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 beyond 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 high 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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10 Great writing resources for grad students

April 23, 2013

Sarah Eaton blog technology researchAfter teaching “Writing Educational Research” for Master’s of Education students at the University of Calgary a number of times now, I’ve come up with a list of my top 10 favorite, free online resources for grad students, emerging scholars and educational professionals:

Basics of APA Style (Tutorial) – The tutorial is “chunked out” into 23 sections, each less than 1 minute long. In total, the tutorial is about 21 minutes long. It is highly practical and full of “how to” information.

Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) – One of the best online resources for APA style for students and faculty. The APA Formatting and Style Guide is particularly helpful.

APA Quick Reference Guide – Produced by the University of North Carolina School of Social Work, this quick reference guide highlights the most important points of the APA manual for students.

Academic Writing and Publishing by James Hartley – This comprehensive 209-page resource book is available free of charge to students in .pdf format. It is a must-have for grad students.

Worksheets for academic writers by Wendy Belcher – Designed to accompany Belcher’s text, Writing Your Journal Article in 12-weeks, these worksheets help writers plan and organize their writing projects.

Advice on Academic Writing from the University of Toronto -This site offers academic writers advice on topics such as planning, organizing, using sources, style, editing and more.

Outlining and Organizing Your Writing from the University of Maryland – This site has links to a number of different resources designed to help students learn how to outline and organize their writing projects.

English Grammar Handbook from the University of Athabasca – This free online e-book addresses many grammar concepts that academic writers need to know such as sentence and paragraph structure and how to avoid misusing common words in academic writing.

Graduate Writing Checklist from John Hopkins University – This handy checklist is designed specifically for graduate students to review before they hand in their papers.

Academic Writing Checklist from the University of Warwick – This checklist is more reflective in nature, challenging emerging scholars to engage in a metacognitive process about their own writing.

Academic writing takes practice and time to learn and with these free online resources to help you, it will be even easier.

Related posts:

12 Phrases to Avoid in Your Academic Research Papers http://wp.me/pNAh3-1JX

Active vs. passive voice — How to tell the difference http://wp.me/pNAh3-1HX

Why APA formatting matters http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hc

How many sources do you need in a literature review?  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hu

What’s the difference between a citation and a reference? http://wp.me/pNAh3-1F9

Why “as cited in” should be avoided in academic writing  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1BH

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

Share or Tweet this: 10 Great writing resources for grad students – http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Bc

This blog has had over 1.5 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!


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