99% Invisible: APA 7th Edition & the Work of Academic Citation Styles

99% Invisible: APA 7th Edition & the Work of Academic Citation Styles

By: Cassie Book, Associate Director

Over the past few months, we’ve been educating ourselves and updating our resources for the latest edition of the American Psychological Association Publication Manual (7th Edition).

two photos, stacked horizontally. Top photo is of a portable screen with a Power Point slide that says "Out with the Old, In with the New." Bottom photo is taken from the back of the room with the screen. A woman stands in front of horse shoe arranged tables with six people watching her
In February, Cassie educated our staff on the major changes from APA 6th to 7th edition. Because we serve the entire University community, switching from one edition of a style guide to another isn’t as simple as throwing away the old and embracing the new. Our consultants are now able to assist writers with both 6th and 7th editions.

This update from APA seemed like a good time to reflect upon the role of citation and academic style in writing. This blog post overviews the major changes introduced by APA 7th edition, while at the same time explaining a bit about the role and purpose of these components. For more details and visuals, watch our video on the changes, which is a great companion to this post.

Title page(s)

A title page is the first part of your paper that your reader will see. Even though the saying goes you “should not judge a book by its cover,” everyone knows that readers will draw conclusions about writing based on a book cover, or a paper’s title page. In essence, formatting is a type of visual rhetoric. Correctly adhering to an academic formatting style demonstrates that your writing is part of a community. You speak the language of the insiders. Not following the formatting guidelines can, unfortunately, flag you as an outsider.

APA 6th edition’s title page included the anger-inducing “Running head” in the page header. The frustrating aspect was that the title page header was different than the rest of the pages. 7th edition actually has two options for a title page, student and professional. In both versions, the running head is the same on every page, including the title page. For students, the only element in the header is the page number!

Level Headings

Level headings are another aspect of APA that often gives writers a headache. However, level headings are super useful for transitioning from one part of a paper to another and giving a paper a logical order. And again, they contribute to the visual rhetoric of an APA formatted paper, keeping it looking orderly and standardized. If you want to divide up your paper into sections (e.g. methods, results, discussion), you must follow APA’s formatting guidelines to label the sections. Here is an example of a circumstance in which a writer would employ level one and two headings:  A writer divides the methodology section, a level one heading, into subsections, such as participant recruitment, sample size, and instruments. The subsections would be level two headings. APA has changed the formatting for level headings for levels 3-5. This is the new chart with the changes highlighted:

Level Headings
The formatting for levels 3-5 has changed from APA 6th to 7th edition. Click here to access a screen-reader accessible chart.

However, perhaps the biggest change is that the level one heading format, which looks like this,

Centered, Bold, Title Case 

is now the format for the title on your title page, label for “Abstract” on the abstract page (if you need one), title of your paper on the first body page, and the label for “References” on the References Page.

In-Text Citation

In-text citation is so important because it uniformly gives others’ credit for their words, ideas, and research and allows you, as a writer, to engage actively and ethically with others’ ideas. APA 7th edition has made an important change to in-text citation guidelines. When citing a source that has three or more authors, write use the first author’s name plus “et al.” In 6th edition, APA instructed writers to include all authors, up to five, the first time the source was used. Some journals, like Technical Communication Quarterly, have pushed back against this change because, they argue, it erases important contributions of important authors.

This is probably a good time to remind you to always follow any instructions from your professor or journal that differ from the official style guide. It is quite common for professors and journals to want you to do something different than the style guide.

Reference Entries

Your references page is where you list all the sources you cited in the body of your paper. The purpose is to give your readers the complete information about a source, so they can learn about what kinds of sources you’re using and potentially locate those sources themselves. And, again, it credits those sources for their work.

The reason why the requirements for reference entries seems to be constantly changing is because digital sources and the internet constantly challenge existing templates, which were often based on qualities of print sources. I recommend using our APA 7th edition handout on in-text citation and references to learn exactly how 7th edition affects websites, Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), publisher location, and multiple authors.

Pronouns

The 2019 Word of the Year from Merriam-Webster was “they!” Why? Although “they” has been used as a singular pronoun for centuries, many individuals and organizations have recently advocated for broader acceptance of “they” as a singular pronoun. APA is officially joining the chorus, which is a big deal. APA points out that using “they” as singular is a question of bias-free language. And, I would add, using it maintains a respectful stance toward any humans referenced in your writing. Here’s exactly how APA puts it:

When referring to individuals whose identified pronouns are not known or when the gender of a generic or hypothetical person is irrelevant within the context, use the singular ‘they’ to avoid making assumptions about an individual’s gender. (APA, 2020, p. 140)

Conclusion

Citation styles, especially APA, can certainly be frustrating because of what seem like endless tedious details. (And then they change on you!) However, knowing the reasons that such guidelines exist, and why they change, may help ease the citation and formatting burden a bit. Plus, you always have friendly writing center consultants and administrators here to guide you.

References

American Psychological Association (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th Ed.). https://doi.org/10.1037/0000165-000

American Psychological Association (2009). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th Ed.).

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