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4 posts from August 2009

August 27, 2009

Referencing Gray Literature in APA Style

Anne-80 by Anne Breitenbach

What do the Zapruder video footage of the Kennedy assassination, the Watergate recordings, and simulations of the Stanford Prison Experiment have in common? One thing, of course, is that in different media, each documents an event that has had a profound impact on American society. Another is that though it’s not hard to envision legitimate reasons to cite each in scholarly writing, each also is an example of a source from outside of traditional peer-reviewed literature.

These sources are broadly referred to as gray literature, and they include a treasure trove of source material. However, valuable as these sources can be, they indisputably present some special challenges to the student or researcher wishing to rely on them. First, the sources can be difficult to find. Second, they can be of dubious reliability (heads up, students wishing to cite Wikipedia in your papers). Third, they can disappear without warning from an archive or website. Because of that last point, some have defined gray literature as “ephemeral,” from the Greek root ephemera meaning, literally, “passing in a day.” It’s a lovely word, but it is not a lovely result if chunks of your references have disappeared by the time your reader tries to access them.

In recognition of both their value and problems, we have expanded the examples of non-peer-reviewed sources in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual. In addition to sections on technical and research reports, meetings and symposia, audiovisual media, and unpublished and informally published works, there is an expanded section on citing online sources and a new section on citing archival documents and collections. Many common reference examples are provided in chapter 7 or here on our website.

Two issues are important to highlight for these types of references. The first is that our examples can’t be exhaustive of all possible sources you might cite, so it is important to be flexible. In such cases, find an example that is similar to your source, and adapt it to your requirements. The second is to keep in mind that these sources by their nature may be more difficult to find, thus we suggest that you provide as much information as is necessary to enable your reader to retrieve and use your sources. Most entries will need the author, year of publication, title, and publishing or retrieval date. In addition, they may require additional information necessary for unique identification. Keeping these facts in mind will help ensure a useful citation and reference list when your reader wants to access your sources.

August 20, 2009

Formatting APA References With More Than Seven Authors

Chelsea blogby Chelsea Lee

Imagine you’re sitting in a movie theater. As the film begins, actors’ names flash across the screen. The order of the names is determined by a combination of the actors' contributions to the film and the actors' celebrity status (or contributions to the field of movie-making). When a celebrity stars in a movie, he or she usually gets top billing. But what about when an unknown actor gets the lead role? Or when a celebrity plays a small role? In these situations, the actor may lose out on top billing but be given another place of honor: last billing.
For example, in the original Superman, Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman got top billing for playing Superman’s father and Lex Luthor (respectively) and the then-unknown actor Christopher Reeve received last billing “introducing” him as Superman.
What does this have to do with APA reference style?

The world of scholarly publication is not so different from the movies, at least as far as authorship is concerned. Authors are generally listed in order of contribution to the research, but the last author can also be a contributor of distinction, often the principal investigator. The 6th edition of the Publication Manual recognizes this with the new rule regarding citing sources with more than seven authors in the reference list (section 6.27). The first six authors are listed; all subsequent authors except the last are omitted and replaced with an ellipsis; and then the name of the last author is listed.
Here’s an example of the new reference list style, for a study with 87 authors (yes, 87!):

Terracciano, A., Abdel-Khalek, A. M., Adam, N., Adamovova, L., Ahn, C., 
 Ahn, H., . . . McCrae, R. R. (2005, October 7). National character 
 does not reflect mean personality trait levels in 49 cultures. 
 Science, 310, 96–100. doi:10.1126/science.1117199 

In this particular study, after the first author, the authors’ names seem to proceed in alphabetical order . . . until you get to the final author, Robert R. McCrae. Those familiar with the field of personality psychology know that McCrae is one of the leading thinkers in the field (together with Paul T. Costa, Jr., he is responsible for the five-factor personality model).
It won’t always be the case that the last author is someone of distinction, but when it does happen, his or her contributions will be preserved for posterity.

