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Research Papers in APA Format

Research evaluation tips
How to write a Literature Review

Writing for Psychology has a set of rules & guidelines that are agreed upon by the top organizations in the field.  These guidelines are published in "style guides" and it is required that you use the conventions in these books if you want to do writing for Psychology which includes publishing in research journals.  Most instructors require papers to conform to the APA style.  The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association is frequently recommended for papers.  This page describes basic formats for citing works within your paper and several of the common items included in cited literature (bibliographies and/or reference lists).

Organization of your paper
Most college papers are reviews of literature or position papers based on the literature. The paper, in effect, is meant to summarize and to teach about a specific topic or viewpoint. Typically a paper:

* states a problem
* summarizes past and current research
* discusses relationships, compares and
* contrasts or applies information to a problem.
When references are cited within the narrative, use the guidelines in sections 3.94 - 3.103 of the Publication Manual. See "Quoting" towards the end of this page... for a quick reference.

Why Cite?
Whenever you report something that you have read, you have both an ethical and a practical responsibility to cite where you read it. Ethically, you need to give due credit to authors for their words and ideas. Practically, citations identify your sources and tell the interested reader where to find them. This is especially important in research papers, which rely heavily on empirical evidence.  When you cite references in papers, it is important to use the conventions of the discipline so that the key information appears in a consistent way that everyone can understand. Psychology research articles usually use the style of the American Psychological Association (APA) and not that of the Modern Language Association (MLA), which you may have learned in English classes. An exception to using APA style in psychology is in the animal behavior literature, which usually uses other style conventions such as that of the Council of Biological Editors (CBE). It is not wrong to use APA style for papers in animal behavior, but your instructor may prefer that you use a style that is more typical in the biological literature.

When you write a paper for a psychology course, you are expected to use the format in this guide unless your instructor gives different requirements. For details about using APA style, see Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (4th ed.), also referred to as the "APA manual".

Writing should conform to the conventions of the APA style. Grammar and punctuation requirements are found in the Publication Manual. APA format does not use first names of authors and editors. Use initials.

A reference list is a list of the items cited in the body of the paper. Bibliographies may be items read in preparation but not cited specifically, or, a list of suggested items for further study. The Publication Manual, 4th ed. shows indentation of citations with the first line indented when preparing a manuscript for publication.

As student papers are not being prepared for publication, the Manual states that instructor preference always takes precedence over the Manual and that instructions to use the Publication Manual should always be accompanied by specific teacher instructions.   Some professors prefer the "hanging indent" and others the "paragraph."  See the following example:
Paragraph indent
        Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. (1983). Washington, DC:American Psychological Association. 

Hanging indent
Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. (1983). Washington, 
        DC:American Psychological Association. 

No indent
Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. (1983). Washington, DC:American Psychological Association.

The following examples show various cases in how a work might be cited:

Print Works

Journal article, one author

Harlow, H. F. (1983). Fundamentals for preparing psychology journal articles. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 55, 893-896.
Journal article, more than one author
Kernis, M. H., Cornell, D. P., Sun, C. R., Berry, A., & Harlow, T. (1993). There's more to self-esteem than whether it is high or low: The importance of stability of self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 1190-1204.
Work discussed in a secondary source
Coltheart, M., Curtis, B., Atkins, P., & Haller, M. (1993).  Models of reading aloud: Dual-route and parallel-distributed-processing approaches. Psychological Review, 100, 589-608.
N.B. Give the secondary source in the references list; in the text, name the original work, and give a citation for the secondary source. For example, if Seidenberg and McClelland's work is cited in Coltheart et al. and you did not read the original work, list the Coltheart et al. reference in the References. In the text, use the following citation:

Seidenberg and McClelland's study (as cited in Coltheart, Curtis, Atkins, & Haller, 1993)

Magazine article, one author
Henry, W. A., III. (1990, April 9). Making the grade in today's schools. Time, 135, 28-31.
Calfee, R. C., & Valencia, R. R. (1991). APA guide to preparing manuscripts for journal publication. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
An article or chapter of a book
O'Neil, J. M., & Egan, J. (1992). Men's and women's gender role journeys: Metaphor for healing, transition, and transformation. In B. R. Wainrib (Ed.), Gender issues across the life cycle (pp. 107-123). New York: Springer.
A government publication
National Institute of Mental Health. (1990). Clinical training in serious mental illness (DHHS Publication No. ADM 90-1679). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
A book or article with no author or editor named
Merriam-Webster's collegiate dictionary (10th ed.). (1993).  Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.

