Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Writing Class on Style: APA Style That Is:
Today in Writing class we focused on APA Style, which is the set of rules developed by the American Psychological Association for presenting a paper to psychology journals. We require all our classroom papers to be turned in using this style, to prepare the students if they go on to a graduate program in psychology.
APA style is pretty boring to discuss, but it’s one of those apprenticeship things that psychology majors need to learn. When I was in undergraduate school at Arkansas Tech University, back in the early 1980s, we weren’t required to use APA style. I didn’t learn it and, as a result, the first paper I turned in for a graduate school class came back with a “D” on it. The teacher told me the content was worth an “A” but that APA style was part of the requirement and it was on the syllabus, in the fine print. Indeed it was, and that was the last time I made that mistake. I got hold of a manual, the 3rd edition, I think, and learned the style on my own.
We’re on the 6th edition of the style manual these days, and it’s four times as thick as it used to be, partly because of the need to talk about electronic and online sources. I tell the students that they don’t have to memorize APA style but they need to memorize where and how to look up the answers to questions they have about the style. And, I tell them they need to take it seriously.
About five years back in a Physiological Psych class, I had the students do an APA style paper and I got one paper turned in at the end of the year that had completely ignored the requirement. I’d been much more directive about it than that first graduate professor had been for me. I not only put in the syllabus in bold, underlined print, and called attention to it all of the first week, but I covered the basic style information in class and stated, very clearly and loudly, at least five times during the semester, that their paper had to be APA style. The paper in question was a “B” paper but ended up with a “D” because of the style issue. The student came in to complain. I asked him if he’d paid attention to the syllabus and he said, “Yes, “but….” I asked him if he’d heard me say time and time again that APA style was required, and he gave me a, “Yes, but….” I asked him if he hadn’t heard me say numerous times that I was going to take off points if the paper wasn’t in APA style, and he said, “Yes, but I didn’t think you meant it.”
I meant it!