vol. 25 no. 2, June, 2020

Book Reviews

American Psychological Association. Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. The official guide to APA style. Washington, DC: APA, 2019. xxii, 427 p. ISBN 978-1-4338-3216-1. $31.99/£28.50 Paperback.

The 'APA Style Manual' as it is generally known is usually referred to for information on the correct modes of reference for different kinds of documents, specifically for journals published by the APA. However, the standard is used much more widely by journals in the social and behavioural sciences, and the rules on citation and referencing occupy only a small part of the Manual, which is designed to help authors prepare manuscripts acceptable to the Association.

Thus, the Manual has chapters on scholarly publishing in general, on the style of papers, the preparation of tables, the 'mechanics of style' (i.e., punctuation, spelling, capitalisation, etc.), grammar and effective writing, as well as on correct forms of citation in texts, the rules for referencing, and examples of the rules.

In all of this, it must be remembered that the Manual is designed for publications by a specific publisher in one academic discipline, and that it is a publication from the USA. Rather surprisingly, it appears to make no concessions to any other country: the information on legal sources, for example, deals only with the situation in the USA. I would be very surprised if the Journal of Applied Psychology, for example, never had a paper in which reference was made to the laws of some other country. If there are such papers, the authors never received any help from the Manual on how to cite and reference the laws. The information on group authorship, e.g., by government departments, cites only US examples and, therefore, how to distinguish between organizations of the same name in different countries becomes problematical, especially so now that the place of publication is no longer required.

Generally, however, the Manual is an excellent source of advice, not only on citation and referencing, but also on effective writing, the design of tables, the use of abbreviations, the presentation of statistics, and other necessary aspects of scholarly writing. Even if you are not preparing a paper for a journal that uses the APA style, the manual is well worth consulting.

This edition has about 200 more pages than the 6th edition, mainly the result of new chapters on journal reporting standards, and bias-free language guidelines. One innovation is support for the use of 'they' as a singular pronoun, to avoid the over-use of 'he or she'. Given journal limits on the number of words in a paper, saving a couple will no doubt be welcome.

Before consulting the reference examples in Chapter 10, an author should read Chapter 9, which deals with the principles that guide the format of references and which gives detailed instructions on such things as the representation of authors' names, the format of the title element, and so on. Chapter 10 (previously Chapter 7 in the sixth edition) has been completely re-structured and is now divided into textual works; data sets, software and tests; audiovisual media; and online media. The seventy-seven examples in the sixth edition have been increased to 114.

In one area at least the Manual makers have taken a backward step, although one can understand their confusion. Conference papers and proceedings have become a bête noire for bibliographers, since the emergence of the World Wide Web as a publishing medium. The forms of reference suggested by publishers often bear no relationship to established bibliographic practice and it is difficult to establish whether or not a conference paper has been published in the traditional sense. Sadly, this new edition exacerbates the problem, as it gives no clear rule for dealing with conference papers, but seems to regard proceedings as a synonym for a paper.

In the 6th edition rule 39 dealt with published conference papers and, apart from the example treating a series note as part of the title, was quite straightforward. Now, that rule has disappeared and we have rule 60 for a conference session (I've never yet come across a citation of an entire session), rule 61 for a paper presentation, which I assume to mean papers presented at a conference but not otherwise published (except, perhaps, in an institutional repository or on a personal Website), rule 62 for a poster presentation, and rule 63 for a symposium contribution. One has to go back to the fifth edition for sensible examples.

So, no rule for a published conference paper. Instead, we are advised that:

Conference proceedings published in a journal or book follow the same format as for a journal article..., edited book..., or edited book chapter... (p. 332)

However, when we turn to the rules for these types of publication, none of the examples given includes the desired format for a conference paper. It seems at times that by 'conference proceedings' the compilers of the manual mean 'conference papers', but it is not at all clear.

This situation has certainly confused the people who produce the Purdue Online Writing Lab, which is usually a very authoritative source on using the APA reference style. That resource now says, 'The 7th edition of the APA manual does not provide guidance on citing conference proceedings. Therefore, this citation models that of an edited collection, which is similar in format'. The new edition also seems to confuse the people who maintain the APA Website, since the examples given there relating to conferences do not observe the instructions of the template in the Manual.

The new rules also require the date of the conference to include month and day, as well as the year, but no explanation is given for this change. The only reason to include such specification would be to distinguish between identically named conferences, which is rather unlikely.

