by Tyler Krupa
A basic grammar rule is that the first word in a complete sentence should be capitalized. But do you know how to proceed when a name that begins with a lowercase letter begins a sentence? Or whether it is okay to begin a sentence with a lowercase statistical term (e.g., t test or p value)?
Although the two examples listed above seem to be exceptions to the rule that the first word in a sentence should be capitalized, this is not the case. Note that per APA Style, the first word in a complete sentence should always be capitalized.
So what should you do when you come across the above examples in your writing? Getting it right is simple as long as you remember the following two guidelines (see sections 4.14 and 4.30 in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual):
1. If a name that begins with a lowercase letter begins a sentence, then it should be capitalized.
2. Do not begin a sentence with a lowercase statistical term (e.g., t test or p value), a lowercase abbreviation (e.g., lb), or a symbol that stands alone (e.g., α).
To help illustrate the first guideline, let’s look at the following example:
Van Morrison and Smith (2012) interviewed 100 participants . . .
van Morrison and Smith (2012) interviewed 100 participants . . .
In the example above, even though the usual presentation of the surname van Morrison begins with a lowercase v, it is correct to capitalize the first letter of the surname when the name begins a sentence. However, note that if the surname van Morrison is used later in the sentence or in references/citations, then the lowercase v is retained (e.g., At the conclusion of the participant interviews, van Morrison and Smith . . .). For more information on how to correctly capitalize author names, see the following post to our blog.
Now let’s look at an example that illustrates the second guideline:
We used t tests to determine . . .
t tests were used to determine . . .
t Tests were used to determine . . .
T tests were used to determine . . .
Note that in the example above, it is not okay to capitalize the statistical term at the beginning of the sentence because doing so changes the meaning of the statistic. Therefore, in instances such as these, it is necessary to recast the sentence. However, note that it is okay to begin a sentence with a capitalized statistical term (e.g., F tests indicated that . . .). For more information on how to format statistics in your paper, see the following post to our blog.
We hope these examples clear up this point of possible uncertainty. Still have questions? Leave us a comment.
by Chelsea Lee
Consider the following APA Style spelling question, and choose which answer you think is most correct.
Q: Which spelling should be used for an APA Style paper, lite or light?
Which answer did you choose and why? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section, and we’ll share ours below.
This week, I look at another frequently asked APA Style question! Though the answer is true for other languages, too, the question is most often framed around British spellings.
When an article or book title includes British spellings, should I “fix” them in my reference list? Also, what if I include a direct quote? Should I change spellings or use [sic]? I read somewhere that APA Style requires spellings to match those in the APA Dictionary of Psychology or Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.
The Publication Manual’s spelling guidelines apply only to the original writing in your paper.
For references, keep the spelling in titles and other elements exactly as they appeared in the original. That is, cite what you see.
For instance, if you cite this scholarly tome, keep that u in colour!
|Trooping, T. C. (2012). Who rotated my colour wheel? London, England:
Neal’s Yard Publishing.
Likewise, if you quote from the text, keep the original spellings. There’s no need to use [sic], as these are not errors.
|Trooping (2012) said, “only when you allow your colour wheel to turn will you recognise the aesthetic ‘complements’ you’ve received” (p. 10).|
by Tyler Krupa
This week, we address another item on the list of APA Style points that writers find most challenging (on the basis of the article by Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels, 2010; also see their guest post to our blog): the misuse of the word data.
As noted in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual (p. 79), the plural form of some nouns of foreign origin—particularly those that end in the letter a—may appear to be singular and can cause authors to select a verb that does not agree in number with the noun. This is certainly the case with the word data. As shown in the Publication Manual (p. 96), the word datum is singular, and the word data is plural. Plural nouns take plural verbs, so data should be followed by a plural verb. To help clear up any confusion regarding the proper use of these terms, I list examples of datum and data being used correctly below:
|Each datum matches the location of an object to a coordinate on the map.
Although we have compiled the results, these data are the focus of another report and are not described here.
Keep in mind that most of the time the plural form data should be used. Scientific results are built upon testing things multiple times across multiple people, and we draw conclusions from the aggregate, not the individual, data points. Therefore, when referring to the collective results, be sure to use the plural form:
|The data regarding age show that older participants performed just as well as younger participants.
The data challenge the notion that more directive questions are necessary when interviewing children who have mild intellectual disabilities.
Another helpful hint to remember is that the term data set is two words, but database is one word:
|We generated 20 complete data sets.
It remains unlikely that the current empirical database could support such analyses.
We hope these examples help to clear up any confusion regarding the proper use of data. However, if you still have questions, feel free to leave a comment.
Readers send us APA Style questions every week—by e-mail, phone, Twitter, and Facebook. We love hearing from you, and we love the variety of your questions!
People sometimes contact us just to verify how a word is spelled or formatted. For example, “Is the word Internet capitalized?” Yes, Internet, a proper noun, is always capitalized, whereas website is not. Some people may believe that the word Internet has taken on a more general use, but until this change is reflected in dictionaries, most style guides will likely continue to advise writers to capitalize it.
As this example shows, questions of spelling are often about, or overlap with, guidelines for capitalization, hyphenation, and other stylistic areas. We can look at those in later posts, but today I’ll stick with the first—and easiest—answer: When in doubt about a word’s spelling, consult a dictionary!
For psychological terms, see the APA Dictionary of Psychology. In all other cases, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (p. 96) indicates that “spelling should conform to standard American English as exemplified in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2005).” If you don’t find a word there, check “the more comprehensive Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (2002).”
We have just one request about spelling (per p. 96 of the Manual): When the dictionary provides multiple options, use the first one. For example, use toward (not towards) and canceled (not cancelled).