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Styles Of Writing Term Papers

Always ask your mentor which style to use before you begin to write your paper.

The APA style refers to the method of writing research papers recommended by the American Psychological Association. The APA style is used in the social sciences and is governed by two basic ideas. The first is that a scientific paper attempts to show something that has already been proven true, so it calls for the past or present perfect tense when you cite the work of others. Second, the year of publication is important, so you need to feature it immediately after any named source in the text.

Smyth (1972) found that children often studied while watching television.

Williams and Maier (1994) have defined a new theory of cognition.

Use the present tense for generalizations and personal comments. Use the past or present perfect tenses only to introduce the work of cited sources.

Evidence of the rise of the heroin use exists for every age group, even children. Burroughs and Bruce (1996) reported on five incidents of heroin overdose in the under 10 age group.

Basic APA Facts

  • Always double space, including the text of your paper, quotations, notes, and the reference page.

  • Leave margins of at least one-inch at the top, bottom, right, and left of every page.

  • Use parenthetical citations to acknowledge direct quotations, indirect quotations, and/or any ideas you have borrowed from another person.

  • Use a reference page for reference to parenthetical citations.

  • Within the text of your paper, underline titles of books, plays, pamphlets, periodicals, films, television programs, and recordings; place in quotation marks titles of articles, essays in anthologies, book chapters, and lectures.

  • Number pages in the upper right hand corner. Include a running head.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the use of the words and/or ideas of another person without acknowledging the source. Plagiarism is generally grounds for failure of a course and can lead to dismissal from college. To avoid plagiarism, acknowledge your sources with in-text citations and a reference page. Enclose direct quotations in quotation marks or otherwise indent them from the body of your text. If you use another person's idea or paraphrase another person's words, be sure to use your own language and style of writing — don't simply rearrange the words. Use an in-text citation to acknowledge the source, then list on a reference page the publications or sources from which you obtained your citations. For more detailed information on plagiarism and how to avoid it, see the handout available at the GVC Writing Center.

In-text Citations

Cite the first appearance of another person's words and/or ideas by introducing the quotation or paraphrase with the author's name. After the first appearance, cite the author's name either within the text of your writing or within the parenthetical citation immediately following the cited passage. Always use the last name of the author/authors and the year of publication. The year of publication always follows the name of the cited/quoted authority. Note that commas separate items within parentheses. Following are some examples of in-text citation methods in the APA style.

In his study of the effects of alcohol on the ability to drive, Smith (1991) showed that the reaction times of participating drivers were adversely affected by as little as a twelve ounce can of beer.

If you don't use the author's name in the text, place it within the parenthetical citation with the date.

A recent study of the effects of alcohol on the ability to drive showed that as little as twelve ounces of beer adversely affected the reaction time of participating drivers (Smith, 1991).

Provide a page number when you use an exact quotation. Use quotation marks. Use the singular "p." or the plural "pp." to indicate page number(s).

In his study on the effects of alcohol on drivers, Smith (1991, p. 104) stated that "participants who drank twelve ounces of beer with a 3.5% alcohol content reacted, on average, 1.2 seconds more slowly to an emergency braking situation than they did when they had not ingested alcohol."

As an alternative, place the page number within parentheses at the end of the quotation. If you do so, remember to place the date immediately after the author's name.

In his study on the effects of alcohol on drivers, Smith (1991) stated that "participants who drank twelve ounces of beer with a 3.5% alcohol content reacted, on average, 1.2 seconds more slowly to an emergency braking situation than they did when they had not ingested alcohol" (p. 104).

Indent a direct quotation of 40 or more words five spaces from the left margin. If the quotation includes more than one paragraph, indent the first line of succeeding paragraphs five more spaces (ten spaces total). Don't use quotation marks, and be sure to double space the quotation as well as your own writing.

In her study of adult patterns of television watching, Roberts (1996) reported the following behaviors:

Response behaviors exhibited by participants who watched television without any other persons present in the viewing room included imitating the facial expressions and hand movements of television characters as well as talking to individual characters. Affective behaviors included exhibitions of anger such as shouting and throwing magazines at the television.

