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Notes about using the
Publication Manual of Style of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.)



A word about "learning to write"...

  • Less is More
  • Practice Makes Perfect
  • Ask for Assistance

Some notes about the APA guidelines...

  • A Manual of Style Elements
  • A Mode of Conversation
  • Revision in the Manual

Some very common errors to avoid...









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A word about "learning to write"...

As students encounter the reality of having to write in order to express their thoughts well, it is important to keep in mind three concepts:

FIRST: Students shouldn't worry so much about what their reader is interested in reading; students should worry more about what they want to say and how to say it in the most clear, efficient, effective, and compelling way possible. The general principle is: less is more and simple is elegant.


SECOND: At first experience, professional writing is somewhat artificial, especially until students learn how to express their voice in the most forcible way possible, given the constraints of this genre of style. To get there takes trial and error, editing, and especially rewriting/revising. It also involves reading critically (i.e., among other matters, appreciating how authors express themselves for better or worse). Professional writing also demands a personal commitment to inculcating the self-disciplines associated with good writing because so many people are afflicted by what Harris (2003) has described as "malescribism." This disease reveals itself in "an uncontrollable urge to write carelessly and unpersuasively" as well as in "a set of dysfunctional responses to the demands of communicating in print." Overcoming this disease, he argues, is akin to joining Alcoholics Anonymous and following the 12-step program to sobriety.  Here, authors seek verbal enlightenment. The principle is: good writing is the result of critical reading and hard effort.

THIRD: Students should be neither embarrassed nor ashamed to ask professors questions about what students really don't know. There's a big difference between "sucking up" to a professor and engaging in "preventive maintenance." The former exhibits little or no interest in learning and engages in dissimulation in order to make oneself appear more intellectual than one really is; the latter exhibits an interest in learning, states the truth, and does not waste time re-inventing the wheel. The principle is: learning to write well begins by asking questions.

In light of these concepts, it should be evident that It is not enough for students to express good ideas; as important as this is, students must also express their good ideas well.  What this means practically is that students should recall what most were told by their 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Language Arts teachers, if not by their high school English teachers as well.  Namely, a "final draft" is the result of an extensive writing process that requires writing, editing, and revising one's thoughts...perhaps several times.  Because of this, students should realize that a final draft is not a first draft. Besides, it is unethical to purport that the latter is the former.


Grading student writing, then, is premised on the notion that students have already carefully revised their projects, exercises, and papers at least twice. In this way, students seek to eliminate as many of the common errors associated with below-average writing as is possible before submitting their projects, exercises, and papers.  Yet, because of the human condition, there likely will be some errors in student writing and, thus, grading begins with careful reading and editing, much as the Editor of the op-edit page of the New York Times must do when he prepares op-ed pieces for publication (Shipley, 2005).  The first standard used to assess student achievement is entirely objective: the degree to which written products conform with the style and grammar rules set forth in the APA Publication Manual.

Helpful in this regard—by the use of irony—are the 50 rules for "writing gooder" proposed by Richard Lederer (n.d.):

     1. Each pronoun should agree with their antecedent.
     2. Between you and I, pronoun case is important.
     3. A writer must be sure to avoid using sexist pronouns in his writing.
     4. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
     5. Don't be a person whom people realize confuses who and whom.
     6. Never use no double negatives.
     7. Never use a preposition to end a sentence with.  That is something
         up with which your readers will not put.
     8. When writing, participles must not be dangled.
     9. Be careful to never, under any circumstances, split infinitives.
   10. Hopefully, you won't float your adverbs.
   11. A writer must not shift your point of view.
   12. Lay down and die before using a transitive verb without an object.
   13. Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.
   14. The passive voice should be avoided.
   15. About sentence fragments.
   16. Don't verb nouns.
   17. In letters themes reports and ad copy use commas to separate
         items in a series.
   18. Don't use commas, that aren't necessary.
   19. "Don't overuse 'quotation marks.' "
   20. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (if the truth be
         told) superfluous.
   21. Contractions won't, don't, and can't help your writing voice.
   22. Don't write run-on sentences they are hard to read.
   23. Don't forget to use end punctuation
   24. Its important to use apostrophe's in the right places.
   25. Don't abbrev.
   26. Don't overuse exclamation marks! ! !
   27. Resist Unnecessary Capitalization.
   28. Avoid mispellings.
   29. Check to see if you any words out.
   30. One-word sentences?  Never.
   31. Avoid annoying, affected, and awkward alliteration, always.
   32. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
   33. The bottom line is to bag trendy locutions that sound flaky.
   34. By observing the distinctions between adjectives and adverbs,
         you will treat your readers real good.
   35. Parallel structure will help you in writing more effective
         sentences and to express yourself more gracefully.
   36. In my own personal opinion at this point of time, I think that
         authors, when they are writing, should not get into the habit of
         making use of too many unnecessary words that they don't really need.
   37. Foreign words and phrases are the reader's bete noire and are
         not apropos.
   38. Who needs rhetorical questions?
   39. Always go in search for the correct idiom.
   40. Do not cast statements in the negative form.
   41. And don't start sentences with conjunctions.
   42. Avoid mixed metaphors.  They will kindle a flood of confusion in
         your readers.
   43. Eliminate quotations.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate
        quotations.  Tell me what you know."
   44. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
   45. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
   46. Be more or less specific.
   47. If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times,
         exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement,
         which is always best.
   48. Never use a big word when you can utilize a diminutive word.
   49. Profanity sucks.
   50. Last but not least, even if you have to bend over backward,
         avoid cliches like the plague.


