89 posts categorized "Style rules"

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


November 14, 2011

Brevity Is the Soul of Lingerie (and Abstracts)

by Anne Breitenbach

AnneBreitenbachComing back at long last to my promised series on abstracts, let’s begin with the first clause of the Publication Manual description in section 2.04: “An abstract is a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of the article.” Our focus in this post is the “brief” part of that instruction. Your job as abstract writer is to give the prospective reader the essential information as succinctly as possible. Although you’re not quite reduced to haiku, you are restricted to what's crucial. 

In Chapter 2, which covers manuscript structure and content, section 2.04 gives us a number of specifics.  It notes that if you are preparing a paper for a specific journal, then that journal may well provide information on the abstract somewhere in the instructions to authors. Read that information. Abide by it. The most common instruction is likely to be about length. For APA journals, for instance, the instructions read, “All manuscripts must include an abstract containing a maximum of 250 words.”  If yours exceeds a limit, it may be cut arbitrarily wherever the limit falls, or it may be hacked apart by a copyeditor who has firm instructions on what to take out and what to leave in, which may well not agree with your opinion. Likewise, if you are creating an abstract for an instructor or in accordance with university guidelines, you should check and see whether they have guidelines you need to abide by.  

But back to section 2.04, here are some “don’ts”:

  • Do not include [oops. I’m afraid I just hit 250 words in these two paragraphs and so am out of space. Yes, that’s what 250 words look like. Not very long is it?] information that doesn’t appear in the manuscript. 
  • Do not evaluate in the abstract—instead, report [“I did” not “I believe”].
  • Do not get bogged down with nouns when there’s a sturdy verb available [“used” not “the utilization of”].
  • Do not use passive voice when active makes sense [“Bill ate five sandwiches” not “Five sandwiches were eaten by Bill”].
  • Do not repeat the title; in fact, don’t repeat—space is too precious.


The Manual also gives suggestions on other ways to save space. 

  • Instruction on abbreviations is a bit oblique. Section 4.22 states, “In all circumstances other than in the reference list and in the abstract [italic added], you must decide whether (a) to spell it out a given expression every time it is used in an article or (b) to spell it out initially and abbreviate it thereafter.”  So presumably abbreviations should be used in abstracts as a matter of course. 
  • Section 4.31(b) tells you to set numbers in the abstract as numerals.


Changes That Your Professor May Not Know About

Previous editions of the Publication Manual gave more extensive instructions on specifically how to keep the abstract brief.  This has led to a bit of a Catch-22, as in the sixth edition, in an effort to actually be brief, we removed some of those guidelines. We thus now have a gray area where the ghosts of old rules, still remembered by many a professor and editor, haunt the newer, less circumscribed instructions on keeping abstracts short and clear.

Here are some examples of ways in which guidelines about abstracts in the sixth edition differ from those given in the fifth edition:

  • In previous editions, writers were instructed to include initials with the surnames of authors cited in the abstract. That instruction is now gone.
  • Previously, the Manual included instructions stipulating use of the third person rather than first in the abstract (the opposite of the usual preference; see section 3.09). That specific instruction is gone, but the example given in the paragraph on being coherent and readable is written in the third person. Thus, presumably third person is still acceptable in the abstract but is not required.
  • The whole instruction-rich section on being “self-contained” is gone. That section had included advice on defining abbreviations and unique terms and spelling out names of tests. Although those suggestions are still useful ways of saving space in an abstract, they are no longer specified in the Manual.

So be brief, be clear, and be prepared. 

November 03, 2011

The Proper Use of Et Al. in APA Style

Chelsea blog 2 by Chelsea Lee

Academic writing is full of little conventions that may seem opaque to the uninitiated. One of these is the Latin phrase et al., an abbreviation meaning “and others.” It is used to shorten lists of author names in text citations to make repeated referencing shorter and simpler. Note that et al. is italicized in this post when I am using it as a linguistic example, but it should not be italicized when you are using it as part of a reference citation.

General Use of Et Al.

Below is a chart showing when to use et al., which is determined by the number of authors and whether it is the first time a reference has been cited in the paper. Specifically, articles with one or two authors include all names in every in-text citation; articles with three, four, or five authors include all names in the first in-text citation but are abbreviated to the first author name plus et al. upon subsequent citations; and articles with six or more authors are abbreviated to the first author name plus et al. for all in-text citations.