     Such behaviors were less evident behaviors in participants who watched television in groups of three. Instead, participants in group watching were more likely to interject critical or humorous comments regarding the content of particular television programs.

If you're citing an author who's been quoted in another book or article, use the original author's name in the text, and cite in parentheses the source in which you found the quotation.

Behavior is affected by situation. As Wallace (1972) postulated in Individual and Group Behavior, a person who acts a certain way independently may act in an entirely different manner while the member of a group (cited in Barkin, 1992, p. 478).

When citing a work with two, three, four, or five authors within the text of the paper, name them all in the first entry, e.g., (Smith, Andrews, & Lawrence 1995). After the first entry, cite only the first author's name followed by "et al.," for example, (Smith, et. al., 1995).

When citing a work with six or more authors, name only the first author followed by et. al., for example, (Fredericks, et. al., 1995). If the author is not given, use the first word or two of the title in the parenthetical citation.

Massachusetts state and municipal governments have initiated several programs to improve public safety, including community policing and after school activities ("Innovations," 1997).

If "Anonymous" is specified as the author, treat it as if it were a real name: (Anonymous, 1996). In the bibliographic references, also use the name Anonymous as author.

The Reference Page

You must always have a reference page as well as in-text citations to avoid plagiarism. The Reference Page immediately follows the text of the paper. Items on the reference page are listed alphabetically. Begin the first line of a reference at the left margin (i.e., do not indent the first line as you did in the body text). All subsequent lines for a reference should be indented one-half inch this is sometimes known as an "outdent" or "hanging indent"). APA has a second format that uses normal (one-half inch) indents on the first line of a reference, then left justifies subsequent lines to the left margin. This format is only for documents being submitted for publishing. Student papers should always use the first (hanging indent) format. For the reference page, use the running head and page number, then center the title "References" two lines below.


List the author's last name first with initial of the first name; year of publication in parentheses; title of book underlined (capitalize only the first word of the title and of any subtitle, and all proper nouns); the edition (if any) in parentheses; place of publication; and publisher. Omit the words Publishing Company and Inc. from the publisher's name. Use one space after periods and other punctuation.

Book by one author

Zimbardo, P. (1992). Psychology and life (13 ed.). New York: Harper Collins.

List more than one book by the same author chronologically, earliest edition or work first.

Book by two or more authors—List authors as they are listed in the book; use an ampersand to indicate "and."

Brasco, D. & Corleone, M. (1992). Child development: A behavioral approach. New York: Calavita.

Tork, P., Jones, D., & Nesmith, M. (1968). Adolescent development: Behavioral mimicry. Los Angeles: Pasquin.

Textbook or anthology—List cited author, date of the cited author's work, the chapter or section title, the editor's name preceded by "In" and followed by (Ed.), the title of the textbook/anthology, edition number (if appropriate), page numbers on which the cited author's work is found, place of publication, and publisher.

Bailey, B. (1992). Jobs in the nineties. In V. Westerhaus (Ed.). Issues for the 21st century (pp. 55-63). New York: Holt.

Book with a corporate author—List alphabetically with authors; if published by the author of the book, list the publisher as the author.

American Psychiatric Association. (1992). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (3d ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Book with no author or editor—Alphabetize by book title.

Student planning guide for degree programs and portfolios. (1996). Saratoga Springs, NY: Empire State College.


Journal Article—List the author(s), year of publication in parentheses, title of article without quotation marks and with only the first word, proper nouns, and words after colons capitalized, name of the journal underlined and with all major words capitalized, volume number underlined, and inclusive page numbers not preceded by "p." or "pp."

Smith, A. (1975). Driver age and crash involvement. American Journal of Public Health. 9. 326-327.

Brown, W. & Williamson, L. J. (1983). The myth of carcinogenic elements in tobacco smoke. American Journal of Public Health. 14. 419-431.

