APA Writing Guide:
|Paper Section||Recommended Tense||Example|
(or whenever discussing other researchers’ work)
|Past||Martin (2020) addressed|
|Present perfect||Researchers have studied|
Description of procedure
|Past||Participants took a survey|
|Present perfect||Others have used similar approaches|
|Reporting of your own or other researchers’ results||Past||Results showed
Hypotheses were not supported
|Personal reactions||Past||I felt surprised|
|Present perfect||I have experienced|
|Discussion of implications of results or of previous statements||Present||The results indicate
The findings mean that
|Presentation of conclusions, limitations, future directions, and so forth||Present||We conclude
Limitations of the study are
Future research should explore
First Person. Use when referring to your own views or experiences, BUT only when necessary. You need first person to write, “I experienced X” as you may in a reflection paper. You do not need it and should not use it to write, “I think X is true.” You can and should simply write, “X is true.”
The Editorial “We” or “One.” Used to refer to a general person or group of people, these pronouns should not be used in an APA paper. Replace the vague “we” or “one” with a specific actor. Your writing and argument will be made stronger for it. Do not write: “We need to understand grace to serve broken people.” Instead write: “Counselors need to understand grace to serve broken people.”
When you write, work to limit bias in your language. You do this by describing and disaggregating groups with relevant, appropriately specific details. This practice promotes clarity and accuracy. For example, do not refer to a group of men and women as “man.” Refer to ranges of age rather than the “young” or “old.” Refer to regions of origin such as Chinese Americans or Mexican Americans rather than racial or ethnic groups such as Asian Americans or Latin Americans. Use income ranges or specific designations (e.g., below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four) instead of “low income.”
You also do this by adopting respectful language. In general, call people what they call themselves. When in doubt, use people first language to respect the humanity of the people described. For example, write “gay men,” not “the gays.” Write “people with learning disabilities,” not “the learning disabled.” Some groups in their self-advocacy have claimed labels for themselves. The Deaf have chosen to use a capitalized label to identify and promote a sense of unity and community. Sometimes individuals within groups disagree about labels. Accept that language changes over time and make an effort to determine what is appropriate in your paper.
General Tips for Clear Writing
Read your work aloud. Reading a paper aloud takes approximately 2 minutes per page. While doing so, you will likely locate 90% of any typos, grammatical errors, and awkward or run-on sentences. If it is difficult for you to read it aloud, it will be difficult for your audience to read.
Look for the little words and cut them out. Nouns and verbs are the heavy lifter of your sentences. Look for the little words (of, to, at, for, that, there are, it is, etc.) as they are often part of phrases that can be shortened. “At the present time” can become “now;” “for the purpose of” can become “to” or “for;” “there are several scripture passages that refer to” can become “several scripture passages refer to.”
Interrogate your use of first person. It should always have a very good reason for being there. Never write “I believe X is true” when you could write “X is true.”
Refer to one thing one way. Synonyms can be used to add variety, but they can also lead to imprecision.
Vary your sentence length. Too many short sentences in a row come across as choppy. Too many long sentences can be difficult to decipher.
One paragraph equals one idea. Can you condense the topic of each of your paragraphs down to one short phrase? “This paragraph is about (3–6 word phrase).” Everything in the paragraph should be about that phrase. If it isn’t, it may need to be cut or split into another paragraph.
Use our APA Paper Template for a head start on formatting your paper. To use, download the template. Each time you open the template file, a new Microsoft Word document will be created. Save the document with a new title and begin work on your paper.