Number of authors

First text citation (either parenthetical or narrative)

Subsequent text citations (all)

One or two

Palmer & Roy, 2008

Palmer & Roy, 2008

Three, four, or five

Sharp, Aarons, Wittenberg, & Gittens, 2007

Sharp et al., 2007

Six or more

Mendelsohn et al., 2010

Mendelsohn et al., 2010

 

Avoiding Ambiguity

However, sometimes abbreviating to the first author name plus et al. can create ambiguity. Here are two example references, as also discussed in a previous post about reference twins.

Marewski, J. N., Gaissmaier, W., & Gigerenzer, G. (2010). Good judgments do not require complex cognition. Cognitive Processing, 11, 103–121. doi:10.1007/s10339-009-0337-0
Marewski, J. N., Gaissmaier, W., Schooler, L. J., Goldstein, D. G., & Gigerenzer, G. (2010). From recognition to decisions: Extending and testing recognition-based models for multi-alternative inference. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 17, 287–309. doi:10.3758/PBR.17.3.287

The first in-text citations to each of these would be as follows:

  • (Marewski, Gaissmaier, & Gigerenzer, 2010)
  • (Marewski, Gaissmaier, Schooler, Goldstein, & Gigerenzer, 2010)

For the subsequent in-text citations we would usually abbreviate these studies to the first author name plus et al.; however, doing so here would produce two Marewski et al. (2010) citations, leaving the reader unable to tell which one you mean (if the citations were from different years we would not have this problem, because the years would tell them apart). The solution here is to spell out as many names as necessary (here, to the third name) upon subsequent citations to tell the two apart: 

  • (Marewski, Gaissmaier, & Gigerenzer, 2010)
  • (Marewski, Gaissmaier, Schooler, et al., 2010)

Notice that for the first reference, this means that all citations to this source include all three names. For the second reference, the two remaining names can be abbreviated to et al.

A Quirk of Et Al.

Finally, be careful of a quirk of et al., which is that it is plural—that is, it must replace at least two names (or, put another way, it cannot stand for only one name). So, if you have worked through a reference and only one name is left to abbreviate, you must spell out all the names every time to tell the two apart.  Here is an example with three authors, although the principle holds no matter how many total authors there are:

Berry, C. J., Henson, R. N. A., & Shanks, D. R. (2006). On the relationship between repetition priming and recognition memory: Insights from a computational model. Journal of Memory and Language, 55, 515–533. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2006.08.008
Berry, C. J., Shanks, D. R., & Henson, R. N. A. (2006). On the status of unconscious memory: Merikle and Reingold (1991) revisited. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 32, 925–934. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.32.4.925

The correct in-text citations would be written as follows for all citations of these two references:

  • (Berry, Henson, & Shanks, 2006)
  • (Berry, Shanks, & Henson, 2006)

Avoid the following common incorrect ways of citing these references in text:

  • (Berry, Henson, et al., 2006), (Berry et al., 2006a)
  • (Berry, Shanks, et al., 2006), (Berry et al., 2006b)

A Final Note

If it happens that all the author names are exactly the same and the studies were published in the same year as well, the method of citation described in the reference twins post applies. Namely, use et al. as usual but also include lowercase letters after the year (2010a, 2010b, etc.) to tell the references apart.

For more information and examples on citing references in text, see Chapter 6 of our sixth edition Publication Manual (pp. 174–179). You may also be interested in our primer on how in-text citations work and our piece on common et al.-related errors.

October 20, 2011

Reference Twins: Or, How to Cite Articles With the Same Authors and Same Year

Chelsea blog 2
by Chelsea Lee

Have you ever been friends with a pair of identical twins? Twins who looked so alike that, at first, telling them apart all hinged on finding that distinguishing freckle, or hoping someone else would call them by their names so you could memorize what clothes each was wearing that day? In the social sciences, there is a longstanding tradition of twin research, but this post refers to twins of another kind: reference twins. Specifically, this post addresses how to cite multiple articles by the same authors that were published in the same year so that everyone can easily tell them apart.


