits of social media for people with anxiety, your keywords line might be as follows:

Keywords: anxiety, social media, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat

Note how I’ve included the social media platform names. Keywords don’t have to be formal; they just have to be useful! These keywords will help the later researcher who searches for one of those terms or a combinations of them (e.g., “anxiety and social media,” “anxiety, Facebook, and Twitter”).

Also, because these are natural-language words, keywords can include acronyms. Keywords for a paper on using the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test with patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder might look like this:

Keywords: Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, WCST, OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder

The Publication Manual does not place a limit on how many keywords you may use. However, to be most effective, keywords should be a concise summary of your paper’s content. We recommend three to five keywords.

Where do they go?

The keywords line should be centered just under your abstract. Keywords: should be italicized, followed by a space. The words themselves should not be italicized. You can see an example under the abstract in this APA Style sample paper.

March 17, 2015

How to Cite an Illustrated Book

David Becker

By David Becker

Dear APA Style Experts,

I want to cite an illustrated book and give proper credit to the illustrator, but I can’t find an example of how to do that in the Publication Manual. Can you give me some guidance?

Edward G.

Dear Edward,

Unfortunately, the Publication Manual doesn’t have the space to accommodate examples for every type of citation situation (cite-uation?). But, even though the manual doesn't specifically mention how to cite an illustrator, the basic book reference format described on pages 202–203 still applies to your cite-uation.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the goal of a reference is not necessarily to provide proper credit—it’s more about directing your readers to the right source. These two objectives generally go hand-in-hand, but not always. For instance, if you’re citing a book that includes illustrations that aren’t essential elements of the book, crediting the illustrator is probably not necessary—this information will likely not assist readers in finding the original source.

Take Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for example. The illustrations by Sir John Tenniel are very well-known, but the book can function perfectly fine without them, and your readers won’t need to know his name to find the source. With that in mind, here’s what the reference would look like:

Carroll, L. (2006). Alice’s adventures in Wonderland & through the looking-glass. New York, NY: Bantam Dell. (Original work published 1865)

Even if you were writing specifically about these illustrations, you would still use the same reference information, as well as the standard author–date format for parenthetical citations. You could simply refer to the illustrator and his work in your narrative: “Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations are excellent examples of surreal art from the 1800s (Carroll, 1865/2006).”

Alice in Wonderland

However, when citing a book where the illustrations are essential to understanding the content—a children’s picture book or a graphic novel, for example—it would be appropriate to cite both the author and the illustrator, especially if they are both given cover credit. But, you don't need to worry about their roles. Keep it simple and cite the book as you would cite a non-illustrated book with more than one author. Take Goodnight Moon for example:

Brown, M. W., & Hurd, C. (2007). Goodnight moon. New York, NY: HarperCollins. (Original work published 1947)

Although Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd are clearly identified on the book's front cover as the author and the illustrator, respectively, there's no need to indicate this in your reference entry.

One benefit of sticking with this basic citation format is that you can easily apply it to books where the author and illustrator roles are not clearly designated on the cover, which is the case with the graphic novel Watchmen:

Moore, A., & Gibbons, D. (1986). Watchmen. New York, NY: DC Comics.

Note that although John Higgins is credited as the colorist inside the book, he's not named on the front cover. Therefore, it's not necessary to cite him for retrievability purposes—just cite what you see on the front cover.

This simple citation format also works for wordless picture books where there is no author, only an illustrator:

Becker, A. (2013). Journey. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

If you’re trying to cite an illustrated book, I hope this information will help you resolve your cite-uation. If not, please leave a comment below or contact us.

March 03, 2015

When and How to Include Page Numbers in APA Style Citations

Chelsea blog 2 by Chelsea Lee

All APA Style in-text citations have two parts: the author and the date. Some in-text citations also include page numbers (or other location information when page numbers are not available, as with some online materials). This post describes when and how to include page numbers in APA Style for different kinds of citations as well as how to include the appropriate location information in lieu of page numbers when page numbers are not available.


