11 posts categorized "Research"

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. 

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 begin indented like a paragraph. (In typeset APA journal articles, the keywords line is aligned under the 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.

Note (02/01/2016): An earlier version of this post indicated that the keywords line should be centered. This was corrected in the paragraph above.

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.

October 21, 2014

Student Webinars for Psychology: Tests and Measures & Statistics

APA and Psi Chi (the international honor society for psychology) have teamed up to produce free webinars for students on topics related to research and writing in psychology.

The first webinar addressed how to find and use psychological tests and measures. Watch it below:

  

The second webinar was about statistics—specifically, how to choose statistical tests on the basis of your research question and design and how to present statistics in APA Style in text, tables, and figures. Watch the video below:  

 

We hope you enjoy watching the webinars. What other webinar topics would you like to see?

To receive information about future webinars, follow APA Style on Facebook or Twitter, or check for announcements from Psi Chi.  

May 09, 2014

Comparing MLA and APA: Citing Resources

DB2



By David Becker

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

Style Frustration

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

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

MLA

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

APA

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

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

October 24, 2013

How Do I Cite a Search in APA Style?

Jeff 

 

 

by Jeff Hume-Pratuch

Q: In my paper I am writing about a Google search that I performed and the resulting number of websites on a specific topic. Do I need to cite this source in my reference list?

A: No, but thanks for stopping by!

Slightly Longer A: A search is not a source of information; it’s part of your research methodology. Describe it in the Method section of your paper and acknowledge the tools that you used (e.g., Google, Web of Science, PsycINFO). Don’t cite it in text or in the reference list. 

Here’s an example from a recently published article. It shows one way to describe a search for studies that met the criteria of the authors’ research project. Notice that the authors included

• where they searched (PsycINFO, Web of Science),
• the criteria for the search,
• how they used the search, and
• what they did with the results.

Although you may not be writing a meta-analysis article for publication, this is a good model of how to describe a search in your paper.

 

Search Strategy

From “Marital Quality and Health: A Meta-Analytic Review,” by T. F. Robles, R. B. Slatcher, J. M. Trombello, and M. M. McGinn, 2013, Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/a0031859. Copyright 2013 by the American Psychological Association.

 

August 22, 2013

Let’s Talk About Research Participants

Chelsea blog 2  Jeff blogby Chelsea Lee and Jeff Hume-Pratuch

In this post you will learn how to present data gathered during surveys or interviews with research participants that you conducted as part of your research. You may be surprised to learn that although you can discuss your interview and survey data in a paper, you should not cite them. Here’s why.

Retrievability Versus Confidentiality

Three hands

In APA Style, all sources must provide retrievable data. Because one purpose of references is to lead the reader to the source, both the reference entry and the in-text citation begin with the name of the author. But rules for the ethical reporting of human research data prohibit researchers from revealing “confidential, personally identifiable information concerning their patients, . . . research participants, or other recipients of their services” (APA Publication Manual [PM]; 6th ed., § 1.11, p. 16; APA Ethics Code, Standard 4.07). In other words, you must prevent the reader from identifying the source of information.

In this clash of principles, which one should triumph? The value of protecting participants’ confidentiality must always win out. “Subject privacy . . . should never be sacrificed for clinical or scientific accuracy” (PM § 1.11)—not even for APA Style.

Strategies for the Discussion of Research Participant Data

Although you don’t cite data you gathered from research participants, you can discuss them, provided that you preserve the confidentiality you guaranteed the participants when they consented to participate in your study (see PM § 1.11). In practical terms, this means that “neither the subject nor third parties (e.g., family members, employers) are identifiable” (PM, p. 17) from the information presented.

Strategies for the ethical use of data from research participants include the following:

  • referring to participants by identifiers other than their names, such as
    • their roles (e.g., participant, doctor, patient),
    • pseudonyms or nicknames,
    • initials,
    • descriptive phrases,
    • case numbers, or
    • letters of the alphabet;
  • altering certain participant characteristics in your discussion of the participants (e.g., make the characteristics more general, such as saying “European” instead of “French”);
  • leaving out unimportant identifying details about the participant;
  • adding extraneous material to obscure case details; and
  • combining the statements of several participants into a “composite” participant.

Choose the strategy that makes sense given the degree of confidentiality of information you must maintain and what details are important to relate to the reader. Keep in mind that in employing these strategies it is essential that you not “change variables that would lead the reader to draw false conclusions related to the phenomena being described” (PM, p. 17). 

Examples of How to Discuss Research Participant Data

Here are a few examples of how participant data might be presented in the text. The most appropriate presentation will depend on context.

  • One respondent stated she had never experienced a level of destruction similar to that caused by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
  • “Madge,” a 45-year-old Red Cross social worker, was in Sichuan province when the earthquake struck. “It was unlike anything else I have experienced,” she said.
  • MJ, a European social worker, said the earthquake was “unlike anything else I have experienced.”
  • A non-Chinese social worker said the 2008 Sichuan earthquake “exceeded levels of devastation I have ever seen before.”
  • Case 24 was injured in the earthquake.
  • Participant M said she had never experienced anything like the earthquake or its level of devastation.
  • Several employees of a humanitarian aid organization said that they were emotionally distressed by the devastation the earthquake left behind.

