Are you a psychology student looking to write your first research paper or any other psychological writing? If that is the case, then you will have to familiarise yourself with the APA format to successfully organise and reference your paper appropriately. If you have not heard about the APA format before, it might seem a little confusing from the writing and formatting style you must have been accustomed to.
A consistent format was necessary for readers from across the world to recognize research work and understand the nitty-gritty of it. While it may seem like a daunting task, learning APA style writing is a highly useful skill that will prove beneficial to you for a long time. Let us first understand what APA Format is and why is it the pinnacle of research writing.
APA format is the official style of the American Psychological Association, abbreviated as APA, a common format used to cite sources in not just psychology but also other disciplines like economics, social sciences, nursing, business, etc. The origin of this standard style can be traced back to 1929 when an article published in the Psychological Bulletin laid down the basic guidelines. Later, the expansion of the same was documented in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association and is being referred to by students and professionals all around.
You might wonder why is APA format so important for psychology students to be thorough with? Well, the APA style is a standard way of writing research pieces in a way that researchers and students are able to effectively communicate their ideas to the world in a consistent manner. This allows the readers to know what they are looking for and sets them apart from other forms of writing.
The format lays down a consistent way to acknowledge the work of others by providing a comprehensive set of guidelines as to structure, format, writing, and grammar that can rightfully cite sources.
In case you have never written any paper before, it might seem intimidating also considering that many universities and colleges have their own set of guidelines (although all of them are loosely inspired by the APA format itself). Many times, universities use formats distinct from the APA style so much that the students find it difficult to tune themselves in the APA style. Might as well go through a difficult transition now than ever as APA is a global style and will help you grasp pieces of literature in a better manner. It is an essential skill for every psychology or social science student.
Typically, every paper will have these four key sections, namely, the title page, abstract, main body, and references list. Let us look at each of them in the light of the APA format:
1. Title Page: The purpose of the title page is to let the readers know at a glance about who you are and what you are here with. Make sure you include the title, the author’s name, and college affiliation. Apart from that, the page must also show details of your course study (name and number), your instructor’s name, and the date on which the paper is due. Like every other paper you might have written or read before this, the title must be catchy and must justify the essence of your topic without being too mainstream or mundane.
2. The Abstract: Immediately following the title page is the abstract. An abstract is nothing but a summary of what your paper is going to be about. In APA style, you should keep your abstract restricted to up to 200 words, 100 words bring the minimum criteria. Although these numbers will vary depending on instructor requirements and publication rules.
The abstract must essentially have these components:
a) The goal of your paper.
b) State hypothesis if any.
c) Methods and participants used (briefly).
d) Main findings that will be dealt with by your paper.
e) Conclusions and significance of your findings.
3. Main Body: The exact format of the body may vary as per the kind of paper you are writing. For example, if you are writing a lab report then sections like introduction, results, and discussion will be inserted. The main body is the central piece of your paper and will contain the entire essay itself. It will be helpful to check the guidelines provided by your university for more clarification on this subject. The specifics may differ, but the main body must include all that surrounds your topic, including a good conclusion.
4. References: Now comes the most important aspect of your paper, references. References refer to giving detailed information on all the various sources you gathered the information from for your paper. It is advisable to always begin this section from a new page.
If there is any piece of information that you have cited (reproduce findings by others as evidence for your argument) in your paper, it must be in the reference section. Also, obviously, every reference cited in the reference section must be mentioned somewhere in your paper. A few pointers to remember while writing this section:
> List your references alphabetically by the last name of the authors.
> Materials/books by the same author must be listed in chronological order from oldest to most recent.
> Do not change the nature of the text from sources, be it punctuation or capitalization, keep it as is.
> All book titles, journals, magazines, and newspapers, the titles should be italicized.
> As to formatting, all references should be doubled spaced, the first line each line flush left, with additional lines to be indented.
4. In-text Citations: It is vital to include citations in your paper identifying the source of the information you have used. These are called in-text citations and the APA format insists that while citing within the text of your paper the author's name should be followed by the date of publication. However, the extended information about the source should be included in the reference section in detail.
For those who find APA paper writing confusing it will be better to start with these manageable steps:
1. When you begin doing your research create an outline and a working bibliography that will help you keep track of all the references you use right from the beginning.
2. Abstract should always be written in the last so that it accurately summarises your paper. You may be tempted to start with the abstract but delaying it till the end will do justice to your paper.
3. As a rule use past tense or past perfect or present perfect tense throughout your research paper (e.g.: “was”, “has been” “have been”, etc). Try not to use contractions in your paper such as “it hasn’t”, instead use “it has not”.
4. For references make sure that you keep track of all your sources. Also using citation tools can be a great way to manage and organise your references accurately.
5. Review your finished paper to ensure that all the citations and formatting are up to the mark.
A word from the wise
The APA format may not be universally followed exactly, however, every format that your school or university uses is loosely based on the APA format which is the standard format when it comes to psychological research writing. Over the years there have been many changes and editions to the official publication manual of the APA format. Many online sites offer helpful tips and let you access the latest version of the publication for you to follow. Maybe writing a research paper seems like a lot of work right now but understanding the basic rules of APS style can be a huge help and can come in handy in the future.
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