Magazine—List the author(s), year and month of publication (without abbreviations), title of the article without quotation marks and with only the first word and proper nouns capitalized, name of the magazine underlined and with all major words capitalized, volume number, and inclusive page numbers preceded by "p." or "pp."

Jackson, L. M. (1997, April). Taking back the streets. School Planning and Management. pp. 30-31.

Newspaper—List the author(s), year, month, and day of publication (without abbreviations), title of the article with only the first word and proper nouns capitalized, complete name of the newspaper underlined with all major words capitalized, and the section with discontinuous page numbers preceded by "p." or "pp."

Raymond, C. (1990, September 12). Global migration will have widespread impact on society, scholars say. The Chronicle of Higher Education. pp. A1, A6.

Computer Sources

The following information is provided in Harnack, A., & Kleppinger, E. (2000). Online! A Reference Guide to Using Internet Sources. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's.

World Wide Web sites

To document a specific file, provide as much as possible of the following information:

  • Author's name

  • Date of publication or last revision (if known), in parentheses

  • Title of document

  • Title of complete work (if relevant), in italics or underlined

  • "Online" in square brackets

  • Availability (indicated by the word "Available")

  • URL

  • Retrieval Date (indicated in square brackets at end of citation)

Patterson, O. (2001). Cultural continuity and collective memory. In The Emory center for myth and ritual in American life [Online]. Available: http://www.emory.edu/college/MARIAL/ [2001, October 29].

Online document

Author's name (last name, first and any middle initials). (Date of Internet publication). Document title. Where available: URL (or other retrieval information). Retrieval date.

Shapiro, H. (1999). Professional Communications. Available: http://www1.esc.edu/personalfac/hshapiro/professional_communications/default.htm [November 6, 2001].


An online book may be the electronic text of part or all of a printed book, or a book-length document available only on the Internet (e.g. a work of hyperfiction).

Bryant, P. (1999). Biodiversity and Conservation. [Online]. Available: http://darwin.bio.uci.edu/~sustain/bio65/Titlepage.htm [October 4, 1999].

Article in an electronic journal (ejournal)

Fine, M., and Kurdek, L.A. (1993, March 9). Reflections on determining authorship credit and authorship order on faculty-student collaborations. Available: American Psychologist. 48. 1141-1147 http://www.apa.org/journals/amp/kurdek.html [June 7, 1999].

Article in an electronic magazine (ezine)

Adler, J. (1999, May 17). Ghost of Everest. Available: Newsweek: http://newsweek.com/nwsrv/issue/20_99a/printed/us/so/so0120_1.htm [May 19, 1999].

Newspaper article

Azar, B., & Martin, S. (1999, October). APA's Council of Representatives endorses new standards for testing, high school psychology. Available: APA Monitor. http://www.apa.org/monitor/inl.html [October 7,1999].

Government publication

Bush, G. (1989, April 12). Principles of ethical conduct for government officers and employees. Exec. Order No. 12674. Pt. 1. Available: http://www.usoge.gov/exorders/eol2674.html [November 18, 1997].

E-mail. (Simply include a reference to the date sent and the subject heading)

Ward, Neil (nwar@asia.com). (2001, October 22). Tutoring Japanese students. E-mail to Shirley Jackson (sjacks55@lottery.com).

However, if the E-mail source is a consistently retrievable, subscriber-based journal or other text/document on E-mail, include it in the reference page as follows:

Funder, D. C. (1994, March). Judgmental process and content: Commentary of Koehler on base-rate [9 paragraphs]. Psycoloquy [On-line serial], 5, (17). Available E-mail: psyc@pucc Message: Get psyc 94-xxxx


Include the following information if your citation refers to an entire CD-ROM:

Beekman, G. (1991). Computer confluence (Version 1.0) [CD-ROM]. New York: Benjamin/Cummings.

Include the following information for an abstract on a CD-ROM:

Meyer, A. S., & Bock, K. (1992). The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon: Blocking or partial activation? [CD-ROM]. Memory & Cognition, 20. 715-726. Abstract from: Silver Platter File: PsycLIT Item: 80-16351


Norton, P. (1990). The new Norton guides 4.0 [Computer software]. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Whereas you might not always be able to supply all the above information, follow the general APA format for the specific type of source you are citing (journal, article, chapter, book, etc.). Include all necessary information to allow the reader to access the source material.