A Solution for Identical Twins

In essence, the solution to the reference twin problem is not much different from how twins are told apart at birth: Just as twins are referred to as “Baby A” and “Baby B,” “twin references” are also given letters to tell them apart. Specifically, lowercase letters are added after the year (2011a, 2011b, etc.), and the references are alphabetized by title to determine which is “a” and which is “b.” Here is an example:

Koriat, A. (2008a). Easy comes, easy goes? The link between learning and remembering and its exploitation in metacognition. Memory & Cognition, 36, 416–428. doi:10.3758/MC.36.2.416
Koriat, A. (2008b). Subjective confidence in one’s answers: The consensuality principle. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34, 945–959. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.34.4.945

In the text, citations would be styled as follows: (Koriat, 2008a) and (Koriat, 2008b).

For references that are in press or that have no date (signified by n.d., which stands for “no date”), use the following forms for the date: (in press-a), (in press-b), (n.d.-a), and (n.d.-b), and so forth.

A Solution for Not-Quite Twins

However, be careful that your references are true identical twins. That is, the method described above applies only when all author names are the same and appear in the same order. If any of the names or the order is different, then the references are distinguished in a different way: by spelling out as many author names as necessary to tell them apart.  Let’s use the following two references as an example:

Marewski, J. N., Gaissmaier, W., & Gigerenzer, G. (2010). Good judgments do not require complex cognition. Cognitive Processing, 11, 103–121. doi:10.1007/s10339-009-0337-0
Marewski, J. N., Gaissmaier, W., Schooler, L. J., Goldstein, D. G., & Gigerenzer, G. (2010). From recognition to decisions: Extending and testing recognition-based models for multi-alternative inference. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 17, 287–309. doi:10.3758/PBR.17.3.287

The first in-text citations to each of these articles would be as follows:

  • (Marewski, Gaissmaier, & Gigerenzer, 2010)
  • (Marewski, Gaissmaier, Schooler, Goldstein, & Gigerenzer, 2010)

Now, what about subsequent in-text citations? Usually we would abbreviate studies with three or more authors to the first author name plus et al. (Latin for “and others”); however, doing so here would produce two Marewski et al. (2010) citations, leaving the reader unable to tell which one you mean. The solution is to spell out as many names as necessary (here, to the third name) upon subsequent citations to tell the two apart: 

  • (Marewski, Gaissmaier, & Gigerenzer, 2010)
  • (Marewski, Gaissmaier, Schooler, et al., 2010)

Notice that for the first reference, this means that all citations to this source will include all three names. For the second reference, the two remaining names can be abbreviated to et al. (Note, however, that if only one name remains to distinguish the references, that name must be spelled out with all the rest because et al. is plural—it cannot stand for only one name. This topic will be elaborated upon in an upcoming post.)

For more information and examples of citing references in text, see Chapter 6 of our sixth edition Publication Manual (pp. 174–179). You may also be interested in our primer on how in-text citations work.

September 22, 2011

Me, Myself, and I

More Tales From the Style Expert Inbox

by Jeff Hume-Pratuch

Jeff Dear Style Expert,

My professor said that if I express my own opinion in a paper, I have to cite myself in text. Do I have to put myself in the reference list too, or is it more like a personal communication? It seems kind of odd to be citing a communication with yourself.
—Irene

Dear Irene,

Although it’s a basic principle of scientific writing that “researchers . . . give credit where credit is due” (APA Publication Manual, 6th ed., p. 15) when they use the words and ideas of others, it’s really not necessary to cite yourself as the source of your own opinion. After all, your name is on the title page.

Your professor may be trying to encourage you to distinguish your opinions from conclusions you have drawn on the basis of empirical evidence. Generally, however, authors indicate their opinions by introducing them with a phrase such as “In my opinion,” “I think,” or “I believe.” (And yes, it’s perfectly OK to use first-person pronouns for this purpose in APA Style.)

In short, citing yourself as an authority on your own opinion is just not done in APA Style—or any form of serious communication. (Just ask Bob Dole.)

Hope this helps,

Jeff

Got a nagging question about APA Style? Send it to us at StyleExpert@apastyle.org!

September 08, 2011

Group Authors

Timothy McAdoo by Timothy McAdoo

In 2010, the estimated number of websites was 255 million. That translates to a staggering number of individual webpages. Who’s writing all those pages? And, how should you cite them in APA Style?