Sometimes, student writing is riddled with so many errors in style and grammar that the grade received on the project, exercise, or paper is embarrassingly far below what a students expects. And, rightly so! Objectively speaking, the product is below that expected of a graduate student! Thus: a "C" indicates below-average achievement in the sense that the product could have been written by an undergraduate student who is unfamiliar with APA style and grammar; a "D" indicates far below-average achievement in the sense that the product could have been written by an undergraduate whose style and grammar skills are deficient; and, an "F" indicates a product that is wholly and entirely unacceptable, even of an undergraduate. Thus, while a student receiving a below-average grade may feel bad and attribute one's grade to how the professor feels about the student, there are objective standards for assessing and evaluating student writing.  These objective standards are used to assess student writing.


Once students demonstrate proficiency in style and grammar—and because less attention must be devoted to these matters when grading student writing—attention then turns to the quality of the content found in the project, exercise, or paper. More subjective in nature, the evaluation hinges upon the clarity of the topic, the relative strength of the argument, the inclusion of supportive elements (e.g., conversancy with intellectual history as evidences itself in citations), as well as a conclusion that is justified not only by all the precedes but also a conclusion that compels the reader to agree with the author even if the reader personally disagrees with the author's assertion. Thus: a "B" indicates average achievement in these matters; a "B+" indicates above average achievement in these matters; an "A-" indicates general excellence in these matters; and, an "A" indicates excellence in all of these matters. Whether the issue is style and grammar or the quality of the content, the difference between a "+" and a "-" is a question of degree, that is, errors in style and grammar or in the relative strength of the argument appear in the written product.


Some notes about the APA guidelines...

The Publication Manual of Style of the American Psychological Association (6th edition) is the standard manual for scholarly communication and discourse in the social sciences. The purpose for this Manual (and any manual, for that matter) is to identify the basic "elements" of grammar and style that scholars in a particular discipline observe when they communicate and engage in discourse with one another, especially through the medium of published communication. All student writing must comply with the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition (APA).

  • General guidelines are available at:

  • Information about electronic references is available at:

  • Students who discover that they need to "brush up" their grammar skills should immediately go to:

  • Some basic APA notes, based upon student questions from previous semesters, can be accessed by clicking on the "APA 6th Edition" button located immediately to the left.


Some very common errors to avoid...


Students also commit errors in style that should always be avoided (or, at least, edited out of the final draft). The most frequent "common errors" students commit are:

ERROR: using first and second person, singular and plural pronouns
CORRECTION: use only third person pronouns

ERROR: using passive voice (the verb "acts" on the subject)
CORRECTION: use only active voice (the subject does the action)

ERROR: stating a feeling or belief as factual
CORRECTION: state only facts and use supportive data

ERROR: using adjectives that transform a fact into an editorial
CORRECTION: avoid any adjective that subjectively qualifies a noun

ERROR: using obtuse, complex language
CORRECTION: "KISS", that is, keep it short and simple

ERROR: pronoun does not agree in person or number with its
CORRECTION: use pronouns that agree in person or number their

ERROR: using contractions
CORRECTION: never use a contraction

ERROR: stating "I feel"
CORRECTION: state what you "believe" and support it with factual

ERROR: using "that" (an object) in reference to a human being
CORRECTION: use "who" (a person) to reference a human being

ERROR: using an author's first and last name
CORRECTION: use only the author's last surname

ERROR: not hyphenating nouns used as adjectives
CORRECTION: hyphenate nouns (e.g., decision-making process)

ERROR: hyphenating nouns that are not adjectives
CORRECTION: do not hyphenate nouns (e.g., the process of
decision making)

ERROR: ending sentences with prepositions or prepositional phrases
CORRECTION: use the possessive form of the noun that is the object
of the preposition (e.g., "the salary of the employees" is rendered
"the employees' salary)


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

Harris, R. W.  (2003).  When good people write bad sentences: Twelve steps to better writing habits.  New York: St. Martin's Press.

Shipley, D.  (2005, July 31).  What we talk about when we talk about editing.  Retreived July 31, 2005: