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4 posts from January 2011

January 27, 2011

Writing In-Text Citations in APA Style

Chelsea blog by Chelsea Lee

When you use others' ideas in your paper, you should credit them with an in-text citation. Several different systems of citation are in use in various academic communities (such as footnotes and endnotes), but APA Style uses a kind of parenthetical referencing called the author–date system.

Basic In-Text Citation Style

As the name authordate system implies, APA Style in-text citations include the author and date, either both inside parentheses or with the author names in running text and the date in parentheses. Here are two examples: 

  • After the intervention, children increased in the number of books read per week (Smith & Wexwood, 2010). 
  • Smith and Wexwood (2010) reported that after the intervention, children increased in the number of books read per week. 

The "and" in Smith and Wexwood is written as an ampersand (&) inside parentheses and as the word and outside of parentheses, as shown in the examples above.

Multiple In-Text Citations

When multiple studies support what you have to say, you can include multiple citations inside the same set of parentheses. Within parentheses, alphabetize the studies as they would appear in the reference list and separate them by semicolons. In running text, you can address studies in whatever order you wish. Here are two examples: 

  • Studies of reading in childhood have produced mixed results (Albright, Wayne, & Fortinbras, 2004; Gibson, 2011; Smith & Wexwood, 2010). 
  • Smith and Wexwood (2010) reported an increase in the number of books read, whereas Gibson (2011) reported a decrease. Albright, Wayne, and Fortinbras (2004) found no significant results. 

Dealing With Missing Information

Sometimes the author and/or date are not immediately obvious, but a bit of citation sleuthing will bring them to light. Here are some tips on determining authorship and on figuring out dates.

However, sometimes one or both of these elements are truly missing. The table below shows what substitutions to make for in-text citations if that happens. 

What information do you have? Solution Position A Position B
I have both author and date n/a Author surname(s) year
Author is missing Substitute the title for the author name Title of Book or "Title of Article" year
Date is missing Use "n.d." for "no date" Author surname(s) n.d.
Author and date are both missing Combine solutions for author and date being missing Title of Book or "Title of Article" n.d.

Note. Titles of books and reports are italicized in in-text citations, and titles of articles and other documents are put in quotation marks. Capitalize the important words (see section 4.15 in the 6th ed. Publication Manual, pp. 101102) in titles in the text.

Pencils 3 Important Tips and Further Reading

Don’t forget that when you cite a direct quotation you should include a page number (here is what to do if there are no page numbers). You may include page numbers for paraphrases if you think it would aid the reader (such as when you use only a portion of a large book), but this is not required.

Note that the only types of citations that do not follow the authordate system are legal references, references to classical works like the Bible and the Qur'an, and personal communications

For further reading on this topic, see the sixth edition Publication Manual section “Citing References in Text” (pp. 174179). The table “Basic Citation Styles” (Table 6.1 on p. 177) offers many examples of how to cite various numbers and types of authors. 

January 20, 2011

Hyphenation Challenges

Paige-for-web-site 75x75 by Paige Jackson
Following on from last week’s post about APA Style rules that writers find most challenging (according to a recent article by Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels, 2010), this week we tackle a common hyphenation error: failing to hyphenate a compound with a participle when it precedes the term that it modifies.

This hyphenation rule is in both the fifth and sixth editions of the Publication Manual.  Indeed, it’s a general rule of punctuation, rather than being peculiar to APA Style.  Like most other hyphenation rules, its rationale is that clarifying what modifies what prevents misreading.  For example, a “good looking glass” could describe a high-quality mirror, but a “good-looking glass” is more likely to represent an attractive tumbler.

A related challenge is hinging the hyphenation of a compound with a participle on the placement of that compound within a sentence.  Hyphenation that seems to be inconsistent can be jarring, particularly within a paragraph.  But with the example above, in the phrase “good-looking glass,” the hyphen clarifies the meaning, whereas if we’re describing a “glass that is good looking,” a hyphen would be superfluous.

Are there other hyphenation rules that seem counterintuitive to you?


Onwuegbuzie, A. J., Combs, J. P., Slate, J. R., & Frels, R. K. (2010). Editorial: Evidence-based guidelines for avoiding the most common APA errors in journal article submissions. Research in the Schools, 16(2), ix-xxxvi.

January 13, 2011

Numbers Anyone?

