Here are the things that your APA papers must be or have:
- Hanging indent – they are annoying, but they are required.
- Alphabetical references – nonnegotiable
- No second person (you, yours)
- In-text citations. Attribution is vital. Sometimes it takes a bit to get a feel for when to use attribution, but we have time.
- Basic formatting – Double spaced Times New Roman, 12pts. Cover page on large papers.
Things I will annoy you with so many times that you will eventually give in:
- Sentence case on titles – I am not going to knock points off your final paper if you don’t catch all of these, but do your best. Most auto-citation stuff (including Zotero) won’t fix this, so you have to go back through and fix it. Do it the first time you cite and you won’t have to worry about it later.
- Spacing – Pretty much every element in an APA reference has a period and a space after it.
- Formatting of in-text quotes. They are different depending on whether you are quoting or not, and APA is different than MLA. Watch a tutorial or read the basic page on it in the Purdue Owl and you should be good.
- Download Zotero. It will help you catalogue and organize your references, and you can drag and drop citations. You can thank me in grad school.
Things I won’t bug you about that I or other teachers may have bugged you about in the past:
- First person. If you are describing anecdotal information (personal experience) it’s fine. If you are describing your research method, also fine. Just don say, “In my opinion” because that’s implicit and weakens your statement. More details here.
- “They” as a non-gendered pronoun. APA will likely incorporate this in the next round anyway, and gendering is tricky. So you can say, “They were a good friend” instead of “He or she was a good friend”. Hallelujah. If the gender of the subject isn’t identified, you don’t have to do the whole he/she/one/pluralization dance anymore.
Many of my students are taught that first person (I, me, mine, my) is not acceptable in academic writing. This actually depends very much on the discipline, method, and training of the individual academic. Here is what the Purdue OWL has to say about the first person:
When writing in APA Style, you can use the first person point of view when discussing your research steps (“I studied …”) and when referring to yourself and your co-authors (“We examined the literature …”). Use first person to discuss research steps rather than anthropomorphising the work. For example, a study cannot “control” or “interpret”; you and your co-authors, however, can. – https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/15/
This is important. Do not avoid the first person at all costs, as it will distort your claims and make your writing muddy.
I add an additional wrinkle to this approach, as I come from a qualitative research academy. The first person is appropriate when you are communicating personal anecdotal information. For example:
“After having a personal experience with trolling on YouTube, I developed an interest in the psychological mechanisms that motivate online aggression.”
“After reviewing all the evidence, I strongly believe that trolling is a defensive behavior with mixed outcomes.”
The first example serves as an introduction to and disclosure of my (the researcher) personal interest in the topic. The second is inappropriate because 1) It is implicit that this is my belief, and 2) “I believe” weakens my closing statements, as I should have already built a strong argument for my position. A more effective statement: “Clearly aggressive online behavior is associated with defensive behavior.”
Writing in the first person is a useful way to identify your assumptions and biases about your topic. I sometimes recommend that students write a “profane” version of their paper before they write the formal version. It usually takes the form of an essay or free-write that can surface opinions, feelings, experiences, and any other existing information you have absorbed about your topic. This will help you 1) Identify what is particularly compelling to you about the topic, and 2) help you recognize any existing biases that may affect the quality of your research.
We are not bias-free; human rationality is largely illusionary. As researchers, we are ethically obligated to recognize our motivations, assumptions, and biases so our contributions to the larger body of knowledge have integrity. Judicious use of the first person can help.
Citing in APA is a time-consuming pain, but it’s part of our job as scientists. Here are some common citation styles that you may run into. These are references page citations only.