In this post, I’ll focus on just one possibility: group authors.  Although the “who” element for many references is an individual author or authors, “who” can also be a group author. This is often the case for white papers, press releases, and information pages (e.g., “About Us”) on company websites.

For example, the "about" page on the American Psychological Association site (http://www.apa.org/about/) was surely written by one or more real people. But, because no individual byline is listed and because this resides on the organization’s webpage, you would reference it as a group author. That is, the “who” in your reference is a group author.

 

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). About APA. Retrieved from
    http://www.apa.org/about/

Notice that the author portion still ends with a period.

References
In the reference, spell out the full group author name.  Though you may choose to abbreviate the author name in text, spell it out in the reference list.

Citations
In your text, use the author–date format for citations. In this example, the author is “American Psychological Association” and the date is “n.d.”

 

    According to the American Psychological Association (n.d.), “psychology is a diverse discipline, grounded in science, but with nearly boundless applications in everyday life” (Definition of "Psychology," para. 1).

Abbreviations
If you include the citation many times in your paper, you might want to abbreviate the group author name. If so, this introduction should be included with the first use in text:

 

    According to the American Psychological Association (APA, n.d., Definition of "Psychology," para. 1), “psychology is a diverse discipline, grounded in science, but with nearly boundless applications in everyday life.”

If you decide to abbreviate, do so consistently throughout the paper. Spelling out the name in some sections and abbreviating in others can confuse the reader.

Note that you are not required to abbreviate, even if the group author name appears frequently in your text. The Publication Manual (p. 176) recommends writing out the name of group authors, even if used many times in your text, if the group author name is short or “if the abbreviation would not be readily understandable.”

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.).

June 16, 2011

Finding (and Using) Page Numbers for Kindle Books

Jeff by Jeff Hume-Pratuch

There’s no question that e-books make up a rapidly increasing segment of the publishing world. Amazon.com’s Kindle dominates this market, with hundreds of thousands of titles available in formats that can be read not only on the Kindle but on millions of iPads, iPhones, Blackberries, and Android devices as well.

Although the Kindle (and other e-book readers) are wonderfully portable, there has been one drawback to their use in research and scholarly writing: no page numbers. Instead, the device presents a number that roughly corresponds to the amount of text you’ve read. This number varies depending on the size of your display and the font settings you use; it has no relation to the pagination of the printed text.


Why Is This a Problem?

APA Style requires a page citation or paragraph number for directly quoted material (see the APA Publication Manual, 6th ed., pp. 170-171) to meet the overall goal of documentation, which is to fully credit your sources and allow your reader to retrieve them. A reader who picks up the same edition of a book you used can quickly turn to the exact source of your quotation. But because the Kindle location number depends on display and font size, readers sent to “Locations 2356-2445” may scroll in vain if they are using a different model or their settings are different from yours.

While the Publication Manual (pp. 170-172) provides some workarounds for citing unpaginated material (as outlined in this post), the only digital documents with real page numbers have been PDFs—until now, that is.


The Solution

In March, Amazon.com announced that the latest Kindle will display page numbers that correspond to those in the printed original of a digital book. If you have a Kindle 3G, you can view these page numbers by pressing the Menu button. The ISBN number of the original book is displayed on its product information page at Amazon.com. These page numbers meet the requirements for citations in APA Style.

Unfortunately, this is not a complete solution. If you have a Kindle 2, KindleDX, or other models, you won’t be able to see the page numbers. Amazon has no immediate plans to make this feature backward compatible, and so far the distributors of other devices (such as the Nook or Sony Reader) have not introduced similar features. However, for the users of the Kindle 3G, this is a great step forward.

June 03, 2011

How Do You Cite an E-Book (e.g., Kindle Book)?

Chelsea blog 2

by Chelsea Lee

E-books come in a variety of formats (e.g., Kindle, Adobe Digital Editions, EPub, HTML, and more) and can be read on a variety of devices (e.g., e-readers like the Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader, as well as on personal computers and mobile devices through online portals such as NetLibrary, ebrary, and Google Books). This post shows how to cite any e-book in APA Style.

