APA mythtakes

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We don’t take note of non-coincidences, do we? It’s different when two similar events happen close to each other. Wow! we say, what are the chances of that happening twice in the same day? Coincidences stick in the mind, single events do not stick so readily. (This one stuck so solidly that it pushed me into blogging again.)

A recent EasyBib blog post was one half of such a coincidence. Michele Kirschenbaum’s blog post Video Lesson: In-Text Citations had upset me on two counts. Although published on 29 September 2017, my Google Alert did not pick it up until last week.

Count #1: the video gives the impression that in-text citations and parenthetical citations are one and the same

This impression is confirmed in the text of the blog where we read “We think this video, which provides an introduction to in-text, or parenthetical citations, is a great addition to your classroom resources.”

Me, I don’t think it such a great addition, not least because parenthetical citations are one kind of in-text citation, but not the only kind.

Other kinds are available, not least when the citation starts the sentence as against finishing it as a parenthetical after-thought.

Persuasion can be an art.  As Nelson Mandela once said, “It is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea.” When you do that, if you can do it, you get buy-in from committed followers.

is surely a more powerful statement than

Persuasion can be an art. As has been said, “It is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea” (Mandela). When you do that, if you can do it, you get buy-in from committed followers.

If you are teaching academic honesty as a form of avoiding plagiarism, it is probably easy to learn and use parenthetical citations; they highlight (just in case the reader missed any other signal) that this is not the writer’s own set of words or idea but belongs to somebody else. But to suggest that parenthetical citations are the only form of in-text citation does students a disservice, and may confuse them when they read other people’s work.

[I would also argue that, if you are teaching honesty (as against academic honesty as a form of avoiding plagiarism), then the more natural form may be easier to get across, and can be expected from a young age:
            My mummy says, “….. …”
            In the red book I read that …. ….
            According to Nelson Mandela, ….  ….
[It has the advantage of establishing authority, the reader knows the source of the words or ideas from the outset. This can also reinforce the writer’s crediblity; the writer knows who is important in the field.

[But this is an aside. Let’s get back to that coincidence.]

Count #2: more serious is the misleading comparison between MLA parenthetical citation and APA parenthetical citation:

MLA format is described as being of the form (Author’s Last name Page number) while APA is described – wrongly – as (Author’s Last name, Year published). The examples used are


Prisoners were told to bring, “a backpack, some food, a few items of clothing. Nothing else” (Weisel 35).


Prisoners were told to bring, “a backpack, some food, a few items of clothing. Nothing else” (Weisel, 2006).

The mistake is to think that, because APA is classed as an author-date system, page numbers are not required.  The APA example should read (surely):

Prisoners were told to bring, “a backpack, some food, a few items of clothing. Nothing else” (Weisel, 2006, p. 35).

It is a mistake I have come across before.  The Libguide at Western Washington University, for instance, advises us to

Create an in-text citation that refers to a complete citation in an alphabetized reference list at the end of the work.  MLA uses author/page (Jones 3) and APA uses author/date (Jones, 2009) citations.

The coincidence I mentioned at the start of this piece was that, on the same day that I discovered the EasyBib blog post, a participant in a librarians’ workshop was furiously adamant that APA is an author-date system and that a page number is not required, even for quotations.

There is no arguing with such a workshop participant, not in public, not without solid evidence. He would not accept the advice given in the APA Style blog, for instance the posts When and How to Include Page Numbers in APA Style Citations  and How to Cite Direct Quotations.  The blog is not the Publication Manual, and of course I had not taken my copy of the manual to the workshop.  I could only say that I would look this up later and let everyone know.

I was right, though. The manual states at several points that, if the piece used can be pinpointed, then pinpoint it, for the benefit of anyone following up on the reference. Help the reader!

In the section on Direct Quotation of Sources, for instance, section 6.03 (page 170) we read:

When quoting, always provide the author, year and specific page citation or paragraph number for non-paginated material … in the text and include a complete reference in the reference list.

A page later, section 6.04 Paraphrasing Material, we read

When paraphrasing or referrig to an idea in another work, you are encouraged to provide a page or paragraph number, especially when it would help an interested reader locate the relevant passage in a long or complex text.

And the following section, 6.05 Direct Quotations of Online Material Without Pagination stresses the helpfulness of paragraph numbers or section headings in helping the reader locate material. It is all about helping the reader, isn’t it?

Later still, section 6.19 Citing Specific Parts of a Source:

To cite a specific part of a source, indicate the page, chapter, figure, table, or equation at the approriate point in text. Always give page numbers for quotations.

Aware readers will have noted that section 6.04 encourages the writer rather than demands that the writer include a page number when paraphrasing (or summarising), but that guidance does go on to say “especially when it would help an interested reader locate the relevant passage.”   It does not make for the strength of assertion of my workshop participant, and it does not apply in the case of the quotations in the EasyBib or Western Washington University examples.

How does/ did that mistaken advice arise?  I really do not know. It might be good to find out, so we can shoot down the information right at the source.  But how many others have been misled, how many others are (still) passing on erroneous advice?

A known unknown.

(Coincidentally, I have just looked at the advice on citation and referencing in a new book published to provide guidance to the IB’s Extended Essay curriculum for first examination in 2018. The author uses APA to illustrate ways of citing and referencing different kinds of source material.  The text is riddled with errors, some in the formatting of the references, some in his explanation of how to cite in the text. [Scream.] I think APA is one of the easiest formal styles to learn and use, easier even than MLA, and this book can only confuse. [Ouch.] Caveat emptor.)


Stengel, R.  (2008, July 9). Mandela: His 8 lessons of leadership. Time. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1821659,00.html



2 thoughts on “APA mythtakes

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