Style Watch: The APA Style Guide

Usually in this space, I aim to educate you on grammar, punctuation, style, and other language topics. Today, I’m looking to you to educate me.

As a freelance editor, I have to be an expert on at least one style guide, have a working knowledge of several more style guides, and be cognizant of even more style guides. This is OK with me, because my brain works that way. I don’t find it difficult to remember that Chicago uses the serial comma and AP does not. Each style guide has a feel to it, and tapping into that feel is one way I remember so much about these styles. But I find the American Psychological Association‘s (APA’s) style manual a mystery. Maybe it’s because I didn’t write in the sciences during school, and though I’ve done some science editing since then, I haven’t done that much. I just don’t understand some of the decisions APA makes. So I look up a lot of stuff any time I work with APA style.

I can’t be the only one. APA helpers abound. In addition to the official Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, there are these books:

I haven’t peeked into those books. If you have, let me know what you think in the comment section below. Do they help you understand the style? Give you some basic rules that you use all the time?

Then there’s the official APA style blog, which I’ve used a fair bit. I like how the writers break down the rules. And, of course, APA has a Facebook group, which promotes the blog, and a Twitter feed, which offers brief tips. I like both. APA offers a Website for learning the style. I haven’t had the time to go through the tutorial yet, but it looks promising. Have you tried it? Let me know in the comments how it worked for you.

There are other Web sites, mostly colleges, that offer their own tutorials or cheat sheets:

It makes sense. If you’re going to require that students use a demanding style, give them the resources to learn that style. I have leaned on Purdue’s site to get me through successfully. I’ve mentioned OWL before. It’s a great overall writing resource; if you’ve never used it, go there now and bookmark it. You’ll be glad you did.

There are even cheat sheets for what was updated in the sixth edition:

Finally, there are always some errors in a first printing. If you have a first printing of the sixth edition, you can review the corrections in “Correcting a Style.

UPDATE: Also check out Style Guide Resources: MLA. APA. CSE. Chicago, a webpage from InformED that outlines reference examples and additional resources for the four mentioned styles.

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Reading the Roman Missal, Part 2: Oblation

The Roman Catholic Church updated its missal last fall, and early reviewers worried the new translation wouldn’t be easily readable by most churchgoers.

Those worries have largely proven unfound, but a few items have caught my attention as needing more explanation or as just plain odd. Last week, we took apart the term consubstantial. Today, I’ll look at oblation.


Oblation occurs in the first and third of the four Eucharistic prayers the priest can choose to say during the Mass. From the regular first Eucharistic prayer (there are variations for different holy times):

Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of your whole family; order our days in your peace, and command that we be delivered from eternal damnation and counted among the flock of those you have chosen.

Oblation, says The American Heritage Dictionary, means “the act of offering the bread and wine of the Eucharist; something offered, especially the bread and wine of the Eucharist.” Unless you’ve studied Latin or etymology, this term isn’t easy to break down. It traces its history from the Middle English oblacioun and the Old French oblacion and ultimately to the past participle of Latin’s offerre, “to offer.”

Oblation isn’t any more common than consubstantial. It’s found just 26 times in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, which contains 450 million words from 1990 to 2012. Results are distributed among academic publications, books, magazines, newspapers, fiction, and speech, yet in the newspaper and magazine results, oblation is part of a name, such as Oblation Papers & Press (a print shop) and Meringue Oblation (an art show)

Worse, though, the text it’s buried in averages a grade level of 17.7 (graduate school). On the plus side, oblation is part of the priest’s lines; the congregation prays along with him. All the same, if these prayers are written at such a high level, few people will be able to follow along with full understanding. It’s more likely that they’ll zone out during this part of the Mass. I’d rather see the Eucharistic prayers written for an easier understanding than flowery language.

Next in the series: the problem of passive voice.

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Protecting the Tower or Holding Back the Tide?

A copyeditor’s job is to apply rules and style to a manuscript, to correct what’s wrong and ensure that the writing is suitable for the writer’s, publisher’s, and reader’s needs.

How can a copyeditor make a decision about a usage that’s in flux? When do we hold the line, and when do we concede a change?

Read how on the Copyediting blog.

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Writing Productivity: Measurements and Tools

Recently on the Copyediting blog, I wrote about how editors could measure their productivity: what measurements are useful, how to measure your productivity, and what tools you can use to measure them.