Data can also be presented in a table or figure provided these same standards are abided by. 

Going on the Record

If the research participant is willing to go "on the record," or include his or her name in the paper, use a personal communication citation (see PM § 6.20). In that case, you should write up the material you intend to use, present it to the participant, and get his or her written permission before including it (see PM § 1.11). In your paper, the information might be presented as follows:

  • M. Johnson (personal communication, May 16, 2008), a Red Cross social worker who assisted in the Sichuan earthquake recovery efforts, stated that “the earthquake exceeded levels of devastation I have ever seen before.”

Further Reading

The issues surrounding participant privacy in research reporting are complex and exceed what can be presented in this post. For further reading, consult the APA Publication Manual (6th ed., § 1.11) as well as the APA Ethics Code

January 10, 2013

Alligators and Academia: The Importance of Primary and Secondary Sources

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Have you heard about how alligators infest the New York City sewer system? The ones brought north by Florida snowbirds for the summer as pets, who were then jettisoned after they outgrew the family bathtub? Indeed, your cousin’s best friend once saw one with her own eyes. Or, at least, that’s what your cousin told you. But you wonder, is it really true, or is it just an urban legend?

Alligator_in_Shower_Cap

Reliable Sources in Academic Research Are Usually Primary Sources

Likewise, when it comes to academic research, it’s extremely important to make sure that the claims you make are backed up by sound evidence, or else your paper won’t stand up to scrutiny from your professors or colleagues (just like that alligator story didn’t hold up once you started looking into it).

As we saw with the alligator story, one of the best ways to help ensure a source’s reliability is to make sure you’re reading a firsthand account, or a primary source, from someone who saw the events for him- or herself (like the best friend), rather than a secondhand account, or a secondary source, from someone who only heard about the events but didn’t witness them personally (like your cousin). Most of the sources you use in a research paper or thesis should be primary sources, not secondary sources.

How to Spot a Primary Source in the Wild

Primary sources can come in many different forms. For example, a journal or magazine article might report the results of an original experiment, or a book or website might describe a theory or technique the author has developed or has expertise in. Note, however, that not every article, book, website, and so forth contains primary research. To determine whether a document is a primary source, ask, did the authors discover this finding themselves (primary source), or are they reporting what someone else found (secondary source)? 

You’ll have to evaluate each source on a case-by-case basis, but some document types tend to make promising primary sources:

  • journal articles;
  • books and book chapters;
  • some magazine and newspaper articles;
  • reports, such as from government agencies or institutions;
  • dissertations and theses;
  • interview and speech transcripts and recordings;
  • video and audio recordings;
  • personal communications; and
  • webpages.

Secondary Sources: Second Best?

In our alligator story example, the word of the secondary source, your cousin, ended up not being too trustworthy, and that’s why we shied away from citing it. But that’s not always the case with secondary sources—in fact, many secondary sources can be not only reliable but also extremely helpful during the research process. For example, a textbook or an encyclopedia (including Wikipedia) can help you get acquainted with a research area by summarizing others’ research. Or you might read a summary of one scientist’s interesting study in someone else’s journal article. 

In these cases, however, the chief advantage of the secondary source is not the quotes that you find but that it points you to the primary source through a citation. It’s important to read (and then cite) the primary source if you can, because that will enable you to verify the accuracy and completeness of the information.

It would not look good for you to cite a secondary source (like your cousin with the alligator tale) only for someone else (like your professor—or animal control) to inform you later that the truth was in fact something quite the opposite. Even when secondary sources are highly accurate, being thorough and reading the primary sources helps demonstrate your merit as a scientist and researcher and helps others find that helpful information.

Citations to secondary sources are permissible under certain circumstances. For example, if you are discussing Wikipedia in your paper, you should cite it (here are some more of our thoughts on citing Wikipedia). Likewise, some primary sources are unobtainable (such as if they are out of print or impossible to find) or written in a language you don’t understand, so the secondary source is what you should cite. Or the secondary source might offer an analysis of the primary source that you want to refer the reader to. See our post on how and when to cite secondary sources (a.k.a. a source you found in another source) and refer to Publication Manual section 6.17 (p. 178) for directions and examples of citations to secondary sources.

We hope this discussion of primary and secondary sources has helped you understand what types of sources are most effective and helpful to use in a research paper. Also we hope that you will contact us if you ever do find that alligator, because the family bathtub just isn’t the same without him. 

December 16, 2010

Journal Article Reporting Standards: How Do They Work?

HCooper 3-1-09

by Harris Cooper, PhD

Last week I discussed why APA’s Journal Article Reporting Standards (the JARS) are needed when you are writing your psychology research report. I compared a psychology research paper to assembly instructions, like those you would follow when constructing a shelf or putting a bike together. Without a list of materials and clear instructions, others will find it difficult to understand what you did and to repeat your experiment. In this post, I describe how the JARS works. (For more detail about why the JARS is needed and how it works, see my book, Reporting Research in Psychology: How to Meet Journal Article Reporting Standards, which was released by APA this week.)

