« March 2010 | Main | May 2010 »

7 posts from April 2010

April 29, 2010

Feel Like a Number? Part 5. Sometimes Figures and Words Are Combined

Anne By Anne Breitenbach

We come, at last, to the final post on when to use numerals and when to use words to express numbers. In some cases, you use both.
Rule 4.33 instructs one to use a combination of numerals and words to express back-to-back modifiers. The reason? Such a combination in many cases increases the clarity and readability of the construction.
In some cases this is easy to see, as the numbers are actually confusing at a glance if they are not clearly distinguished. For example, “There are 12 10 a.m. New York Megabusses” can very easily lead to a bus missed by 2 hr. “There are twelve 10 a.m. busses” is the better construction, and you are happily on your way to whatever future awaits in the City That Never Sleeps.
In case you are wondering, there is no specific rule that stipulates which number in the construction should be a numeral and which a word. The following, for example, are all fine:

  • 2 two-way interactions
  • ten 7-point scales
  • twenty 6-year-olds

 There is, however, some logic to it. When you have back-to-back numerical modifiers, start with the "base" (6-year-olds, 7-point scales, two-way interactions), with the number in the usual format (notice none of the examples give 20 six-year-olds or 10 seven-point scales).
There is a caveat to the general rule to combine numerals and words for these constructions that states that in some situations, readability may suffer if numerals and words are combined: “first two items” is preferable to “1st two items” and “first 2 items.”
At first blush, this can be a tough rule, as it is to a certain degree contingent on a subjective aesthetic interpretation of readability. That being said, trust your judgment. Look at the construction to see whether it is clear and readable as is or could be confusing. The great majority of cases will profit from changing to a combination of words and numerals. The relatively few cases in which the change isn’t warranted are likely to involve ordinal and low numbers. In the rare instance in which you are genuinely unsure of whether the construction should be changed, it’s probably fine either way.

April 27, 2010

Feel Like a Number? Part 4. Numbers Expressed in Words

Anne by Anne Breitenbach

Rule 4.32 says to use words to express any number that begins a sentence, title, or text heading. Why? It follows the convention that though numerals are generally easier to read, words are typically used in more formal writing. Consider, for example, the difference between “Four score and seven years ago” and “87 years ago.” True, sometimes the rule results in an odd-looking sentence (“Two thousand eighty-seven bonobos  . . .”). Under those circumstances, the best solution is to reword the sentence to avoid the problem.

 In contrast to the general rule that numerals are used to express mathematical functions, words are also used to express common fractions. That convention is followed across many styles (e.g., The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed.). Again, the genesis of the rule lies in large part in appearance. Fractions are problematic to typeset, and they look odd on the printed page.
The third cited situation in which numbers are expressed as words is for instances of “universally accepted usage.” The Publication Manual gives two examples, the Twelve Apostles and the Five Pillars of Islam. This seems the only rule of the three that presents any real challenge, as “universal acceptance” is more easily promised than delivered. Take as an example our own confidently offered Twelve Apostles. Though indisputably, the great preponderance of scholarly references do refer to the Twelve Apostles rather than the 12 Apostles, a Google Scholar search restricted to humanities sources still turns up nearly 1,000 instances of the latter format. And the apostate results on even the first page contain reputable sources (e.g., Biblical Theology Bulletin, The Harvard Theological Review) that would make a literalist question the universality of the usage. Alas, there is no Concordance for life or for accepted phrases; so once again, you are left to rely on what appears to be accepted  on the basis of the totality of the evidence at your disposal and your own reasoned judgment.
We’ll continue our look at when to use words and when to use figures for numbers in our next post.

April 22, 2010

Feel Like a Number? Part 3. The Earth Day Edition


by Anne Breitenbach

Our Earth Day post continues our look at exceptions to the basic rule, outlined in 4.31, that numbers below 10 are set as words rather than numerals. We’ve looked at Parts a–c previously. Let’s continue with Parts d–e. These are clear enough that it’s hard to find much of a toehold for ambiguity.

Before looking at the rules, though, there's one change from earlier editions of the Publication Manual that we should note. The rule that specific numbers of subjects or participants in an experiment are set as figures has been dropped.  Thus,

The four participants each planted one tree for every year he or she had been alive.

 It is appropriate to set as figures

d. numbers that represent statistical or mathematical functions, fractional or decimal quantities, percentages, ratios, and percentiles and quartiles.

So examples (from http://www.planetpals.com/fastfacts.html) include the following:

It takes 9 times more energy to make new cans than to use recycled cans.

Only 6% of household waste can’t be recycled.

About .33 of all water use is for flushing toilets.

NB: There is one exception that is relevant to the percentage portion of the rule. Rule 4.32 b states that one should use words to express common fractions; thus,

Earth is two-thirds water, but all the fresh water streams represent 100th of 1%.

e. numbers that represent time, dates, ages, scores and points on a scale, exact sums of money, and numerals as numerals

Examples (from http://www.earthday.org/) include the following:

Join the climate rally at 11:00 a.m. on the National Mall.

