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4 posts from May 2011

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!

May 19, 2011

Properly Using While



by Tyler Krupa


This week, we address another item on the list of frequent APA Style points that writers find most challenging (on the basis of the recent article by Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels, 2010; also see their recent guest post to our blog): the misuse of while.

According to the 6th edition of the APA Publication Manual (p. 84), the use of while should be limited to its temporal meaning (i.e., to link events occurring simultaneously). When that is not what is meant, the terms although, whereas, and, or but should be substituted in its place. To help clarify, examples of while being used correctly are listed below:

  • One woman abused by her father sobbed while describing why she had not pressed charges against him.
  • The participant stared at the computer monitor while he listened to the audiotapes.
  • The patient took deep breaths while the doctor listened with a stethoscope. 

For comparison, examples of when it would be more precise not to use while are listed below:

  • Although the results are encouraging, future research still needs to be performed.
  • Risk factors focus on pathology and hazards, whereas protective factors emphasize positivism and hope for change.

We hope these examples help to clear up any confusion regarding the proper use of this term. If not, feel free to leave a comment while this topic is on your mind!

May 12, 2011

Since Versus Because



by Tyler Krupa


This week, we address another item on the list of frequent APA Style points that writers find most challenging (on the basis of the recent article by Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels, 2010; also see their recent guest post to our blog): the use of since instead of because.

According to the 6th edition of the APA Publication Manual (p. 84), the use of since is more precise when it is used to refer only to time (to mean “after”). You should replace it with because when that is what is really meant. Examples of both terms being used correctly are listed below:

  • Since Smith’s (2000) research was conducted, many additional researchers have achieved similar results.
  • The participants were excluded from the experiment because they did not meet the inclusion criteria.
  • Because the data were not complete, the results were excluded from the study.
  • No additional testing has been performed since the last experiment.

We hope these examples help to clear up any confusion regarding the proper use of these terms. If not, feel free to leave a comment because we really would like to help!




May 05, 2011

Procrastination: On Writing Tomorrow What You Should Have Written Last Year

 Author Photo


by Paul J. Silvia

Paul J. Silvia is an associate professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the author of How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing, available in paperback and on Kindle.


Knowledge never sleeps, but it has been known to waste a lot of time on the Internet. The process of sharing knowledge via the written word ought to be easier than it is for the overeducated scientists, scholars, and practitioners who create psychology’s body of knowledge. But procrastination is deeply rooted in human nature—alongside the capacity for reflective thought, the ability to acquire language, and the love of deep-fried desserts—so it’s a vexing problem for academic writers.

It’s easy for psychologists to understand procrastination, particularly because searching PsycINFO for research on procrastination lets them avoid the many manuscripts hanging over their heads. Based on my own deep experience with procrastination, the following are the main reasons for putting off writing.

1. Writing is unpleasant.

2. When the paper is done, you’ll probably feel discouraged relief (“Finally, the wretched thing is finished”), not elation.

3. Your paper isn’t really done—you’ll need to revise it after the reviewers thrash it.

4. If you have a backlog of writing, finishing one paper means that you must start on one that has been put off for even longer.

5. When you send your paper to a journal, some of the reviewers will dislike it, and a few of them, I have found, will toss it into a deep fryer.

Procrastination is a creative force in its own right, and it can be sublime to observe. Professors rarely say “I’m not working on that paper because I feel discouraged” or “I’m checking my Facebook because opening Microsoft Word makes a small part of me wither and die.” Instead, we see “I’m reviewing the recent literature—there’s a lot of new work coming out in Australasian Journal of Computational Animal Husbandry these days that I’d like to work into the Intro,” or “The ANOVA I ran was okay, but I want to dig into Bayesian Marcov Chain Monte Carlo simulation methods before I write that up.” Normal people procrastinate with TV; only professors procrastinate by reading articles and running analyses.

So how can procrastination be vanquished? It probably can’t. Unless you have the determination of a ragtag band of youngsters determined to save their summer camp, it’s probably better to shake hands with procrastination. A lot of things in life and in work get put off until the last minute, and that’s often the best time to do trivial tasks. But the big stuff—our articles, books, and grant proposals—shouldn’t get put off, so here are a few practical ways to prod yourself.

1. Shame goes where willpower fears to tread. People do weird things to avoid looking bad in front of their peers. This is why weekly writing groups work. In How to Write a Lot, I described agraphia groups, a structured writing group focused on concrete writing goals. In a typical agraphia group, the members meet and set specific goals for what they’ll write before the next meeting. The group’s record-keeper writes the goals down for posterity, and the next week’s meeting starts with checking off which goals were met and unmet. You might get good feedback about your writing from your agraphia group, but the best thing you’ll get is anxiety about being the only one who didn’t meet his or her writing goal.

2. If you are beyond shame, contingency management goes where lab rats fear to tread, that is, the electrified side of the shuttle box. You can turn your office into your own private shuttle box—it might be about that size anyhow—by establishing rewards for your writing goals. Psychologists know how to pull this off: identify a behavior (writing a certain number of words or finishing a section of manuscript), identify a reward (listening to NPR, eating deep-fried ice cream), and then reward yourself if you behaved well.

3. If you lack the willpower needed to withhold rewards from yourself, the best method is habit. Habits automate behaviors so that we can do them mindlessly without spending time and thought deciding how, when, and why to do them. To make writing a habit, you need to do the unthinkable: plan time for writing—4 to 6 hours a week works well for most people—and then sit down and write during those times. To people who write in binges born of deadlines and desperation, the notion of scheduling writing sounds too obvious to work. But productive writers usually write during scheduled times. A schedule isn’t easy to get started—it might entail a few weeks of clenched teeth and shackled ankles—but it will make writing habitual, mundane, and ordinary. Writing will still be painful, but it will be merely one of the many tedious things you habitually do during your day. And your body of work will slowly grow, fueled by shame and habit and deep-fried twinkies.


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