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 APA writing guidelines


Just like journal articles and books, research papers and seminar papers also have to follow certain formal requirements. In the social sciences it is the stylesheet of the American Psychological Association (APA) that we use. At SEAS these rules apply to linguistics, applied linguistics and  methodology papers.  The APA guidelines give directions on the


format and presentation of academic writing, on

spelling and punctuation and on

how to cite and refer to the works of others.


This page gives a practical overview of the most important aspects of these requirements.





For further information you can refer to the following websites:


Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) on APA https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_style_introduction.html


APA style Online http://www.apastyle.org

For further details on referencing see the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. (6th. ed.) Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.


A few ideas about automated reference generation can be found HERE.







Unless the course tutor instructs you otherwise, the guidelines below can be used for formatting papers.   (The text is based on



General Document Guidelines  


Margins: 2.5 cms /1 inch on all sides (top, bottom, left, right)         


Font Size and Type: 12-pt. font (Times Roman or Courier)         


Spacing: Double-space throughout the paper, including the title page, abstract, body of the document, references, appendices, footnotes, tables, and figure captions except for long quotations and the table of contents, where you can use 1.5 or single spacing.         


Alignment: Use justified pages (both the left and right margins are even) or flush left (i.e. the right margin is uneven)         


Paragraph Indentation: Indent all paragraphs by 5-7 spaces (generally one Tab unit)        


Pagination: The page number should appear one inch (2.5 cms) from the right edge of the paper on the first line of every page in the header, beginning with the title page.      


Page Header: This does not apply for pieces of writing that are bound into a volume but can be useful for loose pages that are only held together by a paperclip: The author's name and the first two or three words of the paper title appear to the left of the page number on every page, following the title page. Using most word processors, the page header and page number can be inserted into a header, which then automatically appears on all pages.


Notes:  Notes may be substantive or explanatory or may identify sources. In APA, footnotes are used rather than end notes.

Footnotes supplement or amplify substantive information in the text, and therefore should not contain irrelevant or nonessential information. They should only be used if they strengthen the discussion. Whenever possible, integrate the information in the text rather than add a footnote.



Structure of a paper


Order of the Sections of a Paper:  Title Page, Abstract, Table of Contents, List of Tables, List of Figures, List of Abbreviations, Body, References, Appendices, Tables, Figures. Please note, however, that not all of these sections may be necessary in all papers.


Title Page

Pagination: The Title Page is page 1.         

Key Elements: Paper title, author, course code and title, tutor’s name

        Paper Title: Uppercase and lowercase letters, centered on the page.         

        Author(s): Uppercase and lowercase letters, centered on the line following the title.         
        Course details and tutor’s name:
    Uppercase and lowercase letters, centered on the lines following

                                                              the author.         


 This is a sample title page:






Facets of Intercultural Communication in English




Keserű Dániel





ANG-362/b  Discourse Analysis

October 2005




Tutor: Dr. Savanyú Lujza










Abstract: The abstract is a one-paragraph, self-contained summary of the most important elements of the paper. NB: This is not a preview but a summary.

Pagination: The abstract begins on a new page (page 2).         

Heading: Abstract

Format: The abstract (in block format) begins on the line following the Abstract heading. The abstract normally does not exceed 120 words. All numbers in the abstract (except those beginning a sentence) should be typed as digits rather than words. 


Table of contents / Overview of sections:  The table of contents is a mandatory element in a thesis or dissertation. An overview of sections is optional in a long seminar paper.


List of tables: This is a list of the tables - relevant in theses or dissertations.


List of figures: This is a list of the figures - relevant in theses or dissertations.


List of Acronyms: If you use a large number of acronyms in your paper, it is a good idea to list them together with

                             their meaning.



Pagination: The body of the paper begins on a new page as do all main chapters or main sections. Subsections of the body of the paper do not begin on new pages.         

Headings: Headings are used to organize the document.

Sections: The decimal system is used for numbering. This reflects the relative importance of sections. The main sections are indicated by one digit numbers while the subheadings by two or three digits. The digits are divided by a period but there is no period after the last digit.