Reference List Entries

The reference list entry for a whole e-book should include elements of author, date, title (with e-reader book type in square brackets if applicable; italicize the title but not the bracketed material), and source (URL or DOI):

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of book [E-reader version, if applicable]. Retrieved from http://xxxxx

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of book [E-reader version, if applicable]. doi:xxxxx

  • If the book was read or acquired through an online library (e.g., Google Books, ebrary, NetLibrary) and not on an e-reader device, omit the bracketed information from the reference.

The reference list entry for a chapter in an edited e-book should be written as follows:

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of chapter. In B. B. Editor (Ed.), Title of book [E-reader version, if applicable] (pp. xxx–xxx). Retrieved from http://xxxxx

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of chapter. In B. B. Editor (Ed.), Title of book [E-reader version, if applicable] (pp. xxx–xxx). doi:xxxxx

  • If the e-book chapter does not have page numbers, omit that part of the reference.
  • To determine whether you need to cite the whole book or just a chapter, please see this post

In-Text Citations

For in-text citations of paraphrased material, provide the author and date, as for any APA Style reference. To cite a direct quotation, also provide page numbers if the e-book has page numbers. If there are no page numbers, you can include any of the following in the text to cite the quotation (see section 6.05 of the Publication Manual, pp. 171–172):

  • 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.

A Note on Kindle Page Numbers and Location Numbers 

As of March 2011, many Kindle books now have real page numbers that correspond to those in print editions (as far as we know, this applies only for Kindle third generation products and going forward). These real page numbers are appropriate to use in academic citation (as are the page numbers of other paginated e-books). Kindle "location numbers," however, should not be used in citations because they have limited retrievability. Instead, for any e-book without page numbers, APA recommends the method described above for citations of directly quoted material.

See these links for further discussion of Kindles, e-books and e-book chapters, and citing unpaginated material, and see Publication Manual section 7.02 (pp. 202–205) for more examples.

May 26, 2011

A Marginal Note

More Tales from the Style Expert Inbox

.rev2 by Jeff Hume-Pratuch

Dear Style Expert,

I would like a clarification about the margins for an APA Style paper. The APA Publication Manual (6th ed.) says to “leave uniform margins of at least 1 in. (2.54 cm) at the top, bottom, left, and right of every page” (p. 229). I believe the correct thing to do is to space 1 in. at the top margin, then single space down and insert the running head. Some of my students are using a ½ in. margin for the top of the page, then single spacing down to type in the header, followed by a double space where the text of the paper begins. Who is right here? A lot of grades are riding on this.

—Inquiring Instructor

Dear Inquiring,

Typist Unless you’re teaching at Luddite State (where manual typewriters are a must), no one should be “spacing down” anything. The APA Publication Manual (6th ed.) does direct authors to use a 1-in. margin (p. 229), but it also directs them to “use the automatic functions of your word-processing program to generate headers” (p. 230). That means there’s no need to adjust the spacing around the header—it’s automatic!

Just set your margins at 1 in. (2.54 cm) and use the default setting for headers in your word-processing program. Voila! Your paper is correctly formatted in APA Style.


Dear Style Expert,

Now my whole study group is extremely confused, because your instructions seem to contradict the sample papers in the Publication Manual. It looks like there is more margin at the top of sample p. 4 than sample p. 3, and some of the pages are cut off at the bottom. What gives?
—Going Cross-Eyed in Cincinnati

Dear Cross-Eyed,

The sample papers are illustrations, not scale models. Just enough of each page is shown to illustrate the rules that are called out in the attached boxes. They’re not intended to show every point of APA Style, however, and you certainly can’t deduce margin guidelines from them. Fortunately, those guidelines are clearly stated on pp. 229–230 of the Publication Manual. If there ever appears to be a contradiction between an illustration and the text, follow the text.


Dear Style Expert,

Why, that’s crazy talk! A margin is empty space. If you have a 1-in. margin, then there should be 1 in. of empty space at the top of the page, with no headers in it.

—Marginal Maniac


Dear Marginal,

Think of it this way: The margin is, by definition, the part of a page outside the main body of text. The running head (again, by definition) is not part of the main body of text. Therefore, it is included in the margin, not below it.

Got a Question?

If you have a question (marginal or otherwise) about APA Style that hasn’t been answered yet, post it in the comments here. We’ll do our best to demystify it for you!

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