What is APA Style?

For students in the School of Communication, the standard writing and citation style  guidelines are found in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association–generally referred to as APA style. The manual is currently in its sixth edition, and it provides generally accepted rules for writing, publication conventions, and best practices for research, methodology, and ethics of authorship for writers, educators, and editors in the behavioral and social sciences.

But what are “styles” in general?

Each discipline or field of study uses a style manual to standardize the usage, practice, and presentation of language. But it also goes beyond that. Style manuals, published by the biggest and most important organizations in that given field, provide writers, students, editors, and educators with guidelines on how to correctly, rigorously, and clearly conduct research and communicate their findings to the members of their scholarly community. The depth with which each style manual discusses its guidelines varies, but they are often considered the definitive and authoritative word in communication within the discipline.

What does the APA manual talk about?

The APA talks about several important writing-related guidelines from writing the introduction to conducting qualitative and quantitative studies and to ethical reporting of research results and citations in the social sciences.

Introduction. According to APA, the introduction should include 1) introduction to the problem, 2) importance of said problem, 3) discussion of relevant scholarship, and 4) hypotheses and their correspondence to research design. The introduction appears as a new page, identified with a  running head and the page number, 3. The title of the manuscript or article also appears in headline case centered at the top of the page followed by the introduction. The next section should follow immediately after the introduction text, starting with the new heading. See pp. 27-28.

Continuity in Presentation of Ideas. APA also recommends that texts should aim for a “continuity in words, concepts, and thematic development from the opening statement to the conclusion” (65). This can be achieved through 1) punctuation, 2) transitional words such as the use of pronouns, time links, additional links, cause-effect links, and contrast links.

Reducing Bias in Language. Because the APA is the authoritative style for scientific writing in the social sciences, the language used in writing articles that follow it should be “free of implied or irrelevant evaluation of the group or groups being studied” (p. 70). This means making sure that your text is free of any expressions that could be interpreted as demeaning attitudes or assumptions about people based on their gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnic group, disability, or age. (See pp. 70-77 for guidelines and suggestions).

Appropriate Levels of Citation. APA recommends citing the works of individuals whose ideas, theories, or research have directly influenced your work. The number of sources you cite will vary by the intent of the article, but for most articles, one or two of the “most representative sources for each key point” should be included (p.169). Literature reviews, however, might entail a more exhaustive list of citations to better acquaint the reader with all that has been written on a topic. See Chapter 6 of the manual for more information.

The APA manual also includes sample papers and guidelines on how to discuss and display your results. Particularly for research papers, article reviews, and journal-length articles, the APA manual is helpful in helping you navigate your writing assignments.

American Pyschological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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