The typical sections in the body of an empirical research paper, with the possible numbering, are:

1 Introduction  Introduces and defines the topic/problem, states its relevance, gives a   preview of the study and states the research questions


2 Review of the literature / background - Demonstrates the setting of the topic, reviews the relevant literature, establishes a research niche  


3 Methods  Describes in detail how the study was conducted so that the reader can establish the reliability and validity or credibility of the study; possible subsections are:

   3.1 Participants and setting

   3.2 Methods of data collection

      3.2.1 Instruments

      3.2.2 Procedures

   3.3 Methods of data analysis


4 Results        This section summarizes the data collected.

5 Discussion   This is the interpretation of the results. Answers are offered to the research question(s).   


        It is also possible to combine these two sections under a so called "Results and discussion" section.


6 Conclusion   Summarizes the results and answers the research questions, outlines the broader implications , points to the limitations of the study and future directions.


References       Lists the details of the sources used in the text.


Appendices     Contains materials to which reference is made in the text but which

would be distracting to present in the body of the text. These may be document

extracts, sample questionnaires, interview protocols, the translation of these where

relevant, sample transcripts of interviews, samples of filled in  questionnaires, etc.


            The following sections may appear in the Appendices or separately afterwards:

Tables        If tables are important but cannot be put in the body of the text, they

appear here. These are usually tables of numerical results.           

Figures      If figures are important but cannot be put in the body of the text, they

appear here. These are usually graphs or illustrations.




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Hints on spelling and punctuation:


The layout of punctuation marks:

Punctuation marks follow the word they are used after without a space. The word after the punctuation mark starts after a space.


Quotation marks - which in English are always printed at the top of the line - come before and after the word or phrase they refer to without a space. E.g. "a phrase in quotation marks"


Hyphens connect words with no spaces. E.g. role-play


A dash is used to alert the reader that additional or explanatory information follows. They are used without spaces, but spaces are also allowed. If a keyboard has no key for a dash, two hyphens can be used.

E.g. The two other items--a boardgame and a puzzle--were not very popular.





Use a comma before a conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet) linking two independent clauses:

            Canadians watch America closely, but most Americans know little about Canada.


Use a comma after an introductory clause, phrase or word:

To prepare for the exam, Jan attended an evening school after work.


Use a comma after a conjunctive adverb at the beginning of a sentence or clause:

Labor unions no longer denounce the use of robots in manufacturing. Nevertheless,

some of the problems caused by automation remain unsolved.

Various factors had to be considered. However, a fast decision was vital.

      Except After a short introductory phrase or adverb:    Today students protest

       individually rather than in concert.


Use a comma or a set of commas to set off non-restrictive elements: words, phrases, and clauses that are not essential to the meaning of the sentences in which they appear:

Dorothy Straight of Washington D.C., who published her first book at the age of six,     

was a remarkable child.

The surgeon, her hands moving deftly, probed the wound.


Use commas to separate three or more coordinate items in a series:

The cat awoke, stretched(,) and leaped from the chair.

Research needs to be carefully planned, meticulously carried out, and the writing up is

also important.


Use commas to separate two or more coordinate adjectives modifying the same noun:

A big, old, dilapidated house stood on the corner.


Use a comma when you need one to prevent a misreading of your sentence:

On the left, walls of sheer ice rose over five thousand feet into the clouds.


Do not use a comma before a conjunction that links a pair of words or phrases:

            He was genial but shrewd.

            I phoned the store and asked to speak to the manager.


Do not use commas to separate adjectives when they are not coordinate (i.e. when they do not modify the same noun.)

            His deep blue eyes stared at me.


Do not use a comma before and in a compound phrase with just two items.

            The man carried a blue suitcase and a red umbrella.





Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses that are closely related in meaning:

During the summer the resort crowded with tourists; during the winter only sea gulls perch on the benches or

walk the beach.


Use a semicolon with a conjunctive adverb (a word or phrase that shows the relationship btw. the clauses it joins) when it joins two clauses.

The Iron Duke had complete confidence in his soldiers' training and valor; furthermore,

he considered his battle plan a work of genius.


Use semicolons to emphasize the division between items in a series when one or more of the items include commas:

There were three new delegates at the meeting: Ms. Barbara Smith from Red Bank, New

Jersey; Ms. Beth Waters from Pocmutuck, Massachusetts; and Mr. James Papson from

Freeport, Maine.





Use a colon to introduce a list coming at the end of a sentence:

Passengers may have four beverages: coffee, tea, milk(,) or soda.


Use a colon to introduce an example or an explanation related to something just mentioned:

The animals have a good many of our practical skills: some insects make pretty fair architects, and beavers

know quite a lot about engineering.