August 13, 2009

The Flexibility of APA Style


Timothy McAdoo by Timothy McAdoo

Sometimes it’s okay to color outside the lines. Although the stylistic guidelines in the Publication Manual are meant to ensure consistency within scientific writing, we also recognize the importance of a writer’s good judgment. The trick is knowing when it’s okay to do your own thing. It’s even trickier when you know someone may be reading your paper with a red pen in hand!

As an example, let’s consider APA’s guidance on introducing acronyms (from section 4.22): 

Abbreviations introduced on first mention of a term and used fewer than three times thereafter, particularly in a long paper, may be difficult for a reader to remember, and you probably serve the reader best if you write them out each time.

So in your paper on the psychological effects of duckpin versus tenpin bowling, when you mention the American Bowling Congress just twice, spell it out both times (and don’t introduce the abbreviation ABC). 


Clear enough, but note that the Manual says “you probably serve the reader best” by doing this. How, then, should you recognize an exception? Let’s say you are writing a paper on metabolism disorders, and you need to mention very long-chain acyl-coenzyme A dehydrogenase deficiency just two times. Because of the unwieldy nature of this term, wouldn’t it make more sense to introduce the abbreviation (which is VLCADD) in this case? Yep, go ahead: Your readers will thank you!

Still worried about that red pen? If you’ve mastered the fine points of APA Style throughout a manuscript, your choices will be recognized as careful decisions, not oversights. So be sure to display your in-depth knowledge of APA Style in all other areas of your paper: The Publication Manual provides a handy checklist on pp. 241–243.

If you’re still concerned, you might discuss your paper and the APA Style guidelines with your teacher or advisor. You might both still be learning the 6th edition style!

Are there other examples from the Publication Manual where you think flexibility is important? We’d love to hear from you!

August 06, 2009

Collective Nouns: Here Yesterday, Gone Tomorrow?

Avatar 7 By Chuck



“Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.”
“The dog did nothing in the nighttime.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
                                —Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Silver Blaze”

If you were of a mind to compare, chapter by chapter and line by line, the new sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association against the fifth edition that it replaces, you would notice not only a number of additions in the sixth but also some deletions from what had been in the fifth.

For instance, here is what the fifth edition had to say regarding collective nouns:

Collective nouns (e.g., series, set, faculty, or pair) can refer either to several individuals or to a single unit. If the action of the verb is on the group as a whole, treat the noun as a singular noun. If the action of the verb is on members of the group as individuals, treat the noun as a plural noun. The context (i.e., your emphasis) determines whether the action is on the group or on individuals. (5th ed., 2001, p. 45)

Following this were several examples, for instance, “The number of people in the state is growing”—“A number of people were watching” and “The couple is surrounded”—“The couple are separated” (5th ed., 2001, p. 45).

Next, here is what the sixth edition has to say about collective nouns:


That’s right: nothing. Nothing at all. Does the removal of these guidelines betoken an age of grammatical and syntactical chaos a-borning? Can you or I now use any verb, singular or plural, with any noun, plural or singular?

I’m afraid not. The advice given in the fifth edition was basic grammar and can easily be found elsewhere. Referring to my own bookshelf, I find the same instruction given in William W. Watt’s An American Rhetoric (1980), at page 307, and in the discussion of collective nouns in The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1995, p. 157). Watt concentrates on American usage, whereas Fowler leans more heavily toward British, but the overall approach bridges the Atlantic.

I imagine then that the sixth edition is intended to be more tightly focused on psychology-centric usage. To that end, it has been divested here of some universally true grammatical advice. You can learn about collective nouns from any standard handbook. The Publication Manual is evolving to feature more and more information that is uniquely pertinent to psychological science and psychological writing (albeit useful to other academic and professional disciplines). This information, which cannot be had in more generic writing guidebooks, is the meat and potatoes of the Publication Manual. Bon appétit!


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