37 posts categorized "Punctuation"

February 10, 2011

Changes Parentheses Bring




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).


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


  • 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.

June 11, 2010

Formatting Statistics: Using Parentheses

Timothy McAdoo by Timothy McAdoo

The Publication Manual (6th ed.) presents guidelines for formatting statistical and mathematical copy. As noted on page 116 of the Manual, these guidelines reflect "standards of content and form agreed on in the field" and are designed to enhance clear communication.

The most basic guidelines are that statistics should be italicized and shown in parentheses:

In Experiment 1, participants listening to The Smiths were no more likely to dance energetically than were those listening to The Cure (p = .24).

However, when a statistic includes its own parenthetical value (e.g., degrees of freedom that appear with t or F values), you’ll need to separate the statistics from the text with commas. Nested parentheses should be avoided in APA Style.

Consider the next two examples:

In Experiment 2, participants listening to Lady Gaga were more likely to “just dance” than were students listening to The Smiths, t(177) = 3.51, p < .001.

In Experiment 3, participants’ biofeedback indicated a significant impact of listening to up-tempo La Roux melodies, F(1, 144), p < .001, and also a significant impact of listening to melancholy selections from The Decemberists, F(1, 144), p < .001.

Notice how the commas separate the string of statistics from the text, just as they would separate other types of independent clauses.

When you have multiple groups of statistics in a series, use semicolons to separate:

In Experiment 4, an impact was demonstrated for genre, R2 = .31, F(2, 13) = 3.13, p < .001; recording date, R2 = .11, F(2, 13) = 1.53, p < .001; and tempo, R2 = .17, F(2, 13) = 2.33, p < .001.

As a side note, notice that there should be no space between a statistic's symbol and its parenthetical information (in this case the degrees of freedom): that is, F(1, 144) not F (1, 144).

Of course, this just scratches the surface of the potential for reporting statistics. Pages 116–124 of the Manual provide much more detail. What questions do you have? Let us know in the comments.

May 27, 2010

“My Professor Says...”

.rev3 by Jeff Hume-Pratuch  

Dear APA,

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

--Anguished in Austin

Dear Anguished,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope this helps!



May 13, 2010

It’s All Latin to Me: Latin Abbreviations in Scholarly Writing

Chelsea blog by Chelsea Lee

The English language loves to appropriate words from other languages and claim them as its own. Some of these words and phrases have become so well used in scientific writing that you can employ them in your writing as abbreviations without any definitions or special attention (for instance, no need for italics). Yet readers new to scientific writing might find themselves scratching their heads and exclaiming, "It’s all Greek to me!" (Though the grammarian in me would point out that all the expressions below actually come from Latin, not Greek.)

The table below focuses on Latin abbreviations common to scholarly writing that may be used without definition in APA Style. Note that this list is not exhaustive. See also section 4.26 (p. 108) of the Publication Manual for more.

Abbreviation Meaning Example use Notes for APA Style
Used inside of parentheses only
cf. “compare” or “consult” (used to provide contrasting or opposing information) Abbott (2010) found supportive results in her memory experiment, unlike those of previous work (cf. Zeller & Williams, 2007). She expands on the working memory literature (see also Evans & Potter, 2005). Never put a comma after. Do not put a period between the c and the f. Use “cf.” to contrast; to compare like things, use “see” or “see also.”
e.g., “for example,” (abbreviation for exempli gratia) Some studies (e.g., Jenkins & Morgan, 2010; Macmillan, 2009) have supported this conclusion. Others—for example, Chang (2004)—disagreed. Always put a comma after.
etc. “and so on” or “and so forth” (abbreviation for et cetera) Students ranked their school subjects (chemistry, math, etc.) in order of preference, first, second, third, and so on, until they had ranked the entire list. A majority ranked science-related subjects (biology etc.) as their second favorite. Put a comma before if used to end a list of at least two other items, as shown in the example.
i.e., “that is,” (abbreviation for id est; used to give specific clarification) The experimenters manipulated the order of presentation (i.e., first, second, or third) of the three images as well their size, that is, whether they were small or large. Always put a comma after.
viz., “namely,” We first replicated our earlier study (viz., Black & Avery, 2008) and then extended it. Always put a comma after.
vs. “versus” The 2 (low vs. high) × 2 (blue vs. green) analysis of variance revealed that the low versus high distinction was not significant. Exception: With legal citations use v. instead (with italics; see also Appendix 7.1, section A7.03, Examples 1–8).
Used inside and outside of parentheses
et al. “and others” Thomas, Greengrass, and Hopkirk (2010) made several excellent points about goal-seeking behavior. Thomas et al. began with how goals are selected. Must refer to at least two people because it is a plural phrase. See section 6.12 (p. 175) for more on how to use.
Never used in APA Style
ibid. abbreviation for ibidem, used in citations to refer again to the last source previously referenced ——— Not used in APA Style; instead give each citation using author names as usual.

