Guide to APA Style: Some Perspective, Please

Posted by Timothy Goss

Feb 28, 2012 10:03:00 AM

APA style picIt may sound odd to hear this from someone who has dedicated their career to writing, but I experience writing anxiety. Like many students in online degree programs, I get worked up when faced with something that may be evaluated by another. My knowledge of writing has progressively made this easier, but the fear continues. 

Still, I write every day. I constantly subject my writing to the scrutiny of my students, my readers, and my peers. This doesn’t make me a hero; it just means that I do what it takes to get the job done. Besides, the whole reason that I love writing is not because I'm good at it, but because it's a problem I'm still trying to solve.  

That’s what I'm writing about today: not overcoming fear in writing, but putting those fears into perspective. Despite your fears, writing a sentence fragment won't incite a tiger attack, nor will using the wrong word bring on the zombie apocalypse (at least not on its own). Even so, the fear is real enough, but if you’re trying to get your degree, you have work to do, so you can’t let fear stand in the way. Understanding your enemy is the key, and we start with the scariest thing of all: APA style.

That Which We Fear the Most: What is APA?

If you’re searching through YouTube, Google or even Purdue’s OWL trying to learn about APA, chances are you’re doing more damage than good. I am not suggesting that you don’t research, but you have to understand that APA style writing covers a lot of situations and academic levels; there is a lot of information to bump into out in Internet land.

To gain some perspective, let’s start at the root of the problem:

The American Psychological Association (APA), defines its publication manual as “an authoritative source on all aspects of scholarly writing, from the ethics of duplicate publication to the word choice that best reduces bias in language” (American Psychological Association, 2010, pg. 3). 

By definition alone, APA seems frighteningly complex. Still, we have to understand that scholars and academics are good at making the most mundane topics sound complicated, and APA is no different. If the sheer mass of what APA governs is daunting, you should know that as an undergraduate, only 137 pages (out of 272) will relate to what you’re writing (55 of those pages are a list of citation references; 63 are about grammar and style; the remaining 19 are sample essays). Beyond a few, simple pieces of the APA puzzle, there really isn’t much you have to worry about.

Why We Use APA

To really get APA behind us, we have to understand why it's used. Despite popular belief, instructors don’t insist that essays follow APA standards because they want to see students squirm; it actually levels the playing field and promotes scholarship.

1. APA standardizes the way documents appear. For most assignments, teachers evaluate on ideas, not on one’s skills in document design. We use APA to be fair.

2. APA defines the way we should give credit to our sources. We use APA to be transparent.

3. APA helps the organization of the material in a document. If we all present our information in the same way, our readers can engage with our ideas more quickly and more completely. We use APA to be efficient and thorough.

While there are several writing style references (MLA, Chicago, etc.), we decided to simplify the process at Grantham University. We now use APA formatting in all of our classes; what you learn in one class, you take to the next, and so on. 

What You Need to Know

APA is a template: It demonstrates where certain things go on the page, shows what information you need to include in an essay or citation, and sets an order about how things should appear. 

To get started, there are only two things you must know about APA:

  1. How to format your essay.
  2. How to cite your sources.  

By using EBSCOhost and the Writing Center, this process is relatively easy. The Writing Center offers an APA template to help you to set your document formatting according to APA 6th edition guidelines. This will help with your margins, header section, title page, etc. Just download the document and replace the information with your own.

Formatting issue: Solved.

EBSCOhost, our library database, has a citation feature which, for the most part, will set your citations for you (simply copy them from the cite feature located in the right-hand column beside the article you are viewing and paste it into your References page). If you’re drawing your sources from books or the Internet, you can use a citation generator like www.citationmachine.net. Simply enter the information it asks for and copy and paste it into your essay.

We will dive a bit more deeply into this as we move along, but this should get you started. Remember, while writing is often complicated; APA is a tool that, once mastered, can simplify the process.

References example:

American Psychological Association. (2010) The Publication Manual of the American

Psychological Association, (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Photo credit: stock.xchng

About the author: Tim Goss is a full-time English instructor at Grantham University. He is a regular contributor to the GU blog.    

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Topics: online degree programs, Academic Advice, grantham university

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