This may not be a complete typology of the location of conference papers, but at least it suggests the circumstances of publication that the APA Manual ought to provide guidance on. Thus, a paper may be:

  1. published in a print or digital proceedings volume made available only to those who attended the conference; or, and possibly, also
  2. published in a print or digital proceedings made publicly available, either by the conference organizers, or a commercial publisher.

In either of these cases the paper may also be available digitally, on the conference Website, or on the author's home page, or in the author's institutional or disciplinary repository.

On the other hand, the paper may not be 'published' in terms of 1 or 2 above, but may, nevertheless, be available:

  1. on the conference Website
  2. on the author's home page;
  3. in the author's institutional or disciplinary repository; or
  4. directly from the author, which would figure as an unpublished paper presented at the conference.

Figuring out how to use the APA rules to account for these variations in "publication" is no easy matter!

The rule for dissertations has also changed in not requiring the location of the awarding university. Previously, one might have ...[Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany; now one omits the location, thereby ignoring the fact that there is another Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio, USA.

The compilers of the Manual also seem to have a problem with series, and one wonders if any cataloguers or bibliographers were among those who prepared the reference list examples. In standard bibliographical practice the fact that a book is part of a series is noted in the reference. In traditional cataloguing practice, it would be placed after the publisher statement. In the sixth edition there was only one example (no. 39) and there the series note precedes the title, forming part of the title. The item is a volume of conference proceedings in Springer's 'Lecture notes in computer science' series and in that example, curiously, the name of the publisher is omitted. Quite what is going on here is impossible to understand from any bibliographical perspective.

In the seventh edition, the advice on series is given in Chapter 9 is that if a book 'is part of a series of conceptually related but separate works... include only the book title, not the series, in the reference'. However, on the APA's Website there are additional examples, one of which is for a conference proceedings published as a book:

Kushilevitz, E., & Malkin, T. (Eds.). (2016). Lecture notes in computer science: Vol. 9562. Theory of cryptography. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-49096-9

which seems to contradict the advice given in Chapter 9 of the Manual, which would result in:

Kushilevitz, E., & Malkin, T. (Eds.). (2016). Theory of cryptography. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-49096-9

We have revised the Author Instructions for Information Research, but I shall be revisiting these to provide rather more logical and intelligible rules for conferences and series.

Other changes, compared with the 6th edition, include the omission of place of publication for any document (which traditional bibliographers will no doubt find offensive!); when a document has three or more authors, et al. is used in the citation (it is no longer necessary to give all authors (up to six) for the first citation in the text; up to twenty authors should be listed for an item in the reference list - presumably it is thought that few papers will have more than twenty authors; 'Retrieved from...' is no longer needed in front of a URL; DOIs now require the https://doi.org/... format; and, if the author and publisher are the same (as in the case of this Manual), the name of the publisher is omitted. There are other minor changes throughout, like the date requirement for conference papers and proceedings referred to above, and probably more that I have not yet spotted! 'How to cite this review', below, now follows the required APA style - but only for this item, our normal format is better for the journal's purpose as it is easily copied into the title page and the list of reviews.

Over all, I get the strong impression that one of the motivators for some of the changes was to reduce the space taken up by references in the printed journals. References have expanded considerably with the introduction of DOIs and URLs and the desire to reduce the page length of papers is understandable. When it is at the expense of clarity, however, the new guidance should not be followed.

There are, of course, other manuals of style: some are more popular for science journals, others for the humanities, and journals often disregard any published standard and adopt their own, idiosyncratic style. If you publish in the social sciences, however, (and if you publish in Information Research) it would be well worth acquiring a copy of the Manual. It doesn't have to be the latest edition, since the changes are minor and there are sites that give you information on those changes, so you could mark up a copy of the fifth edition, say, and still find it useful. (At the time of writing a copy of the 6th edition is available on Ebay for a total of £2.69, and there are others on the US site for between $5 and $20.)

You can also find online guidance on the APA style, either on the Purdue University site referred to earlier, or here, or here, or on the APA's own site

How to cite this review

Wilson, T.D. (2020). Review of the book: Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. The official guide to APA style. (7th ed.). American Psychological Association. Information Research, 25(2), review no. R685 http://www.informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs685.html

Information Research is published four times a year by the University of Borås, Allégatan 1, 501 90 Borås, Sweden.