The APA style: definition and common errors

APA StyleAPA style is a format for academic documents such as journal articles and books. It is codified in the style guide of the American Psychological Association (APA), titled the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

The style originated in 1929, when a group of psychologists, anthropologists, and business managers sought to establish a simple set of style rules that would codify the many components of scientific writing to increase the ease of reading comprehension in the social and behavioral sciences, for clarity of communication, and for “word choice that best reduces bias in language”. The guidelines for reducing bias in language have been updated over the years and presently provide practical guidance for writing about race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status (APA, 2009, pp. 70–77; see also APA, 2009b).

APA style is most commonly used to cite sources within the social sciences, but it is also widely used, either entirely or with modifications, by hundreds of other scientific journals (including medical and other public health journals), in many textbooks, and in academia (for papers written in classes). Along with AMA style and CSE style, it is one of the major style regimes for such work. It has become common even in disciplines outside psychology, such as nursing, education and anthropology.

APA Style consists of rules or guidelines that a publisher observes to ensure clear and consistent presentation of written material. It concerns uniform use of elements such as selection of headings, tone, and length, punctuation and abbreviations, presentation of numbers and statistics, construction of tables and figures, citation of references, as well as many other elements that are a part of a manuscript. One of the characteristics of APA style is the absence of colorful language, metaphors or other attention-grabbing elements. According to it, papers must present themselves in as neutral a language as possible. In addition, APA style uses a very specific framework of citation and reference page styles.

Following this well-developed system of writing conventions, however, is not always easy. The most common APA errors made by authors of papers concern formatting and citation of references. According to a research carried out by the Journal of European Psychology Students’ Bulletin, 86,3% of the student papers contained incorrectly formatted head, whereas 75% did not have page numbers or the page numbers weren’t properly formatted. Another tendency was a missing abstract (72,7%), as well as the lack of keywords (61,3%).

Surprisingly, in-text citation errors were found in 84% of the papers studied by the Journal of European Psychology Students’ Bulletin. The most common ones include incorrect use of ‘et al.’, spelling inconsistencies, incorrect use of ‘since’ instead of ‘because’, and incorrect hyphenation.

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