APA Hacks: Quick Coaching Lessons on APA Style

Undergraduate learners frequently stumble in their use of APA style. Our job as faculty is to coach them toward better performance. We cannot fully educate each learner on all APA formatting but we can give them coaching on the basics when they fall short.

Nothing is more tedious than repeatedly writing the same formative feedback to learners on a subject like APA style. One useful workaround is the use of hacks, expedient and useful tools to address a problem.

Below are a few APA hacks to get you started. These have been field tested and found to be useful and generally well-received by learners.

When making reply posts in discussions and having found one of these common APA problems, consider using the appropriate hack from this list. The recommended procedure I using them is to craft your reply post in the following format:

  1. Cheerful greeting to the learner
  2. Brief comments about what is right or strong about the initial post
  3. Insert (copy & paste) the relevant hack as written in the list below. Do not include the title of the hack, just the bracketed information. Include the brackets and formatting as shown. If you want to change the wording to better reflect your verbal style, that would be great. But the use of brackets and the phrase in bold of APA Coaching has worked. Even though this formative feedback is received in the public forum of a discussion, the template appearance seems to reduce the negative stigma of the feedback.
  4. Continue your reply post by providing an engaging Socratic question, relevant professional experiences or other useful information to enhance the learning opportunities in the discussion.
  5. Close with appreciation and your name.

By inserting the APA hack into the middle of your reply post, the learner is better able to receive the feedback without loss of esteem. S/he can absorb the formative feedback and still focus on what was done well and whatever additional information was provided.

Sample reply post with APA Coaching hack inserted

APA hacks are only meant to inform on the spot and are not meant to substitute for participation in the Psychology Success Labs and JITA.

You can access the APA Hacks document from my Dropbox below, but you will need to have Dropbox installed on your computer or tablet. For those without Dropbox, you can copy & paste directly from this post below and save the list of hacks to a Word document from which you can then copy and paste to discussion replies as needed.

Hacks really save faculty a lot of time and provide needed guidance to learners, a true win-win situation. Create some of your own hacks and provide feedback here or in the Interactive Faculty Course Room ( ).

APA Hacks: Coaching Lessons

No Citations/References

[APA Coaching: It is important in professional writing, such as discussions and written assignments that we practice including in-text citations and references to scholarly sources of supportive evidence. Using this APA Style demonstrates to the reader that we are elevating our statements beyond the level of simple opinion and by citing scholarly sources we strengthen our professional credibility. Anyone can blog or text their thoughts and opinions but the educated professional practices using citations and references to better demonstrate their grasp of the material or concepts involved. Every discussion and written assignment is an opportunity to develop this professional practice. Guidance is provided in the Updates & Handouts forum in the Citations and References Cheat Sheet.]

Note: I create a Citations & References Cheat Sheet for each course I teach and then link to that document when I insert the hack. A sample Cheat Sheet is included at the end of this post.

[APA Coaching: Including scholarly supportive evidence is what elevates your statements above the level of opinion or personal bias. Part of higher education is developing the habit of including both in-text citations and matching references in APA Style in discussions and written assignments. The citation tells the reader what parts of your writing were derived from outside sources and the reference tells the reader where they can find the information you cite. Having one without the other confuses the reader.]

Citation(s) without References

[APA Coaching: You have one or more in-text citations that do not have matching references. The citations tell the reader what parts of your message are supported by outside information. The matching references tell the reader the source of your information. The reader can then determine the credibility of your sources and where to locate the source, if interested. Having citations without references is only half the job ;-).]

Reference(s) without Citation

[APA Coaching: Including a reference at the end of your post (or written assignment) is only half the job ;-). Needed are one or more in-text citations telling the reader which of your statements are supported by the scholarly reference you included. References always need matching citations, and citations always need matching references; it’s a package deal ;-). Please see the Citations and References Cheat Sheet (also found in the Updates & Handouts forum) for guidance on basic use of in-text citations and references in this course.]

