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APA Guide (Based on the 6th Edition): Writing Style

Video Instruction


All content on this guide comes from the 6th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

  • Content that is to be typed in your paper is highlighted on the guide to differentiate it from other text. Do not highlight text in your paper.
  • All instructions are provided through the use of Microsoft Word 2010. Please note, steps may vary depending on the word processor you are using.


Grammar incorporates many elements, including diction, syntax, punctuation, abbreviation, etc.


Diction & Syntax (Word Choice & Arrangement)

  • Voice:  Active voice is highly preferred.
  • Economy of Expression: Short words and short sentences are preferred. Also, avoid jargon, wordiness, and redundancy in writing.
  • Clarity: Focus on making it clear and understandable by avoiding sentences that are too complex or due to the placement of clauses.
  • Person: Use first person pronouns to refer to yourself; use  third person pronouns to refer to others.
  • Scientific: Avoid stating opinion or "flowery language." State the facts as objectively as possible!
  • Which word should I use: who, that, or which?
    • Who - always use who when talking about humans
    • That - use that for animals and things when the clause is necessary to make a complete sentence (i.e., restrictive clauses)
    • Which - use which for animals and things when the clause only adds to the sentence (i.e., nonrestrictive clauses)

See pages 67, 77-86 of the manual for more information.


  • Use two spaces at the end of a sentence.
  • Colons: When can I use them?
    • Yes: Use colons between a grammatically complete introductory clause (i.e., one that could stand as a sentence) and a final phrase or clause that illustrates, extends, or amplifies the preceding thought. If the clause following the colon is a complete sentence, it begins with a capital letter. A colon is often used between a title and a subtitle (i.e., Quiet time: A nursing ...).
    • No: Do not use a colon after an introduction that is not an independent clause or complete sentence.
  • Semicolons: Use semicolons
    • to separate two independent clauses that are not joined by a conjunction
    • to separate elements in a series that already contain commas
  • Quotes: Periods and commas always fall within quotation marks. All other punctuation varies depending on the quote.

See pages 87-88 of the manual for more information. Also, more FAQs here:


Common Abbreviations
chap. chapter
ed. edition
Rev. ed. Revised edition
2nd ed. second edition
Ed. (Eds.) Editor (Editors)
Trans. Translators
n.d. no date
p. (pp.) Page (pages)
Vol. Volume (as in Vol. 4)
Vols. Volumes (as in 4 vols.)
No. Number
Pt. Part
Tech. Rep. Technical Report
Suppl. supplement


  • Avoid abbreviations that are not already commonly used (see table for some common abbreviations).
  • In most cases, write out the complete term or phrase with the abbreviation following in parentheses to continue using the abbreviation throughout the rest of the document.
  • Once an abbreviation is used, it must continue to be used throughout.
  • Avoid beginning a sentence with an abbreviation, especially those that begin with a lower-case letter.
  • Do not use spaces within an abbreviation (e.g., U.S.)

See pages 106-111 of the manual for more information. Also, more FAQs here:



See pages 111-114, 117-123 of the manual for more information.

Numbers, Mathematics, and Statistics

  • Numbers: Use numerals
    • for numbers 10 and higher (Exceptions: see sections 4.33-4.34)
    • for numbers before a unit of measurement (Example: 9 kilometers)
    • for numbers representing statistical or mathematical functions, fractions, decimals, percentages, etc.
    • for times, dates, ages, scores, points, sums of money, etc.
  • Numbers: Spell out the word
    • for numbers that begin a sentence, title, or text heading (Writers can start a sentence with a year expressed in numerals.)
    • for common fractions (e.g., two-thirds cup)
    • for universally accepted phrases (e.g. "Twelve Apostles")
  • Use spaces between numbers and mathematical operators. (Example: a + b = c)
  • Remember to name the statistical procedure you're using before reporting its results.
  • Percent(age) versus %:
    • Use the symbol when preceded by a numeral (e.g., "50% of people")
    • Spell out the word when a number isn't given (e.g., "a sizable percent" or "a significant percentage")
  • Formal abbreviations and symbols: These include p (lowercase italic) for probability and t (lowercase italic) for t-test and the sample value of the t-test statistic.
  • Anchors of a scale (example, 1 = low and 4 = high) are italicized.


See pages 111-114, 117-123 of the manual for more information.


You can eliminate wordiness in your writing if . . .

  • you mark sections of your writing that you struggled to produce.
    You likely included "false starts" or filler phrases in your writing when trying to put some ideas or arguments into words; this is natural. Don't worry about it as you write, but, after you're done with your draft, pass through your paper at least once, focusing only on eliminating unnecessary language. Pay particular attention to sections you struggled to get out.

