This section summarizes the very basic guidelines for APA Style as four primary guideposts: your writing should be concise, clear, considerate, and correct.

  1. Concise
    • Check your writing to make sure it is "to the point" -- that you are saying only what needs to be said, without digressions and extraneous information.
    • Avoid convoluted (and lengthy) sentences with multiple clauses.
    • If you are presenting the findings of a research project with a large amount of data, organize this data in a table. Tables are an efficient and lucid method of presenting large amounts of data for your readers.

  2. Clear
    • Avoid the use of jargon and vernacular (slang) phrases (say "police" rather than "cops").
    • Use abbreviations sparingly.
    • Steer clear of imprecise word choices (don't say "feel" when you mean "think").
    • Using section headings, based on an outline of the paper, to organize your discussion. Section headings help your readers understand the main points of your essay, and will help you present your ideas in a lucid manner.

    Writing an outline of your discussion, and then organizing the paper with lucid section headings will help you communicate your ideas clearly.

  3. Considerate
    When you are describing individuals or populations, be respectful: avoid using language that is biased or perjorative.

  4. Correct
    Check your writing for general grammatic correctness. Check any abbreviations you use for measurements etc. against the lists of acceptable abbreviations in the APA Manual; check hyphenated word usage as well.

    Most importantly, double check your references to make sure they are accurate, and that you have documented your sources properly.

A good rule of thumb for abbreviations is this: use them sparingly. Clarity of expression is hampered by an excessive use of abbreviations or terms that might be unfamiliar to your readers.

  • When you do use abbreviations, always give the full name the first time you use it: The Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA) -- unless it is commonly used as a word (AIDs, IQ, URL). Write out the complete name, and then give the abbreviation you will use (as illustrated above), unless the abbreviation is widely recognized (CIA).
  • Do not begin a sentence with a lower case abbreviation (e.g., hr)
  • To be clear, always spell out these units of time: day, week, month, year
  • Use the standard two letter state and province abbreviations.
  • Do not abbreviate publisher names. Instead of Norton, write W. W. Norton.
  • Abbreviations accepted as words may be used in the text of your paper:
  • Abbreviate second as s, meter as m
  • To indicate a plural of an abbreviation, add an s, without an apostrophe (PhDs, lbs, URLs).
  • Do not create plurals for measurements; 100 meters should be abbreviated as 100 m, 10 seconds as 10 s.
  • Use the following abbreviations ONLY in parenthical comments. In the body of your paper, replace them:
    AbbreviationUse the full word
    e.g.for example
    i.e.that is
  • Do not use periods for degree titles (PhD, MFA)
  • Do not use periods for measurements (lb) except inches (in.)

General Grammar Guidelines


  • Proofread your paper to make certain that the verb tenses used in your discussion are appropriate. For literature reviews, for instance, the past tense is appropriate. The past tense may also be appropriate for presenting results (e.g., weight of the participants increased slightly); but you may want to use the present tense to discuss your findings (e. g., the study suggests).
  • In most cases, use the active voice. Instead of "The study was conducted" say "We conducted the study."
  • Avoid imprecise word choices (don't use "feel" when you mean "think.")
  • Avoid vernacular expressions (use "police officer" rather than "cop").

  • Capitalize formal names of tests (Winthrop Virtual Response Test).
  • Capitalize names of conditions, groups, effects, and variables only when definite and specific. (Group B was the control group; an Age x Weight interaction showed lower weight with age.)
  • Capitalize the first word after a comma or colon if, and only if, it begins a complete sentence. For example, "As you can see, this is a complete sentence, hence, the first letter is capitalized." But notice here that "we haven't capitalized the first word."
  • Capitalize specific course names and departments (LSU Department of Psychology, Psych 150).
  • Do not capitalize generic names of tests (Mendelson coordination test). "Yellowstone" is a name, so it remains capitalized.
  • Capitalize specific laws and ordinances (The Taylor County Leash Law), but not general laws, theories, hypotheses, and effects (the law of supply and demand).

  • Commas
    • Use commas in precise dates, for example, September 11, 2001 (but not in September 2002).
    • A comma should precede the word "and" in lists: our participants spoke several languages: Xenish, Lettion, and Boslivian.
    • Use commas for seriation within a paragraph: there are three basic aspects under consideration: (a) honesty, (b) felicity of expression, and (c) expertise.
    • Do not use commas to separate parts of measurement (6 ft 2 in.). The metric system of measurement is preferred, and should be used when circumstances allow.

