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APA Style Tips and Grammatical Hints

This guide to writing in APA style (American Psychological Association, 1994) contains rules that are generally more advanced (although no more difficult to apply) than those found in other web-based introductions to APA style. Some additional rules are based on general editorial experience. Careful attention to these rules should allow one to weed out many common errors.

APA Style Tips

  1. APA style now forbids the standard practice of placing two spaces after periods and colons; a single space is now preferred.

  2. Lists of authors' names:
    a. Multiple references within a single citation are listed in alphabetical order.
    b. The and is represented with an ampersand ("&") if the cite is within parentheses and is spelled out ("and") if the cite is not inside parentheses.

  3. Contractions (can't, isn't, I'll, etc.) should not be used in formal writing.

  4. When there are two spellings for a word (e.g., judgment, judgement), the first spelling listed in the dictionary should be used. This is the "preferred" spelling.

  5. The word data is considered plural. The singular form, rarely used, is datum: "The data were analyzed by Jack Sprat, who examined them datum by datum."

  6. The words while and since should be used only in their temporal senses. Otherwise, while can be replaced with whereas or although, and since can be replaced with because or given that.

  7. The word hopefully means "full of hope." Therefore, "Hopefully, he will leave soon," should be rendered, "It is to be hoped that he will leave soon," or, "We hope he will leave soon."

  8. A relationship is usually by blood or marriage. When comparing the relation between two things, use relation instead (Rothman, 1998).

  9. By rewording a sentence, non-sexist language can often be achieved without resort to clumsy pronous such as he or she. Avoid writing the therapist, the patient, and so on; instead, write therapists or patients, which can be referred to by plural pronouns such as they or them.

  10. Participial phrases must be placed next to the noun they modify (i.e., no "dangling" participles):
    RIGHT: Thinking about his girlfriend, he was almost hit by a car.
    WRONG: Thinking about his girlfriend, a car almost hit him.

  11. For items in a series, use commas after each item except the last. For example: "He had roast beef, mashed potatoes, and green beans for lunch."

  12. For expressions enclosed in quotation marks, the ending quote mark goes after any comma or period appearing at that point: "His cat, nicknamed 'Stripes,' often preferred...."

  13. Commas must be placed between two independent clauses in a sentence and after a dependent clause at the beginning of a sentence. For example:
    Henry Jones entered the data, and Janine Hinderson analyzed them.
    After Henry Jones entered the data, Janine Hinderson analyzed them.

  14. Restrictive clauses, which are essential to the meaning of the sentence, are not set off by a comma. Nonrestrictive clauses, which are not essential to the meaning of the sentence--they merely add further information--are set off by a comma. For example:
    Men who are tall are better at basketball than men who are short.
    Men, who are tall, are better at basketball than horned toads, which are short.

    A special case of this rule concerns the use of which versus that. Restrictive clauses begin with that and are not set off by a comma; nonrestrictive clauses begin with which and are set off by a comma. For example:

    The lemmings that performed well in the first race were not included in the second race.
    The lemmings, which performed well in the first race, were all fuzzy animals.

    Because which is more often misused, one should occasionally conduct a "which hunt."

  15. Some believe that however should not be placed at the beginning of a sentence if it can be appropriately placed elsewhere. The purpose of conjunctions such as however, but, and and is to join, and a word beginning a sentence should not be a joining word.

  16. Use numerals for numbers greater than nine (10, 101, 909, etc.); spell out numbers nine and below (one, five, nine).
    First exception: Use numerals for quantities of time or amount (e.g., 1 day, 30 s, 5 mg) that do not begin a sentence.
    Second exception: Spell out any number used to begin a sentence (e.g., "Nine hundred nine examinees participated in the experiment."). If possible, it is better to reword the sentence so that it does not begin with the number (e.g., "The sample size for the experiment was 909.").

  17. Statistical symbols (e.g., N, p, F, etc.) should be underlined. Statistical symbols and relational symbols (=, etc.) should be treated as distinct words, and should therefore be separated from other words by spaces (e.g., "F = 4.31.").