  • you give yourself a breather before editing.
    Getting away from your paper will help give you the distance you'll need to see with "fresh eyes" what language is needed and what's not.

  • you learn what wordiness patterns are typical of your writing.
    Most people tend to fall into two or three patterns of wordiness when they write. Learn what your patterns are, and edit with those patterns in mind.

Replacement Phrases

Peruse the following list and identify changes you can make to reduce wordiness in your writing. While it can be helpful to make these changes, be sure that the message is still clear in your writing before doing so.

  • Omit the filler phrases "it is," "there is," and "there are" at the beginning of sentences; these often delay the sentence's true subject and verb.

    • Wordy

      It is expensive to upgrade computer systems.

    • Concise

      Upgrading computer systems is expensive.

  • Combine two closely related short sentences by omitting part of one.

    • Wordy

      The director is concerned about problems. Typical problems may occur with lighting, sound, and props.

    • Concise

      The director is concerned about typical problems with lighting, sound, and props.

  • Omit "this" from the beginning of a sentence by joining it to the preceding sentence with a comma.

    • Wordy

      Chlorofluorocarbons have been banned from aerosols. This has lessened the ozone layer's depletion.

    • Concise

      Chlorofluorocarbons have been banned from aerosols, lessening the ozone layer's depletion.

  • Change "which" or "that" constructions to an "-ing" word.

    • Wordy

      The committee, which meets monthly, oversees accounting procedures and audits.

    • Concise

      The committee, meeting monthly, oversees accounting procedures and audits.

  • Omit "which" or "that" altogether when possible.

    • Wordy

      Because the fluid, which was brown and poisonous, was dumped into the river, the company that was negligent had to shut down.

    • Concise

      Because the brown, poisonous fluid was dumped into the river, the negligent company had to shut down.

  • Replace passive verbs with active verbs. In passive constructions, the subject of the sentence is being acted upon; in active constructions, the subject is the actor.

    • Wordy

      Rain forests are being destroyed by uncontrolled logging.

    • Concise

      Uncontrolled logging is destroying rain forests.

  • Change "is" or "was" when they occur alone to a strong verb.

    • Wordy

      A new fire curtain is necessary for the stage.

    • Concise

      The stage needs a new fire curtain.

  • Replace "is," "are," "was," "were," or "have + an -ing word" to a simple present or past tense verb.

    • Wordy

      The South African government was undergoing significant changes.

    • Concise

      The South African government underwent significant changes.

  • Replace "should," "would," or "could" with strong verbs.

    • Wordy

      The environmental council could see several solutions.

    • Concise

      The environmental council saw several solutions.

  • Substitute strong verbs for "-tion" and "-sion" words whenever possible.

    • Wordy

      I submitted an application for the job.

    • Concise

      I applied for the job.

  • Replace prepositional phrases with one-word modifiers when possible. Prepositional phrases, those little relationship words like "of," "from," "after," etc., tend to bring in a lot of "-tion" and "-sion" words too.

    • Wordy

      The President of the Student Senate was in charge of the lobbying against the merger at the Minnesota Congress.

    • Concise

      The Student Senate President oversaw lobbying the Minnesota Congress against the merger.

  • Use a colon after a statement preceding a sentence of explanation, and leave out the beginning of the next sentence

    • Wordy

      The theater has three main technical areas. These areas are costumes, scenery, and lighting.

    • Concise

      The theater has three main technical areas: costumes, scenery, and lighting.


Content copied and adapted by Peace Ossom Williamson for educational purposes from Strategies for Reducing Wordiness ( by Judith Kilborn and may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the name of the writer; if you revise it, please add your name to the list of writers.

Three or fewer? If you have list of three or fewer items, you must keep them within the paragraph. Ex: "The participant’s three choices were (a) working with another participant, (b) working  with a team, and (c) working alone..” Set the elements with a series of lowercase letters in parentheses.

Three or more? In this case, you can keep these items within a sentence or paragraph, or you can separate them out into a list and capitalize and punctuate each item as if it were a complete sentence. Separate each item in the list with a lower-case letter and a period, for example:

   a. Example 1

   b. Example 2

   c. Example 3


Bullets or numbers?

Use numbers for an ordered list.

Use bullets for a list where the items do not need to be in a specific order.

See pages 63-65 of the manual for more information.



American Psychological Association. (2009a). The mechanics of style. In Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (pp. 87-124). Washington, DC:  Author.

American Psychological Association. (2009b). Writing clearly and concisely. In Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (pp. 61-86). Washington, DC:  Author.