Dr Abel Scribe PhD

1.0 APA Mechanics of Style

This section explains what to keep in mind as you write: the use of abbreviations, required capitalization, adding emphasis to words and phrases, use of quotation marks, common and precise numbers.

APA Basic Table of Contents
2.0 Page Layout
  • 2.1 Title & Text Pages
  • 2.2 Headings & Lists
  • 2.3 Quotations
  • 2.4 Tables
  • 2.5 Figures
3.0 Crediting Sources
  • 3.1 Text Citations
  • 3.2 Reference Lists
4.0 Reference Examples
  • 4.1 Article in Periodicals
  • 4.2 Books & Compilations
  • 4.3 Reference Works
  • 4.4 Monographs & Websites

1.1 Abbreviations (TOP)

square The Chicago Manual of Style) notes that acronyms are abbreviations that are sounded as words (e.g., AIDS, NASA), while initialisms are abbreviations sounded as letters (e.g., ATM, FBI). The term acronym usually suffices for both. Use acronyms to avoid repeating long familiar terms (e.g., APA, MMPI), and use sparingly, only for terms frequently repeated throughout your text.

  • Explain what an acronym means the first time it occurs: American Psychological Association (APA).
  • If an abbreviation is commonly used as a word, it does not require explanation (IQ, LSD, REM, ESP).
  • To form plurals of abbreviations, add s alone, without an apostrophe (PhDs, IQs, vols., Eds).

Use periods when presenting an abbreviation within a reference (Vol. 3, p. 6, pp. 121-125, 2nd ed.)

  • Use two-letter postal codes for U.S. states (e.g., GA for Georgia) in references (write the state name out in text).
  • Use the abbreviation pp. (plain text) in references to newspaper articles, chapters in edited volumes, and text citations only, not in references to articles in journals and magazines.
  • Use hr for hour or hours, min for minutes, s for seconds, m for meter or meters (all in plain text, no period, no bold font).
  • When using abbreviations for measurements (e.g., m for meter) do not add an s to make it plural (100 seconds is 100 s), do not add a period.

Do not use Latin abbreviations in the text unless they are inside parentheses. An exception is made for et al. when citing a source. For example, "Smith et al. (2002) found monkeys measured higher in IQ tests than grad students." Instead, write out the equivalent word or phrase: cf. [use compare];   e.g. [use for example];   etc. [use and so forth];   i.e. [use that is];   viz. [use namely];   vs. [use versus].

  • Do not use the traditional abbreviations for subject, experimenter, and observer (S, E, O).
  • Do not use periods within degree titles and organization titles (PhD, APA).
  • Do not use periods within measurements (ft, s, kg, km, lb) except inches (in.).

1.2 Capitalization (TOP)

square The general rule is to capitalize terms if they are highly specific--in effect, used as proper nouns. For example, write the nineteen twenties (1920s), but also write the Roaring Twenties. Write the Great Plains, but also write the central plains, and the plains of Nebraska (but the Nebraska Plains).

  • Capitalize formal names of tests, conditions, groups, effects, and variables only when definite and specific (e.g., Stroop Color-Word Interference Test, Group A was the control group). But do not capitalize names of laws, theories, and hypotheses (e.g., the law of effect, the test groups). Capitalize nouns before numbers, but not before variables (Trial 2, trial x).
  • Capitalize nouns before numbers or letters that indicate a specific place in a numbered series, but not before variables (Chapter 4, Table 3, Trial 2, but not trial x).
  • Capitalize specific course and department titles (GSU Department of Psychology, Psych 150). But do not capitalize the term when referring to generalities (any department, any introductory course).
  • Capitalize the first word after colon in all titles in references and in the text and in headings. In the text, if the phrase following a colon is a complete sentence capitalize the first word.
  • When capitalizing a compound word capitalize all words in the compound (e.g., Double-Blind Trial).

Exception! "Do not capitalize nouns that denote common parts of books or tables followed by numerals or letters—page iv, row 3, column 5" (APA, 2009, p. 103).

Heading caps capitalize all major words and all words of four letters or more in headings, titles, and subtitles outside reference lists, for example, chapter 6 in the APA Manual (2001) is titled "Material Other Than Journal Articles."

