Why APA formatting matters

January 15, 2014

Imagine you are buying a new home. You tour around a number of properties. You see one that is messy, distasteful and uninviting. The sales agent says, “Oh, don’t worry, the foundation is strong!” The trained eye may be able to see past the bad presentation, but it takes a lot of mental energy to get past it.

Now imagine you are taken into a home that is clean, neat and perfectly staged. You immediately feel welcome. You are instantly engaged psychologically and emotionally. You want to see more.

APA formatting is to research papers what presenting a clean, neat and well presented home is to selling a property.

Your prof may be able to look past a messy presentation, but it takes more mental energy. You want to be able to say, “Oh, but the foundation of the work is just fine!”  and you want that be enough.

Well, it’s not enough. It sends a message that you don’t care about presentation. You send a message that you don’t give a flying leap that your work is less appealing to read. You may be brilliant, but if the essence of what you show to others messy and disorganized,  it’s less inviting to enter your world and spend time there. Sometimes, students insist that APA formatting inhibits their creativity or individuality. My reply to that is, fine, go be as bizarre and unique as you like in your own writing space — your blog, your journal or whatever.

There’s an element of persuasion involved in writing a research paper. I won’t say sales, because that will undoubtedly offend some of you. But let’s face it. You are trying to “pitch” your ideas. Follow standard practices for presentation and your work is likely to be accepted a whole lot faster than if you insist on doing it your own way. When you are writing a research paper you are trying to persuade someone to read it, like it and possibly judge its value (e.g. accept it for publication or award a grade for it). 

Sometimes I find that drawing comparisons between reality TV and academia helps students make sense the expectations of life in higher education. Over the past few months, I’ve been watching Income Property. I don’t own any income properties and I probably never will, but I find the show fascinating. I see patterns in how projects are completed so they consistently meet the objectives.

Host Scott McGillivray helps home owners turn unfinished or unacceptable suites into beautiful rental properties. He and his crew completely renovate the space. They focus on doing excellent quality construction, electrical and plumbing work that is up to code. The work is inspected and they get feedback from city officials and inspectors before they start working on the finishes.

To me, that’s the the content of research. It needs to be solid, high quality and done well. Getting feedback along the way is important, too.

Once they get the necessary approvals that the job has been done right, they move on to the finishes. They pay attention to the details and ensure the look of the place is consistent with sound design principles that are timeless and impressive. After watching a few episodes of Income Property I noticed that they use very similar approaches for each project.

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/670220That’s the presentation of the work. The design principles are outlined by APA, MLA or whatever style guide you use. The format is timeless and paying attention to the details makes it impressive. They follow presentation design principles systematically. Each project is unique, yet they follow standards in a consistent way. It’s almost like there’s a template and yet, every project is individual.

McGillivray consistently points out that doing the construction work properly is non-negotiable. Just like doing good quality research is non-negotiable.

But what gets people to say, “Wow, this is impressive!” are the finishes. Following accepted practices for presentation (which might be interior design for a house, or formatting for a paper) and paying attention to the details are what makes you stand out and be impressive.

For an exemplary end product you need both: quality construction and beautiful finishes. If you have only done only one or the other, you are being sloppy. To do the job right, you need solid construction and a beautiful presentation.

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: Why APA formatting matters http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hc

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


De-grouping to be a more effective leader

August 2, 2013

LinkedIn logoYou are probably familiar with the term “re-grouping”. It means taking a breath and a step back from a situation in order to re-assess the current state of it.

Lately, I have been “de-grouping”, mostly on LinkedIn. For a number of years, I have been a member of the maximum number of groups allowed, which is 50. I signed up for groups related to topics I was interested in professionally including leadership, literacy, languages, marketing, education and other topics. I tried to read discussion posts and contribute. I thought it was a good way to keep my pulse on sectors and industries that I felt were important to my career.

What I found was quite the opposite. Instead of staying on top of news and trends, I was inundated with messages, many of which did not help me learn, grow or provide many insights.

