How Can I Learn APA?

Many of my students struggle with APA Style. And I frequently am asked the question “What should I use to improve my use of APA?” Of course, there is no simple solution; some of the APA software tools are simply not accurate, and their use makes students dependent on the tool instead of teaching them proper APA techniques. As a result, since it is quite inexpensive, I always recommend that students purchase a copy of the APA manual. Check Amazon for availability and more detail.

If you simply do not want to learn APA Style from the manual, consider using EndNote. This is software for managing bibliographies, references, and citations. I’ve used it with success. Here’s the commercial description:

EndNote Student Edition 6.0 represents a major upgrade to the world’s most popular bibliographic management software, EndNote. Long known for “Bibliographies Made Easy,” EndNote Student Edition 6.0 now defines “Manuscripts Made Easy.” The product smartly advances research and publishing by organizing images with text and by providing Microsoft Word templates for a variety of journals. These new features, along with a more intuitive interface and new connectivity, make it an essential manuscript-management tool for writing, research, and publishing.

Finally, if you are looking for a no-cost APA solution, probably one of the best online resources is Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL). For APA, see:

The following areas seems to be problematic to my students:

Usually, citations are (LastName, Year) or (LastName, Year, Pg), depending on whether it was a paraphrase (former) or a direct quote (latter). In the case of direct quote citations from a Web page, paragraph numbers are used since page numbers are not usually available. Also, remember that  that quotations are always enclosed in quotation marks while paraphrases are not.

References are found at the end of the paper (unlike citations). The format is usually  Last, F. (Year, Month). Title. Source. Location:Publisher, depending on the type of source. For example:

Rosenshine, B. (1983). Teaching functions in instructional programs. The Elementary School Journal, 83, 335-351.

Rice, R.E. (1984). Mediated group communication. In R.E. Rice & Associates (Eds.), The new media: Communication, research, and technology (pp. 129-156). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Paulson, M.F. (1995). The online report on pedagogical techniques for computer mediated communication. Retrieved February 22, 2005, from

Note that if you do not have a citation to a reference, then the reference is not listed.

If you are going to follow APA Style, you must have an abstract. This is a brief summary of the paper, similar to an executive summary. The Publication Manual covers this in detail starting on page 25.

Some students (and faculty) think the abstract is a waste of time. However, it is a good exercise to try and describe your paper in just 100 words or so; it helps distill a nebulous concept into something more concrete.

Unless specifically instructed, always include an abstract.

Number One APA Error
Without a doubt, the number one APA error from my students is omitting page or paragraph numbers for direct quotations. Note that all direct quotations require one or the other depending on the source. Check or other provided sources.

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