Use a colon to introduce a quotation (usually more than one line) in an essay:

            In the opening sentence of his novel, Sabatini says of his hero: 'He was born with the

            gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad.'



The use of quotation marks:


Use double quotation marks for

          - introducing a word or phrase that is not used in its original meaning the first time

               you use it in the paper                 

         - setting off the title of an article, chapter or book when the title is mentioned in the   


         - reproducing in-text quotations

Use single quotation marks for quotations within quotations.


Do not use quotation marks

- to introduce technical terms, instead italicize the term

- to cite a term as a linguistic example, instead italicize the term

- to hedge, i.e. to attenuate the meaning of the word.





Dictionaries should be used for checking the spelling of compound words and phrases.

As a general rule, hyphens should be used with:

    - a compound with a participle when it precedes the term it modifies. (e.g. role-playing  

       technique, anxiety-arousing condition)

    - a phrase used as an adjective when it precedes the term it modifies. (e.g. trial-by-trial

       analysis, to-be-recalled items)

    - an adjective-and-noun compound when it precedes the term it modifies. (e.g. middle-

       class families, low-frequency words)

    - a compound with a number as the first element when it precedes the term it modifies.

       (e.g. 1st-grade students, six-trial problem)




Text in brackets:


Avoid inserting text in brackets to clarify or illustrate meaning. Incorporate the information in the text itself.




Abbreviations and acronyms:


The overuse of acronyms makes a text difficult to read. Make sure that abbreviations -even common acronyms- are spelt out when they are first used in a text. In this case the full form appears first, followed by the abbreviation in parentheses. If you have a large number of acronyms that are used throughout the text, you might want to consider including an explanation of acronyms at the beginning of the paper.


Use of periods with abbreviations:

   Use periods with:      - initials of names (J.R. Smith)

                                  - abbreviation for United States when used as an adjective (U.S. navy)

                                  - identity concealing labels for study participants (F.I.M.)

                                  - Latin abbreviations (a.m., cf., i.e., vs.)

                                  - reference abbreviations (Vol. 1, 2nd ed., p.6.)


  Do not use periods with

                                 - abbreviations of state names (NY, Washington DC) in reference lists

                                 - capital letter abbreviations (APA, IQ)

                                 - measurement abbreviations (kg, lb, min, ft)


Common Abbreviations



Rev. ed.

2nd. ed.


p. (pp.)




edition / editor

revised edition

second edition


page (pages)




In the text:











for example

and so forth

that is


versus, against






The general rule is to use figures to express numbers 10 and above and words to express numbers below 10. However, exceptions exist:


Use figures to express numbers below 10 if

- they are grouped for comparison with other numbers in the same paragraph (e.g. 25

   words...8 verbs, 12 nouns and 5 adjectives)

- they are interpretations of numbers appearing in a table or figure (e.g. line 5 in Figure 4...)

- they precede a unit of measurement (e.g. a 5-mg dose,  2 litres of milk )

- they represent statistical or mathematical functions, quantities, ratios, percentages, etc.

   (e.g. multiplied by 5,  3% of the population...)

- they represent time (e.g. March 3, 2005 , 12:30 a.m., 2 weeks ago)

- they represent participants in an experiment, scores and points on a scale, exact sums of

   money (e.g. 9 rats, $8, the highest score was 4)

- they represent  a specific place in  a book  article, etc. (e.g. Table 3, Chapter 7)


Use words to express numbers if

- they stand at the beginning of a sentence (e.g. Forty-eight percent of the sample showed

   an increase, while 2 % showed no change.)

- they are common fractions (e.g. one fifth of the class)

- they are set phrases (e.g. The Fourth of July, the Ten Commandments, )


Figures and words are combined in the case of

- rounded large numbers starting with millions (e.g. 3 million people, a budget of 2.5 billion)

- back-to-back modifiers (e.g. 2 two-way interactions,  twenty 6-year-olds, the first 10 

   items, )


Roman numerals: Only use roman numerals if they are part of an established terminology, otherwise use Arabic numerals. (e.g. Type II errors)





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In-text citation


The APA format documents a paper's sources by both citing them in the text and describing them bibliographically in the paper's References list.

Reference Citations in Text: the Author-date Method


1. Integral and non-integral citation (Swales, 1990):


Brie (1988) showed that the moon is made of cheese.

The moon’s cheesy composition was established by Brie (1988).

Brie’s theory (1988) claims that the moon is made of cheese.