On the flip side, I was also unable to contribute much of value to many of the discussions.

I have pared down my membership to 10 LinkedIn groups. Here are the three criteria I used to decide which groups to stay in:

  1.  I personally know some or all of the members. I’ve seen the whites of their eyes and I can easily remember their smile.
  2. I learn something from the discussions.
  3. I can contribute something of value to the discussions from time to time.

For me, cutting back on the number of groups I am a member of on LinkedIn has helped free up time and energy for other activities such as tending to my clients, teaching students and preparing upcoming presentations and workshops for the fall. All in all, being more selective about how I spend my time and energy online has helped me to cultivate my professional and leadership skills overall. I’m still online… just more selectively than ever before.

I have increased energy as I am using laser-focus to determine which activities bring value to my profession and where I can also make a meaningful contribution.

Related post: How to delete LinkedIn contacts who spam you (and why you should) http://wp.me/pNAh3-1CO

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: De-grouping to be a more effective leader http://wp.me/pNAh3-1De

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


How ethical are you?

July 25, 2013

In some of the research courses I teach, ethics is one of the topics we cover. In a university, ethics applies to many areas of our work including how we interact with our students and our research assistants, how we grade students’ work and how we conduct research.

Research involving human subjects must receive official approval from the university’s Independent Review Board (IRB) before we are allowed to begin our research. This applies equally to faculty and students.

Sometimes students are quite puzzled by this idea. They ask me, “Why does an independent board have to give you ethics clearance before you start a research project? Shouldn’t people just do the right thing?”

The problem is that sometimes people don’t do the right thing. Or they don’t think through what they are doing to understand what impact of their research or actions might have on others.

In 1971 Dr. Zimbardo conducted a psychological study that became known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. Stanford University students were used as research subjects in the study, which was designed to simulate prison life. The experiment was planned for two weeks, but the shut down the experiment after only six days. The students who were role-playing as guards had become sadistic and malicious. Those who were role-playing as prisoners became depressed and showed signs of severe stress.

The experiment revealed a great deal about human behaviour and how power in a relationship can be easily abused.

The Stanford Prison Experiment has become a classic case to talk about when we learn about professional ethics.

In today’s world, it is unlikely that the experiment conducted by Dr. Zimbardo over 40 years ago would receive ethics clearance from an independent review board. It’s not that Dr. Zimbardo broke any laws. It’s that the risks to the research subjects would be too high.

It is worth noting that professional ethics goes beyond research. Inevitably, our class discussions get around to ethical conduct as part of every day professional practice. Students begin to develop an awareness of how their actions, words and attitudes may be harmful or unethical. I often recommend that they read Better Ethics Now: How to Avoid the Ethics Disaster You Never Saw Coming by Dr. Chris Bauer. He demystifies the topic of ethics in plain and simple language that is easy to understand.

Sometimes they ask me, “How do I know if what I am doing is ethical?”

I usually answer them in two ways:

Firstly, if you have to ask yourself that question, then chances are good that there may be an ethical issue.

Secondly, if you are really not sure, ask yourself this: If your greatest mentor was standing by your side, would they be proud of you for what you did?

That question assumes, of course, that our mentors are ethical, too. More often than not, we put our mentors up on a bit of a pedestal. We want them to be proud of us and we would feel happy if we had their approval.

If our mentors or colleagues disapprove of our actions or question our judgement, we probably are not acting in an ethical manner. Ethics isn’t about doing what’s legal. It’s about doing what’s right.

Every day we are faced with ethical choices as part of our daily professional practice. Ethics can be learned and they can be improved. That’s one of the aspects of Dr. Bauer‘s book that I really like. He let’s us know that everyone is capable of improving and learning to be more aware and more ethical every day.

Professionalism goes beyond using polite language or wearing business attire. At the core of our day-to-day interactions and professional actions, we must take care that we are never causing harm to others or putting them at any sort of risk, particularly when we are in a position of power.

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: How ethical are you?  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1D6

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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