New drug appears to sharply cut risk of death from heart failure. (1993, July 15). The Washington Post, p. A12.

N.B. For parenthetical citations of sources with no author named, use a shortened version of the title instead of an author's name. Use quotation marks and underlining as appropriate. For example, parenthetical citations of the two sources above would appear as follows: (Merriam-Webster's, 1993) and ("New Drug," 1993).
A translated work and/or a republished work
Laplace, P. S. (1951). A philosophical essay on probabilities (F. W. Truscott & F. L. Emory, Trans.). New York: Dover. (Original work published 1814)
A review of a book, film, television program, etc.
Baumeister, R. F. (1993). Exposing the self-knowledge myth [Review of the book The self-knower: A hero under control]. Contemporary Psychology, 38, 466-467.
An entry in an encyclopedia
Bergmann, P. G. (1993). Relativity. In The new encyclopedia britannica (Vol. 26, pp. 501-508). Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica.
Post-tenure review.  (1995). Academe, 84, 61-67.

Interviews are considered personal communication and do not provide recoverable information. Do not included any form of personal communication in the reference list when using APA format. In the text, cite the interview in the following ways: J. A. Jones (personal communication, January 1, 1996) stated... ...was important news (J. A. Jones, personal communication, January 1, 1996).

Citing Electronic Resources
The World Wide Web (WWW) is a way to find multimedia information on computers called servers, on the Internet. Files found on the WWW should be acknowledged and cited like any other information. Sometimes information is available in paper (eg. magazine article) and also on the WWW. Always cite the version you used as there is no guarantee that they are exactly the same.

Included here are  APA citation exemplars for the files found on the WWW. As electronic publishing is quickly growing and changing, the recommendations on citation format are also developing. These examples are based on the original APA format guides and articles published on this topic. The basic forms mirror the analogous print resources (articles, books) but should include the publication medium (WWW address), the date you found it.

One important difference in citing WWW sources is that page numbers are not used in the body of a paper.  Electronic articles are one file and therefore one page.  Links to additional files are also each just one page.  If the article is also in print form and a starting page number  or inclusive page numbersis are used in a periodical index or on a webpage, that page number(s) is part of the citation on your literature cited page but not used in the body of your paper.

Electronically stored information is mutable. It is also ephemeral and may be here today and gone tomorrow, or it may move to another server at a new location. Take care to get the complete information needed for your citation. It may be several different files such as the journal title page and the article itself which may have several files.

N.B.  Your instructor will probably require a copy of the complete source used if cited in your paper.  Might as well turn it in with the research paper before you're asked to!

The basic style for web delivered citations is:

Author. Title of ElectronicWork.  Date of access.  www address
Individual Electronic Work without author
Latin Phrases and Words Used in English. Retrieved December 10, 1999 from the World Wide Web:
Individual Electronic Work with author
Beard, Robert. A Web on On-line Dictionaries. Retrieved December 10, 1999 from the World Wide Web:
Part of a Work
Definition of mutable. In Hypertext Webster Interface. Retrieved January 16, 1996 from the World Wide Web: 5103/prog/webster?mutable
Journal Article
Steele, K.M., Bass, K.E. & Crook, M.D. (1999). The mystery of the Mozart effect:  failure to replicat. Psychological Science, 10 (4), 366(4). Retrieved September 8, 1999 from the World Wide Web:
Magazine Article
Grochow, J. M. (1999, August). Productivity and the IT personnel shortage. PC Week. 23: 75. Retrieved September 8, 1999 from the World Wide Web:
Newspaper Article
Boshart, R. (1999, May 19). GOP resumes tax-cut push. The Gazette, Retrieved from the World Wide Web September 8, 1999:
Image (art reproduction, photograph or other graphic)
Kaufman, S. (ca 1993). Japanese Crane in Snow. Retrieved November 10, 1999 from the World Wide Web:

