Dr Abel Scribe PhD

APA Style Quick Study

APA Monster

The APA Quick Study is a concise guide to the basic features and essential rules of APA (American Psychological Association) style. Based on the current sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual (2009), it is a companion guide to the APA Style Lite/Crib Sheet. While the APA Lite focuses on the details, the Quick Study highlights those features that are trademarks of APA style.

Warning!  APA style is plagued by exasperating nuances that are easy to trip over, even at a basic level. Nor is the APA Manual much help if you don't know what questions to ask. The APA Quick Study highlights the essentials.

Despite all the nonesense, it's not that hard!   

Quick Study Contents
1.0 Introduction. Important! Doc gets a kick-back when you buy books through his website. What is style? Draw the line! Just what is a final manuscript?

2.0 APA Documentation. A research paper threads its way into a dialogue among researchers. This is documented by citations and references. If the documentation is poor or incomplete the dialogue sputters and fails, becoming little more than noise.

3.0 Page Format. There are separate instructions for preparing a paper for publication, a copy manuscript (the main focus of the Publication Manual), and for presentation in its final form for a class, or seminar, a final manuscript.

4.0 Text Rules (Mechanics of Style). What is unique to APA style, and what is common usage? There are five sets of rules that merit particular attention: (a) abbreviations, (b) capitalization, (c) emphasis, (d) numbers, and (e) quotations.

1.0 Introduction

APA Manual
American Psychological Association. (2009). Publication manual of the American Psychological
Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Sixth Edition.   The latest edition of the APA Publication Manual has tightened its focus on writing for publication at the expense of those crafting college or conference papers--gone is the old chapter 6, "Material Other Than Journal Articles." Also gone are 166 pages of text, which is better news for students. The new edition will guide through the process of using Digital Object Identifiers in references, but will not show you how to format a title page unless you are writing for publication. The section on avoiding bias is still the best found anywhere. See what's changed at www.apastyle.org.

The APA Manual once cautioned: "The Publication Manual is not intended to cover scientific writing at an undergraduate level. . . Instructions to students to 'use the Publication Manual' should be accompanied by specific guidelines for its use" (APA, 2001, sec. 6.01). Providing those guidelines is what this website is all about.

Style has two meanings. It can refer to a style of expression, as for example, a story in the style of Ernest Hemingway. It can also refer to a style of presentation, as in the style of the American Psychological Association. This is the focus of the APA Publication Manual, and the APA Quick Study.

Common usage versus APA style.  APA style is easier to understand if a firm line is drawn between what is common usage and what is unique to the style. Absent this clarity, the style becomes a study of arbitrary rules and exceptions. It's not that complicated.

Final manuscripts? The APA Publication Manual is almost entirely focused on preparing papers for publication (could that be why they call it the "publication" manual?). There once was a chapter on preparing papers for class use, what the manual calls final manuscripts. The APA Manual (2001) advises:

Writers are reminded that they are preparing the "final" copy. Because the manuscript will not be set in type, the manuscript must be as readable as possible. Many of APA's format requirements aid production for publication. Reasonable exceptions to APA style often make sense and are encouraged to better serve communication and improve the appearance of the final document. For example, . . . (pp. 324-325)

APA Lite and the Quick Study have deciphered these instructions for you.

2.0 APA Documentation: References & Citations (TOP)

There are three basic styles of references: (a) author-date, (b) bibliography, and (c) note, as in endnotes or footnotes. APA style uses the author-date style, with text citations placed in parentheses (parenthetical citations) in author-date format. References and citations must correspond, that is, everything cited in the text must be referenced, and only the works cited are included in the reference list.

There are two practices to keep in mind when formatting APA references:

  1. APA style documentation has a passion for parentheses. APA style calls for parentheses or brackets around a lot the material that goes into composing a reference. These do not necessarily serve a purpose, it's just the way APA style wants it done.
  2. APA style documentation uses standard punctuation throughout. APA style always uses standard punctuation in references and text citations. It puts a period after all abbreviations or initials, and commas between items in a series, like the names of several coauthors to a work.
Character Spacing.  APA style calls for following all punctuation, both in references and in the text, with just a single space when preparing a manuscript for publication (except after a period in an abbreviation or initials that are followed immediately by a comma). For final manuscripts follow conventional rules in the text (only)—double space after the end of a sentence—to improve readability. (The latest APA Manual now allows this if you are consistent.)

