There’s nothing worse than spending a week researching for your college or university paper, spending a whole day taking notes, and then a further day to actually write the thing–only to see that your paper lost percentage points due to not adhering to APA style.
APA (American Psychological Association) style is used for most classes and making sure one does it right is often the difference between getting an A and getting a B.
Here are some tips to ensure that APA doesn’t knock down your grades but instead knocks your papers out of the park:
- Font: Always use a 12-point font including the paper’s main body of text, its cover page and all references. Times New Roman is the recommended font. Never underline anything or use boldface except for in tables or charts.
- Spacing: Double-spacing is a must, not just for the body of the paper but also for the reference list. Microsoft Word will usually put two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence–it’s required for APA style papers.
- Margins: Set them to 1 inch on each side of the paper.
- Page Numbers: Always in the upper-right corner of the paper.
- Running head: No, this is not some kind of grizzly excerpt from The Walking Dead, it’s the page header and it should go in the upper left corner in all capitals. However, the words “running head” need only be placed on the cover.
- Numerals: Write numbers 10 or greater as numerals; write nine and below in words. Exceptions: times, distances, quantities, and measurements (as in “Margins” above).
- The Serial Comma: Love it or hate it, APA loves it. So, use this comma (sometimes referred to as an “Oxford comma”) to separate lists of three or more items (cats, dogs, parrots, and fish).
- Capital Letter Usage: My pet peeve is seeing job titles in capital letters (my mother is a Doctor and my father is an Accountant). It’s incorrect in any setting, including APA. Only capitalize a job title if it precedes a person’s name (as in Police Chief James Smith). Only capitalize diseases if they’re named after a person or a place (Ebola is capitalized because it’s named after a river in Africa, while polio is not capitalized).
Citing sources and the associated reference list must also adhere to strict APA guidelines. If you write papers all the time, you may develop a knack for accurately listing your references whether they’re books, magazines, websites, or journals. However, why not just let an online tool do the work for you? There are plenty of free Web-based gadgets to help with proper citation but the one I use is Son of Citation Machine. Just pop in the work you need cited and it pops out the correct APA reference listing and in-text citation. Just be sure to check it before you submit it to your professor. It’s invaluable, and it’s free.
By Glynn Cosker
Online Learning Tips Contributor