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APA Writing Style 1


APA Writing Style and Mechanics: A User’s Guide

Ima Nursingstudent

Linfield College
APA Writing Style 2

APA Writing Style and Mechanics: A User’s Guide

(Title should be centered on first page of text; text begins on next double-spaced line; p. 296)

Writing in the style prescribed by the American Psychological Association (2001),

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA 5th), can be a daunting

experience for both students and faculty members (Polly Proofreader, personal communication,

January 4, 1999). (Personal communications are explained on p. 214 and should not be included on the reference page) Green and

Gold (1996) suggest that an additional guide can be helpful, minimizing the need for searching

through the sometimes confusing and highly detailed text of APA 5th. (In text paraphrased citation: If the

name of the author appears as part of the narrative then you need to include the year of the publication in parenthesis; p. 207) In this paper,

a review of the information most often used by nursing students is presented.

Format Considerations (Level I Heading)

The most common errors students make are in the margins, running head, header, and

reference page format (Green & Gold, 1996). (In-text paraphrased citation: Citations that are paraphrased should have the

author, year and the punctuation should follow the citation; when a work has no author, cite in text the first words of the reference list entry; p.

207-208) Additional errors noted by faculty include in-text citations of direct quotes or paraphrased

material (Maka Mistake, personal communication, September 20, 2001).

Correct Margins (Level 3 Heading)

Margins are required to be one inch equally. That is, if the top and side margins are one

inch, the bottom margin must also be one inch on each page of the text. This is NOT the default

setting for Microsoft Word so you will have to use Format/Document to change it. This rule does

not apply to the last page of the text, which may end at any point above the one-inch margin. The

rule is broken to avoid placing a lone heading on the last line of the page or a single line of text

on the top of the next page.

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Page Header

The header contains the first two or three words of the title and appears on the third line

from the top edge of each page, above the margin, in the right-hand corner, five spaces to the left

of the page number. The automatic function of a word-processing program should be used to

print the headers and page numbers consecutively in the paper, with 1 appearing on the title

page. However, this is NOT the default setting for Microsoft Word so you will have to

manipulate it. Ask for help if you don’t know how.

Running Head

An abbreviated title is used as a running head for the published article. Type it flush left

at the top of the title page (below the page header), in ALL UPPERCASE LETTERS (note that

Running head: which precedes the abbreviated title is not capitalized).

Reference Page

The hanging indentation is used for the reference page; that is, the first line of the

reference, usually the author’s name, rests against the left margin, and the following lines are

indented. APA (2001) recommends setting the tab key to ½ inch; this is the default indent in

Microsoft Word. The reference page is alphabetized by author and contains the date of

publication in parentheses, directly after the author’s name. Next, the title, the place of

publication, and the name of the publisher are listed. The proliferation of electronic materials has

prompted the APA to create formats designed specifically for Internet and web-based written

material. Students should frequently visit the APA website at for current

formatting of references. Only those references that have been cited in the paper are listed on the

reference page. For purposes of demonstration, however, a variety of references are listed on the

reference page of this paper, some of which are not cited in the text.
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In-Text Citations

Direct quotations. (Level 4 Heading) Direct quotations must mirror exactly the original source,

even if errors are contained in the original. To alert the reader that any errors are part of the

original material, the word sic, enclosed in brackets and italicized, should follow the erroneous

material. The source of information must be cited. The format of direct quotations may vary with

the placement of the quoted material in the sentence. The reader is referred to page 121 in the

APA 5th edition.

Quotations of less than 40 words are enclosed in double quotation marks. “Use single

quotation marks within double quotation marks to set off material that in the original source was

enclosed in double quotation marks” (APA, 2001, p. 119). (In text direct quote citation: These direct quote citations

should include the page number – see example on p. 118.) Quotations of 40 words or more are set in a block format

without quotation marks. The block quote is started on a new line, indented 5 spaces or 1/2 inch.

A sample block quote is contained in this paper.

Paraphrased material. Paraphrasing allows the writer to use the ideas of another, to

represent another’s argument, and to give proper credit to the original author or authors (Lawton,

Cousineau, & Hillard, 2001). Each time an author is paraphrased, the source must be cited in the

text. Page or paragraph numbers are not required for paraphrased material, but APA 5th edition

encourages writers to include them (APA, 2001, p. 121).

Plagiarism. Plagiarism constitutes a serious academic concern. According to Lawton,

Cousineau, and Hillard (2001), “academic communities demand that writers credit others for

their work, and that the source of their material clearly be acknowledged” (¶ 6). (Electronic source, direct
quote, in-text citation: If the electronic source does not have page numbers then the paragraph symbol should be used to indicate location on the

electronic page - p. 213.) They further state, “a mark of strong academic writing is the practice of

situating one’s claims and findings within a tradition of inquiry into the subject.” (¶ 4). No
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distinction is made between intentional and unintentional plagiarism. This ethical topic must be

taken seriously by all students. As stated by Kant (as cited in Ruggiero, 1997), there is a duty,

by all, for moral action. (Citation of work discussed in a secondary source is explained on page 247)

Other Format Issues

Although APA (2001) suggests that an abstract of an article precede the text, an abstract

is usually not used in the papers submitted by our nursing students. Preferred typefaces in APA

style are 12-pt Times New Roman or 12-pt Courier. Writers should avoid using any software

settings that reduce spacing between words or letters. Use a single space after periods.

