Writing Rules

Using APA format involves following specific rules in writing. Some of these rules relate to how you communicate, such as choice of words and how to form sentences or paragraphs. Other rules will relate to how you present your writing, such as use of abbreviations and punctuation.

The following writing rules should be followed when writing. Take the time to learn them so that the format of your writing is consistent throughout the document and that it follows the requirements of APA format.

Abbreviations should be avoided. Do not use the following abbreviations in text instead write their meaning in full. For instance, instead of writing etc., use “et cetera” or “and so forth”; instead of vs., use “versus”; instead of i.e. use “that is”, and write “for example” instead of e.g. The exception to this general rule is when writing in parentheses (brackets). Use abbreviations for text that appears in parentheses. For example you should write: (e.g., red, blue, and black) and not: (for example, red, blue, and black).
Acronyms can be employed but only after the term is expressed fully the first time it is used, and then followed by the abbreviation in parentheses. For example:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been described ...
“Affect” versus “effect”
Many people get these two words confused. “Affect” is usually used as a verb and “effect” can be a noun or verb. See the example below.

The effect [result] of the medication was substantial.

Parenting behaviours were found to affect [influence] the child’s behaviour.
Bias in writing
The following are some guidelines for writing about participants with respect.

1. The singular “they” is endorsed as the generic third person pronoun rather than the use of ‘he’ or ‘she’ to avoid assumptions about gender. When using a plural verb with the singular pronoun write “they are”.

2. Avoid ambiguity or assumptions when reporting gender identity by being specific about whether participants are cisgender, transgender, non-binary gender, or another gender identity. Cisgender refers to individuals whose sex assigned at birth aligns with their gender identity. Transgender refers to individuals whose gender identity does not conform to their sex assigned at birth. Use specific nouns to identify individuals or people (e.g. transgender man, cisgender female, gender-neutral person). Also, avoid gendered ending occupation titles. For example, the term "policemen" suggests male police officers. In contrast, the term "police officers" refers to all individuals.

3. The term "sexual orientation" is a preferable to "sexual preference". “Preference” suggests a level of voluntary choice that is not necessarily reported by all gender identities. Avoid the terms “homosexual” and “homosexuality.” Use specific identity-first terms to describe sexual orientation (e.g., bisexual people, a gay man, lesbian women).

4. When referring to someone who has a disability or illness, specifically adopt names of conditions or culturally respective terms. For instance, use the terminology, “An adult with schizophrenia” rather than “a schizophrenic”. Another example is that Deaf individuals culturally prefer to be called “Deaf” rather than “people who are deaf”.

5. When referring to the age of participants the following terminology is appropriate. For an individual 12 years old or under, use “child”, “boy”, “girl”, or “infant” for very young children. For individuals aged 13-17 years, use “adolescent”, “young person”, and “youth”. For individuals 18 years and older, use “adult”, “man”, and “woman”. When referring to individuals who are older, avoid terms such as “elderly” but rather, use terms like “older person” or “older adults”.

6. Do not contrast one group of participants with another group called “normal”. Instead write, for example, “we compared people with dementia to people without dementia”.

Forming the plural
The plural of many words in English is formed simply by adding “s”. This simple rule should be applied when forming the plural of abbreviations and numerals. For example, "GPs" as the plural of "GP", "the 1960s" to indicate the years of that decade. Do not use the apostrophe for this purpose.

Note that some words of Latin origin form the plural in a different way. For example, datum, the singular, gives rise to the plural data; criterion, the singular, has criteria as the plural; phenomenon, the singular, has phenomena as the plural. For example:

  • The data were analysed using the t test.

  • The several phenomena are termed parameters of habituation.

  • The criterion adopted was one trial without error.

  • Other criteria have been used by researchers elsewhere.

Page numbering
The page numbers of your own work are always placed in the TOP RIGHT CORNER of your essay or assignment in the header.
Punctuation is about where to pause (comma, semi-colon, and colon), stop (full stop and question mark) or take a detour (dashes, brackets). To read about how to use punctuation correctly please review Chapter 6 in the APA Publication Manual (7th Edition, 2019).
Use of “and” or “&” when referencing
Use an ampersand, “&”, when listing authors in your reference list and in-text citations. Use “and” when writing about an author’s point in the body of your report or essay. See examples below:

They have also been invaluable for understanding and treating clients that were previously thought to be untreatable (Westen & Cohen, 1993).

Westen and Cohen (1993) pointed out that empirical evidence linking personality disorders with problems in the child’s developmental stages is weak or unsupported.
Use of numbers
Generally, numbers less than and including ten are expressed as words (e.g. “five participants”), and numbers above ten are expressed as numerics (e.g., “100 participants”).