Direct Quotations

A direct quotation reproduces the words of another writer verbatim and is displayed in quotation marks (if the quotation is fewer than 40 words) or as a block quotation (if the quotation is 40 words or more). When you include a direct quotation in a paper, include the author, date, and page number on which the quotation can be found (or other location information) in the citation.

Research has found that “romantic partners maintain both biased and realistic views of a core relationship trait: physical attractiveness” (Solomon & Vazire, 2014, p. 524).

Solomon and Vazire (2014) found that “romantic partners maintain both biased and realistic views of a core relationship trait: physical attractiveness” (p. 524).

There are many ways to cite a direct quotation; see more examples here.


A paraphrase restates someone else’s words in a new way. For example, you might put a sentence into your own words, or you might summarize what another author or set of authors found. When you include a paraphrase in a paper, you are required to include only the author and date in the citation. You are encouraged (but not required) to also provide the page number (or other location information) for a paraphrased citation when it would help the reader locate the relevant passage in a long or complex text (such as when you use only a short part of a book). The examples below show a citation for a paraphrase that includes the page number.

Just as Sherlock Holmes investigates a case, psychologists must evaluate all the available data before making a deduction, lest they jump to an erroneous conclusion on the basis of insufficient evidence (Bram & Peebles, 2014, pp. 32–33).

Bram and Peebles (2014) advocated for psychologists to evaluate all the available data before making a deduction, just as Sherlock Holmes investigates a case, lest they jump to an erroneous conclusion on the basis of insufficient evidence (pp. 32–33).

There are many ways to paraphrase material; here are more examples and some advice.

How to Cite Material Without Page Numbers

If the cited material does not have page numbers (such as may occur with some e-books) and you need them for an in-text citation, use any of the following location information instead:

  • a paragraph number, if provided; alternatively, you can count paragraphs down from the beginning of the document;
  • an overarching heading plus a paragraph number within that section; or
  • an abbreviated heading (or the first few words of the heading) in quotation marks, in cases in which the heading is too unwieldy to cite in full, plus a paragraph number within that section.

People planning for retirement need more than just money—they also “need to stockpile their emotional reserves” to ensure they have adequate support from family and friends (Chamberlin, 2014, para. 1).

Chamberin (2014, para. 1) stated that people planning for retirement need more than just money—they also “need to stockpile their emotional reserves” to ensure they have adequate support from family and friends.

Learn More

For more on quoting and paraphrasing in APA Style, please see the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed., §§ 6.03–6.09).


Bram, A. D., & Peebles, M. J. (2014). Psychological testing that matters: Creating a road map for effective treatment. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/14340-000

Chamberlin, J. (2014, January). Retiring minds want to know. Monitor on Psychology, 45(1). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/01/retiring-minds.aspx

Solomon, B. C., & Vazire, S. (2014). You are so beautiful . . . to me: Seeing beyond biases and achieving accuracy in romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107, 516–528. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0036899


February 18, 2015

And In Other Research News: Student Research Webinars From APA and Psi Chi

Anne breitenbachBy Anne Breitenbach

You know, APA Style Experts don’t spend their whole lives in a glamorous ivory tower, as you no doubt imagine of people who spend their days with a pointy green pencil, a heap of style manuals, and a set of bookmarks to some of the Internet’s most enticing grammar sites. No, sometimes we step out from our secret blog and Twitter identities to talk to people directly. Well, almost. We come a step closer and talk anyway—via webinar.  It may also surprise you to know that we have other professional research interests in addition to APA Style.  Today, the Style blog has graciously yielded the floor to me to talk about one of those other initiatives that we thought some of you might find useful.

In 2014 APA introduced a new student training feature. We hosted a series of webinars jointly with Psi Chi. We conducted four session last year led by Psi Chi graduate students and staff from various departments of APA. Each of the webinars was also recorded and is now available on YouTube.

