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!


Cloudia said...

"Didn't think you meant it."
Grrrrrr! Like the guy who asked you to find and re-email something HE needed but was too lazy to search out.

BTW, thanks for the Hawaii publisher contacts. Appreciate your encouragement.

One thing I do like about APA style (UH Manoa, BA Psych w/distinction 1996)is that it is proper to write London, New York, Paris, Rome - not Cairo Egypt, or Paris France. If you mean Berlin NJ, ADD the New Jersey; if you mean Berlin Germany, assume that that is what BERLIN means.

Am I a fogey now? LOL!

Aloha, Friend - Go SAINTS!

Comfort Spiral

G. B. Miller said...

Classic modern student outlook.

Read, but don't understand.

Hear, but don't listen.

And people wonder way teachers turn prematurely gray and sometimes wind up looking like Larry Fine.

sage said...

Sorry, but I hate APA! I don't know if I hate it enough to get a D, but I don't like reading journals with inserts in them... In college I was introducted to Turabian... In graduate school to the Chicago Manual of Style. I might have liked the APA in the pre-computer age, but now its so easy to make footnotes or end notes.

Sidney said...

In the newspaper business it was Associated Press style, for consistency though if you really peruse AP style you can see it's also geared toward minimizing wherever possible, ever mindful of the tightness of space, I suppose. I do hate things in the fine print, though, always a bummer.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cloudia, I get a huge laugh every time I think of it. It just floored me completely at the time.

G, or looking like me!

Sage, oh, I don't think APA style is the be all and end all of styles. It's what I have to use, though. And what I have to teach. I've never liked footnotes at all, but I do like endnotes.

Sidney, I think every field has something like it and for the most part the rules are arbitrary, although sometimes they make sense. But we all still have to follow the rules we apprentice in.

Cullen Gallagher said...

In film studies we use MLA and Chicago, but I have to say that over the years I've learned to appreciate style guidelines immensely. As an undergrad, I didn't see the point, but as I began to do a lot more intensive research and writing, I realized that these strict guidelines are very useful. Especially when verifying other writers' research, and tracing back through their bibliography. Nothing is more frustrating than finding either a gem of information or a problematic fact but not being able to check their sources.

nephite blood spartan heart said...

Awesome you gotta follow through or they won't fear you.

Harry Markov said...

I bet he learned a harsh lesson. Do not assume that just because a teach is cool, he won't take points, when you ignore the rules.

the walking man said...

That is a part of the learning process. No matter how much you hate it you have to conform to professional standards in order to achieve the benefit you are attempting to achieve.

That's one of the reasons I always preferred my line of work, the end results was measured in how well the vehicle performed and that was the proof of my understanding of the material before me.

I am curious Charles and you need not answer but do you have a PhD? and what specifically is it for. Psychiatric Pharmacology?

Steve Malley said...

I had the odd good fortune recently to give a university class on Film Noir-- the prof was flabbergasted that the students actually listened well enough to quote me back in their papers.

I'm realize I went to a small but lively liberal arts college, but WTF?!

ivan said...

Bless Professor Jorgenson at Ryerson Polytechnic who said to us students, "If you can explain it with a poem, I will ignore the stylisci and graphic requirements of "Firm and Industry in Perfect Competition."

Yes style.
In l966 The Toronto Star had a style we all tried to get, but mostly failed. The writer was supposed to know everything, superior knowledge, omniscient, and when he wrote a story it was as if he were building a house, foundation,joists, walls, roof rafters, shingling.
Unfortunately, this "style" doesnt work for all writers.
It didn't work for me.
I used Star style to describe how a local airport manager kept seagulls, terns, off his runways.
He ued gas-fired cannon to scare the birds away.
It turned out in first draft to be an accurate, but boring story.
I used Star style, using "superior knowledge" of gas fired artillery and all my studies of ornithology, but it came out sort of like a long jam label of terms and references.
I finally settled on this:



"Airport manager Ian McQuaig is tired of chasing terns off his runways. In fact, he hardly has left a tern unstoned. (This was before PETA).
"So now he's using cannons."

This would have been more in keeping with Star style, but would have taken away from zippiness.

So sometimes Zippy the Lood King gets it right. Maybe.

Said editor Rae Corelli, "Glad you did that. In the first version, you amost threw away a good story."

ivan said...


With all respect to Dr. Gramlich--and I know how hard it it to get a real degree--I'd just like to add an anecdote about summer jobs.

Working in construction as a student, I was asked if I was working on my PhD.
"Sure, I muttered, while hauling pipes. Plumbing, Heating and Drains."

Lisa said...

Is this like my dog ate my homework?

Richard Prosch said...

Amazing. And this person has already skated to the brink of independent adulthood with that kind of work ethic.

Bernita said...

Beginning writers are often the same, aren't they, in ignoring the stated guidelines?

Mary Witzl said...

Jesus wept. There are times you really wonder what goes on in some people's minds.

My students give every appearance of hearing and understanding what I tell them over and over. They even interrupt me with "We know, we know!" when I'm trying to explain something fiddly. Later, I find that they had no idea what I was trying to say. But I suspect there is a huge difference between our students, and it's not just the language thing.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cullen Gallagher, that's the key thing, to allow one to follow the research someone else has done, and to locate their sources. It also takes some of variability out of formats so that the focus can be more on the content.

David J. West, I've also relayed that story to all my classes since where I have papers. It seems to have sunk in, at least most of the time.

Harry Markov, I know. I hate when that kind of thing happens but the student really has no one but themselves to blame.

