When to Reference Your School Guidelines and When to Reference APA


Posted November 6, 2017

Knowing where to turn with your formatting questions when composing your dissertation can seem daunting sometimes. Many schools offer templates in which you can simply insert your narrative paragraphs and change preformatted heading text to meet your needs. This makes your job a bit easier to do; but what if you have a school that does not offer a resource such as this? This is where things can start to seem a bit hazy.

If your school does not offer a preformatted template, it may offer some sort of guidelines or guidebook with visual examples. These examples are going to really make or break you when it comes to getting past that chair who is picky about form and style – or for getting through form and style altogether.

There is one big thing to remember: your school requirements will trump APA guidelines every time. However, this does not mean that the feedback that you receive from your chair is gospel. In reality, chairs have personal opinions and interpretations of guidelines that are not always on point. This is where you will need to step up to ensure that the document you are pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into is going to pass muster when it comes to the rest of your committee, IRB, URR, or any other school reviewer. It is your responsibility to know what the school expects as well as what APA requires.

If you are a person who works best with multiple examples, you may find it most useful to use ProQuest to look up published dissertations from your school and degree program. You can also use the APA blog or Purdue Owl (Purdue University’s writing center website) to search specific questions and formatting guidelines.

One last thing to think about is the table of contents. You will notice that there is not a section in the APA handbook for the table of contents. This is because each table of contents is specific to your school, so you should always follow their guidelines and recommendations for this piece of your paper.


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