Here is information about each of those sessions and a YouTube link and direct access for each:

Psi Chi-APA Training: Tests and Measures, April 2, 2014

Psi Chi’s Lesther Papa, a Utah State University doctoral student, discussed his process for evaluating, adapting, and creating tests. APA PsycINFO trainer Anne Breitenbach explored how the PsycINFO and PsycTESTS databases can help researchers with those tasks.


Psi Chi-APA Training: Statistics for Student Publication, June 5, 2014

Psi Chi’s Lesther Papa shared tips on determining what test to use and covered a number of statistical concepts.  APA Books Product Development Supervisor Chelsea Lee continued the discussion with APA Style guidelines on statistical presentation in text, tables, and figures.


Psi Chi APA Training: Theory to Practice, September 29, 2014

Psi Chi’s Spencer Richards, a doctoral candidate in Clinical/Counseling/School psychology at Utah State University, discussed how important his relevant work experience was to his commitment to the discipline--and to getting into graduate school! PsycINFO’s Anne Breitenbach demonstrated how the PsycTHERAPY database can help bring realism into the classroom.


Psi Chi APA:  How to Publish While a Student, December 11, 2014

Psi Chi members—and published authors—Rachel Cook of Arizona State University and Liz Brown of Duquesne University discussed the steps to publication and its advantages. APA Journals Editorial Coordinator Sharon Ramos provided pointers from the publisher’s side.


Please feel free to share these with others via your own websites and blogs or Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or old-fashioned email!

February 13, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!


The word of the day is love. We love helping people write with clarity and concision. We love debating fine points of grammar and usage. And, we love that, more than 5 years later, you continue to ask us new and interesting questions about APA Style points, keeping us current and keeping us on our toes!

Without APA Style, we wouldn’t be here, sharing this forum with you. With that in mind, and in honor of the day, we’ve each written a heartfelt haiku: odes to our favorite aspects of APA Style.

Anne Breitenbach

     For Students Who Ask Why

     Why APA Style?

     Precision and clarity

     —for those that follow


David Becker

     Author–Date Format

     Ideas to text

     “From whom and when?” I wonder

     Author–date replies


Katie Ten-Hagen-sm

     The Header

     Oh, running header

     Where would I be without you?

     Lost amongst pages

Ten Hagen



     They were both alike

     Loved as one and the same, but

     Cut for concision.

Mary Lynn

Chelsea blog 2

     Reference citations

     Author, date, title, and source

     Pathways to knowledge


Timothy McAdoo

     (a), (b), and (c)

     letters in series

     help with parallel structure

     and readers thank you


Valentine's Day card image source: Peter-J-Pann, "valentine hat pcard"

February 04, 2015

How to Cite a Hashtag in #APAStyle

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

Note: To learn how to cite individual tweets or posts that include hashtags, see our post on citing social media. This post is about how to talk about the hashtags themselves.

The hashtag as an organizational tool wasn’t born on Twitter, but that's where I, and many others, first saw it used that way. And, as Chris Messina, who introduced the idea to Twitter, has said, "it's left nerd-dom and now it's out there in the world." Indeed, the hashtag is a common sight on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Google+, Flickr, Tumblr, Pinterest, Kickstarter, and other platforms. And its ubiquity makes the hashtag an incredibly useful search tool.

#APAStyle on Facebook
#APAStyle on Twitter
#APAStyle on Pinterest
#APAStyle on Google+

So how do you cite a hashtag? This may surprise you: You don’t!

That’s because, just like a search of a research database, finding and searching with the right hashtag is part of your research methodology. And just as with other aspects of your methodology, you can simply describe it the text of your paper.

That is, just as you might say “I searched the Public Affairs Information Service International database for Hong Kong, electoral system, and Umbrella Revolution,” you might also say “I searched Twitter, Vine, and Instragram for the hashtags #UmbrellaRevolution, #OccupyHK, and #HongKong that appeared between September 22, 2014 through October 22, 2014.” Interested readers and fellow researchers can then attempt to replicate the search if they are so inclined. If the reasoning behind the wording of the hashtag is not obvious, you might want to elaborate. In this example, you might want or need to explain the origin of the terms Umbrella Revolution and the Occupy movement, which led to the #UmbrellaRevolution and #OccupyHK hashtags.

