Two Big Myths About APA Style

Let’s Start Busting These Myths

Graduate students and researchers in the social sciences are commonly asked to write their research papers and journal articles in accordance with APA Style. Unfortunately, three pervasive myths about APA Style impede them from meeting this expectation fully.

In this blog, I explain these myths, so you’ll know better when you sit down to write.

What Is APA Style?

First, we need to understand what we mean when we talk about APA Style. APA Style is a set of standards for scientific writing created by the American Psychological Association (APA). The standards are laid out in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

Initially published as seven pages in 1929, the latest version (the seventh) has grown to over 420 pages. The APA 7 manual is the go-to guide for social scientists looking to improve their writing and publish their work.

It contains the following 12 chapters:

  • Scholarly Writing and Publishing Principles
  • Paper Elements and Format
  • Journal Article Reporting Standards
  • Writing Style and Grammar
  • Bias Free Language Guidelines
  • Mechanics of Style
  • Tables and Figures
  • Works Credited in the Text
  • Reference List
  • Reference Examples
  • Legal References
  • Publication Process

With that under our belt, let’s explore what APA Style is not. I’ll share three pervasive myths:

Myth 1: APA Style Is a Referencing System

Nope! If you think of APA Style only as a means of getting your references and citations in order, you’re overlooking the first 250 pages of the manual. That’s seven chapters of content!

Many students, in particular, don’t seem to appreciate the number of sentence-level considerations embedded in the manual. At the macro level, it outlines aspects of effective scholarly writing such as continuity, flow, concision, and clarity. At the micro level, it clarifies, among other things, when you should and should not

  • use hyphens and dashes
  • introduce abbreviations
  • write in passive voice
  • write out numbers or use numerals
  • hyphenate words
  • use singular “they”
  • italicize terms

Plus, it covers overall document formatting, organization, and outlining, as well as citing, captioning, and formatting tables and figures. Whew!

Myth 2: APA Style Was Created for University Students to Submit Papers 

No again. Although many institutions across North America have adopted APA Style for student work, the manual is geared to researchers who want to publish journal articles in the behavioural and social sciences.  

Animated image that says "Pro Tip"Institutions often have additional or alternative guidelines that will trump the Publication Manual. Graduate students must be aware of these exceptions. Of course, we can help you with them.


Myth 3: Learning the Details of APA Is Going to Be a Struggle 

Digging into the specifics of a few hundred pages of guidance on scholarly writing may seem overwhelming to you. We get it—we had to learn it, too. (Yes, we’re geeks who enjoyed it, but it was still work!)  

The good news is that you’ve found us. Yay! If you choose to struggle alone, that’s your prerogative.   

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