Why do I need a guide to the guide?
So, you’re writing a paper for some kind of science class, the syllabus says to write in APA, and you think, “What’s APA?” You turn to the APA manual and think, “Wow, this is a lot.” It’s about “all aspects of scholarly writing, from the ethics of duplicate publication to the word choice that best reduces bias in language” (p.3). Authoritative, yes; user-friendly, not always. Let me crack the cover and show you the most important information and the most helpful passages in the APA manual.
The most important information in the APA manual:
- APA’s main focus: scientific research and ethical presentation of research in a way that is easily cataloged and searchable. This affects everything from tone of voice and word choice to title pages and citation styles. This can be found in ch. 1, especially 1.07, 1.10, 1.12, and 1.16.
- APA’s structure for a paper: the key elements in an APA paper are the title page (2.01-2.03), abstract (2.04), introduction (2.05), method (2.06), results (2.07), discussion (2.08), and the references (2.11). This can be found in 2.01-2.11.
- APA’s language and tone: scientific reporting values clear, precise, and unbiased communication. This affects every word of your paper and should be reviewed before writing in APA. This can be found in 3.05-3.23, but the most important is in 3.07-3.17.
The most helpful passages in the APA manual:
- Sample pages from an APA paper: it helps to see examples, and the APA manual provides sample pages of different types of paper, the different sections of a paper (like the title page, abstract, etc.), appendices, and references. See the end of ch. 2, starting on p.41, see figures 2.1-2.3.
- Headings: since each section of a paper starts with a specific heading, these are a must-know. See 3.03.
- Using abbreviations well: since clarity is key in APA, abbreviations can help or hinder the paper. To carefully balance your use of abbreviations, see 4.22-4.30 as necessary.
- Using tables and figures: since scientific reporting often draws on analysis of data, you’ll need to know how to design a table or a figure (as well as the difference between the two!). See 5.04 for the difference, 5.07ff. for tables (I think 5.19 is the most helpful), and 5.20 for figures (I think 5.30 is the most helpful).
- Citing sources: since you need to draw on established research but don’t want to plagiarize, you’ll want to review APA’s method of citing sources (parenthetical citations). The manual describes everything from different ways to quote, paraphrase, or summarize research (See 6.03-6.09), but parenthetical citations are covered in 6.11ff.
- Reference List: everything you cite within a paper must be included in a reference list at the end of the paper. See 6.22 ff.
- Online Sources: as more and more research moves online, it helps to know how to cite sources from the internet, the differences between URL’s and DOI’s, and so on. See 6.31.
- Find Specifics for Citations: the beginning of chapter 7 (pg. 193 in my manual) marks the start of a huge section of every kind of book, journal, and source that you might cite in an APA paper. Use the index to quickly find exactly what you need to cite.
- Table of Contents & Index: if you run into a topic that you need help with, check the table of contents and the index at the back. These are organized by topic, and you can usually pinpoint the necessary information pretty quick.
So there you go—a guide to the guide. Good luck writing!