APA formatting

Grad students, especially at the beginning of their academic careers, often struggle with citation systems (e.g. MLA, APA, Chicago, IEEE). Since APA is the most commonly used system on my campus, this page focuses on APA. First, I’m posting the materials from my workshops on APA. After that, I’ll include some general tips.

APA 7th Edition

APA 7 was released in October of 2019, so most people are using it by now. If your program is still using APA 6, scroll to the “APA 6” section below.

The presentation below is pretty much self explanatory–it offers an overview of some of the main points of APA based on the APA Manual and its excellent accompanying website (although, as always, any errors and omissions are mine).

Workshop Video:

Note: The browser plays a 1-hour preview. For videos longer than 1 hour, download the file and watch it from your computer (Steps: 1. Click on the video to open the Dropbox video page. 2. Use the “download” button, usually located on the top left of the page).

PowerPoint Slides:

Note: On 04/21/2021, I corrected an error on slides 69-70 of the PowerPoint presentation (however, this change is not reflected in the video above).

Quick Guides: APA also offers some very helpful “quick guide” handouts for the 7th edition here: Instructional Aids and Handouts. Perhaps the most useful ones are:

An APA 7 FAQ

An a separate page (accessible here), you can read the most frequently-asked questions I receive regarding APA style. For each question, I provide either a brief answer or a link to a resource that answers the question. You can use “CTRL + F” or “CMD + F” to search the page for keywords related to questions that you have. Visit the APA FAQ now.

APA 6th Edition

Below is my old presentation on APA 6. It should be helpful if your program is still using APA 6 (and, of course, APA 6 has significant overlap with APA 7).

The University of North Dakota (UND) has a very nice “cheat sheet” on APA 6 that you can access here (I used to pass this sheet out as a handout when I conducted the APA 6 workshop live).

The APA Style Blog

The APA Style Blog is APA’s “official companion” to the APA Manual, so the advice posted there is “canon,” so to speak (i.e., it’s trustworthy and accurate).

Personally, when I’m dealing with APA 7, I prefer the online “Style and Grammar Guidelines” (use the menu at the top of the page) to be more helpful than the Style Blog. But when I’m dealing with APA 6, I find the 6th Edition Style Blog Archive to be EXTREMELY helpful.

Here’s an assortment of useful posts from the 6th Edition Archive:

General APA Tips

Students tend to get scolded by professors (or get their papers marked up) for simply not following reference examples closely enough.

Take this citation for a journal article:

Berg, D. P., & Gaag, M. V. (2012). Treating trauma in psychosis with EMDR: A pilot study. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 43(1), 664-671. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2011.09.011

(Note: this is a reference list citation, not a parenthetical or narrative citation–for the difference, see my workshop materials above)

Imagine that you’re going to use the citation above as a model to cite an article that you’ve found. Here are some things to notice, pay attention to, and emulate:

  • Placement of periods (for example, you have to have a period after the closing parenthesis that follows the year). In fact, pay close attention to all punctuation.
  • The ampersand (“&”) symbol. Use it, not the word “and,” when listing authors’ names on reference list citations (like this example) and parenthetical citations (but not narrative citations. Confused? See my workshop materials above).
  • Capitalization. Notice that the title of the article is capitalized like a sentence: The first word is capitalized, all “proper names” are capitalized, and the word right after the colon is capitalized. Everything else is lower case. On the other hand, the name of the journal itself (the magazine) is capitalized like a headline: Every major word is capitalized, but conjunctions like “and” or prepositions like “in” are not capitalized (unless they are the first word of the title).
  • Italics. The title of the journal is italicized. The volume number of the journal is also italicized, but not the issue number: 43(1).
  • Spacing. Notice that there is one blank space following every period. You write “Berg, D. P.” not “Berg, D.P.” However, there is no blank space between volume and issue number: 43(1).

ONE MAJOR WORD OF CAUTION (apologies if what follows sounds a bit harsh, but it needs to be said):

Don’t use the “Cite this” buttons or other electronic methods of citation and then complain that your professor marks you down for bad APA formatting. Students do this all the time, and tell me “But Omar, I tried so hard to do everything right, and the professor still marked me down.” When I question the student more closely, they confess that they relied on electronic citation methods like “Citation Machine” or a search engine’s “Cite this” button.

If you simply pushed a “Cite this” button, then you DID NOT “try so hard to do everything right.” Those electronic citation methods are flawed and buggy, and should not be trusted EVER. Period.

If you use them to save time, that’s perfectly OK. But you have to meticulously edit the citations they produce. Part of this editing means VERY CAREFULLY checking for the issues highlighted above (e.g. italics, caps, and punctuation).

And my advice, which I follow myself, is to simply type out the citations manually. It’s more time-consuming on the front end, but it saves you editing time on the back end. Plus, it’s the only surefire way to actually learn APA (or any other formatting system).

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