by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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APA is a term that strikes fear in graduate students, professors, and academic writers alike! APA actually stands for the American Psychological Association, but when academic writers use the term, it means all of the rules created to make writing tedious – and at times miserable. There are so many rules that it can drive a writer absolutely crazy. The APA Style Guide was originally developed in 1929 with a mere 7 pages with the goal to align all writing in the behavioral and social sciences to make reading comprehension easy. The intent makes total sense, but more and more rules have been provided to take the guesswork out for writers (there are now nearly 300 pages in the guide). With so many rules (and seriously who actually memorizes all of them except someone with an APA tattoo), it can become overwhelming. However, I have created a simple set of four tips to make writing with APA as easy as a walk in the PARK!
P is for “Post-its all over the APA Style Guide”
If you were to look at my APA Style Guide, you would find it littered with post-it notes and sticky tabs strategically placed in areas that I will reference the most. Post-its are crucial because anyone who has tried to use the guide's index will know that it is like trying to read in Braille as they give heading figures like 6.03 and 7.12, with limited page numbers. So rather than continue to get lost in the index, once you find something you will need a lot, stick a post-it there. I even color code mine so that I know to go to orange when I need help with the reference page, but blue when I need to cite something in the paper. My largest post-it goes right on the sample paper they provide in the style guide!
A is for “Always cite everything”
This seems like a no-brainer for we have all had myriad teachers and professors talk to us about plagiarism, and yet there are still issues with not citing the work of others. So my tip is to always cite everything. It is safer to cite, then to have a professor or an editor think you are trying to plagiarize. Most of the time, the plagiarism is not intended, but is rather the writer’s inability to cite properly. You have to understand that your audience – whether it is your professors or experts in the field – know the literature as well as, if not better, than you do. They will know when something is not your original thought, so make sure and cite it. The two biggest rules you need to know from APA are how to properly cite a quote and how to cite a paraphrased thought of another writer. Once you have these two types of citations figured out, you will understand 90% of the APA that you use most often, so learn how to cite ASAP!
R is for “Review how other academics use APA”
Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t need to? So many graduate students try to do all of the heavy lifting on their own when it comes to APA, when they have great examples in the copious articles they have read for their paper. If these articles come from credible journals, then you know there is an editor who has checked the APA in order to publish it. So instead of trying to figure out how to enter a source into the reference list, look at the articles you have read that already have that source in their reference page and then copy it exactly how it is written. For example, it amazes me when my own students do not get a reference correct for an article from our class – I mean seriously, it is done right there in the syllabus!
K is for “Know the APA rules that you use the most”
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of rules and guidelines in the APA Style Guide, way too many for any one person to memorize and use appropriately. The trick is to not worry about learning all of the rules, but instead concentrate on the 10-20 or so that you will use most often. For example, I am a qualitative researcher and thus I do not waste time learning all of the quantitative rules regarding numbers, coefficients, tables, etc. I simply don’t use them enough to spend time learning them. Instead I have concentrated on knowing (without going back to the guide) how to quote, cite, and reference literature.
It is my belief that if you follow these four simple tips – APA will no longer be an overwhelming burden, but rather as easy as taking a walk in the PARK! If you have any other great tips for writers using APA, please share them in the comments on this blog!