Minor Tweaks to APA

[APA Coaching: Some minor tweaks are needed to some of your in-text citations and/or references, so please check out the Citations and References Cheat Sheet (also found in the Updates & Handouts forum) for guidance ;-).]

Use of et al.

[APA Coaching: The first time you cite sources with 2–5 authors, list all the authors and date of publication [e.g., Smith, Jones and Harris, 2015]. Subsequent citations to the same reference may then be abbreviated using the first author’s last name followed by “et al.” and the publication date (e.g., Smith et al. (2015) which means “and others”].

Non-scholarly resources

[APA Coaching: Part of developing your professional identity and credibility is learning to use only scholarly sources of supportive evidence. iGuide provides some great information on Identifying Scholarly Resources and I recommend viewing that information. We want our learners to avoid newspapers, magazines and Googling most websites as sources because they are not considered scholarly and reliable. This is most obvious when someone cites a source that has no author listed! Using textbooks and professional journal articles from the Capella library are the best sources of scholarly information. It takes more time and effort to do this, but doing it and using APA style is the mark of a professional.]

[APA Coaching: The reason we avoid the use of magazines, newspapers, and most websites is because they are “secondary sources” of information. That is, they report on research from “primary sources” of information which are peer-reviewed journal articles. Because these popular secondary sources have an audience they must address, it is possible for them to misinterpret the findings from scholarly research or to overemphasize certain points to make their publications reach a wider audience. Part of developing your professional identity and credibility is learning to use only scholarly sources of supportive evidence. It may take a few moments longer to locate and review a scholarly source than to locate a popular secondary source on the web, but that is the task of a professional. Learn to leave the magazines, newspapers, and most websites to lay people who just want a snapshot of information and who are not interested in developing their identity as a psychology professional.]

Citing quoted material

[APA Coaching: Whenever you “quote” another source word-for word you must surround the quoted material with “quotation marks” and include the page number in your citation. When you paraphrase in your own words what another source has written, which we prefer, you need only include an in-text citation and matching reference to the source. Failure to properly use “quotation marks” leaves you vulnerable for accusations of plagiarism, a serious breach of academic honesty. Professional writers avoid “quoting” sources whenever possible and instead paraphrase their sources to better reveal their grasp of the material.]

Avoid quotations

[APA Coaching: You will notice that professional writers rarely “quote” outside sources word-for word. The preferred form is to paraphrase in your own words what the author(s) wrote and cite the source. This better demonstrates your grasp of the material and increases your professional credibility. I could “quote” Albert Einstein on his theory of relativity but that doesn’t mean I would understand a word of it!].

Secondary Sources

[APA Coaching: I suspect the problem here is about your use of “secondary sources”. Secondary sources are those that are listed (cited) in the text or journal article you read. You didn’t read those sources, but the original textbook/journal authors did. So to you it is a “secondary source”, not one that you have personally read. You are relying on the textbook/journal authors to provide accurate summaries of what those secondary (to you) sources said in their writing. We want to avoid the use of secondary sources. Instead of listing all the secondary sources the textbook/journal author cited, leave them out and instead cite the textbook or journal article you read. Then there will be no confusion.]

[APA Coaching: Secondary sources are those you read about but don’t actually read. In other words, you read about some research in your textbook, but you don’t actually go to the original source, the research article in a professional journal. This means you trust the textbook author to accurately inform you of the research article information. This is perfectly OK, but when you do this, list the textbook as your in-text citation, not the journal article information. You always cite the source where you read the information.]

Sample Citations & References Cheat Sheet for PSYC4110

If there is sufficient interest, in future posts we can provide:

  • Writing hacks
  • Critical thinking hacks
  • Collaboration hacks
  • Creative thinking hacks
  • Strengthening learner reply post hacks
  • Whatever else would make your faculty jobs easier while enhancing the educational experience for our learners.

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