32 posts categorized "Punctuation"

November 17, 2011

The Grammar of Mathematics: Percentage or %?

Timothy.mcadooby Timothy McAdoo

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

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

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

For example,

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

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

Table 1


August 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

July 14, 2011

Punctuating the Reference List Entry

Chelsea blog 2  by Chelsea Lee

The basic APA Style reference list entry follows a familiar pattern: It can be divided up into four parts (author, date, title, and source), and each of these parts is separated from the others by punctuation. The following post shows in more detail how this process works and answers two common reference punctuation-related questions.

Basic Punctuation in a Reference List Entry

To begin, let’s look at a basic, run-of-the-mill reference list entry for a journal article:

Jacobson, N. S., & Truax, P. (1991). Clinical significance: A statistical approach to defining change in psychotherapy research. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 59, 12–19. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.59.1.12
  • The highlighted periods show how punctuation comes after the author names, date (which goes inside parentheses), title, and source.
  • Note that you should not add punctuation marks after DOIs or URLs in reference list entries. These can function as live links to lead readers directly to article information; thus the precise alphanumeric string (without added punctuation) is needed.

The many reference list entries in Chapter 7 of the Publication Manual also show this punctuation pattern, and we encourage you to look there for more examples.

Next we’ll answer two common punctuation questions:

What Do I Do When the Title Ends in a Question Mark or Exclamation Point?

Authors and readers often ask how to deal with references that already contain punctuation—for example, a title that ends in a question mark or exclamation point. The short answer is, keep the original punctuation and do not add any extra. In the example below, the question mark at the end of the title takes the place of the period we would have otherwise inserted. There is no need to have two punctuation marks in a row.

Bushman, B. J., Baumeister, R. F., & Stack, A. D. (1999). Catharsis, aggression, and persuasive influence: Self-fulfilling or self-defeating prophecies? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 367–376. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.76.3.367

Should There Always Be a Period After the Author’s Name?

In the above examples, the authors were individuals whose names were listed in the format of surname, first initials. Because the initials already included punctuation, it was not necessary to add any additional punctuation in order for the author part of the entry to end in punctuation. However, when the author is a group, organization, institution, or something similar, there still needs to be a period at the end of the author piece of the reference. Here is an example of a reference with a group author (note the period after "Association"):

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

Likewise, even when there is no author and the title moves to the author position, the rhythm of the punctuation stays constant. Here is an example of an unauthored entry in an online dictionary:

Reliability. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary (11th ed.). Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reliability
  • Here, periods come after each element, but again there is no period after the URL, to aid in retrievability. 
  • Note that when the title includes parenthetical or bracketed information, there is no period between the title and the opening parenthesis/bracket, but there is one after the closing parenthesis/bracket to show the end of the title part of the reference. 

What other reference list punctuation-related questions do you have? Please share them in the comments. 

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.).

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.

February 10, 2011

Changes Parentheses Bring

Daisies

 

 

by Stefanie

As Valentine’s Day approaches, it seems to be a good time to note that context changes all sorts of things. A dinner out is suddenly laden with romantic overtones if the evening is that of February 14, and expectations for what might be in the tiny jewelry box offered at the end of the meal are sky high.


Are you sweating yet? Well, wipe your forehead and take a deep breath. Here we’re going to discuss some changes in style that occur within parentheses in academic writing that are, according to Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, and Frels (2010), a source of confusion. Just as 24 hours in the middle of February usher in a change in expectations, so do parentheses. But in the case of parentheses, the changes revolve around keeping the message short (sweet would just be a bonus).


Parentheses typically enclose extra information: either citations, which provide source details readers may or may not need or act on, or an extra thought or illustrative idea that did not warrant full elaboration in the text. As helpful as information in parentheses can be, it also is an interruption to the regular text, so keeping it to the point is ideal.


To that end, here are some things that should be done in parentheses that should not be done in regular text:

  • Use an ampersand (&) in place of and in citations (and only in citations). For example, a citation for Solo and Skywalker (1977) in text would be (Solo & Skywalker, 1977) in parentheses.
  • What would be versus in text is abbreviated vs. in parentheses (e.g., the relative heights of jawas vs. ewoks), unless one is referring to court cases, in which versus is abbreviated v. (e.g., the unlawful imprisonment suit of Organa v. The Empire).
  • Other standard Latin abbreviations should also be used in parentheses rather than written out:

    e.g. for for example (e.g., the Imperial traffic stop failed to apprehend the runaway droids)
    i.e. for that is (i.e., those were the droids they were looking for)
    viz. for namely (viz., C-3PO and R2-D2)
    cf. for compare (cf. the successful apprehension of rebels during the Cloud City mission)
    etc. for and so forth (Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa, C-3PO, etc.)

Please note in the examples that commas are used with Latin abbreviations where they logically would go if the phrases were written out. To help, here is a handy printable guide to Latin phrases.

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?

September 30, 2010

Computer Editing Tip: Em Dashes

Timothy.mcadoo by Timothy McAdoo

APA Style recommends specific uses for hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes. Last week we discussed en dashes. Today we focus on em dashes.

