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Six APA Manual Musts


By Jamie Patterson, Dissertation Editor

There are fewer and fewer of us in the world who carried, loved, and knew the APA Manual fifth edition. You might recognize it on your shelf: red, black, and neglected. When the APA publication committee shifted to the sixth edition (blue, bright, and lovely), it made several changes. In addition to saying adios to the student section (the section that provided the loophole for single-spaced block quotes and reference lists), mention of how to format with a typewriter, and all-caps headings, the sixth edition is really quite readable.


Although it is absolutely possible to sit down and read the sixth edition cover to cover—particularly the early chapters—I realize that most writers sure don’t do this. So as someone who spends at least 8 hours a day with the book in hand, let me point you toward some of the more often visited pages. Even if you just read these few pages, you’ll start to understand the manual a bit more and it might actually be useful to you.

First, let me start by suggesting using the Internet for reference list entries. They’re all in the book (pp. 198-224), but you can also Google an entry or check out our website. Rely on the manual for these issues:

1. Heading levels: p. 62
2. When to use past tense: p. 78
3. Comma use: pp. 88-89
4. How to use hyphens: pp. 99-100
5. When to use a numeral and when to spell out a number: pp. 111-114
6. In-text citations: p. 177

So pull out your book and mark these six little spots. If you can master these elements, your writing will be polished and that much more ready for final review and publication.

One last piece of advice is to pay extremely close attention to APA p. 191 on DOIs. This might not be the most intuitive portion of the manual, so check out our webpage on the topic and let me loosely interpret: If you retrieve an article from a database, you must (absolutely must) show how you accessed the article by including a DOI or the URL for the journal or database. As a dissertation editor, I’ve seen documents at form and style that were in need of this access information for all entries. If you can collect the DOI for each article as you write, this will be the single most important time-saving step you make.

That, and becoming familiar with sixth edition, of course.


  1. I'm still confused about selecting source types, especially when to call something a website or online database or electronic article, etc.! Help!

  2. Hi, Firecrab:
    Great question. Anything, absolutely anything you access on a website will be cited the same way:
    Author (publication date). Title of document. Retrieved from
    That goes for PDFs, PowerPoints, web pages, electronic articles accessed via the web, and so on.
    If you're accessing an article from an online database, then it shifts just a bit:
    Author (publication date). Title of article. Title of Journal, 2(3), 4-5. doi: 10.x10w334
    The doi number is what you use to indicate that you retrieved it from an online source.
    Can be tricky but we do have sources up on our website that might help:
    If you have more questions just let us know! Email us at