Writing Mechanics

Correct grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure are essential components

of professional writing (Smyth, 1996). Strunk and White (1979) emphasized the importance of

being succinct:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a

paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no

unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer

make all of his sentences short…but that every word tell. (p. 23) (block quote - see page 117 and 118

in APA for example and discussion)


“Grammar is a sine qua non of language . . .” (Gordon, 1993, p. xv). Rules of correct

grammar seem to be virtually unknown to the present generation of college students (Harvey

Harried, personal communication, October 20, 1999). For a thorough review, Chapter 2 in the

APA manual is particularly helpful in helping students identify proper writing mechanics. A few

of the rules of grammar will be addressed here.

APA Writing Style 6

Subject and Verb Agreement

A singular noun requires a singular verb, and a plural noun requires a plural verb (Strunk

& White, 1979). Words that intervene between the noun and verb do not change that basic rule.

Noun and pronoun agreement.

If a writer uses a subject that is singular, he or she must use pronouns that are singular.

In order to avoid having to use he/she and his/her, writers may reword the sentence and use a

plural subject, thereby eliminating the problem. For example, the sentence “A student applying

for a job must carefully proofread his or her application” can be reworded to read, “Students

applying for jobs must carefully proofread their applications.” Use of plurals can help writers

reduce sexist bias and avoid stereotypes.


Correct punctuation establishes the rhythm and readability of sentences. In APA style,

only one space is used after periods, commas, colons, and semicolons. When a hyphen is used,

no space appears before or after the hyphen (APA, 2001). Correct use of commas and

semicolons can be problematic for students. Writers are encouraged to proofread their papers to

ensure proper use of commas (Purdue University Online Writing Lab, 2001). (Do not cite web addresses

in text…see explanation on reference page of this document)


Capitalization is used to designate a proper noun or trade name, as well as major words in

titles and headings. Instances where capitalization is not used include: laws, theories, models, or

hypothesis, such as ethical decision-making model; names of conditions or groups in an

experiment, such as experimental or control group; or nouns that designate parts of a book, such

as chapter 8 (APA, 2001). A common error in capitalization is its use with the name of a specific

educational degree versus the general focus of a degree program. An example is Master of Arts
APA Writing Style 7

degree versus master’s degree in visual arts.

APA Writing Style 8

American Psychological Association. (2001). Publication manual of the American

Psychological Association (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

(Book – Corporate Author – see page 251, #33.)

Gordon, K. E. (1993). The deluxe transitive vampire: The ultimate handbook of grammar for the

innocent, the eager, and the doomed. New York: Pantheon Books.
(Book – Single Author – see page 248)

Green, Q., & Gold, R. (1996). Student writers: Faculty headaches. Phoenix, AZ: Peculiar Press.
(Book – Two Authors – see page 248)

Jacobson, J. W., Mulick, J. A., & Schwartz, A. A. (1995). A history of facilitated

communication: Science, pseudoscience, and antiscience: Science working

group on facilitated communication. American Psychologist, 50, 750-765.

Retrieved January 25, 1996, from the Cochrane database.

(While the manual does speak to including the full URL for articles and Web sites when possible, they make a distinction about citing material

from databases. Because the URL will change depending on your search parameters; it is not static. Including it, therefore, would not enable the

reader to directly locate the article. Therefore, the current recommendation is to cite only by the name of the database, and not include a URL.

You can find specific information about this on pages 278-279 (Aggregated databases; example 88).

Lawton. K. A., Cousineau, L., & Hillard, V.E. (2001). Plagiarism: Its nature and consequences.

Retrieved September 27, 2001, from Duke University Guide to Library Research web

(Document available on a university program or department web site – p. 274, #78)

Madigan, R., Johnson, S., & Linton, P. (1995). The language of psychology: APA style as

epistemology [Electronic version]. American Psychologist, 50, 428-435.

(Internet articles based on a print source – see page 271, #71)

OWL: Online Writing Lab. (2001, November 14). Retrieved December 5, 2001, from Purdue

University Online Writing Lab Web site:

(When information is gathered from a web site, the information is cited in the text of the paper with web page title in the author’s space and the

year. The site is then referenced on the reference page as shown above. See p. 269 for further explanation

Ruggiero, V.R. (1997). Thinking critically about ethical issues (Rev. ed.). Mountain View, CA:
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(Book, revised edition – see page 249, #27)

Smyth, R. T. (1996). Writing in psychology: A student guide (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley &

(Book – Single Author – see page 248)

Strunk, W., & White, E. B. (1979). The elements of style (3rd ed.). New York: Macmillan.
(Book – Two Authors – see page 248)

(Notes: Use a separate reference page and double space. Note that throughout the paper and reference list, titles of non-periodicals and the names

of journals are set in italics rather than being underlined. See APA Manual, pages 239-281 for examples of various references. Please read pages

215 – 232 for basic reference guidelines)