Note. All abbreviations in the first section should be used inside of parentheses only, that is, when you are making a parenthetical statement. Outside of parentheses, spell these expressions out using the definitions given in the Meaning column. The abbreviation “et al.” is used both inside and outside of parentheses. Directions on comma use always apply, whether you are abbreviating or not. Although the abbreviation “ibid.” is not used in APA Style, it is included here because it occurs in non-APA scholarly writing and readers may be otherwise unfamiliar with it. Unless otherwise noted, none of these abbreviations should be italicized.

You can download a PDF of the Latin abbreviations table here if you would like to use it as a handout for teaching or classroom purposes.

Feel free to share your contributions in the comments!

March 04, 2010

Lists, Part 6: Overview

Timothy McAdooChelsea by Timothy McAdoo and Chelsea Lee

Earlier in this series, I gave examples of lettered, numbered, and bulleted lists. Whereas those posts provided detail about each type of list and how to construct them, this post synthesizes the information to help you decide what list might be best for your paper.

Chelsea has consolidated this information into a handy table that shows typical uses for each type of list. Please note that it’s a general overview of the APA Style guidelines described in the Manual, not an exhaustive or absolute list. In fact, we’d love to hear other ways you use lists—feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.

What do you want to do with your series of items? Lettered Numbered Bulleted
Clarify the elements without drawing overmuch attention to the list itself

Visually separate the list from the surrounding text
Show procedural steps
Show a chronology (first, second, third)
Show how items have relative importance (e.g., increasing or decreasing in importance)
Show a general list, with no implied chronology, procedure, order, or differences in importance

You can also download a PDF version of this table here.

What other uses do you find for lettered, numbered, or bulleted lists?

Lists, Part 1  |  Lists, Part 2  |  Lists, Part 3

Lists, Part 4  |  Lists, Part 5  |  Lists, Part 6

March 02, 2010

Lists, Part 5: Bulleted Lists

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

This is the fifth in a six-part series about lists. Today I’ll discuss bulleted lists, which are new to APA Style!

Bulleted Lists

As the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association notes (p. 63), creating a list sometimes “helps the reader understand the organization of key points.” And although numbered lists are useful, in some cases the numbers may imply a chronology or ranking of importance that you don’t intend. Thus, I’m happy to share that bulleted lists are now an official part of APA Style (pp. 64–65)!

Bulleted lists allow a writer to create a list that stands out from the text without the implied chronology or order of importance that a numbered list might convey. Any symbol may be used for the bullets, although small circles or squares are typical software defaults. Here again, when full sentences are used, the first words should be capitalized and appropriate end punctuation should be included.

●  Each child received one plush toy.
●  Some toys were familiar to the children from their experiences in Experiment
    1. In Experiment 1, all children could see but not touch the plush elephant.
    Also in Experiment 1, half of the children could see but not touch the plush
    kangaroo, whereas the other half of the children could both see and touch
    the plush kangaroo.
●  One toy, a plush giraffe, was unique to Experiment 2.

(Note that although we single-space examples in the blog, you should double-space lists in an APA Style manuscript just as you would regular text.)

Bulleted Lists Within Sentences

In the example above, I used full sentences. But, you can also use bulleted lists within a sentence. When you do so, capitalize and punctuate throughout the list just as you would in any sentence. For example, in the following list, note the commas following the first two items, the conjunction “and” included with the second-to-last item, the lowercase used for each item in the list, and the end punctuation with the last item.

Each child was seated at a separate station and given
●  an elephant,
●  a kangaroo, and
●  a giraffe.

And remember that the rule for semicolons when items have internal commas is still applicable:

Each child was seated at a separate station and given
●  an elephant, which all children could see but not touch in Experiment 1;
●  a kangaroo, which half of the children could see but not touch and half of the
    children could both see and touch in Experiment 1; and
●  a giraffe, which was new to all children in this experiment.

A Caveat

Bulleted lists can be effective, but be sure to use them judiciously. Just as with numbered lists, by virtue of their formatting, bulleted lists are likely to draw a reader’s attention away from the running text. Too many bulleted lists in your paper may be visually distracting for a reader. You don’t want each page of your paper to look like a PowerPoint presentation!

There may also be differences in opinion about whether bulleted lists are appropriate for technical articles, dissertations, class assignments, and other types of writing. What do you think? Are you a list maker?

More to Come

In Part 6 of this series, we’ll provide an overview of good uses for each type of list.

Lists, Part 1  |  Lists, Part 2  |  Lists, Part 3

Lists, Part 4  |  Lists, Part 5  |  Lists, Part 6

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