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Understanding APA Style Before You Write Your Dissertation or Thesis Paper
by Peter Gallagher

Researching, writing and formatting your first thesis paper or dissertation is an overwhelming undertaking by itself. When you must use the rules of APA Style also, it creates additional anxiety and panic to compose an error-free paper.

Adhering to the rules of APA Style doesn't need to feel like extra punishment, nor should you distract yourself completely from the creative writing process. The majority of rules consist of logical and basic English writing rules. Many resources can aid you with the rest. In this article I will highlight a few of the important rules of understanding APA Style.


APA is abbreviated for the "American Psychological Association." This organization developed its own uniform and coherent style for its associates to abide by as they composed publications, articles, handbooks and journals for the organization to print and publish. The original APA Style criteria surfaced in a magazine write-up in 1929. The first official APA Style manual became available in 1952.

The style, structure and format rapidly grew in global acceptance, broadening beyond APA associates. Many colleges and universities use APA Style as a standard for writing academic papers, such as a thesis paper or an argumentative essay.


By applying APA Style, you have an all-encompassing standard for formatting every element of your paper. For instance, APA Style supplies guidelines for the style and scale of font, the width and space of paper margins, and correct ways to use punctuation in different situations. This Style also supplies guidelines for: 1) citing references and sources; 2) showcasing designs or pictures; and 3) creating charts and tables. Basically, APA Style tackles every facet of your paper.

These rules have progressed over several years, producing refined, subtle changes. In some cases your professor might prefer an older rule and will request you to disregard the new rule. Other professors permit a few deviations, especially rules that make your paper more easy to read, such as merging the Abstract and Title pages.


Working with a word processor and a computer makes formatting unbelievably easier than it was with a typewriter in the "old days." A word processing program like MS-Word lets you quickly and accurately include a footnote or to add a quote.

When composing your paper, always begin with a Title page; it should include the title, your name, and your school. The second page is called the Abstract page—here is where you write a summary of your paper. The main text starts on the third page. At the end of your paper, you will list all of your sources on the References page.

In the course of your research, as you dig into more sources to use in your paper, you should have a copy of the current APA Style manual close by, guaranteeing that you gather the mandatory details about each source. Varying sources (such as manuals, documents, and newspapers) necessitate different varieties of documentation, but the details you'll usually need consists of:
  • Title of book or article or report
  • Author name or names
  • Date of publication or production or retrieval
  • Name of publication
  • Publisher or Publishing company
  • Pages or chapters used as a source
  • Short description of the source's origin, if needed, such as a Web site or a conference
Certain citations will lack tidbits of information that I listed above. When gathering details on your sources, follow this is advice: gather as much details as you would need to advise another person on how to locate the correct article of information. Pace yourself more slowly when gathering the proper details to cite your sources correctly.


If you have unique questions concerning APA Style, the supreme reference is The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. You also can go to the APAStyle (dot) org Web site for frequently asked questions and to see common examples.

For extra assistance, your professor may offer some suggestions or criteria. Your college information center will likely possess loads of handbooks on APA Style. If you still need assistance, Google can point you to many good web sites devoted to APA Style.

© Peter Gallagher, Brian Scott, LousyWriter.com