The APA style requires an abstract, an 80 to 120 word summary of the contents of the paper that immediately follows the title page. Be sure to ask your mentor whether or not s/he requires an abstract. The abstract should include the purpose, thesis, and conclusions of your paper and be accurate, self-contained, concise, coherent, and readable. Do not use a paragraph indentation for the abstract. The abstract requires a separate page and immediately follows the title page.

Addiction 2


Nicotine has been identified as an addictive substance since the mid-nineteenth century, when it was the first substance used to explore and map the synaptic system of receptors. Moreover, the common perception of American society throughout the twentieth century regarded cigarette smoking as a bad "habit" akin to addiction. Yet, despite more than a century of scientific study into and acceptance of nicotine as an addictive substance, American political, medical, scientific, and common societies still carry on a dialogue regarding whether or not nicotine is addictive. This dialogue is the very foundation of the prevailing negative attitudes toward tobacco. The scientific and medical communities proclaim the costly outcomes of nicotine addiction while the tobacco industry claims that nicotine is a relatively innocuous product.

APA format requires a title page that establishes a running head. Ask your Mentor if you need to provide a title page for your paper.

Addiction 1 


Addiction: Societal Denial

of the Addictive Nature of Nicotine

William M. Reynolds

Austin Peay State University

Running Head: Addiction


Each successive page will then have the running head "Addiction" followed by the page number in the upper right-hand corner.

This style sheet was produced with the
aid of the Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (3rd ed.) and the Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (4th ed.)

MLA, APA, & CMS: How to Properly Format Your Papers

Knowing the Styles and When to Use Them

In academic writing, how you present your information (technically) is often seen as important as the ideas you are putting forth. Proper citing, quoting and referencing of source material allows you to convey your breadth of research in a language commonly shared by others in your discipline. Giving others a chance to review and compare your work under these established guidelines enables your instructors to better see the work on its own merits, opposed to getting sidetracked by technical inefficiencies.

You MUST follow the rules like every other student: this is not an area where you want to stand out for doing things your own way. Writing for any academic purpose carries with it certain expectations and formatting consistencies, and a failure to properly understand how or why you cite your sources in a specific way can have negative effects on your written projects and communications.

The Big Three: APA, MLA, and CMS

There are three main "Schools of Style" used to properly format an academic paper, referred to as APA, MLA, or CMS.

  • APA style: These are the official guidelines put forth by the American Psychological Association, now in its sixth edition. This is the preference of the social sciences, so if you are studying sociology, psychology, medicine, or social work you are going to know APA style.
  • MLA style: The Modern Language Association provides guidelines you will be familiar with if you are focused on the Humanities: so artists, English majors, and theatre students will know MLA as they have used this style now for more than half a century.
  • CMS style: These are the style guidelines put forth in the Chicago Manual of Style, now in its 16th edition.  CMS style is predominantly seen in the humanities, particularly with literature students and those who study advanced segments of history and/or the arts.

While these formatting methods will share many characteristics such as margins and spacing, how they attribute references to source materials is the main differentiator.  For example, APA lists "references" while MLA calls the same thing "works cited" - a small but important distinction that might actually affect your grade.

Typically, you are going to use one style for most of your classes and communications, but there is certainly the possibility that you'll need to know how to use any one of these three common styles. The good news is it is not hard to get up-to-speed on any one of them and use them properly.

Get the Latest Updates
Regardless of which style you are using, it is imperative to get the most recent version of the guidelines to ensure your paper is as accurate as it can be. Each of the sources have updated their guidelines multiple times over the years, so working with the current standards is goal one.

APA and MLA are the most common styles to use, but CMS is not unheard of - just not as common for undergrads. CMS is commonly used in traditional book publishing and academic publishing situations, so if you are doing post-graduate writing, it is good to know.