Sentence caps capitalize the first word and the first word after a comma or colon when the phrase is a complete sentence. For example, "This is a complete sentence, so this is capitalized."

1.3 Italics (Emphasis) & Quotation Marks (TOP)

square Use italics (or underline) for the titles of books, species names, novel or technical terms and labels (the first time only), words and phrases used as linguistic examples, letters used as statistical symbols, and the volume numbers in references to journal articles.

  • Add emphasis to a word or short phrase by putting it in italics (the first time only). Use this sparingly!
  • Add emphasis to a word or phrase in a quotation with italics, followed by the note [italics added] in brackets.
  • Note a word used as a word, or a foreign term, with italics, for example, hutte means hut in German.
  • Introduce a keyword or technical term (the neoquasipsychoanalytic theory), or identify endpoints on a scale (poor to excellent) with italics.
  • Do not italicize foreign words that have entered common usage (e.g., et al., a priori, laissez-faire, arroyo).

Use quotation marks for:

  • odd or ironic usage the first time--the "outrageous" use of social security funds to finance the deficit. These are known as scare quotes.
  • article and chapter titles cited in the text but not in the reference list. For example, in Smith's (1992) article, "APA Style and Personal Computers," computers were described as "here to stay" (p. 311).

Do not use quotes to hedge, cast doubt, or apologize (e.g., he was "cured"). Leave off the quotes.

1.4 Common Numbers (TOP)

square Spell out common numbers under 10. "Use figures to express numbers 10 and above and words to express numbers below 10" as long as the numbers below 10 do not express precise measurements and are not grouped with numbers above 10 (APA, 2009, p. 111).

  • Spell out common fractions, common expressions, and centuries (one-half, Fourth of July, twentieth century).
  • Spell out all numbers beginning sentences (Thirty days hath September . . .).
  • To make plurals out of numbers, add s only, with no apostrophe (the 1950s).
  • When numbers below 10 must be mixed with numbers above 10 in the same sentence they should be written as numerals. For example, write "the students trying out for the soccer team included 5 girls and 16 boys."
  • Use words and numerals with two numbers in series (five 4-point scales).
  • Use combinations of numerals and written numbers for large approximate sums (over 3 million people).

Use numerals for numbers 10 and above, for exact statistical references, scores, sample sizes, and sums (multiplied by 3, or 5% of the sample).

  • Use metric abbreviations with physical measure (4 km) but not when written out (many meters distant).
  • Use the percent symbol (%) only with figures (5%) not with written numbers (five percent).
  • Put a leading zero before decimal fractions less than one (e.g., 0.25 km), unless the fraction can never be greater than one, as with statistical probabilities (e.g., p < .01).
  • Ordinal numbers follow the same rules as other numbers. Spell out ordinals below 10: first, second, . . . ninth. Use numerals for ordinals 10 and above: 10th, 43rd, 99th, and so on. Exception—the twentieth century.

Use numerals for all numbers "that denote a specific place in a numbered series, parts of books and tables, and each number in a list of four or numbers" (APA, 2009, p. 115). Write Grade 6 (but sixth grade); Trial 5; Table 6; page 71 (do not cap page); chapter 8 (do not cap chapter); 2, 4, 6, and 8 words in a series.

Use numerals for all "numbers that represent time; dates; ages; sample, subsample, or population size; specific numbers of subjects or participants in an experiment; scores and points on a scale; exact sums of money; and numerals as numerals" (APA, p. 124). But, spell out approximate days, months, years (new). "She has about fifteen years remaining on her jail sentence."

1.5 Precise Numbers & Statistics (TOP)

square The APA requires the use of the metric system in its journals. This is formally known as the International System of Units, or SI (from the French Le Système International d'Unités). The lead authority on the SI in the United States is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (free guide: http://physics.nist.gov/Document/sp811.pdf). The APA would prefer you to visit their webstie, www.apastyle.org.

SI Graph Precise Numbers. SI numbers have three parts: the numerical value, the prefix (multiplier), and the unit symbol (abbreviation). Each of these parts is strictly defined. The number 25.3 kg is an SI number. Numbers are always formatted in plain text (no italics), there is always a space after the numerical value (never a hyphen or other character), there is never a period after the units (except at the end of a sentence).

