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Review of the publication manual of the American psychological association, 6th edition.

Review of the publication manual of the American psychological association, 6th edition. (Soft cover: $28.95; hard cover: $39.95; spiral bound: $36.95; Order from APA, 750 First St., NE, Washington, D.C.; 800-374-2721; order online: <>).

Following closely on the heels of MLA's revisions to its scholarly and student guides, APA released the sixth edition of its Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association this July. Visually, it presents a striking contrast to the previous edition. The effect of the book's design was undoubtedly deliberate: with its cover in two lovely shades of blue interrupted only by a touch of lime green and white type, this tall, slender volume seems elegant and peaceful. The contrast to the drama of the fifth edition's screaming red on a black background suggests that APA wants to calm our concerns, answer our questions, and envision with us an enlightened future for both student users and researchers. This idea is carried into the volume's new and bolder use of headings, more use of examples, and a radically reorganized structure. However, with some noteworthy changes, this is the same APA style we have come to know, complete with contradictions, difficult language, and ambiguity about its audience. This edition is improved in many ways, but APA style is still not easy to master, no matter what kind of user you are.

The reorganized edition follows the writing process itself. The reorganized version begins with the planning stage and then describes types of articles, ethical standards, and issues about dealing with research results and participants. It goes on to discuss writing issues, such as bias-free language and mechanics, before it moves to documentation. This approach makes finding a particular example or issue easier than in the past, both if you are embarking on writing an article or if you are simply trying to cite one.

The influence of the Web and current readers' online sophistication influenced new and streamlined headings at all levels and expanded sections on graphics and electronic presentation of data. The new hierarchy of headings is similar to Web headings, so these will be familiar to readers and users alike. In concert with this, there are many more visuals--charts, graphs, and figures--included in this edition to illustrate the points the text is making. This too adds to the usability of the book. These visual updates are a nice improvement.

Along with that, APA's website (<>) includes some supplemental materials and tutorials. Some charts and graphics not shown in the actual guide are online. In addition, two tutorials are available, one on APA basics and one on changes in the sixth edition. The tutorial on APA basics provides a helpful introduction for brand-new users of APA. It gives an overview of the salient characteristics of APA style, which a tutor could then expand upon one-to-one with the student. It takes about 25 minutes. This is not a substitute for the manual or for tutor assistance. The examples are sometimes faint and hard to read, and the voiceover doesn't always match the print that is shown. The tutorial on changes in the sixth edition presents the same overview that is given in the foreword and the introduction to the manual. It is helpful in terms of pointing out where to look, but once again it is no substitute for perusing the manual.

Another change in the sixth edition is an appeal to a wider audience. In the foreword, publisher Gary R. VandenBos tells us that APA is now used "by students and researchers in education, social work, nursing, business, and many other behavioral and social sciences" (xiv). APA has migrated information pertinent to APA journals to the Web (<>), partially in deference to the new audience who is far removed from these concerns. Given that APA has historically been used broadly in the social sciences and in social work, the shift in focus is most noteworthy with regard to users in nursing and other medical fields. Indeed, many of the examples used are from medical literature. This shift explains the references throughout the text to scientific writing rather than social science writing.

One addition to this edition is a section on self-plagiarism. Authors are prohibited from presenting their own published material as if it were new scholarship. The guide gives the parameters for including this scholarship in other writing. This is timely given that there has been some discussion of this topic on writing listservs in the last few months.

One of the difficulties inherent in this new edition is that many of the changes are so subtle as to be easily overlooked. One such example concerns paraphrases. The fifth (previous) edition's treatment is here: "When paraphrasing or referring to an idea contained in another work, authors are not required to provide a location reference (e.g., a page or paragraph number). Nevertheless, authors are encouraged to do so ..."(121). Compare that to the sixth edition: "When paraphrasing or referring to an idea contained in another work, you are encouraged to provide a page or paragraph number ..." (171). By omitting the first part but stopping short of requiring a location for paraphrases, the new edition leaves the reader in limbo. APA has apparently not changed the rule, but clearly leans strongly toward citing page numbers. This subtle shift may split faculty, traditionalists maintaining page numbers shouldn't be used and progressives requiring that they should. Students will be confused by these non-guidelines. Writing center folk, tutors and administrators alike, can only be aware of this potential problem and counsel students to ask their instructors which approach to take.

Writing center folk should also be aware of the errors rife in the sixth edition, as described in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article (Epstein). The errors largely seem the result of poor mindfulness: vestiges of fifth edition formatting uncorrected, commas instead of periods, and volume numbers not italicized. APA has put an errata sheet online at <>. Tutors should be alert for students and faculty who are unaware of these errors and are confused by the examples they see. Having copies of the errata sheets available in your writing center could generate significant good will for you, if not for APA. (The errors are in the July, 2009 printing. The second printing of the sixth edition corrected them.)

A shift with regard to URLs, databases, and DOIs is also problematic. In a section entitled "Electronic Sources and Locator Information" (sect. 6.31), the manual carefully explains what URLs actually refer to and why they are poor tools for finding particular articles. It goes on to explain in articulate detail what DOIs, or digital object identifiers, are and why they are preferable to URLs. An article has a unique DOI assigned to it at publication. A DOI is string of numbers beginning with 10 and including a prefix, which designates an organization, and a suffix given by the article's publisher. Since DOIs are unique to each article and do not change, they are stable keys to locating articles, even long after their publication. DOIs have been in use by medical databases such as PubMed and medical documentation styles for some time. This section explains where to find the DOI for any given article, and how to use it to locate the article. After this long, persuasive description of how valuable and important DOIs are, the manual says this: "We recommend that when DOIs are available, you include them for both print and electronic sources" (189). However, in the bulleted directions for citing online journal articles, providing DOIs is listed as a step. It would seem to be a requirement, but it is described as a recommendation.

Along with these larger issues are a number of the smaller details we have come to expect with new editions. Among the most important of those changes are the formats for listing multiple authors, magazine issue numbers, non-consecutive page numbers in periodicals, and full URLs for articles in online reference materials and for pages in Web sites. Specifics are below:

* All authors up to and including seven must be listed in the References entry. If there are more than seven authors, the first six are listed, followed by an ellipsis and the last author's name.

* Magazines that are paginated by issue must now include both the volume and the issue numbers.

* All page numbers for periodical articles printed on non-consecutive pages must be included in the References citation.

* Full URLs are now required for pages within Web sites, as opposed to just the URL for the home page.

* Full URLs are also now required for works included in online reference materials. Dates of retrieval are no longer necessary.

* Two spaces are required after a period.

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, sixth edition, gives a welcoming nod to twenty-first century academic life. It is more inclusive of its wider audience than previous editions and more thoughtful with regard to its online environment. Its new structure and visual cues make it easier to use than ever before. Even given that it is sometimes murky, it is a strong move toward a more positive, more understandable, and therefore more usable documentation style. Envision calming blue, and welcome this new blue text into your spaces. It doesn't answer everything, but it does come closer.

Works Cited

American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 5th ed. Washington: APA, 2001. Print.

American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 6th ed. Washington: APA, 2010. Print.

Epstein, Jennfer. "Correcting a Style Guide." Inside Higher Education. Oct. 13, 2009. Online. 15 Oct. 2009.

(Editor's note: The APA's website includes a blog where users of the 6th edition of the Manual can post questions and get answers: <>.)

* Susan Mueller

St. Louis College of Pharmacy

St. Louis, MO
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Author:Mueller, Susan
Publication:Writing Lab Newsletter
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2009
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