Crafting a master’s thesis or PhD dissertation is a daunting task, and the truth of the matter is you are probably an expert in your specific field and not in the art of writing. However, some key APA editing rules can help you avoid needless distractions and superfluous verbiage and will help you be clear in your meaning as you devise one of the most important documents of your life.
1. Use acronyms judiciously. In academic writing, acronyms can be a writer and reader’s very best friend. Can you imagine if while writing this blog, I spelled out American Psychological Association editing instead of APA editing each time I referenced it? For me, it would be time consuming and repetitive, and for you, the reader, it would be distracting and annoying. APA style encourages the use of acronyms, and the general rule is that you spell the full term out on the first instance followed by the acronym in parentheses. Subsequent uses may just be written as the acronym. But beware: you do not want to turn your paper into a riddle of capital letters. Too many acronyms can be just as confusing and distracting as too few. Choose the handful of main terms you use most throughout the entire paper and shorten only those.
2. Know the difference among homophones. This applies to all writing styles, not just APA, and still it must be mentioned. You’ve probably been working since the 3rd grade to memorize those pesky words that sound the same but are spelled differently: there/their/they’re and its/it’s are the most commonly interchanged homophones and the ones that induce the most eye rolling when not properly used. A quick ctrl+f (or command+f for you Mac users) after writing your paper can help you quickly find and replace any mistakes.
3. Follow APA’s number rules. Ah, the age-old question: when to write out the number and when to use a numeral? APA editing style says to write out numbers one through nine, and use numerals for 10 and above. However, the rules go much deeper than this. For instance, any number at the beginning of a sentence should be written out (disregard the numeral 5 in this blog’s title—sometimes you have to break a rule on the Internet for searchability purposes!), any number immediately preceding a measurement should be a numeral, and so on. For an in-depth look at the complete number rules, see APA 6th ed., Sec. 4.31.
4. Avoid passive voice. In other words, put the doer of the action before the action itself when constructing a sentence. For instance, note the difference between: “The ball was kicked” and “The girl kicked the ball.” In the first construction, we have no idea who kicked the ball, but in the second, it is immediately clear that the girl kicked the ball—this is especially necessary in APA editing because the reader must always know what entity is responsible for each and every bit of data you include. Some writers use passive voice because they perceive it as sounding smarter or more authoritative when exactly the opposite is true to a well-informed reader.
5. Be specific and literal in word choice. The precise meaning of the word impact is a collision. However, it is a favorite (error) among writers to use impact figuratively when what they really mean is effect or sometimes influence. And in everyday language, we use since and because interchangeably, right? However, they do have distinct meanings, and it is vital in academic writing to choose words that convey exactly what you intend and not use their colloquial senses.
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