The official observation will last for 8 hr.

  . . . 6- and 7-year-olds from San Antonio, TX will have a trash-free day.

NB: Use words for approximations of numbers of days, months, and years. So if the time range isn’t precise, the example would be

The official observation will last for about eight hours.

Our series on numbers continues next week.

April 20, 2010

Feel Like a Number? Part 2. Using Numerals for Quantities Below 10


by Anne Breitenbach 

When do we format a number below 10 as a numeral? In most cases, it’s when the value itself is the focus of the construction, that is, you are pointing your reader to a specific quantity measurement. Rule 4.31 breaks that down into a number of parts. We looked at Parts a and b in the last post. Here we look at Part c:  

c. numbers that immediately precede a unit of measurement

a 5-mg dose

with 10.54 cm of

On the face of it, that seems clear enough to require little by way of exegesis.  And, in truth, in very few cases should this rule provide a challenge.  Yet even this rule can (very occasionally) cause moments of head scratching when one struggles with the issue, what is a unit of measurement?

Consider the following (and feel free to sing along): “eight bottles of beer on the wall, eight bottles of beer, take one down, pass it around . . . .”  Is a bottle of beer a “unit of measurement” per the meaning of the rule?  (Yes, something similar to this has actually come up in academic articles.)  “Bottle” is an entry in A Dictionary of Units of Measurement, in which it is defined as “a unit of volume . . . . that varies with the nature of the contents.”  In context, it seems clear that the meaning does focus on the “bottle” as a unit of measurement.  So per the rule, “8 bottles” would be appropriate.

Does that mean that if you haven’t thought of a descending number of bottles of beer as units of measurement you’re incorrect? If you reason that a unit of measurement that varies by content and by context is hard to take seriously as a measurement, well, it’s a reasonable position.  To reiterate a point we’ve made a number of times on the blog (e.g., The Flexibility of APA Style), although the stylistic guidelines in the Publication Manual are meant to ensure consistency, they are not meant to replace your own reasoned judgment. 

For more examples of units of measurement (though by no means an exhaustive list!), please refer to the Publication Manual, Table 4.4 and the units of time that follow (p. 109).

More on Numbers to follow.

April 15, 2010

Feel Like a Number? A Tax Day Tribute


by Anne Breitenbach

If April isn’t the cruelest month, it’s got to at least be in the running for those of us who dread our national accounting deadline of April 15th. But today does seem an appropriate day to begin to look at the rules governing numbers in APA Style. The basic rule with numbers is simplicity itself: Use numerals to express numbers 10 and above and words to express numbers below 10. As with so many things, the devil is in the details. This rule is subject to a number of exceptions. Most of them make sense intuitively, and all have a sound logical basis if considered individually. Let’s take a look at those rules in a few posts.

Let me start by noting one change between the 5th and 6th editions of the Publication Manual. Rule 3.42(b) in the 5th edition stated that “all numbers below 10 that are grouped for comparison with number 10 and above” are set as figures. The reason was to compare like with like, but in practice, it sometimes led to odd results. The writer would scan each paragraph looking for numbers 10 and above, and there are some very long paragraphs in research papers! In addition, formatting could change from paragraph to paragraph if one part of the argument happened to include numbers above and below 10 and the next didn’t. Therefore, for simplicity and consistency, that rule is no longer applied in the 6th edition.

What exceptions do exist to using words to express numbers below 10? One rule is that numbers in the abstract of a paper are set as figures. A main reason for that is that space is at a premium in the abstract, which frequently is excerpted from the paper and set in a bibliographic record field. Those fields may have a limited number of characters—we’ll call it longer than a tweet but shorter than many authors might prefer if left without limits. But in any case, conciseness is a virtue in an abstract. A second related rule is that figures are used instead of numbers in graphical displays within a paper. Again, a main part of the reasoning is that space is at a premium in a graphic and the numbers are usually there for comparison purposes. Side-by-side figures are easier than side-by-side words to compare.

Next, we’ll look at numbers that are used with measurement or that represent statistical or mathematical functions.



April 08, 2010

Beneficial Supplements

Daisiesby Stefanie

You have written your manuscript for an APA journal (or another scholarly publication), and now you are looking at all of your fantastic supporting materials and deciding what to include. There’s a color figure that rivals the rainbow in beauty and precision, perfectly illustrating your points but beyond your shoestring budget to include in the print publication. There’s a huge table, filled with insightful calculations that you did not quite get a chance to cover in the text but that is valuable nonetheless. You would love to share the digitized video and music clips used in the study. Not to mention that the raw data your experiment generated is truly a gold mine. Can you include all of these materials with your article?

