APA is Not Formatting (only)

APA Publication Manual Cover

For those of us who have used APA for teaching and tutoring for a long time, we sometimes say or write “APA formatting” when we discuss an assignment that requires students to use APA Publication Manual guidelines.  However, using the word “format” to describe a paper that is to follow APA Style® guidelines is problematic.

In a previous post, APA is not Grammar, we discussed the importance of distinguishing APA from grammar to assist student learning.  Clearly differentiating between APA formatting guidelines and APA citation guidelines can also help student learning.

There are two primary issues:

1)     The word “format” connotes the actual layout design of the paper, which includes things like margins, line spacing, and title page requirements. This word does not clearly indicate citation and reference requirements.

2)     Using the word “format” to describe APA requirements disillusions students, causing them to doubt the importance of citations in their academic writing because it seems to equate in-text citations and reference lists with line spacing and page numbers.

Therefore, in the KUWC, we make the clear distinction between APA formatting and APA citation style in our resources and workshops.  This distinction helps students understand that APA Style® is concerned with how their words look on the page, and how they communicate their ideas and research by giving appropriate credit.

If we use more descriptive language, such as the terms “APA formatting and citation guidelines” or “APA formatting and citation style,” our students may begin to understand APA more quickly.

Melody Pickle

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One response to “APA is Not Formatting (only)

  1. Excellent distinction, Melody! Thanks for this helpful clarification.

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