Publication manual of the American Psychological Association

American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. Review by Joao Mattar (in progress).

Chapter 3: Writing Clearly and Concisely

As English is not my native language, reading this chapter is at the same time a challenge for improving my writing in a foreign language and an exercise of comparison with similar rules in my native language, as I teach writing courses in Portuguese. Because of that, sometimes I was not sure if I did not like some of the suggestions because of the differences between Portuguese and English, or because I really did not like the style’s suggestions. Though, I will register here both what I learned on how to write in English and what I found similar or different to Portuguese.

A very simple and clever orientation given by the Manual is to follow the rules of the journal to which you are submitting your paper.

The text gives several suggestions for achieving continuity in the presentation of ideas: punctuation and transitional words, like: pronouns, time links (then, next, after, while, since), cause-effect links (therefore, consequently, as a result), addition links (in addition, moreover, furthermore, similarly) and contrast links (but, conversely, nevertheless, however, although). I have many suggestion to add to the list, which I use in my writing courses: conjunctions in general (explored by some suggestion in the text, but I believe deserve a separate study), priority or relevance links (firstly, initially, mainly), similarity/comparison/conformity (in the same way, by analogy, according to, as), doubt (maybe, probably, possibly), certainty and emphasis (surely, undoubtedly), surprise (suddenly), explanation (for example, i.e., that is to say, in other words), intention (in order to, with the purpose of), place (near, inside, outside) and conclusion (in synthesis, in conclusion, though).

I have some doubts on the frontiers on scientific prose and creative writing stressed by the Manual. I like the idea of infusing creative style on scientific works, as I believe they can get less boring while still preserving clearness.

Nice suggestions to improve the text, when you become blind to its problems: a reading by a colleague, putting the text aside and rereading it later, and reading the paper aloud.

Another suggestion stressed by the Manual: prefer active to passive voice.

There are many suggestions to consult the APA style site.

Problematic words, expressions and grammar (that I probably use wrongly): like (I would write: “Articles by psychologists like Skinner and Watson.)”, A as well as B – followed by singular verb, data + singular verb, phenomena + singular verb, “We had nothing to do with their being the winners” (I would use them here), hopefully, parallelism with both/and (I would write: “The names were both difficult to pronounce and spell”), parallelism with either/or (I would write: “The respondents either gave the worst answer or the best answer”).

As a final thought, sometimes the chapter seemed to me excessively oriented to the psychological and biological sciences.

Chapter 4: The Mechanics of Style

This Chapter presents the style for APA journals.

Initially, it discusses punctuation, including: spacing after punctuation marks, period, comma, semicolon, colon, dash, quotation marks, double or single quotation marks, parentheses, brackets, and slash.

This is an interesting difference to Portuguese: “the height, width, or depth.” or “in a study by Stacy, Newcomb, and Bentler.” (in Portuguese, we do not have the last comma).

I would be in doubt to use a comma to separate 2 independent clauses joined by a conjunction “and”, like: “Cedar shavings covered the floor, and paper was available for shredding and next building.”

Interesting the suggestion to italicize letters, words, or sentences as linguistic examples, or to introduce a technical or key term, instead of using quotation marks: “He clarified the distinction between farther and further.” and “The term zero-based budgeting appeared frequently in the speech.”

The Chapter still addresses spelling, including hyphenation.

I must study hard the use of possessives. Singular: James’s, Plural: the Jameses’. But for a name ending in unpronounced s, use apostrophe only: Descartes’.

Regarding hyphenation (there are many rules and tables on the Chapter for this subject), I like the suggestion of checking the dictionary for solutions, although even the dictionaries do not agree on how compound words should be written.

The differences between hyphen, em dash, en dash, and minus signs were not clear to me.

The Chapter also addresses capitalization.

It is not clear to me that we should capitalize, in Portuguese, the first word after a colon that begins a complete sentence (as it was also not clear in English): “The author made one main point: No explanation that has been suggested so far answers all questions.”

Rules for capitalization in titles are also different than Portuguese: we would not capitalize for example verbs, words of four letters or more, adverbs, and pronouns. And in Portuguese we make no distinctions on capitalizing titles within the body of a paper and in reference lists, but the APA option makes more sense.

It was not clear to me that we should capitalize nouns followed by Numerals or Letters: “On Day 2 of Experiment 4.”

The Chapter also addresses: italics, abbreviations (to use only in parenthetical material: cf. – compare, e.g. – for example, i.e. – that is), numbers, metrication, statistical and mathematical copy, and equations.

Chapter 6: Crediting Sources

Citation of an article implies that you have read the article.

While plagiarism means claiming credit for the words and ideas of others, self-plagiarism means the pratice of presenting one’s own previously published work as though it were new.

When you cite a passage that does not have page number, use paragraph number when visible: (para. 4), (para. 10) etc. When paragraph number is not visible but the document have headings, use: (Discussion section, para. 1)

Quotation must follow the wording, spelling, and interior punctutation of the original source, even if it is incorrect. If needed, use sic, italicized and bracketed, after the passage that you changed. There is no need to indicate changes when you change the first letter of the first word in a quotation to uppercase or lowercase letter, neither if you change punctutation mark at the end of a sentence, or you change single to double quotation marks, or vice versa. Use . . . to indicate omission in a sentende and . . . . between two sentences. There is no need to use ellipsis points at the beginning of end of a quotation. Use brackets [] to indicate inserted material. Italicize followed by [emphasis added] to add emphasis.

When citing works by multiple authors, use all the names in firts citation in the text, and First Author et al. in the following. With six or more authors, cite only the first author et al.

Differences in citing in running text and parenthetical material: Author 1 and Author 2 (Author 1 & Author 2).

Personal communications should not be included in the reference list, because they do not provide recoverable data.

The Chapter has specific indications for Author and Editor information, publication date, title etc. in reference lists.

Chapter 7: Reference Examples offers several examples of how to cite periodicals, books and chapters, reports, meetings and symposia, dissertations and theses, reviews and peer commentary, audiovisual media, data sets, software, measurement instruments, apparatus, unpublished and informally published works, archival documents and collections, internet message boards, electronic mailing lists, other online communities, besides addressing variations on author, title and publication information. It also emphasizes the use of DOIs – Digital Object Identifiers.

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