Paige-for-web-site 75x75by Paige Jackson

We have been heartened by the volume and thoughtfulness of the questions and suggestions we’ve received on the APA Style Blog, and we’re always looking for ways to help writers learn more about APA Style.  We thought it might be useful to follow up on last week’s guest post by Tony Onquegbuzie and colleagues about what they found to be the most common APA Style errors.  Their data were based on the fifth edition of the APA Publication Manual, but most of the style rules cited remained unchanged in the sixth edition.  So, we thought it might be helpful to focus some of our upcoming posts on Onwuegbuzie and colleagues’ “Top 60.”

Top on that list are APA Style rules related to the use of numbers.  We have devoted a number of blog posts to this topic.  Below we expand on those that Onwuegbuzie and colleagues found to be especially challenging.

1.    Use numerals to express numbers 10 and above, and use words to express numbers below 10 (see sections 4.31–4.32, pp. 111–112).

This general rule was altered slightly from the fifth to the sixth edition of the Publication Manual.  The fifth edition required that when numbers below 10 are grouped for comparison with numbers 10 and above within the same paragraph, all numbers so grouped would be expressed in numerals.  However, per the sixth edition, the general rule holds regardless of items that are grouped for comparison.  So, it’s now fine to say, “Of the snakes, 13 were poisonous and nine were harmless garter snakes.”

2.     Use numerals to express units of time, dates, ages, and numbers that denote a specific place in a numbered series (see section 4.32, p. 112).

This general rule about using numerals in these contexts is the same as in the fifth edition.  Note two related changes, however:

  • The fifth edition specified that numerals should be used when discussing numbers of subjects or participants in an experiment.  The sixth edition does not contain that rule, so the general rule about expressing numbers 10 and above with numerals and below 10 with words holds.  Correct usage per the sixth edition would be, “The control group contained 17 participants, nine of whom were female and eight of whom were male” (see related blog posts).
  • There is also a new exception in the sixth edition—that words should be used to express units of time when those units are approximate:  “It took the rats about three seconds to discover the new food source.”

Are there APA Style rules on numbers that seem mystifying (or perhaps illogical!)?  Let us know, and we’ll try to  clarify them.


January 06, 2011

Have You Found Some APA Style Rules More Challenging to Learn Than Others?


Tony JohnSlate_PhotoJulieCombs_PhotoRebeccaFrels_Photo by Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie, John R. Slate, Julie P. Combs, and Rebecca K. Frels


When you pick up the APA Publication Manual, do you ask yourself “Where do I begin?” If so, you are not alone. For the past several years, we have conducted research to identify the most common challenges to writers. We were pleased to be asked to describe our work in this guest blog post. We are coeditors and first-round copyeditors of Research in the Schools (John & Tony), outgoing editor and associate editor of Educational Researcher (Tony & Julie, respectively), guest editors of the International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches (Tony & Rebecca), and editorial assistant/production editor of Research in the Schools (Rebecca). We have also served as reviewers and editorial board members of numerous journals. Those roles have given us ample opportunities to observe the difficulties that many authors experience in conforming to APA Style guidelines.

To help you and others learn APA Style in an efficient way, we collected evidence about the most common APA Style errors. Our detective work over the past 6 years with a nationally and internationally peer-reviewed journal, Research in the Schools, led us to uncover the 60 most common APA Style errors. We published our findings in the editorial "Evidence-Based Guidelines for Avoiding the Most Common APA Errors in Journal Article Submissions."

Which APA Style Rules Are the Most Challenging to Learn?

Many of you are probably wondering what error reached Number 1 in our Top 60 list. Great question! Well, the most common APA Style error is the incorrect use of numbers. Even though we examined manuscripts written by authors who used the fifth edition of the APA Publication Manual (because the sixth edition of the APA manual is so new), all of the APA Style rules violated still apply in the sixth edition.

Falling into this category are (a) numbers expressed in numerals (APA, 2010, section 4.31), (b) numbers expressed in words (section 4.32), and (c) combining numerals and words to express numbers (section 4.33; see pp. 111–112).

The Top 10

Maybe you’ve mastered the use of numbers but are wondering about other common errors. The Top 10 errors we discovered are

1.   Incorrect use of numbers
2.   Incorrect use of hyphenation
3.   Incorrect use of et al.
4.   Incorrect capitalization and punctuation in headings
5.   Use of since instead of because
6.   Improperly prepared tables and figures
7.   Failure to use the serial comma
8.   Failure to spell out abbreviations and acronyms as needed
9.   Inconsistent use of double-spacing between lines
10. Incorrect use of and versus the ampersand

For other common errors, we urge you to consult the detailed list in our article. Our hope is that by identifying the most challenging APA Style rules, we will help you identify the style rules that may require extra attention for mastery.

Which APA Style rules are most problematic for you and your students? Does this list support your experience?

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