Comma Usage in APA Editing

APA Editing

In the big family of punctuation marks, the comma is the black sheep.  Few know its place so it often gets left out, forever left to recognize its own purpose while remaining misunderstood by others.  Sigh. But the comma is quite important, and when editing dissertation content, it must not be overlooked. The following are the primary areas you will want to make sure to bring cousin comma into the fold to ensure your thesis or dissertation is as complete as can be.

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-Serial comma: When writing a series of three or more items, the last comma before the and (the serial comma) should be included according to APA style.

Incorrect:       The little girl collects pennies, nickels and quarters.

Correct:          The little girl collects pennies, nickels, and quarters.

-In dates that include both the day and year:

Incorrect:       On July 7, 2007 they got married.

Correct:          On July 7, 2007, they got married.

Notice a comma follows both the day and the year.  However, when only a month and year are written, no commas are necessary unless the unit acts as an introductory clause.  The following examples are both correct:

July 2007 was when they got married.

In July 2007, they got married.

-In between independent clauses:

Incorrect:       She washed the dishes and she put them away.

Correct:          She washed the dishes, and she put them away.

An independent clause is a phrase that, if separated from the rest of the sentence, could stand alone as its own sentence (it has a subject and a verb).  Notice the difference between the prior examples and these:

Incorrect:       She washed the dishes, and put them away.

Correct:          She washed the dishes and put them away.

Here, “and put them away” has no subject directly preceding it, therefore it is not an independent clause and no comma should come before.

-To set off nonrestrictive clauses: Nonrestrictive clauses are extra information in a sentence.  If removed, the sentence would still make sense.

Incorrect:       His mother who was a great musician taught him to play piano.

Correct:          His mother, who was a great musician, taught him to play piano.

-Between coordinate adjectives: Coordinate adjectives are descriptors that can be re-ordered and will still make sense.  In such cases, a comma should separate these adjectives.

Incorrect:       The silly exuberant clown entertained the crowd.

Correct:          The silly, exuberant clown entertained the crowd.

Quick tip: When editing dissertations, if you are unsure whether to place a comma between adjectives, try mentally replacing the comma with and—if it makes sense, a comma should likely be included.

-Between an author’s name and the year inside parenthetical citations:

Incorrect:       (Brown 2013).

Correct:          (Brown, 2013).

-After using et al. in parenthetical citations: When editing dissertations, this is an often-overlooked placement for a comma, but when you think about it, this rule follows logically from the one just covered.

Incorrect:       (Smith et al. 2013).

Correct:          (Smith et al., 2013).

This rule applies when editing a dissertation but only for citations. Standard rules apply to et al. when writing out a sentence.

Incorrect:       Smith et al. (2013), noted multiple instances of this phenomenon.

Correct:          Smith et al. (2013) noted multiple instances of this phenomenon.

Correct:          According to Smith et al. (2013), multiple instances of this phenomenon occurred.