First, when would you use an em dash? The Publication Manual (p. 97) notes that em dashes are “used to set off an element added to amplify or to digress from the main clause.” The em dash draws a reader’s attention, partly because of the physical separation that the longer dash creates and partly because these dashes appear less frequently than hyphens and en dashes. The novelty of the em dash makes it perfect for text that you want to stand out.

An em dash might set off a phrase at the end of a sentence—like this one. Or, em dashes may set off a phrase midsentence—a technique that really draws a reader’s attention—as they do in this sentence. The text between the dashes is typically a digression or outright interruption of the main idea of the sentence. When used with care, this technique can really punctuate your point (pun intended)!

But “overuse,” notes the Publication Manual (p. 90), “weakens the flow of material.” One sentence with a phrase set off by em dashes draws the reader’s attention; but frequent interruptions of this type risk making your text seem disjointed or cumbersome.

Don't worry, the Publication Manual (p. 97) notes that you can use two hyphens with no spaces around them “if the em dash is not available on your keyboard.” If you prefer to use a true em dash, most keyboards don’t include a key for it, but a simple shortcut is available!

How to Create an Em Dash in Microsoft Word
Like many people, I use Microsoft Word as my word processor, even on my Mac. (Shortcuts for other software, like OpenOffice, will vary. Please feel free to share your tips for other programs in the comments section.)

Em dashes are easy to create in Microsoft Word:

  • On a PC, hold both the Control and Alt keys and type the minus sign (specifically, the one on the numeric keypad to the right; this shortcut will not work with the one at the top of the keyboard).

    PC-em-dash

  • On a Mac, hold both the Shift and Option keys and type the minus sign (specifically, the one on the top of the keyboard).

    Mac-em-dash

  • Or, you can even copy and paste one of the em dashes from earlier in this post!

For more detail on the use of hyphens, en dashes, em dashes, and even minus signs, see page 97 of the Publication Manual.

Bonus tip for Scrabble players: Both en and em are standard words in the dictionary. These make excellent surprises to have ready in a tight game!

September 23, 2010

Computer Editing Tip: En Dashes

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

People sometimes use the terms hyphen and dash interchangeably, but there’s a subtle distinction. In fact, dashes are different from hyphens, and they have a variety of forms.


The Publication Manual shows specific uses for hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes. Today we focus on en dashes.

First, when would you use an en dash?

The Publication Manual shows en dashes for

  • items of equal weight (e.g., test–retest, male–female, the Chicago–London flight),
  • page ranges (e.g., in references, “... Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 718–729.”), and
  • other types of ranges (e.g., 16–30 kHz).

Don't worry, the Publication Manual (p. 97) notes that you can use a single hyphen “if the en dash is not available on your keyboard.” If you prefer to use a true en dash, most keyboards don’t include a key for it, but a simple shortcut is available!

How to Create an En Dash in Microsoft Word
Like many people, I use Microsoft Word as my word processor, even on my Mac. (Shortcuts for other software, like OpenOffice, will vary. Please feel free to share your tips for other programs in the comments section.)

En dashes are easy to create in Microsoft Word:

  • On a PC, hold the Control key and type the minus sign (specifically, the one on the numeric keypad to the right; this shortcut will not work with the one at the top of the keyboard).

    PC keyboard shortcut
  • On a Mac, hold the Option key and type the minus sign (specifically, the one on the top of the keyboard).

    Mac keyboard shortcut
  • Or, you can even copy and paste one of the five en dashes from earlier in this post!


En dashes should not be confused with hyphens, which are used in compound words (e.g., self-esteem) and sometimes with prefixes (meta-analysis). Nor should they be confused with em dashes—the subject of next week’s post!

For more detail on the use of hyphens, en dashes, em dashes, and even minus signs, see page 97 of the Publication Manual.

June 17, 2010

Formatting Statistics: Using Brackets

Timothy McAdoo by Timothy McAdoo

In the previous post, we discussed how to use parentheses and commas with statistics.

Today, we highlight an exception to this guideline. There are two cases when brackets are the preferred choice in APA Style.

First, when parenthetical text also includes a statistic, brackets should be used.

(See Figure 3 for the results from the control group [n = 8]; compare with results from the Pink Floyd listening group [n = 23] and the Beatles listening group [n = 41].)

Second, for clarity, APA Style recommends that confidence intervals be reported with brackets around the upper and lower limits (as outlined on page 117):

95% CI [5.62, 8.31]

In the context of a sentence this might look like the following:

Participants who heard one Dresden Dolls song on repeat for 180 min reported no less anxiety than those who heard one Mozart movement on repeat for 180 min, R2 = .22, F(1, 32) = 7.33, p = .003, 95% CI [0.11, 1.23]. Our hypothesis that the genre difference would influence anxiety levels was rejected.

Also, as noted in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) on page 117, every report of a confidence interval must clearly state the level of confidence. Multiple confidence intervals would appear as follows. Notice the plural version of the CI abbreviation:

... 95% CIs [5.62, 8.31], [-2.43, 4.31], and [-4.29, -3.11], respectively.

I hope these examples are helpful.  What other questions about formatting statistics do you have? Let us know in the comments.

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