  • Hyphens
    • Do not hyphenate common prefixes (prewar, multilingual, nontoxic) unless needed for clarity (pre-existing).
    • Hyphenate adjectival phrases (role-playing exercises, low-energy group, high-anxiety analysis).
    • Hyphenate if the words could be misunderstood without a hyphen (re-creation is not the same as recreation).
    • When in doubt, use a dictionary! Usage rules evolve.
    • Do not hyphenate if a noun comes first (our study was client centered).
    • Prefixes that do not require hyphens
      Prefix Example PrefixExample
      after afterword multi multicolored
      anti antiviral non nontrivial
      bi bilateral over overanxious
      co coexisting post postgraduate
      counter counterweight pre prewar
      equi equiangular pro proscience
      extra extramarital pseudo pseudobiology
      infra infrasonic re rework
      inter intermittent semi semisolid
      intra intranet socio sociocentric
      macro macroeconomics sub substandard
      mega megadose super superimpose
      meta metaprotein supra supramolecular
      micro microorganism ultra ultraconservative
      mid midmanagment un undone
      mini minimodule under underfunded

    • Prefixes that require hyphens
      Examples Rule
    • self-selected
    • pre-2000
    • self-image
    • All "self-" compounds.
    • meta-analysis
    • pre-existing
    • post-travel
    • co-officer
    • Words in which the last letter of the prefix, and the first letter of the noun are the same.
    • re-create [recreate]
    • re-form [form again]
    • Words that have different meanings depending upon the presence of the hyphen.
    • pro-Spock
    • pre-2000
    • post-SAT test
    • Compounds in which the base word is capitalized, a number, an abbreviation, or more than one word.

  • Italics
    • Use italics or underscoring for:
      • titles of significant works: books, reports, films, periodicals
        New York Times
      • species, genera, and varieties
      • special, technical, or key terms introduced into the text
        We refer to this process as forward marking
        The shelf marked Evidence
      • words that are key to a study's design and outcome
        Participants were asked to define their prestudy responses to the phrase shock therapy
        These societies are sometimes called Cargo Cults
    • Do not use italics or underscoring to:
      • emphasize a word or phrase.
        We considered this step essential to the success of the study.
      • highlight common foreign words (e.g., vice versa, ad lib)
      • chemical or trigonometric terms.
      • Greek letters.

Avoid perjorative, denigrating and biased language
A good general rule to follow, in describing any group, is to avoid using language that could cause offense. Here are some basic guidelines to help you make clear references to populations, groups, and conditions:

  • Use "older persons" (not "elderly")
  • Do not use general labels (Asian) when you can use a geographically based reference: (Chinese Americans).
  • Use currently accepted and non-biased references to populations of differing race and ethnicity: "Black" or "African Americans", "Native Americans", "Asian Americans".
  • When referring to any population, be as specific as possible.
  • Capitalize all references to ethnic and racially based populations.
  • Use "lesbians" and "gay men" (not "homosexuals"), "sexual orientation" (not "sexual preference")
  • Use 'people diagnosed with schizophrenia' and 'people with AIDS' (not 'schizophrenics' or 'AIDS victims' or sufferers). In general, it is both wise and kind to avoid language that would equate a person with their condition.
  • Avoid gender stereotyping. Do not use "men" to refer to adult humans; do not make references to "standard male reactions."
  • "Gender" refers to culturally based behavior, and should be used in discussions of men and women in social groups. "Sex" is a biological distinction, and should be used in discussions emphasizing biological factors, such as "sexual hormones."

Avoid Jargon and Vernacular (Slang)
The purpose of writing an essay is to communicate your ideas and findings with your readers.

The use of obscure technical terms -- sometimes called jargon -- that may be unfamiliar to your readers is in direct opposition to your primary goal in writing the paper. If you find that technical terms are necessary, make sure you define your terms for your readers.

The Vernacular (Slang) and Colloquialisms
Vernacular and colloquial phrases may be terms that are quite familiar to your readers, but are not appropriate in formal writings that require wording with precise definitions (e.g., We "sized up" the participants; "practically everyone"). Colloquialisms, too, often have "affective" connotations that are unacceptable in research writing (e.g., "cops")

Find terms to report your findings and observations that are explicit -- but that will be understood clearly by your readers.


  • Spell out numbers below 10 (five films, six-way connection, two studies).
  • Use numerals for numbers 10 and above (9 to 12 times a week).
  • Add s only to make a plural of a number, with no apostrophe (the 1990s).
  • Spell out frequently used fractions and common expressions (one-third, Fifth of May).
  • Use metric abbreviations with figures (9 km) but not when written out (several meters from the wall).
  • Use the percent symbol (%) only with figures (2%) not with written numbers (two percent).
  • Treat ordinal numbers like cardinal numbers (the second participant in the 40th experiment . . .).
  • Use combinations of written and Arabic numerals for back-to-back modifiers (two 5-question tests).
  • Use combinations of numerals and written numbers for large sums (2 thousand employees).
  • Use numerals for exact statistical references, scores, sample sizes, and sums (multiplied by 6, or 10% of the sample).
  • Spell out large numbers at the beginning of a sentence (Forty nights after we landed on that desolate shore . . .).