  18. Regarding verb tense, procedures (methods and analyses) and results occurred in the past, but inferences occur in the present.
    Pearson product moment correlations were calculated.... Given that the correlation between tongue-tying and arm-twisting was not significant, it appears that our original hypothesis is incorrect.
    Also, regarding reporting of statistics:
    The F-value for Variable 1 was 5.74. This value is not significant at the .05 level, for 1 and 995 degrees of freedom.

  19. Characterizing correlations (following Cohen, 1988, pp. 24-27):
    a. < .20: "low"
    b. in the .20s: "low-to-moderate"
    c. .30 to .50: "moderate"
    d. above .50: "moderately high," "high," "very high"

  20. It is desirable for reliabilities to be in the .90s. Hence, one might characterize a reliability of .91 as "good" and a reliability of .97 as "very good." Reliabilities in the .80s are "acceptable," and reliabilities of less than .80 indicate that the test needs improvement (although a new test with a reliability of .78 might be "promising").


Grammatical Hints

  1. Commas

    Clause and clause. Dick ran, and Jane jumped.
    Introductory clause, then clause. When Dick ran, Jane jumped.

    Compound subject. Dick, and Jane ran. NO!
    Compound predicate. Dick ran, and jumped. NO!

    Short introductory phrase, then clause. Before going, Dick slept. NO!
    Long introductory phrase, then clause. Before going to the library, Dick slept.

  2. Punctuation and quotation marks

    American and British:

    Dick said, "I'll pay."
    Dick asked, "Who will pay?"
    Dick shouted, "You pay!"

    "I'll pay," Dick said.
    "Who will pay?" Dick asked.
    "You pay!" Dick shouted.

    Did Jane spell "Paris"?
    Don't you dare spell "Paris"!


    Jane spelled "Paris."
    After Jane spelled "Paris," she left.


    Jane spelled "Paris".
    After Jane spelled "Paris", she left.

  3. Avoid referring to "the doctor," "the patient," etc.

    (a) No such generality as "the doctor" exists.
    (b) "The doctor" requires such clumsy pronouns as she/he, her/him, etc. Doctors do exist, and doctors can be referred to by plural pronouns--e.g., they, them.

  4. Apostrophes are used for possessives, not plurals.

    The play was boring. The plays were boring.
    The theme of the play was boring. The play's theme was boring.
    The theme of the plays was boring. The plays' theme was boring.

    1952 was a boring year. The legacy of 1952 was boredom.
    1952's legacy was boredom.

    The 1950s were boring. The legacy of the 1950s was boredom.
    The 1950s' legacy was boredom.

  5. The plural of numbers, letters, signs, and words considered as words is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s.

    In the equation are two t's.
    There are three 7's in my address.
    Please don't use so many and's

  6. That versus which

    Restrictive clauses, which are essential to the meaning of the sentence, begin with "that" and are not set off by a comma.
    The rats that performed well in the first experiment were used in the second experiment.

    Unrestrictive clauses, which are not essential to the meaning of the sentence--they merely add further information--begin with "which" and are set off by a comma.
    The rats, which performed well in the first experiment, were not proficient in the second experiment. [The second experiment was more difficult for all the rats.]

  7. Do not hyphenate adverbs

    Do not hyphenate adverbs, which usually end in -ly.

    The hotly debated topic was interesting.
    The hotly-debated topic was interesting. NO!

  8. Adverbs that do not end in -ly

    Do not add -ly to words that are already adverbs without adding -ly.

    First, she ran. Second, she jumped.
    Firstly, she ran. Secondly, she jumped. NO!

  9. Further hints

    My turn has come.
    His turn has come.
    Her turn has come.
    Their turn has come.
    Our turn has come.
    Your turn has come.
    Its turn has come.
    It's turn has come. NO!
    It is my turn. It's my turn.
These guidelines were constructed by David H. Schroeder, David L. Hull, and G. Scott Acton.


American Psychological Association (1994). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Rothman, K. J. (1998). Writing for epidemiology. Epidemiology, 9, 333-337.

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