Cite only work that you have actually read. If you read about a book or article but did not actually read the source yourself, your citation needs to make clear what you did and did not read.  When you write about something that you read, you must not only cite your source but also paraphrase the ideas that you present (quoting is uncommon in scientific writing; see Quotes later in this guide). Although you may not realize it, you are plagiarizing if you just change a few words around. If you avoid looking at the author's words while you are trying to explain an idea, it is easier to present an author's idea in an original way.

When using APA format, follow the author-date method of citation. This means that the author's last name and the year of publication for the source should appear in the text, and a complete reference should appear in the reference list.

Paraphrasing within the body of your text

  •      Smith (1970) compared reaction times . . .
  •      In a recent study of reaction times (Smith, 1970), . . .
  •      In 1970, Smith compared reaction times . . .
Short Quotations
To indicate short quotations (fewer than 40 words) in your text, enclose the quotation within double quotation marks. Provide the author, year, and specific page citation in the text, and include a complete reference in the reference list. Punctuation marks such as periods, commas, and semicolons should appear after the parenthetical citation. Question marks and exclamation points should appear within the quotation marks if they are a part of the quotation but after the parenthetical citation if they are a part of your text.   Examples:
She stated, "The placebo effect disappeared when behaviors were studied in this manner" (Miele, 1993, p. 276), but she did not clarify which behaviors were studied.

According to Miele (1993), "the placebo effect disappeared when behaviors were studied in this manner" (p. 276).

Miele (1993) found that "the placebo effect disappeared" in this case (p. 276), but what will the next step in researching this issue be?

Long Quotations

Place quotations longer than 40 words in a free-standing block of typewritten lines, and omit quotation marks. Start the quotation on a new line, indented five spaces from the left margin. Type the entire quotation on the new margin, and indent the first line of any subsequent paragraph within the quotation five spaces from the new margin. Maintain double-spacing throughout. The parenthetical citation should come after closing punctuation mark.   Example:
Miele's 1993 study found the following:
The placebo effect disappeared when behaviors were studied in this manner.  Furthermore, the behaviors were never exhibited again, even when real drugs were administered. Earlier studies conducted by the same group of researchers at the hospital were clearly premature in attributing the results to a placebo effect. (p. 276)

General Format of Research Papers
Your essay should be typed, double-spaced on standard-sized paper (8.5 X 11 inches) with margins of 1 inch on all sides. Your final essay should include, in the order indicated below, as many of the following sections as are applicable, each of which should begin on a separate page:

  • title page, which includes a running head for publication on the first line of the page flush left; the manuscript page header with page number in the top right corner, a half inch from the top of the page on this and every other page; and the title, author's name, and institutional affiliation, centered.
    • N.B. The running head notice on the first line of the page serves to notify editors of a shortened version of your title to be used at the top of each page in the final published version of the essay. This shortened title should not exceed 50 characters, including punctuation and spaces. If the essay is for an academic course and is not intended for publication, you may omit the running head notice.
  • abstract
  • text
  • references
  • appendices
  • author identification notes
  • footnotes
  • tables
  • figure captions
  • figures
The pages of your manuscript should be numbered consecutively, beginning with the title page, as part of the manuscript header in the upper right corner of each page. Your references should begin on a separate page from the text of the essay under the label References (with no quotation marks, underlining, etc.), centered at the top of the page. Appendices and notes should be formatted similarly.

Keep in mind that underlining and italics are equivalent. Choose one or the other form to use throughout your paper.

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