In the past, the answer might have been no, given technological limits and concerns about space and the cost of printing color figures. But now all of these resources and more can be posted online as supplemental material for your article! Once published, the print version of your article will include a URL on the first page and the online version of your article will have a live link, both taking readers to a landing page that presents the cache of data treasure you have provided (see a sample landing page here).

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, sixth edition, notes that “web-based, online supplemental archives tend to be more appropriate for material that is more useful when available as a direct download as well materials that are not easily presented in standard print format” (p. 39). Examples of such materials, in addition to the ones mentioned above, are lengthy computer code, mathematical or computational models, detailed intervention protocols, and expanded methodology sections.

Supplemental materials are usually subject to peer review and should be included with journal submissions. Each document should have a title and a context statement specifying what is in it, and the electronic files should follow a consistent naming convention (e.g., ABN.Smith20100001.doc, ABN.Smith20100001.wav, ABN.Smith20100001.jpeg). APA journals practice is to post accepted supplemental materials without further editing or polishing; the procedures of other publishers may vary.

The Publication Manual notes that supplemental materials should be included “only if they help readers to understand, evaluate, or replicate the study or theoretical argument being made” (p. 40). Also keep in mind that supplemental materials are subject to all relevant ethical standards; be especially aware of permissions issues when reprinting images of human participants or any formerly published materials.

Information on acceptable file formats for APA journals supplemental materials may be found here. For more information on this topic, please see the Publication Manual, pp. 39–40 and 230.

April 01, 2010

There's an Art to It

Jeff by Jeff Hume-Pratuch

Recently, we’ve had a surprising number of inquiries about how to reference artwork in APA Style. The APA Publication Manual (6th ed.) has a section on audiovisual media (7.07, pp. 209–210), but it focuses mostly on audio, video, and TV. There are no guidelines for paintings, sculptures, or more complicated installations (e.g., a chair, a photo of a chair, and a definition of “chair”). So let’s use the Frankenreference concept to model a few ways to handle art in your reference list.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

A good reference contains enough information to lead your reader to the source you used, as concisely as possible. At a minimum, this should include the artist’s name, year(s) of fabrication, title of the work, any other necessary or relevant information (such as the medium), and the location of the work. Here’s how a reference might look for Christina’s World:

Wyeth, A. (1948). Christina’s world [Painting]. New York, NY: Museum of
Modern Art.


But suppose you are an impoverished grad student who can’t afford a plane ticket to New York to see the painting in person. Fortunately, the museum has an excellent website where you can view the painting. In that case, use the website in the location element of your reference:

Wyeth, A. (1948). Christina’s world [Painting]. Retrieved from


If a work exists in several formats, it’s helpful to provide enough information to identify which one you’re talking about. For example, the original bronze of Rodin’s The Thinker is in Paris:

Rodin, A. (1902). The thinker [Bronze and marble sculpture]. Paris,
France: Musée Rodin.


However, the artist also cast dozens of bronze and plaster copies of his model for this work, and one of them ended up here in Washington:

Rodin, A. (1902). The thinker [Bronze sculpture]. Washington,
DC: National Gallery of Art.


Salvador Dali, in the Drawing Room, With a Pancake

Sometimes authors ask where in the reference entry they should put descriptive information about the size, format, provenance, life cycle, or composition of the artwork; the time, place, sponsorship, curation, and location of a special exhibition of the artwork; and so forth. The general answer is, you don’t—in APA Style, at least. If you are discussing one or two items for which this kind of information is necessary, it could be included in a footnote to the text; for a large number of works, a separate appendix with an annotated bibliography or even a catalog raisonné might be in order.

Advanced Topics

During the 20th century, forms of art emerged that play with the very notion of “art.” For example, the work that won the 2001 Turner Prize consists of an empty room in which the lights go on and off every 5 s. However, we can still cite the artwork properly, even if there’s no there there:

Creed, M. (2000). Work 227: The lights going on and off [Installation].
New York, NY: Museum of Modern Art.


Performance Art

A genre that seems particularly rich in topics for psychological study is performance art. Perhaps you were fortunate enough to be present when Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman performed their TV Bra for Living Sculpture, and you would like to draw on this experience for your thesis. How would a reader go to the source of this reference?

Trick question! Short of a Vulcan mind meld, there’s no way to make that experience accessible to the reader. Treat it as a personal communication (in-text citation only, giving artist and date of performance). However, if you researched the performance in a more permanent medium (videotape, DVD, etc.), use the reference for that format.

Do You Really Need a Reference?

Not every reference to an artwork needs a reference list entry. A passing reference to a facial expression “reminiscent of Munch’s The Scream” can stand on its own, for example, and there are certain cultural icons that need no explanation. (One rule of thumb: If the artwork has inspired a successful ad campaign, it’s probably an icon.) Know your audience and use your best judgment.

Search the APA Style Blog


My Photo

About Us

Blog Guidelines

APA Style FAQs


Follow us on Instagram Follow us on Twitterrss

American Psychological Association APA Style Blog

Twitter Updates