Punctuation Review

APA Editing

As you climb the academic ladder and continue publishing research in your field, it is important to step back from the content every once in a while and review basic punctuation rules that can enhance, or hinder, your writing. This blog serves a refresher of some basic APA punctuation rules for those writing and publishing in the social sciences. Please also note that APA follows the American Style of punctuation, which often differs from the British style.

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Punctuation with Quotes

  • Quotations less than 40 words are enclosed by double quotes: “quote”
  • A quote within a quote is enclosed by single quotes: “the ‘right’ quote”
  • Periods and commas should be placed within quotation marks: “the ‘right’ quote.”
    • All other punctuation is placed outside the quotation marks: “the ‘right’ quote”?
  • When presenting a speaker or author before the quote, introduce with a verb followed by a comma: Smith (2010) noted, “quote” (p. 4).
  • When presenting a quote after a complete sentence, introduce using a colon: Smith found three factors are important for health: “quote” (p. 4).
  • Block quotation formatting is used for quotations longer than 40 words.
  • Do not use an ellipsis at the beginning or end of a quotation, but do use inside the quote if omitting material.

Example Paragraph: Smith (2010) noted three factors are important for health: “quote” (p. 4). The researcher added that in addition to exercise, “quote” is equally necessary for optimum health (p. 5). According to Smith, “quote less than 40 words . . . and other things” (p. 5). Tyler (2015) extended on this argument:

Block quotation format used for quotations longer than 40 words. No double quotation marks are used and the entire quote is set .5” in from the left margin. The page numbers are placed in parentheses outside of the final period. (p. 5)

Comma Use and Lists

  • APA complies with use of the Oxford comma, which refers to including a comma before the conjunction and last item of a list for increased clarity and readability (e.g., a, b, and c).
  • When a list contains commas within the items, separate the list with semicolons: A was green, although felt yellow; B was orange; and C was blue.

The APA Style Blog has detailed explanations of punctuation use and seriation (lists) for additional examples.


Basically, avoid use of the slash as it creates ambiguity and therefore unclear writing. For example:

  • do not use and/or. You must pick one, and OR or.
  • he/she should be changed to he or she.


There are three different types of dashes: the hyphen, em dash, and en dash.

  • Hyphen: Use no space before or after (e.g., trial-by-trial).
  • Em dash: Longer than a hyphen or en dash and is used to set off an element added to amplify or to digress from the main clause (e.g., Studies—published and unpublished—are included). Use no space before or after an em dash. If an em dash is not available on your keyboard, use two hyphens with no space before or after. The keyboard shortcut is to press Ctrl + – + – (2 hyphens) = ­­––.
  • En dash: Longer and thinner than a hyphen but shorter than an em dash. Use between words of equal weight in a compound adjective (e.g., Chicago–London flight) or between number ranges, such as page numbers in citations and references (e.g., 37–40). Type as an en dash (–) by pressing Ctrl + – , a single hyphen. Use no space before or after.

Remembering to follow proper grammar and punctuation rules, particularly according to the style guide the research must comply with, will enhance your writing and make you a better, more credible author in the field. Although it is important to avoid punctuation errors when creating content, the brain has a tendency to look over these types of mistakes and focus on the content instead. For that reason, most universities or journals require work to be submitted to an editor before submission or publication. In short, do your best to understand and follow punctuation rules, but do not be afraid reach out to an editor for assistance when needed—that is what we are here for!