Dr Abel Scribe PhD

APA Publication Manual

APA Publication Manual at Amazon.com
The current APA Publication Manual is over 150 pages shorter than the previous edition, though the word count remains about the same thanks to tighter margins. The manual is much easier to use than its predecessors, better organized, better indexed, and less cluttered with tedious language. They've "omitted needless words" as William Strunk, Jr., advised. The style has earned a somewhat vile reputation over the years, thanks to its undue attention to tedious detail. Some things, like the structure of headings and subheadings, were genuinely bizarre. Much of this has been corrected, but the old APA manual still peeks through. The APA Publication Manual at Amazon.com is currently a great bargain at $15.92 (link to amazon.com).

Review of the APA Publication Manual (6th ed, 2009)


The latest edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) gives new meaning to the archaic admonition to "publish or perish!" The manual is not a guide to APA style per se, but a general guide to preparing papers for publication in APA journals. Alas, for each paper written for publication there may be a hundred (or a thousand!) written for a college class where the stylistic requirements differ. These writers find themselves on the perish end of the classic warning--there is limited guidance in this new manual for them. The last edition featured a chapter on "Material Other Than Journal Articles." It is now gone. The new manual gives the least help to the least experienced.

Once past this obvious shortcoming, the new manual is excellent. Much of the material in opening chapters is recast from earlier editions, but in a more contemporary style. This is refreshing, reminiscent of the way the Chicago Manual of Style was reworked in its most recent edition. Many of the old phrases, sentences, and paragraphs are still there, but the composition has changed. For example, the section on "Economy of Expression" began with the advice to "Say only what needs to be said." This exact sentence is found in the third, fourth, fifth, and now sixth edition. But a tedious and redundant following paragraph on jargon is gone. It has been adequately dismissed by observing that "terminology familiar to only a few specialists does not sufficiently contribute to the literature" (p. 67).

Moving on to the next paragraph, as far back as the third edition the first sentence was written "Wordiness is every bit as irritating and uneconomical as jargon and can impede the ready grasp of ideas" (1983, p. 34). This is recast to "Wordiness can also impede the ready grasp of ideas" (2009, p. 67). They finally took their own advice! Extend this editorial touch throughout the entire manual and it achieves an "economical" and refreshing style. William Strunk, Jr., famed for his advice to "omit needless words," would be proud.

The organization of the text is superb. This is best appreciated by those who struggled with the previous edition. It seemed that the answer to every question was scattered among several different sections. Jaded by this earlier experience, it took distilled courage imported from Scotland to even get started with this new edition. Thankfully, it was not needed. The new manual is well indexed and organized.

There are just two major changes to the style. Headings and subheadings have changed, and references are now tagged with Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs). The old style of headings had you interleaving various levels in a complex formula. If you needed three levels you used style levels 1, 3, and 4. But if in the next section you needed four levels, you inserted level 2 between 1 and 3 (1, 2, 3, 4), if you needed five levels you added level 5 to the top (5, 1, 2, 3, 4). No longer. The new headings are used in strict order--1, 2, 3, 4, 5--as you need them.

The DOI is now commonly assigned to journal articles. The APA wants you to add this to references even when you are working from a print source (p. 189). The DOI also takes precedence over the URL if working with an online source (p. 199). The APA is not alone in this. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is adding DOI cover sheets to their archive as well as to current issues. The DOI appears to have caught on.

Other changes to the style seem more tedious than productive. For example, you are now required to list seven coauthors to a work (not six), but if there are more than seven you list the first six, insert an ellipsis followed by the name of the last author given in the article. Important Note! Add two spaces to the end of a sentence. And, for heaven's sake, the plural form of appendix is spelled appendices. It is no longer spelled appendixes as demanded by previous editions. Listen up! You damn well better remember that data are plural! Datum is the correct singular form (p. 96)! The verb tense better match! So it goes.

The sections on the metric system and statistics are still inadequate in my view, too often leaving you guessing as to how to present these metrics in the text. They have allowed the conventional symbol for the mean, an "X" with a bar over it, to stand in for their nonstanrd "M."

There is surprising confusion regarding copyright issues. The APA is notoriously tight-fisted with its publications compared to many journals, favoring a permanent embargo. You must be an APA subscriber to read anything, even a ten-year-old article. The rest of the research community is working toward a two-year embargo on free access to articles, many would like to see this reduced to six months, and some journals comply. Given their rapacious character you would expect the APA to cast a jaundiced eye on the "fair use" provisions of the copyright law. Surprisingly, the manual generously advises that "APA policy permits authors to use . . . a maximum of three figures or tables from a journal article or book chapter, single text extracts of fewer than 400 words, or a series of text extracts that total fewer than 800 words without requesting formal permission from APA" (APA, 2009, p. 173). But then, elsewhere in the text, it also warns "if you reproduced . . . a table, figure . . . from a copyrighted source, you must obtain written permission" (p. 128). Do you need permission to quote from a APA journal or not? Where does "fair use" begin and end with these people?

It is, perhaps, reassuring that the new edition of the APA Publication Manual has not fully forgone its tedious and pedantic heritage. There has been a lot to dislike with this manual over the years. If you are a student writing a paper for a seminar, or a professor readying a paper for a conference, this new edition leaves you wandering in the wilderness, two stars short. If you are writing for publication this is the best the APA has ever done, on par with the best there is.

Dr Abel Scribe PhD

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