Although writing is less linear than editing, productivity can be just as important to writers, particularly when you’re a writer-for-hire. You want to ensure that you’re getting paid for the time you put into thinking, dreaming, researching, writing, rewriting, and self-editing your piece. When someone offers you $250 for an 800-word article, is that a good rate? Is $75 for 200 words worth your time?

It’s tough to put a price on the art in writing—the creativity and originality you bring to a topic—but you can track the time it takes you to create that art and determine if you’ve gotten a fair price for your craft.

Read more about productivity on Copyediting:

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Reading the Roman Missal, Part 1: Consubstantial

US Catholics have been using the new edition of the Roman Catholic Missal for eight months now, and the worry over the new translation has proven mostly groundless. Congregations are reciting prayers and responses almost seamlessly.

One change, for example, was the response to “Peace be with you.” Formerly it was “And also with you.” Now it’s “And with your spirit.” When I attend mass these days, I hear the congregation say the latter in unity.

But a few items have caught my attention as needing more explanation or as just plain odd. Over the next few blog posts, I’ll pick my nits in detail.


The first item that caught my attention was the use of consubstantial in the Nicene Creed, the prayer that outlines the basics of what Catholics believe:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
consubstantial with the Father
through him all things were made.

The term means “of the same substance, nature, or essence,” according to The American Heritage Dictionary (AHD). We can see this easily in its parts. The prefix con- is a variant of com-, meaning “together.” One of substantial’s meanings is “having mass or constitution.” Together + having constitution. In other words, Catholics believe Jesus is the same being as God.

I admit consubstantial doesn’t come tripping off my tongue. It’s just not a common word. It appeared just eight times in a recent Google News search, and three of those results were references to the word’s use in the new missal. The Corpus of Contemporary American English has only 30 instances out of the 450 million words it contains. Google Books returns just 10,200 results from 2000 through 2009, many of those theological.

But given the surrounding text as well as the commonality of the term’s parts, it’s not hard to figure out the intended meaning. It’s not a great choice, given the former phrase was “one in Being,” but not the end of the world either.

Stay tuned for part two: the story and usage of oblation.

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The Many Dance Partners of “Enamored”

I was recently taken to task for writing the following in a blog post:

That’s one thing with pet peeves: they’re our pets. We’re enamored with them.

Do you see the problem?

Read the rest of my article on Visual Thesaurus (subscription required).

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Happy Bloomsday!

Ready to celebrate? Today is Bloomsday! Since 1954, James Joyce fans have celebrated the author and his works on June 16, commemorating Ulysses, which takes place on June 16, 1904.

I’ve long wanted to be in Dublin on June 16. Since I won’t be traveling to Ireland anytime soon, I thought I’d share with you some ways to celebrate Bloomsday.

  • Ulysses. Download a free electronic copy of Ulysses from the Gutenberg Project.
  • Vocab Builder. Study up on some Joycian vocabulary to enhance your reading.
  • RE: Joyce. Deconstruct Ulysses with Irish author and Joyce scholar Frank Delaney. Delaney creates a five-minute each week, opening up a few lines of the famed work. Join him for the whole ride—over the next 22 years!
  • JoyceWays. Walk the path Ulysses‘ characters do, even if you can’t be in Ireland. Download this inexpensive iPhone app developed by some smart BC students.
  • Walking Ulysses. Don’t have an iPhone? Those BC students will let you talk a walk through your browser, too.
  • Bloomsday events. Check out live events in your area.

Whatever you do today, take a moment to raise your glass and give thanks to an author who gave us so much.

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Moving Toward Correct Usage

Last week, one of Copyediting’s Twitter followers asked, “Is it afterwards or afterward, towards or toward?” Let’s find out.

The suffix –ward goes back to the Old English –weard, meaning “toward,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, and comes to us from the Proto-Germanic –warth. It’s also a variant of the Proto-Indo-European –wert, “to turn, wind.” Clearly, –ward is not a newcomer. …

Read the rest of my article at Copyediting.


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The Trouble with FANBOYS

FANBOYS is a mnemonic device to help students remember that the coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so. It teaches that you should join two independent clauses with a comma and one of the FANBOYS. Neither of these things is true. …

Read the rest of my article on Visual Thesaurus.


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It Is to Be Hoped That You’ll Agree

Last month, The AP Stylebook, the style guide for many American newspapers, finally gave up on restricting hopefully to its original meaning, “in a hopeful manner.” The stylebook now also allows hopefully to be as a sentence adverb meaning “it is hoped” or “it is to be hoped that.”

(Read my article on Visual Thesaurus.)

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