References are composed of elements. These are: (a) author, (b) date, (c) title, (d) publication information, and (e) Internet access information. Each element is followed by a period. APA style follows these rules:

  1. Author. The list of References is organized alphabetically by author. The lead author's name goes last name first, as do all other coauthors to a work. Only first and middle initials are used. With two or more authors the last author's name is preceded by an ampersand (&), an APA trademark.

      But other names, such as editors and translators not serving as the author in a reference, go in their normal order, again with just first and middle initials.

  2. Date. The date is placed in parentheses after the list of authors. APA style formats full dates in American fashion (Month Day, Year); the year first for the publication date in references: (2006, October 31); in normal order for Internet retrieval dates (e.g., Retrieved October 31, 2006).
  3. Title. All titles are formatted lowercase (sentence caps): only the first word, the first word after a colon, and proper nouns are capitalized. Titles of books and the names of journals (journal names are capitalized as proper nouns) are placed in italics. Titles of articles or chapters are not placed in quotes or italics.
  4. Publication Information (Books). APA style, like other styles, introduces the publisher of a book by first giving the place of publication, then the name of the publisher: Baltimore, MD: Artless Press. Use standard two-character postal abbreviations for states.

    Publication Information (Periodicals). By convention (shared with other styles) no publisher is given for journals and other periodicals, the title or name of the journal (in italics) is sufficient. This is followed by the publication information in the form: volume(issue), pages.

      The volume number is also placed in italics, an APA trademark, but not the issue number, which is in plain text—Journal Name 123(45): 123-129.

      APA style does not drop digits in page number ranges: write 1212-1224, not 1212-24.

  5. Internet access. APA style has adopted a sensible access statement for online sources in the form: Retrieved October 31, 2006, from http://www.docstyles.com  <There is no period after the URL!
Example. The basic elements are found in a reference to a chapter in an anthology.

Jung, C. G. (1971). The concept of the collective unconscious. In J. Campbell (Ed.), The portable Jung (pp. 59–
69). New York: Viking Penguin.

Example. An article in an online journal illustrates the elements in a reference to a periodical.

Barry, J. M. (2004, January). The site of origin of the 1918 influenza pandemic and its public health implications
[Commentary]. Journal of Translational Medicine 2(3), 1–4. Retrieved November 18, 2005, from

Sample Formats

The block formats illustrate how these rules are applied to format references to the most common sources. APA Lite/Crib Sheet has specific examples. Study the use of parentheses and punctuation, note the use of the abbreviation pp. with some page numbers (newspapers), but not all (this is one of the nuances that plague APA style).


Author, F. M. (2006). The title of the book or volume (Xth ed.). City, ST: Publisher.


Author, F. M., & Coauthor, F. M. (2006). Title of the chapter. In F. M. Editor (Ed.), Title of the
edited book (pp. 123-134). City, ST: Publisher.


Author, F. M., Coauthor, F. M., & Coauthor, F. M. (2006). Title of the journal article: No quotes,
lowercase text. Journal Name, 10(3), 123-256. doi:[add if available]


Author, F. M. (2006, April). Title of the magazine article. Name of the Magazine, 10, 123-156.


Author, F. M. (2006, April 1). Title of the newspaper article. Name of the Newspaper, pp. 123-156.


Writer, F. M. (2006). Title of a published report (Report Number 123). City, ST: Publisher.

References to Journals: Online with URL, or Print with DOI

APA style asks that the digital object identifier (DOI) be added to references to journal articles (or any document that has one). This applies to articles retrieved from the Internet or found in print. When an online article has no DOI the URL is appended instead. This is not to the actual article, but to the index or search page of the journal. A retrieval date is added only if there is suspicion that the document may change.

Hypericum Depression Trial Study Group. (2002a). Effect of Hypericum perforatum (St. John's Wort) in major depressive
disorder: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA, 287, 1807–1814. Retrieved from http://www.jama.org  <No period!

Hypericum Depression Trial Study Group. (2002b). Effect of Hypericum perforatum (St. John's Wort) in major depressive
disorder: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA, 287, 1807–1814. doi:10.1001/jama.287.14.1807  <No period!