Brie’s (1988) theory of lunar composition has general support.

According to Brie (1988), the moon is made of cheese.


Previous research has shown that the moon is made of cheese (Brie, 1988).

It has been shown that the moon is made of cheese (Brie, 1988).

The moon is probably made of cheese (Brie, 1988).

2. One work by one author: 

Alderson (1991) pointed out that TEST is a four-letter word. However, Alderson also …

3. One work by multiple authors:

 Two authors:

Tarone and Yule (1989) compared student talking times …

 Three or more authors:

            -   First citation:

                   Kis, Nagy and Legnagyobb (1995) argue that …

            - Subsequent first citation per paragraph thereafter: -

                    Kis et al. (1995) also found …

            - Subsequent citations after first citation within a paragraph (omit year):

                    Kis et al. discovered evidence of …

4. Works with no author:

The book College Bound Seniors (1979) is …

5. Authors with the same surname: 

R. D. Luce (1959) and P. A. Luce (1986) also studied …

6. Two or more works published in the same year and in-press works: 

Several studies (Johnson, 1991a, 1991b, 1991c; Smith, 1983, in press-a, in press-b)have confirmed …

7. Direct quotation: cite word by word, use quotation marks, indicate exact location 

As Larsen-Freeman (1990) points out, “In the second language teaching field there is no interdependence among theory, practice and research” (p.261).


As Larsen-Freeman (1990, p.261) points out, “In the second language teaching field there is no interdependence among theory, practice and research.”


“In the second language teaching field there is no interdependence among theory, practice and research” (Larsen-Freeman, 1990, p.261).

8. Citing works discussed in a secondary source: name the original work, give a citation for the secondary source (in the References list only the secondary source appears) 

Seidenberg and McClelland's study (as cited in Coltheart, Curtis, Atkins, & Haller, 1993, p.56) …

9. Long quotations (usually those of 40 words or more): indent them 5 spaces from the left margin, use 1.5 or single spacing, do not use quotation marks, put source after period.  

        … However, there seems to be no consensus in the literature regarding the practical applicability

        of second language acquisition research.

        There are those who believe that second language acquisition research  is still at such a

        preliminary stage that it is premature to base any proposals for language teaching upon it

        yet. There are others, among whom I count myself, who believe that it is the task of the

        applied linguist to make practical use of whatever knowledge is available at the time. We

        cannot constantly be waiting to see what is round the corner. We must be prepared to stick

        our necks out. (Corder, 1984, p.58)

10. Personal communication (including letters, memos, electronic communication, telephone conversations): because they do not provide recoverable data, they are not included in the reference list!

K. W. Connor (personal communication, April 18, 1993) expressed concern regarding …


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When to quote?


Beginner researchers typically overuse direct quotations.

Only use direct quotation if

  • it is a definition,

  • it communicates a controversial issue and you want to make sure that you are not misinterpreting anything,

  • something is extremely well formulated and you cannot or do not want to word it another way.

In all other cases summarise the author's ideas in your own words and indicate your source very clearly by including the author's name and the publication date in parentheses.




Plagiarism is using another person's language or ideas without acknowledgement. This also applies to unpublished materials (e.g., student theses, lectures, lecture handouts, internet pages). If you want to quote from such materials, document the source explicitly. Intentional or not, all plagiarism is theft; therefore, it will result in the immediate rejection of your thesis.


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References should be placed at the end of the paper, in the References section, listing each source cited in the text alphabetically by the author's name (or by a work's title when no author is given). For details, see the examples below. Please note the use of punctuation marks, capital and small case letters in each of the examples. All the works or authors listed in the Reference section must be referred to in the text.


Examples of items in the references section




Type of reference



Book/single author

Ellis, R. (1985). Understanding second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Book/single author/2nd edition

Popham, J. W. (1990). Modern educational measurement (2nd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.


Book/joint authors

O'Malley, J. M., & Chamot, A. U. (1990). Learning strategies in second language acquisition. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Non-English book

Piaget, J., & Inhelder, B. (1951). La genèse de l’idée de hazard chez l’enfant [The origin of the idea of chance in the child]. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.


Edited book

Phillipson, R., Kellerman, E., Selinker, L., Sharwood Smith, M., & Swain, M. (Eds.). (1991). Foreign/second language pedagogy research: A commemorative volume for Claus Færch. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.


Book, no author or editor

Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary (10th Ed.). (1983). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.


