Monday, January 21, 2008

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Fifth Edition (Paperback)

I am enrolled in a graduate program that, unfortunately, requires all papers to be written in APA format. APA is far and away the least useful or user friendly format ever devised (although a professor friend disagrees and thinks Chicago style is worse), and is largely used by social scientists. Since I am not enrolled in a social science curriculum, you might expect that I would be spared this horror, but someone sold the Dean an APA bill of goods (probably Beelzebub himself.) My theoretical question here is what, exactly, qualifies the American Psychological Association to develop a style and format for research papers? Wouldn't English teachers and linguists be more qualified, as in MLA format? Why is APA more qualified than say The Airline Pilots Association, or The National Prune Anti-Defamation League to develop a writing style? Just a question.
I figured that since I was stuck using this fiendish format, I should learn to use it correctly. My school put out a "Users Guide to APA Format", but it is very general and almost totally ignores documenting electronic (internet) sources; thus, I bought this book. I am generously giving this book two stars inasmuch as most (but not all) reasonable situations are addressed in it, but the format of the book is virtually incomprehensible and frequently sends you to multiple different places to answer a simple question. (This shouldn't surprise me given the lack of logic found in APA style in general, I suppose.)
Unfortunately even the latest (fifth) edition is woefully inadequate in answering very basic questions on documentation of internet sources, particularly addressing situations in which quotations from internet sources are included in a paper. The index is, likewise, next to useless, as looking anything up (if it happens to even be in the index, itself and unlikely development) will result in a wild goose chase of referencing around the book. This is but only one reason the entire format may be more useful to psychologists than those in the hard sciences.
What the guide IS full of is useless trivia, for instance a section on the APA "Policy on Metrication" (needless to say APA mandates metric units), and a definition of "HSD" as "Tukey's honestly significant difference (also referred to as the Tukey a procedure)." While I am not saying that metrication or Tukey's honestly significant difference aren't important (though I am inclined to), I am saying that a book that dwells on minutia like that should definitely cover the basics of references, formats and citations first. Like I said, most (but not all) of the information actually is here, but good luck finding it.
Perhaps APA should put out a guide for using this guide. Better yet, perhaps any format so cumbersome to use and needlessly intricate should be dumped altogether for a better format, like MLA. At this point I'm even willing to try Chicago style.


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