Text Citations

Ideas and direct quotes are cited in the text using parenthetical citations in the form: (Author, date). Only last names are used in the citation. When a direct quote is cited the page number is added: (Author, 2006, p. 123). When there are two or more coauthors, the last author is preceded by an ampersand: (Author, Author, & Author, 2006). An ampersand is only used in references, and inside parentheses in the text.  Write "Smith and Jones (2006) claimed . . ."  or  "It was claimed (Smith & Jones, 2006) . . . "

Remember: APA documentation has a passion for parentheses, and follows conventional punctuation, except after URLs and DOIs in references.

2.0 APA Page Format (TOP)

Chapter 6 in the 2001 edition of the APA Manual (5th ed.), "Material Other Than Journal Articles," gives instructions for formatting papers in their final form for a class, thesis, or dissertation, a final manuscript. Three changes are called for: (a) block paragraph spacing, (b) tables and figures embedded in the text (not on separate pages at the end of a paper), and (c) the consolidation of the title and abstract pages on a single page. (A separate title-author page is required for review. This is torn off to preserve anonymity.)

Fig 1. Title Page: Copy Manuscripts for Review & Publication (left);  Final Manuscripts for Class & Conferences. (right).
APA Page Format

pointer  Slow-witted instructors are no longer guided by the chapter in the previous edition of the APA Manual that encouraged the adaptation of the style to "improve readability," as is done with the title page to the right above. They may insist that the APA Manual be followed precisely, even when it makes no sense to do so (left, above).

Margins are 1 inch around the page. The right margin is left ragged, that is, not aligned straight or justified. This is done to avoid inserting hyphens in a text, as may be necessary when long words come at the end of lines. Arbitrary hyphens can obscure meaning.

Number every page! The title page is page one, located bottom center. Subsequent page numbers go top right, inside the margin space aligned with the right margin.

Block paragraph spacing single-spaces blocks of text, double-spacing before and after. Titles (and other headings), the abstract, author information, block quotes, table headings and notes, and references are all block paragraph spaced. In copy manuscripts for publication everything is traditionally double-spaced. However, the latest edition of the APA Manual now expressly allows tables to be single-spaced throughout.

Fig. 2. First Text Page with Block Spacing (TOP)
APA References

APA style requires the use of a serif typeface or font, such as Times Roman or Courier. A serif typeface has small cross bars on the letters. The APA Manual also expresses a preference for a fairly large, 12-point, font, but accepts a smaller (10-point) elite typewriter-sized font as well.

Fig 3. First Text Page with Headings & Lists (Seriation) (TOP)
APA Page Format

Fig. 4. Reference List with Block Spacing (TOP)
APA References

pointer  Tables and figures are placed on separate pages and added to the end of a manuscript when preparing a paper for publication (a copy manuscript). But when preparing a final manuscript---a class paper, thesis, or dissertation---they are inserted at the appropriate place in the text. Do not break tables or figures across separate pages.

4.0 The Mechanics of Style (TOP)

Standard American English usage is sometimes ambiguous, and some conventions may not be familiar to those new to research writing. There are five topics that merit special attention: some practices shared by other styles, some unique to APA style.

4.1 Abbreviations

square There are two rules to note, both standard usage in research writing: (a) define acronyms, and (b) never use lowercase or Latin abbreviations in plain text.

Acronyms are letters representing words.

  • Technically APA is an initialism since each letter is pronounced separately, while NASA is a true acronym since it is pronounced as a word. Acronyms must be defined the first time they are used. For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) publishes its own style guide. This can also be written, "the APA (American Psychological Association) publishes a style guide.
  • Acronyms should be used sparingly. Unless they are very familiar, like FBI or CIA, a reader can remember just a few in the course of a research paper. If many pages come between the first usage and subsequent usage, the reader can forget what the acronym stands for. It is then prudent to give the full term and repeat the acronym a second time. The goal is to achieve clarity for the reader.

Lowercase abbreviations, and especially Latin abbreviations, are never used in a text.