Mark, I do have a Ph.D., and an M.A. They are both for experimental psychology, with a specialization in biological psychology. I ended up teaching the pharmacology class here because of my bio background and the fact that Xavier fired the faculty member who normally taught that class after Katrina. Before I went to school, though, I was a farm kid in rural Arkansas.

Steve Malley, students are like anyone else in the world. Some are really good. Most are sort of average, and some are really not good at all.

ivan, "a tern unstoned." That would be worth the price of the paper by itself. I've never really written much in journalistic style but my sister and now my brother are both journalists for the local small town paper where I grew up.

Ocean Girl, at about that level, yes.

Richard Prosch, and in this world some day he might be my boss! Or yours! Be afraid, be very afraid.

Bernita, From what I hear from editors they certainly are. I always made sure from the very beginning to check out guidelines and follow them. My experience with APA style in grad school assisted me with that!

Mary Witzl, the thing I wish I saw more of in my students is curiosity. Growing up, I was curious about everything almost, but a lot of students that I have seem to have narrow ranges of curiosity.

BernardL said...

"Yes, but I didn't think you meant it."


Voidwalker said...

LOL... "I didn't think you meant it." That's classic.

It's a tough lesson to learn, following directions, but life won't be any easier on him than you were. Hopefully he learned the lesson.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I don't know what format they use for notes, but I hate footnotes in the middle of sentences. It just encourages bad writing by breaking it up with references.

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernardl, I'm laughing about it 'now." At the time it was a bit frustrating.

Voidwalker, I looked at him with a totally flabbergasted look.

Pattinase, I don't like footnotes at all really. I much prefer end notes, although most of the time I think there are ways to work the material into the text itself without breaking the flow.

Erik Donald France said...

Very funny. Consistency is the thing. I used to prefer stuff like the Chicago Manual of Style but -- whatever's called for by the "boss," and whatever works according to assignment.

Chris Benjamin said...

wow, i wonder what he thought you DID mean? were you using a sarcastic tone of voice or something?

jodi said...

Charles, thank the good Lord I am not a student. I have so much trouble coloring within the lines...

laughingwolf said...

'rules are for everybody, BUT me', seems to be his attitude...

serves him right! lol

Charles Gramlich said...

Erik, Yeah, a lot of physio journals actually use different style from APA so I have to convert a lot but I don't get too worried about it.

benjibopper, I think he just didn't listen, didn't think it was important, and then was trying anything he could think of to be let off for his mistake.

jodi, there are so many places though where if you don't follow the submission rules you can't even get your foot in the door. Academia is often like that. I don't always approve but in teaching our students I really have to enforce the rules or see them handicapped.

laughingwolf, unfortunately, there's a new one who has to learn it every year.

Lana Gramlich said...

Yes, but...he's a dumbass.

David Cranmer said...

Yeah, his answer is such a cop out. Then again, I may have used it once or twice myself. That's one of several standard student responses. The actual answer should have been "I'm lazy and am hoping you will allow me to slide by."

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana, indeed.

David, that's the gist of it.

j said...

Rude awakening for that student.

I get so mad at "Yeah, but..." - it just screams 'I don't have to listen to you.' When my kids start that I nip it in the bud and give them the old "Do NOT talk back to me."

Merisi said...

Razored Zen rules! :-)
Thank you for being the kind of teacher I'd want my children to have!

(Commenters like Cullen Gallagher and The Walking Man have already said more and expressed it better than I ever could.)

the walking man said...

I was just curious because my father had his M.A. in Pharmacology and his PhD, in Chemical Engineering. He wound up with Chrysler developing plastics and different compounds and polymers for automotive use.

Charles Gramlich said...

jennifer, I get a lot of "buts," but most of the time it just makes the person saying it seem like a "butt."

Merisi, thanks, I appreciate that.

Mark, I have an older brother who has a Ph.D. in agrichemistry. He spent most of his life developing fertilizers and that sort of thing. He didn't go into academia, but school seems to fit my life.

X. Dell said...

Let's see. Because I'm one of those interdisciplinary interlopers (as one of my profs calls us), I've written papers in APA, MLA, ASA and Luper formats. Interesting to note, there are now software add-ons that help the writer put a paper into the necessary style, although they're cumbersome to use (actually knowing the format is easier).

I guess the real point, though is that a student sat in your class all semester without thinking that you meant what you said. It kinda reminds me of those people who like to boast that they learned nothing in college. He decided he already knew all that he should know, and simply decided that your style requirement was capricious, arbitrary, et cetera. What he didn't realize, though, is that there's a purpose for style guides.

Do you think he learned the value of style guides? Or do you think he learned the value of avoiding psychology classes?

BTW, congratulations on your Saints. Since they're in the Superbowl now, there's good reason to think of them playing for the championship--although the Colts will be a very tough test for them.

Aimlesswriter said...

I love it when they listen. Anyone who has kids can relate.

Charles Gramlich said...

X-Dell, I think some students have been so coddled throughout most of their life that they've never really been held responsible for their actions, and this fellow was probably one of those. It's probably different for different students, though. Yes, The Saints will be tested but I'm hoping for a good game.

Aimless writer, yes, I remember well my son in a few cases.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Oh man, that's just classic! My biggest problem is that some of my students don't know if they are using APA, MLA or Chicago! I tell them about this nifty invention called Zotero. It cites for you and has a 98% accuracy record. I mean a computer program that cites for you and they still get it wrong? There's no hope for some!