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APA Style Writing Advice

Writing in APA Style can be an intimidating task, especially if you’ve never written a formal research paper previously. APA Style has many rules, guidelines, and formatting requirements for your paper that it can be overwhelming to think about all of the opportunities for mistakes.

However, following APA Style is not as difficult as it sounds. As with almost any educational endeavor, hurrying unnecessarily will lead to mistakes, so take your time to ensure correct formatting. Following the APA Style tips listed here will help, too.

ACTIVE VOICE.

Try to avoid writing in passive voice. APA Style requires active voice, and some instructors will downgrade your paper if you use a lot of passive voice. With active voice, the subject of the sentence does something. With passive voice, the subject of the sentence has something done to it. Passive voice often uses the word “by.”

FOCUS ON THE WRITING.

There’s no question that following APA Style closely is an important part of creating a successful paper. However, the tight rules and guidelines that govern APA Style should not be your primary focus. Instead, focus on the content of your paper and focus on the writing. If the content of your paper is lacking, it won’t matter to your instructor how closely your paper follows APA Style.

LANGUAGE TIPS.

When writing your APA Style paper, avoid using contractions: “Can’t” should be “cannot,” and “it’s” should be “it is.” Do not use slang language. Clear, concise language is best. Never write in the first person, either.

PLAGIARISM PROBLEMS.

Obviously, you don’t want to plagiarize any part of your paper. To make sure you don’t inadvertently commit plagiarism, cite all of your sources. If you’re unsure whether to use an in-text citation for a source, you probably should use it. It’s better to be safe than sorry when citing sources.

PROOFREAD A FEW TIMES.

You’d be surprised how often a simple mistake sneaks into formal papers because the author didn’t take the time to proofread more than once. Proofreading should not be done as a last-minute item; it should be done a few times before the paper is completed. In fact, it’s best to set the paper aside for a couple of days between proofreading sessions. If you can take a break from the paper for a couple of days, you’ll be surprised how much better your proofreading sessions go with a fresh look at the paper, rather than a harried, last-minute look.

PROOFREAD SOME MORE.

Depending on the importance of the paper, you may want to hire someone to do some additional proofreading for you. Again, having a fresh look at the paper, this time from a different pair of eyes, will only help improve your paper.

REFERENCE LIST.

As you perform the research for your paper, it’s important to keep the reference list in the back of your mind. When you pull information from sources, make sure that you collect extensive information about each source. Having a comprehensive list is good for two reasons. First, you must have the information for the reference list, so collecting it as you use each source will save you time when compiling the reference list later. Second, if you need to revisit a particular source to find more information for your paper, you’ll have very few problems finding it again with a comprehensive source list.

REPEATABLE RULES.

Once you’ve mastered a few of the APA Style guidelines, you’ll repeat them throughout your paper, making your job easier. This is especially true with citing sources, either inside the main text or on the references list page. Even though there are subtle, slight differences in formatting the citations, depending on the type of source, most the formatting is similar.

YOUR INSTRUCTOR KNOWS BEST.

Finally, if you encounter a dilemma where the instructions for your paper that your instructor provided contradict APA Style guidelines and rules, go with your instructor’s preferences. Some APA Style rules are modifiable, giving your instructor some latitude. In addition, because APA Style rules have evolved over the years, you might have an instructor who prefers an old rule to a new rule.

If you encounter a contradiction, just remember this: The last time I checked, the latest edition of the APA Style Manual had never graded a paper. Follow the desires of the person who will be grading the paper.

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