  Latin abbreviations common in scholarly discourse include et al. (et alii, and others), e.g. (exampli gratia, for example), etc. (et cetera, and so forth), i.e. (id est, that is), and N.B. (nota bene, take careful note). These may be used only in references or inside parentheses in the text (e.g., like this). Otherwise, write out the English equivalent, for example, like this.

4.2 Capitalization Rule (TOP)

square APA style has its own rules for capitalizing words in headings and titles.

  • Heading capitalization capitalizes the first character of all "major words" in a title, label, or phrase (APA, 2001, p. 94). Short articles (a, an, the), conjunctions (and, but), and prepositions (by, in, of) are not capitalized, but all words of four characters or more are capitalized in APA style.
  • Sentence capitalization capitalizes just the first word, the first word after a colon, and any proper nouns in a heading or title.

  Titles of books and articles are formatted lowercase in references (sentence caps), but when noted in the text are formatted in heading caps. Titles of books and volumes, reports, Web Pages, and the names of journals are also placed in italics. Titles of articles are placed in quotes (no italics) when noted in the text.

4.3 Emphasis: Italics or Quotes? (TOP)

square Emphasis can be added to a word or phrase by placing it in italics or quotation marks. This is done only once, when the word or phrase is first introduced. Standard and APA usage follow the same rules.

  • Scare quotes is the term given to adding emphasis by placing a word or phrase in quotation marks. They indicate the term is being used ironically, or is a slang, coined, or invented expression.
  • All other emphasis is added by placing a word or phrase in italics. Foreign words or special terms are also introduced by placing them in italics (the first time only).

4.4 Numbers: Figures or Words? (TOP)

square "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, 2001, p. 122).

  • Begin a sentence. When numbers or a date are required to open a sentence, write them out. For example: "Five girls and 16 boys tried out for the varsity soccer team." If you can, rewrite the sentence (see why below).
  • Mixed numbers? Be consistent, do not mix numerals with written numbers when they refer to similar things. For example, "Only 5 of the 15 people on the tour (not five of the 15 tourists) were willing to visit the city after the riot."

 Nasty Nuances!  APA style has a special set of numbers that are always written as numerals. These are "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.  Write: "in about 3 years; 2 weeks ago; 1 hr 34 min; at 12:30 a.m.; 2-year-olds; 3 participants [but two raters, seven observers]; 9 rats; scored 4 on a 7-point scale; were paid $5 each; the numerals on the scorecard were 0–6" (APA, 2001, p. 124). There are seven observers watching 9 rats run the maze.

pointer  Nasty Nuances!  "Numbers that denote a specific place in a numbered series, parts of books and tables, and each number in a list of four or more numbers" are also written with numerals.  Write: "Grade 8 [but the eighth grade; see section 3.45]; Trial 3; Table 4; page 71 [sic, this should read page 7]; chapter 5; row 5; and 1, 3, 4, and 7 words, respectively" (APA, 2001, p. 125).

4.5 Quotations: Block Quotes? (TOP)

square Shorter quotes are placed in quotations marks in the text. "Display a longer quotation of 40 words or more as a freestanding block of typewritten lines [block quote], and omit the quotation marks" (APA, 2001, p. 117). Block quotes are continuously indented from the left margin one-half inch. Single space within a block quote, double space before and after.

pointer  Nasty Nuances!  The first paragraph in a block quote is not indented, even if it was indented in the original source, subsequent paragraphs in the same quote are indented, if they were indented in the original (see Fig. 2, above).

Quotes are used most effectively when they are embedded in the flow of your text. They may be edited to do so according to sensible rules specified in the APA Manual and abstracted in APA Lite.

APA Monster   APA style is fraught with nuances. The APA Manual insists that datum is the singular form of data, though dictionaries disagree (p. 89). This level of detail is unproductive. It is far more worthwhile to get the basics right and focus on content. Flawless documentation is essential. Every reference must lead to a valid source, every URL must work . Numbers and statistics must be presented with precision. Page formatting has a distinctive APA look and feel. Don't improvise, especially in presenting tables. Beyond these cautions, most of what you need know of APA style has been covered in just these few pages.

pointer Content Matters More Than Style! See "The Science of Scientific Writing" (PDF 90 KB, 12 pp.).

Chorus Line
Official Websites:   AMA Style (Oxford UP)   APA Style Site   Chicago Manual of Style   MLA Handbook