Journal article/single author

Medgyes, P. (1993). The national L2 curriculum in Hungary. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 13, 24-36.


Journal article/joint authors

Klimoski, R., & Palmer, S. (1993). The ADA and the hiring process in Organizations. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 45(2), 10-36.


Journal article/multiple authors

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language, 50, 696-735.


Non-English journal article (title to be translated into English)

Heltai, P. (2002). Rutin és kreativitás a szakfordításban [Routine and creativity in non-literary translation]. Alkalmazott Nyelvtudomány, 2(1), 19-40.

Text retieved from the Internet

(See more details below this table.)

Council of Europe. (2001). Common European Framework of Reference

        for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. Cambridge:

        Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 14, November 2014 from


Magazine article

Kandel, E. R., & Squire, L. R. (2000, November 10). Neuroscience: Breaking down scientific barriers to the study of brain and mind. Science, 290, 1113-1120.


Chapter/article in an edited book

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1991). Cooperative learning and classroom and school climate. In B. J. Fraser, & H. J. Walberg (Eds.), Educational environments (pp.55-74). Oxford: Pergamon.


Paper presented at a conference

Nádasdy, Á. (1993, April). The right accent: Pronunciation and tradition in TESOL. Paper presented at the 27th Annual TESOL Convention, Atlanta, GA.


Unpublished doctoral dissertation

Duff, P. A. (1993). Changing times, changing minds: Language socialization in Hungarian-English Schools. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.


Unpublished thesis

Kossuth, L. (1995). Freedom in the buffet: An analysis of student interaction and eating habits. Unpublished master’s thesis, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary.


Personal communication

Cite only in text, not in the References section.


Government document

U.S. Bureau of the Census. (1989). Statistical abstract of the United States (109th ed.). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.


Encyclopaedia and dictionary

Baker, M. (Ed.). (1998). Routledge encyclopedia of translation studies (1st ed.). London: Routledge.

(For major reference works with a large editorial board, you may list the name of the lead editor, followed by “et al.”)


Entry in an encyclopaedia

Bergmann, P. G. (1993). Relativity. In The new encyclopedia Britannica (Vol. 26, pp.501-508). Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica.



Miller, A. (1990). The untouched key: Tracing childhood trauma in creativity and destructiveness (H. & H. Hannum, Trans.). New York: Doubleday. (Original work published in 1988).


Review of a book

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.


Material from information service or database

Horn, P. (1989). The Victorian Governess. History of Education, 18, 333-344. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ 401 533).


With multiple works by the same author, arrange the items in the order of their publication. If the year of publication happens to be the same, use small letters (a, b, c, ...) to distinguish between the works. If the References contain a work written by a particular author and another work co-authored by the same author, the single-author’s work should come first regardless of the publication dates.



Referring to electronically available materials


Retrieval information: electronic sources

Purdue Online Writing Lab: Reference List: Electronic Sources (Web Publications) http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/10/


Eid, M., & Langeheine, R. (1999). The measurement of consistency and occasion specificity with latent class models: A new model and its application to the measurement affect. Psychological Methods, 4, 100-116. Retrieved November 19, 2000, from PsycARTICLES database.


Reference to Internet articles based on print source


VandenBos, G., Knapp, S., & Doe, J. (2001). Role of reference elements in the selection of resources by psychology undergraduates [Electronic version]. Journal of Bibliographic Research, 5, 117-123.


Reference to an article in an Internet-only journal


Fredrickson, B. L. (2000, March 7). Cultivating positive emotions to optimize health and well-being. Prevention & Treatment, 3, Article 0001a. Retrieved November 20, 2000, from http://journals.apa.org/prevention/volume3/pre0030001a.html


Reference to document available on university program or department Web site


Chou, L., McClintock, R., Moretti, F., & Nix, D. H. (1993). Technology and education: New wine in new bottles: Choosing parts and imagining educational features. Retrieved August 24, 2000, from Columbia University, Institute for Learning Technologies Web site: http://www.ilt.columbia.edu/publications/papers/newwinel.html


Reference to computer program


Miller, M. E. (1993). The Interactive Tester (Version 4.0) [Computer software]. Westminster, CA: Psytek Services.


Reference to stand-alone document, no author identified, no date


GVU’s 8th WWW user survey. (n.d.). Retrieved August 8, 2000, from http://www.cc.gatech.edu/gvu/






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