Numerical values are presented without commas in SI notation. For example, the distance between Chicago and Denver is 1600 km (not 1,600 km). The km stands for kilo-meters. The prefix kilo indicates the units are multiplied by 1000. There are about 1.6 km to a mile. If it is important for clarity you can note the conventional U.S. measure in parentheses after the SI number: 1600 km (1000 miles).

  • There is always a space after the numerical value, and only a space. This can look awkward. For example, the temperature at the beach was 25 ºC, or about 77 ºF today. There is a space after the numerical value before the degree symbol and temperature abbreviation. Conventional notation, 77º F, is not an acceptable SI number.
  • Common prefixes are k (kilo-, multiply by one thousand), M (mega-, multiply by one million), and m (milli-, multiply by one-one thousandth [0.001]). For example, KVOD broadcasts at 88.1 MHz. A Hertz is a measure of frequency, after a man by that name, so the abbreviation is capitalized Hz. A complete listing of prefixes is found in the APA Manual (2001, Table 3.5), and the NIST Guide (1995, Table 5).
  • Units of measure are always abbreviated when presented with numerical values, but written out when noted in the text without a numerical value. For example, a liter is about a quart; "It took 22 L to top off the gas tank."
  • Units of measure never take periods or other punctuation except at the end of a sentence.
  • Numerical values less than one are preceded by a zero. For example, one yard is 0.91 m, or about three inches short of a meter. An exception is made for statistical values that by definition cannot be greater than one, for example the probability, p < .05.

No hyphens, no periods! The SI is not subject to rules for compound adjectives. For example, it is proper to write: "She won the 50-yard dash." It is NOT correct to write: "He was prescribed a 50-mg dose." A 50-mg dose could be interpreted as a 50/mg dose (i.e., 50 -mg in SI notation); 50 units of something per milligram of body weight. A mouse weighing 30 g (about an ounce) would require a 1,500,000 unit dose! Nothing but a space is ever inserted between a number and unit of measure.

Exception. When an instrument is calibrated in U. S. conventional units these may be presented followed by the SI measure in parentheses. For example, the thermometer at the beach read 77 ºF (25 ºC); the maze was laid out with a tape measure on a 3 ft by 3 ft (0.91 m x 0.91 m) grid pattern.

square Statistics. Most symbols for statistics are placed in italics (exceptions are very rare). Nonstandard symbols are used for some common statistics (check the APA Manual, Table 3.9, for a complete list of accepted symbols):

TabM  = mean ( X-bar ), SD  = standard deviation ( sigma ), Mdn  = median, SS  = sum of squares ( summationX 2 ).

Descriptive statistics give summary information about a sample or population, such as the average (mean) or standard deviation of some characteristic. For example, "Abigail Scribe has a GPA of 3.65, which is below the average for students accepted at Ivy and Oak University (M = 3.85, SD = 0.21)." Descriptive statistics may be presented in the text with the appropriate syntax (e.g., "a GPA of 3.85"). When referred to indirectly they are set in parentheses, as with (M = 3.85, SD = 0.21).

Inferential statistics reason from a sample to the characteristics of a population, often expressed as a probability. For example, "Abby Scribe has a chance of being accepted at Ivy and Oak University (p < .15), but counselors advise her that her odds are not great based on last year's applicants, X2(2, N = 2247) = 2.81, p < .15 (one-tailed)." Inferential statistics are presented in the text (no parentheses) with "sufficient information to allow the reader to fully understand the results of the analysis conducted" (APA, 2009, p.116). The following examples from the APA Manual (p, 117 ):

Tabt(117) = 3.51, p < .001, d = 0.65, 95% CI [0.35, 0.95]

The first number in parentheses is degrees of freedom of the analysis; "95% CI" stands for 95% confidence interval.

Pointer  "Space mathematical copy as you would words: a+b=c is as difficult to read as wordswithoutspacing" (APA, 2009, p. 118). Place a space before and after all arithmetic operators and signs ( = , < , > , - , + , etc.);  a +  b  =  c.