What is APA Style?

    The APA (American Psychological Association) style format is the preferred citation style for social science research papers. What does APA style mean? APA style is a set of guidelines for writing and formatting research papers in psychology and related fields. APA is frequently used in the fields of economics, criminology, political science, sociology, business, and pedagogy. When we talk about APA style in research, we are talking about the rules for what a research paper must contain and how it should be written. APA provides specific guidelines for nearly all aspects of manuscript formatting, from font choice to margins and punctuation.

    Why Do We Use APA Style?
    We use APA style for several important reasons. First, APA is referred to as a citation style because it includes specific rules for how the references you cite should be formatted and indicated in your research paper. Proper citation ensures that you will never be accused of plagiarism and lets others who read your paper understand where you got your information. Second, APA style provides style and writing guidelines to make sure that your research paper is easy to read and has all of the necessary elements. The primary purpose of APA style is to promote scientific communication by facilitating clarity of expression and standardizing the organization and content of manuscript formatting.

    What Does APA Style Include?
    So, what is included in an APA style research paper? In fact, APA style has three levels. The first level dictates organization. The second level addresses writing style and language use. The third level deals with mechanics such as punctuation. Let’s begin with the first level - organization.

    Level 1 - Organization

    An APA style research paper must include:

    • A title page- limit your title to a maximum of 12 words and avoid the use of abbreviations and unnecessary words
    • An abstract- the abstract should discuss the topic under study, the research questions, any subjects of the research, your research methods, the findings/results, analysis of the data, and your conclusions
    • An introduction- address the problem and premise upon which the research was based
    • Your methodology- explain in detail how you did your research
    • Your results- explain what you found
    • A discussion- talk about what your findings mean
    • References- a list of the sources you cited

    There are more specific guidelines for the manuscript formatting of abstracts and title pages, many examples of which can easily be found by referring to the APA Manual of Style.

    Level 2 - Writing Style

    An APA style research paper should be written formally. Your intended audience is other academics, your colleagues, and you want to communicate with them very clearly and professionally. This means:

    • No slang
    • No pop culture references
    • No humor
    • Minimize literary devices (metaphors, irony, imagery, etc.)
    • Be direct and straightforward
    • Use technical terms, but only where appropriate
    • Avoid biased language

    In other words, your writing should sound as clear and neutral as possible. It is recommended that you avoid using colorful language to try to sound fancy. For example, if you had your research subjects jump up and down on one leg for ten minutes, say so. Don’t try to use complex phrasing like “participants utilized a unipedal movement to propel themselves off of the ground and then return to land.” With regard to biased language, always use gender-inclusive language (firefighters vs. firemen). Use specific group labels (Asian Americans vs. minorities) and avoid euphemisms (adults with learning disabilities vs. special adults). It’s always a good idea to Google search any terms you want to use if you aren’t sure whether they are offensive or not.

    Level 3 - Mechanics

    APA style manuscript formatting demands the use of double-spacing and 8.5 x 11 paper with 1-inch margins. Times New Roman 12pt font is recommended. There are a large number of specific recommendations for proper manuscript formatting of an APA style paper, which can be found in the APA Manual of Style. Some of the most common recommendations include:

    • Use title case for headings
    • Use numerals for numbers 10 and above
    • Hyphenate compound adjectives that precede a noun (fact-checking organization,not fact checking organization)
    • Spell out a term before introducing its abbreviation in parentheses (the United Nations (UN))
    • Left align all tables and figures
    • Use in-text citations for sources
    • Use footnotes sparingly

    What is APA Citation?

    Citation in APA style follows a specific format. In general, you should cite citations in the text and then provide the full citation in the “References” section at the end of your paper. Note that APA style requires this section to be titled “References.” “Works Cited” or “Bibliography” is not an acceptable alternative in APA style manuscript formatting.

    Citation style will differ somewhat depending on whether you are citing a journal article, book, blog entry, news article, conference paper, social media post, or some other type of media. For the sake of a simple example, we will cite a journal article here.

    In-text Citation Example

    1. According to some scholars (Lee, 2005), civil society in South Korea plays a divisive rather than a unifying role in the nation’s fledgling democracy.
    2. Lee (2005) argues that civil society in South Korea plays a divisive rather than a unifying role in the nation’s fledgling democracy.

    References Citation Example

    Lee, S. J. (2005). Democratization and polarization in Korean society. Asian Perspective, 99-125.

    Fortunately, you don’t need to worry about memorizing the tricky details of APA citation for every media format you might cite in your research paper. Citation generators abound online that can do the job for you. However, it’s always a good idea to double-check the APA Manual of Style to make sure your references are cited correctly.

    Now that you know what APA style is all about, you’re ready to write a great research paper! Remember, there are numerous online sources that can help you format your citations. Always check the APA Manual of Style or ask your professor or advisor for help if you need it. Once you get the hang of it, writing in APA style will come naturally to you.