December 2012 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

APA Citations: The Method to the Madness

Brittany Kallman Arneson
By Brittany Kallman Arneson, Writing Consultant

Does it ever feel as though the American Psychological Association made its formatting rules especially complex, just to frustrate poor students like you? Often, it’s hard to understand why italicizing this line or capitalizing that word is so important. Shouldn’t you be spending more time and energy on the content of your writing—your ideas?

Believe it or not, there are clear reasons for these guidelines that are directly related to the content of your work. APA rules are actually designed to help you communicate your ideas more clearly. In this blog post, I’ll walk you through a Q & A based on a reference in APA style, highlighting how APA formatting rules are designed to help social scientists communicate.

First, take a look at this sample article reference. (This source is made up, so don’t go looking for it in the library!)

Kallman Arneson, B. (2012). Chocolate as a critical component of effective paper-writing. Journal of Writing and Dessert, 5(2), 12-16. doi:10.1027/0269-8803.20.4.253


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Catering to the Short Attention Span in Syntax

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Rachel Grammer
By Rachel Grammer, Writing Consultant

I'll be the first to admit that I have a short attention span; on certain days, it’s incredibly difficult for me to sit quietly at my desk and focus on the appointment in front of me because my mind craves variety. When I finally get myself settled down with my cup of tea and a paper on the computer, though, my condition is only exacerbated by what I often read:

The researchers chose adult participants between the ages of 35 and 60. The participants worked as engineers, chemists, and biologists. The researchers completed the study within 3 days. The researchers found that 33% of the participants still slept with their teddy bears. The researchers also found that 13% of the participants admitted to needing the bears in order to fall asleep.

Okay, so I haven’t read any studies on adults and teddy bears (though that would be a fun topic to explore!), but you can see how this paragraph might intensify my desire for variety; all the sentences sound the same: The researchers chose, the participants worked, the researchers completed, the researchers found.

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Colloquialisms Part I: Clichés

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Nathan Sacks
By Nathan Sacks, Writing Consultant

A couple weeks ago, I received an email from a student who was curious about a series of comments I left in his paper, warning against colloquialisms, slang, and informal language. The student wanted to know if there was an online resource that would comprehensively list all forms of slang not allowed in APA-style papers. Unfortunately, like the English language itself, the nature of what is considered formal and informal language is constantly changing, and sometimes correct word choices in an APA paper come down to little more than your instructor’s individual preferences. Ultimately, it is impossible to compile a list of every single article of slang because once a list is started, it would probably never stop.

This blog post will be the first in a series that will tackle the many ways colloquialisms and slang can creep into your paper. And creep is right—a lot of the word choices we make in papers are done imperceptibly, so it is normal for even the best writers to not give much thought to worn-out phrases like on the other hand when comparing one source’s argument to another.

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Act As If


Tobias Ball
By Tobias Ball, Dissertation Editor

Cliché advice can get people into trouble, but I have decided to apply at least one such overused idiom to my own writing practices: Act as if…

I am not a published novelist. Not yet. But when I sit down at my desk to write, I act as if I am that novelist. I scratch in my notebook or type on my computer as if I am composing the next great American novel. I act as if what I am writing will be a candidate for the National Book Award, will win the Pulitzer Prize, and will finally give this country its next Nobel Laureate. I act as if there are a host of readers lined up outside of their local bookstore, waiting to get the first printing of this book because, clearly, there will be later editions and this is the one that the collectors will want. When I write, I act as if.

Although there is probably a novel in all doctoral students (I see a mystery set in the dark halls of a library or a romance that blossoms at an academic residency or a horror story where the committee members are actually vampires, werewolves, or more likely zombies who have trouble returning e-mails), most are spending more time writing their dissertation. Students often ask for advice about writing their manuscript. My advice is act as if.


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Presenting With Prezi

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Anne Torkelson
By Anne Torkelson, Writing Consultant

One of the most impressive presentations I’ve ever seen involved a PowerPoint with only one image per slide, and often no text. The presenter chose one visually stimulating photograph to represent each main point, and he let his message rather than his slides drive the presentation. No one in that audience fell asleep.

The presentation was successful because it combined image and discussion in an effective way, but also because the new approach—so different than the “death by PowerPoint” we are often subjected to—caught and kept the audience’s attention.

Many Walden students use PowerPoint, and use it well, for class projects and work presentations. Trying a new style or approach can sometimes bring new life and new ideas to your work, however. For today’s Tech Tip, I’d like to introduce you to a tool for jazzing up your presentations: Prezi.

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Is Your Short Attention Span Showing?: Using a Reverse Outline (Writer's Workshop #5)


Amber Cook
By Amber Cook, Senior Writing Specialist and Faculty Liaison

I’m going to date myself here. When I was pursuing my degrees, there was no Facebook. My computer did not have Internet access; in fact, I used my university’s computer lab because I didn’t have my own machine. As you can imagine (and many of you may know from your own experience), this scenario made research much more difficult and tedious, but it came with an upside: my ability to concentrate was first-class. The only thing on my screen was my document. There were no accessible means of procrastination, so I just wrote, and my writing had a cohesion that reflected my focus.

Now flash to the present. As I wrote the first paragraph of this blog post, I wandered away from my Word document three times: to check e-mail, respond to an IM, and find the Lumineers station on Spotify. I also fought against my now-innate urge to write in the short, pithy form of a status update or a text. In short, writing longer-form work is harder than it used to be, as it likely is for many of you. For adults returning to school after writing primarily in chunks of 50 words or less, the task of writing a cohesive multi-page paper can be a challenge. The strategies for this type of composition are different, and the longer attention span it requires is often a little-exercised muscle. 

Unsure whether cohesion is a problem in your writing? I have a test for you. Grab your most recent, completed piece of writing. Go ahead. I’ll send a quick text while I wait. You’re back? OK, here goes.


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