The JARS first focuses on information recommended for inclusion in all reports. These recommendations are organized by the parts of a research report: title, abstract, introduction, Method, Results, and Discussion. For example, here are the characteristics of sampling procedures that the JARS recommends be described in the Method section of every report:

  • Sampling method, if a systematic sampling plan was implemented
  • Percentage of sample approached that participated
  • Self-selection (by either individuals or units, such as schools or clinics)
  • Settings and locations where data were collected
  • Agreements and payments made to participants
  • Institutional review board agreements, ethical standards met, and safety monitoring

If a study is conducted with a college or university subject pool, the description of the sampling procedure is pretty straightforward. But, if a study involves, say, a classroom intervention, you can see how the description can become more involved. In both cases, however, if we don’t know this information about the study, it would be hard to determine to whom the results of the study apply.
After the recommendations that pertain to all reports, the JARS asks that researchers pay careful attention to reporting the research design. Research designs come in a variety of forms depending on the type of question that motivates the research. Therefore, each design requires unique information.
The JARS currently provides standards for only one family of designs, those involving purposive or experimental manipulations or interventions. Among the information requested are these aspects of the manipulation:

  • Setting (where the manipulations or interventions occurred)
  • Exposure quantity and duration (how many sessions, episodes, or events were intended to be delivered and how long they were intended to last)
  • Time span (how long it took to deliver the intervention or manipulation to each unit)
  • Activities to increase compliance or adherence (e.g., incentives)

So, if a study evaluates the effect of providing tutoring for children having difficulty learning to read, the JARS recommends that the report tell readers where the tutoring took place (e.g., in the regular classroom or a resource room; before, during, or after school); how often tutors met with students and for how long; whether the intervention lasted a week, a month, a semester, or a year; and whether the students received some incentive to take part in the tutoring and to stay involved.

The JARS module on experimental manipulations also asks whether the researcher (a) randomly assigned participants to conditions or (b) assigned participants to conditions using another type of procedure; depending on the assignment procedures, the researcher asks additional questions about how the assignment was accomplished.

Of course, this is just a sampling of the information requested in the JARS. As you look at the full JARS, it might seem daunting to provide all the information. But really, everything asked for should be known about a study. The JARS helps researchers remember what’s important about their study and ensures their study remains a valuable contribution to the psychology literature.

December 10, 2010

Journal Article Reporting Standards: Why Are They Needed?

HCooper 3-1-09

by Harris Cooper, PhD


Harris Cooper, PhD, was chair of the APA Journal Article Reporting Standards Working Group. He also served on the committee that revised the APA Publication Manual.

 With the holidays around the corner, nothing frustrates us more than incomplete assembly instructions for that bicycle or bookshelf. We fume over the instructions that are unclear or the list of materials that don’t quite match up with the material provided. There seems to be a screw missing. What is this piece for? Does the shelf go in before or after tightening the screws?

88349067-sm

In many ways, a psychology research report is like assembly instructions. Without a complete list of the materials and a clear description of the assembly steps, it is impossible for others to understand what we did and what to do to repeat our experiment, if they so desire.

Recently, more people have become interested in what the psychological research says. But, with increased influence comes increased responsibility, and increased scrutiny. And, there has been a growing sense that the instructions in our research reports often do not serve us well.

A desire for “evidence-based” practice is widespread in public health, social services, and education. Before funding a program to, say, reduce drug abuse, improve academic achievement, or assist veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder, the people who control the purse strings want “solid evidence” the program works. Solid evidence means that the studies that purport to evaluate programs and interventions allow confident conclusions about program effectiveness. And, to make this judgment, the research write-ups need to include clear instructions and an accurate list of materials.  How else will they know whether studies’ results are to be believed?

In addition to this need for easy replication is a desire for uniformity in discussing results.  The amount of psychological research is growing rapidly. When researchers summarize studies, be they about basic topics—such as the influences on memory or the development of morality through the life span—or applied topics, they need to have good descriptions of what was done. Like assembly instructions, these descriptions are used to piece together past research into coherent pictures, to help resolve conflicts in research results, and to identify questions yet to be studied. If the research description is incomplete, it is like assembly instructions that result in a bicycle that we can’t ride or a bookshelf that will collapse.

Not surprising then, greater emphasis today is placed on the reporting of research. So, in preparation for the sixth edition of the Publication Manual, APA formed a working group to look into the issue. As a result, the Publication Manual now recommends that Journal Article Reporting Standards (or the JARS) be followed that summarize the information editors, reviewers, and readers will expect to see in research reports. APA has just released a book I authored to help writers understand and implement the new standards, titled Reporting Research in Psychology: How to Meet Journal Article Reporting Standards. So, how do the JARS work? Find out in next week’s post.

 

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