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5 posts from May 2010

May 27, 2010

“My Professor Says...”

.rev3 by Jeff Hume-Pratuch  

Dear APA,

My professor says that you can only use a comma in APA Style if there is a rule for it in the book. I told her there are lots of places where you need commas that the book doesn't cover, like after introductory phrases (e.g., “For instance”). She agreed with me but said there was nothing she could do, it's an APA rule. Is this correct?

--Anguished in Austin

Dear Anguished,

Your professor is misinformed. The APA Publication Manual is not intended to be exhaustive in its coverage of grammar and style. Consequently, there are some things outside its purview. If it’s not in the manual, it’s not an APA rule.

Unfortunately, Anguished, we receive letters like yours every day.

“My professor told me my outline had to be in APA Style, but I can’t find any examples of outlines in the manual!”

“My professor said it was against APA Style to use the first person.”

“My professor told me to do a PowerPoint presentation in APA Style. I’ve read the whole book and I can’t find a format for slideshows.”

If your professor’s instructions and the manual seem out of joint, don’t panic! There are several things you can do to ameliorate the situation.

1. Ask your professor to clarify the assignment. Perhaps “do the PowerPoint in APA Style” really means “put the references in your slideshow in APA Style.” And sometimes “APA Style” is just shorthand for “use the author–date system for references, instead of footnotes.”

2. If the professor’s instructions seem to contradict APA Style, ask whether this is intentional. For example, APA Style does not include the use of an outline at the start of a paper, but your professor may have a valid reason for requiring one.

3. Ask the professor if there is a list of specific exceptions to APA Style. The Publication Manual (6th ed.) contains many useful tips for clear and concise writing, but it was written predominantly for scholars seeking publication rather than for students seeking term paper formats. Your department or institution may have its own set of style rules that supersede the Publication Manual in whole or part.

Most problems can be resolved with a modicum of good will on both sides. But if you find yourself really stumped on a point of APA Style, contact APA’s Style Experts (styleexpert@apastyle.org).

Hope this helps!




May 24, 2010

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May 20, 2010

Secondary Sources (aka How to Cite a Source You Found in Another Source)

Timothy.mcadoo by Timothy McAdoo

You’ve probably heard that you should avoid secondary sources when possible. It’s true—if you find great information being quoted or paraphrased somewhere, it’s well worth your effort to track down the original source so you can read it for yourself and therefore cite it directly.

But why track down the original when you already have the quotes?

First, by reading the full text of the original source, you can verify that the context of the quote supports the point you want to make. You don’t want to be surprised by an informed reader who tells you that the original source actually contradicts your points—especially if that informed reader is your professor!  

Second, by finding and reading the original source, you will become better informed about your research topic. To a reader familiar with the research in your topic area, the citations in your paper are one indication of whether you have a firm understanding of the subject and of the relevant research. By contrast, if you’ve cited secondary sources for ideas or quotations that you could have obtained easily (or relatively so), you may give the impression that your research was hasty or superficial.

If your primary source is an archival document (e.g., a diary, limited-circulation brochure or pamphlet, unpublished manuscript), see Section 7.10 of the APA Publication Manual (6th ed.) for citation and reference guidelines and examples.  

So when are secondary sources appropriate?

It’s okay to cite a secondary source when you’ve exhausted the options for finding the original work.

For example, an out-of-print work may be impossible for you to find but could still be quoted in recent work by other authors. Or perhaps the paper you’re reading has cited a personal correspondence. You obviously can’t cite the original source directly in that case, so the secondary source is appropriate.

And of course there are those cases when an author takes a complex topic and puts it in layman’s terms. Citing this type of secondary source, where the extra level of analysis is much the point, may also be appropriate.

How is it done?

In your reference list, provide a reference for the source you read. This is known as the secondary source because it is one step removed from the original source of the idea or quotation. In your text, name the original work and provide the citation for the secondary source.

Let’s look at an example:

In his e-mails, Smith argued that asynchronous line dancing would be the next Internet meme (as cited in Jones, 2010).

Jones (2010) would be the reference you include in your reference list. Also, note that by mentioning the original format of the information (in this case a series of e-mail messages), you not only specify that this is a secondary source but also give the reader an indication of why that’s the case. Although it’s not a requirement, mentioning the original format answers this potential question for the reader so he or she can focus on the content!

Have any questions about citing secondary sources? Feel free to leave us comments. What kinds of secondary sources have you used?