Of course, in your paper you might also refer to individual tweets, Facebook posts, pictures, or other online items that include hashtags. For instance, you might want to quote the most popular Tweet that used the hashtag or just show some representative cases. You can (and should) create references and cite tweets or other online posts that you’ve quoted, paraphrased, or otherwise relied on in a paper.

January 13, 2015

How to Cite Software in APA Style

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

Can you cite computer software in APA Style? Yes! Here’s everything you need to know.

Q: Do I have to cite the computer software I mention in my paper?
A: The Publication Manual specifies that a reference is not necessary for “standard software.” What is “standard”? Examples are Microsoft Word, Java, and Adobe Photoshop. Even less ubiquitous software, like SPSS or SAS, does not need to be referenced.

Note: We don’t keep a comprehensive list of what programs are “standard.” You make the call.

In your text, if you mention a program, do include the version number of the software. For example, “We asked participants to type their responses in a Microsoft Word (Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010, Version 14.0.7128.5000) file.”

However, you should provide a reference for specialized software. For example, let's say you used an open source software package to display items to the participants in your study. You should cite it. The reference format follows our usual who-when-what-where format.

  • Use an individual’s name in the reference if he or she has proprietary rights to the program. In all other cases, create a reference as you would for unauthored works.
  • After the title, in brackets, provide a descriptor for the item. This helps the reader immensely.
  • If the software is available online, provide the URL rather than the publisher name and location.

Example References

Esolang, A. N. (2014). Obscure Reference Generator [Computer software]. Washington, DC: E & K Press.
Customized Synergy [Computer software]. (2014). Retrieved from http://customizedsynergy.com

Example Text Citations

“We used the Obscure Reference Generator (Version 2.1; Esolang, 2014) and Version 1.0 of Customized Synergy (2014) to complete our work."

Q: Is the name of the program italicized?
A: No: not in the text and not in the reference.

Q: Is the name of the program capitalized?
A: Yes, the name of the software is a proper noun and should be capitalized, both in the text and in the reference list.

Q: What about programming languages?
A: You don’t need to include references for programming languages. But, feel free to discuss them in the text of your paper, if relevant.

Q: What about mobile apps?
A: Yes, you can cite those, too. If you need to cite an app, this blog post has everything you need to know.

Q: What about video games?
A: Yes, video games are software. Follow the templates above for the reference and in-text citation.

Q: What if I used an online application to have my participants complete a survey?
A: Like Survey Monkey? If you mention the use of a site, simply provide the URL in your text (e.g., “Participants were given a link to an online survey, which the authors created using Survey Monkey (http://www.surveymonkey.com).” However, if you’re citing a particular page from the cite (e.g., a help document or the “About” page), you should reference that page just as you would any other. See this eggcellent post for more details about citing websites.

Q: What if I wrote the software myself?

A: If the reader can retrieve it, you can include a reference, following the template above. If you’ve created and published/posted software, that certainly falls into the “specialized” area noted above.

But, if you’ve written software that is not retrievable, a reference is not possible.  If, for example, you’ve included the full code as an appendix, you will want to mention that appendix in the text, but a reference is not needed. You might also find these post about how to write about yourself and whether and how to cite one’s own experiences helpful.

I've tried to cover everything, but please let me know what I missed. I look forward to questions and comments!