The main thing that seems to be changing in the rules for all of them is about the proper attribution of web-related sources, so you are going to want to re-check that you are working from the most recent versions of whichever style guide you need.

Beware the Pitfalls

The common mistakes being made in properly styling citations and references might be as simple as not downloading the most recent updates; however, it may also be a case where students are simply not understanding how to infuse referencing properly.

Common APA Mistakes
"One of the most common mistakes I see," stated Professor John Long, who has studied social science and has taught health care administration and career development at a college level for various universities for more than five years, "are errors in properly citing web references." Professor Long and his students - being in the social sciences - have never used anything except APA style. He is currently working on his own education specialist degree (Ed.S.) now at U of Missouri, which is half way to the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree.

He continues: "While some common APA formatting errors may be issues due to changes in updated guidelines (APA 5 vs. APA 6), there are other, perhaps more common instances where a student fails to properly reference the source materials within writing assignments. This is particularly true when citing content from the Internet. Understanding how to properly reference and cite source materials adds power to any student paper, because the papers can be used to show a proper understanding and blending of source ideas - a critical concept in higher learning."

"Some of the changes to the guidelines seem very dubious and meticulous," he continues, "but standards are there so an evaluator can assess the weight of the material without bias. Many of my students might complain about it, but the ones that succeed are the ones who are actively trying to use citing resources to their own argument's advantage."

Common MLA Mistakes
APA students are not the only ones who have common mistakes in formatting - as evidenced by the following insight offered from Dr. Margaret Walters of Kennesaw State University, where she and her students have used primarily MLA guidelines in their writing, editing and literature classes. Dr. Walters has taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate level writing courses at Kennesaw State University for over 15 years.

Dr. Walters said, "The most common problems I see with MLA style occur in the writing, meaning the text itself, not the bibliography or Works Cited...though there are often some problems to address there, too. In the text, the most common problems are:

  • putting a period before and sometimes after the parenthetical citation, as in: ".... and this point is made early on." (Smith 127).
  • placing the closing quotation mark after the citation in parenthesis instead of after the quote: " .... and this point is made early on (Smith 127)".
  • placing quotation marks inside commas and periods instead of after them:  Smith tells us that among the most important rules are the ones regarding use of commas", yet he does not explain how this happens". (127) [those writing British English use the opposite rule--quotation marks inside end punctuation]."

Dr. Walters continued: "In the Works Cited, the most common MLA-related problems are:

  • not alphabetizing (even though this is the easiest rule to follow)
  • mixing up MLA and APA style; e.g. using initials for first names when MLA says use full first names and middle initials
  • leaving off the place of publication - it should be New York: Penguin, 2009 but will instead say Penguin, 2009
  • not knowing rules for using quotations marks or when to underline/italicize

"Students get it right most of the time," Dr. Walters states. "I think the underlying problem is an unwillingness to use the style sheets, handouts, or even the MLA handbook.  If they use the resources offered, most students are not going to struggle to meet the guidelines."

Get More Help

Both Dr. Walters and Professor Long advise students to use strong and verifiable resources to make your formatting job easier. Both instructors advise checking out the OWL (Online Writing Lab) Resources offered by Purdue in addition to the links to the sites listed above.

The writing center at your own university may hold lots of great information and people to help you understand what to do in each situation you face. Not every situation calls for the same style guide, so checking with the experts on your campus is always a smart idea.

For a quick reference, you can also use the handy visual aids created by Capital Community College on MLA and APA styled papers: (http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/library/citing.htm) or look at the MLA vs. APA comparison chart created by the University Writing Center at Appalachian State University.

The Bottom Line

The reality is, depending on your discipline, there may be only one type of style that you need to use, ever. However, this is not saying the rules for how to properly cite resources and references is not going to continue to change and evolve over time. You will be held responsible for being current.

As a student or in post-college academic writing, you want your work to shine and to always show your best efforts. This means checking on the rules to properly style and format your papers. Use the links and information above to help ensure you are forever properly dotting your I's and crossing your T's according to the latest and greatest rules.

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