May 13, 2010

It’s All Latin to Me: Latin Abbreviations in Scholarly Writing

Chelsea blog by Chelsea Lee

The English language loves to appropriate words from other languages and claim them as its own. Some of these words and phrases have become so well used in scientific writing that you can employ them in your writing as abbreviations without any definitions or special attention (for instance, no need for italics). Yet readers new to scientific writing might find themselves scratching their heads and exclaiming, "It’s all Greek to me!" (Though the grammarian in me would point out that all the expressions below actually come from Latin, not Greek.)

The table below focuses on Latin abbreviations common to scholarly writing that may be used without definition in APA Style. Note that this list is not exhaustive. See also section 4.26 (p. 108) of the Publication Manual for more.

Abbreviation Meaning Example use Notes for APA Style
Used inside of parentheses only
cf. “compare” or “consult” (used to provide contrasting or opposing information) Abbott (2010) found supportive results in her memory experiment, unlike those of previous work (cf. Zeller & Williams, 2007). She expands on the working memory literature (see also Evans & Potter, 2005). Never put a comma after. Do not put a period between the c and the f. Use “cf.” to contrast; to compare like things, use “see” or “see also.”
e.g., “for example,” (abbreviation for exempli gratia) Some studies (e.g., Jenkins & Morgan, 2010; Macmillan, 2009) have supported this conclusion. Others—for example, Chang (2004)—disagreed. Always put a comma after.
etc. “and so on” or “and so forth” (abbreviation for et cetera) Students ranked their school subjects (chemistry, math, etc.) in order of preference, first, second, third, and so on, until they had ranked the entire list. A majority ranked science-related subjects (biology etc.) as their second favorite. Put a comma before if used to end a list of at least two other items, as shown in the example.
i.e., “that is,” (abbreviation for id est; used to give specific clarification) The experimenters manipulated the order of presentation (i.e., first, second, or third) of the three images as well their size, that is, whether they were small or large. Always put a comma after.
viz., “namely,” We first replicated our earlier study (viz., Black & Avery, 2008) and then extended it. Always put a comma after.
vs. “versus” The 2 (low vs. high) × 2 (blue vs. green) analysis of variance revealed that the low versus high distinction was not significant. Exception: With legal citations use v. instead (with italics; see also Appendix 7.1, section A7.03, Examples 1–8).
Used inside and outside of parentheses
et al. “and others” Thomas, Greengrass, and Hopkirk (2010) made several excellent points about goal-seeking behavior. Thomas et al. began with how goals are selected. Must refer to at least two people because it is a plural phrase. See section 6.12 (p. 175) for more on how to use.
Never used in APA Style
ibid. abbreviation for ibidem, used in citations to refer again to the last source previously referenced ——— Not used in APA Style; instead give each citation using author names as usual.

Note. All abbreviations in the first section should be used inside of parentheses only, that is, when you are making a parenthetical statement. Outside of parentheses, spell these expressions out using the definitions given in the Meaning column. The abbreviation “et al.” is used both inside and outside of parentheses. Directions on comma use always apply, whether you are abbreviating or not. Although the abbreviation “ibid.” is not used in APA Style, it is included here because it occurs in non-APA scholarly writing and readers may be otherwise unfamiliar with it. Unless otherwise noted, none of these abbreviations should be italicized.

You can download a PDF of the Latin abbreviations table here if you would like to use it as a handout for teaching or classroom purposes.

Feel free to share your contributions in the comments!

May 06, 2010

Alphabetization in APA Style

Chelsea blog

by Chelsea Lee

Alphabetization—did you know there was anything more than A, B, C?

(Surprise! There is, or this post would be really short.)

Although we all learned our alphabet a long time ago, when you're writing a research paper your references can and do come from authors around the world. Those author names might have all sorts of interesting characters in them, from accent marks, hyphens, and apostrophes to spaces, punctuation, and nontraditional capitalization. With all those characters in the mix, putting your reference list into alphabetical order for APA Style can seem difficult, but it's not. In APA Style, alphabetization is easy as long as you remember these simple rules:

  1. Alphabetize letter by letter.
  2. Ignore spaces, capitalization, hyphens, apostrophes, periods, and accent marks. 
  3. When alphabetizing titles or group names as authors, go by the first significant word (disregard a, an, the, etc.)

Knowing these rules, try your hand at alphabetizing some tough entries in the quiz below.

If you can’t see the quiz in your browser or would prefer to take it on paper, you can also download a PDF copy of the quiz here (including the answer key).

How did you do on the quiz?

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