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June 28, 2012

Who Versus That




by Tyler Krupa

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

According to the sixth edition of the Publication Manual (p. 79), APA prefers for writers to use the term who as a pronoun when referring to human beings. The term that should be used for nonhuman animals and for things.

To help clear up any confusion regarding the proper use of these terms, let’s begin with looking at some examples of who being used correctly:

In the psychological therapies, using methods such as the simple ranking of outcomes may penalize a therapist who has not contributed sufficient data to make a reliable estimate of effectiveness.

The researchers who used a between-subjects design produced results virtually identical to our earlier experiments.

Note that in each example above, the term who is referring to human beings (i.e., a “therapist” and “researchers”). Therefore, per APA Style, inserting that in place of who would not be accurate. However, if you were instead referring to “therapy” or “research” (which are things), you would then use that:

The cognitive therapy that was used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder lasted 15–20 sessions.

The research that Smith and Jones (2011) reviewed was also used in our analyses.

Also, per APA Style, remember to use that when referring to nonhuman animals:

The rats that completed the task successfully were rewarded.

The cats that were used in pet therapy did not leave the site.

Consistent use of who and that will help make your writing clear and precise. If you still have questions regarding the proper use of these terms after reviewing the examples above, feel free to leave a comment.



For seventh edition guidelines, visit the seventh edition APA Style blog.

This search includes only sixth edition blog archive results:


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