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Some Little-known Rules of APA Style

Buzzle Staff Mar 15, 2020
Many people are familiar with the American Psychological Association's guidelines for bibliographic citations and references. However, a document does not strictly follow APA guidelines until it adheres to all the APA's style rules - even the obscure ones.

APA Style

The American Psychological Association (APA) style guide is about more than just the form of references and citations. Academic papers and books that use APA style need to adhere to the style guide in even the minutest details.
For those who are new to APA or even those who have some experience using this style for their academic writing, some of APA's more obscure requirements may be unknown. It would take a whole book to describe all of APA's requirements, but here are a few of the more obscure rules you should know.

Anthropomorphism in APA Style

A big part of using APA style is adopting the correct use of language, which means using an academic style and following certain language use guidelines. One of the cardinal sins, as far as the APA is concerned, is using anthropomorphic language.
It sounds complicated, but really it is a fairly simple idea. Anthropomorphism is when you ascribe human traits or actions to an inanimate thing. This is actually extremely common in academic writing, even at the graduate level.
In fact, it's so common that many professors and reviewers don't even bother to mention it, but nevertheless, it should be strictly avoided. Common examples of anthropomorphism include "This paper discusses," or "This study examined."
Technically speaking, it's impossible for a paper to discuss anything or for a study to examine something. A better alternative is to say "The researcher examined," or that some topic "is discussed in this paper."

Prefixes in APA Style

Another little-known aspect of APA style is the rules regarding the use of prefixes. Although in casual English it's common to use hyphens after prefixes like multi-, this goes against the rules of APA style. Words like multistage, underfunded, reassess, and midcentury should not be hyphenated in APA style.
There are a few exceptions to this rule, of course. The most important exception to remember is that the prefix self- should always be hyphenated in APA style, as in the example self-efficacy. Additionally, if the word after the prefix is a proper noun or a number, a hyphen is used.

Numbers in APA Style

The use of numbers in APA-formatted documents is a source of constant confusion for students and researchers alike. These rules might be slightly more widely known than the rules discussed earlier, but they bear repeating due to how often they are misused.
The most important rule is that, in general, when the numbers one through ten are used, they should be spelled out. In other words, don't write, "The study took 5 years." Instead, write, "The study took five years." There is an exception in situations where the first number of a range is below ten and the second number is above ten.
In that, both numbers should use numerals, for example, "6 to 20." Another exception is made in the case of exact numbers like statistics and sample sizes. For example, you should write "The sample consisted of 6 men and 8 women," or "Results indicate that 9% of people have funny noses."

Tips for APA Formatting and Editing

Although the best way to ensure that your document accurately reflects the APA's style guidelines is to purchase a copy of the style guide and review it thoroughly.
There are also plenty of websites online that can help you ensure that your paper is formatted correctly. Additionally, some universities have writing centers that will help with APA formatting. Professional editors are also available for this purpose.