December 23, 2014

Making a List, Checking It Twice

Anne Breitenbach


By Anne Breitenbach

You know what I love? Assembly instructions.Recipes. Rules of engagement. Game plans. In essence, any tool that helps me clearly define what I need to have on hand to do a project properly and what steps I will need to take to complete it. So the first thing I do each morning when I arrive at my desk (well, after getting coffee) is jot down a checklist of what I hope to accomplish on this day. It gives me goals, focuses me, keeps tasks from getting lost, and—perhaps best of all—allows me to strike through each as it’s completed. (Microambition provides pretty constant self-congratulatory feedback.)   I’m not alone in my appreciation of checklists either.  Researchers, authors, and students ask us all the time if there is a roadmap to achieving a paper or a manuscript created correctly in APA Style.

So I’ve convinced you, right? You grab the Publication Manual and flip to the index looking for a handy “checklist” entry. I’m afraid it isn’t quite that clear cut. There are checklists of various kinds, but you have to know your manual or supporting APA resources well enough to know what and where they are and how to use them.  Let’s look at some examples. 

At the end of Chapter 8, “The Publication Process,” in section 8.07, you’ll find a précis of what a “good” manuscript looks like, with sections on format, title page and abstract, paragraphs and headings, abbreviations, mathematics and statistics, units of measurement, references, notes and footnotes, tables and figures, and copyright and quotations. This Checklist for Manuscript Submission is also available online in the Authors and Reviewers Resource Center on our website. Although designed for authors, it is just as handy as a cheat sheet for students. A bonus is that it provides you with the relevant section numbers in the Publication Manual

In fact, at the end of several sections you’ll also find a checklist. For example, section 5.19 summarizes the information about tables and reminds you, among other elements, to use tables only when necessary, review for consistency of presentation, keep your title brief, ensure all columns have a column head, define abbreviations, construct notes appropriately, and provide suggested statistics. It’s a very useful way to check that you’ve complied with all the recommendations. 

And the checklists don’t stop there. There’s one for figures in section 5.30 at the close of the figures section to gently remind you to use simple and clear figures that are clearly labeled. It reminds you to ensure the figures appear in order and are discussed in the text. It also reminded me of several other steps that I just had to go back to the checklist and check.

Of course, not all checklists may be so benign. You know who else loves checklists? That’s right. Santa’s making his list and checking it twice. Things might go better for you if he knows you're a checklist user too.

Bad santa


December 09, 2014

How to Present Definite Numbers and Estimations

David Becker

By David Becker

Let’s take a look back at a classic guest post for our blog based on an article by Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels (2010) that highlighted some of the most common APA Style errors. The number one mistake on that list is presenting numbers incorrectly. In this post, I'll be specifically focusing on how to properly present definite and estimated numbers.


According to section 4.31e of the Publication Manual (p. 112), numerals are used to represent specific values that signify time, dates, ages, scores and points on a scale, exact sums of money, and numerals as numerals. For instance, one would write 5 days instead of five days. However, there is an exception to this rule: When referring to approximate units of time (e.g., weeks, days, months, and years), use words instead of numerals, as in about five days instead of about 5 days.

You may have noticed that this is a very specific exception. You may also be wondering whether this exception applies other approximate values. The short answer is no. This exception applies only to units of time—no such exceptions apply to any other approximate units of measure. However, keep in mind that precision and clarity are key to any form of writing, especially in the sciences, so always try to present definite numbers when possible.

For more information about writing numbers in APA Style, take a look at our series of posts on numbers and metrication and our FAQ page about when to express numbers as words.

November 28, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

by Mary Lynn Skutley

The APA Style blog quietly passed its 5-year anniversary in June. I was new to blogging when we began, and slightly apprehensive about reaching out. Could we talk about highly structured, scholarly communication in this informal medium? And did anyone really want to listen? The answers: Yes, and yes. I am grateful on this Thanksgiving to the “founding” APA Style bloggers for knowing the challenges of APA Style and looking for creative ways to make it easier. And I am grateful to you, dear readers, for letting us know what you need and driving us to make the rules more accessible. At core is a shared love of writing and respect for the power of clear communication. Thank you for letting us serve you as you navigate the rules. Writing to form is a struggle, but the theories and findings you share will contribute, ultimately, to the well-being of all.

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