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The American Psychological Association (APA) published the seventh edition of its Publication manual on 1 October 2019. So what’s new? This blog post highlights changes from the sixth edition, including reference to the manual’s section numbers and links to resources.

My copy arrived a few weeks ago — a shiny, colourful affair in the spiral-bound format with tabbed chapters and full colour pages as new features. The spiral-bound version makes it easy to have open on your desk while you work (particularly handy, I’ve found, when formatting a reference list and referring to it repeatedly). For those wondering whether the pages might fall out, I’ve been a heavy user of the spiral-bound sixth edition for five years and — while a little on the grubby side — it’s still in pretty good condition.

APA focuses heavily on accessibility in this edition, with new guidelines about flexible fonts/type size and streamlined heading levels. There’s a greater level of detail in each chapter’s Table of Contents, plus colour-coded figures and tables for clarity and legibility and increased number of examples of language use best practice. There’s also a new student focus that I’m sure has triggered great excitement and relief in equal measure!

There are also a few bold changes: clear guidance on the singular ‘they’, standardised format for table/figure captions, new guidance for citing three or more authors in text, listing up to 20 authors in the reference list, a new format for DOIs and URLs, and books/chapters no longer require a location.

Anyway, I’ve chosen to list here what I think are the most significant changes from sixth to seventh edition. While this list of new features is fairly comprehensive, it’s by no means exhaustive, and I’ve included what I hope you’ll find the most useful for a smooth transition to APA seventh.

Let’s now turn to some of these new features. I’ve given the manual’s section number, as well as links to the new APA Style Blog posts where currently available. There’s also a list of resources at the end. To start, the following is an overview of the 20 changes.

Overview of the 20 changes in APA7

1.  Student papers and theses: new guidance

Students, their supervisors/advisers and copyeditors alike will welcome APA’s new student focus. Previous editions were geared towards authors writing for scholarly publication, and while education institutions advise students to follow APA Style, there were a lot of grey areas that didn’t translate easily to students’ work. And recognising that APA Style is followed in fields other than psychology, the new edition includes other disciplines such as social work, nursing, communications, education and business (Section 1.10).

A note here that while APA now acknowledges students’ use of APA Style, students must continue to refer to their own institution’s guidelines for what’s acceptable and expected in relation to things like word count, chapter requirements and so on. For more information, see Section 1.10.

The ethical compliance checklist (Section 1.25) has been updated to include best practice to help ensure important content isn’t missing from students’ work.

The seventh edition also includes the required elements for student papers and theses (Section 2.2); one update here is that the running head, author note and abstract are no longer required (unless requested by the student’s institution). Figure 2.2 shows an example student title page.

2.  Student papers and theses: samples

Now included are sample papers for both professional papers and student papers/theses (end of Chapter 2), showing examples of headings, line spacing, short and block quotations and various types of references (book, report, journal article, YouTube video, blog post, short URL, conference presentation, short DOI, edited book chapter and doctoral dissertation). See APA Style Blog (Sample Papers) for two formats: annotated PDF and Word.

3.  Heading levels: now all title case

In quite a major change from the previous edition, APA has streamlined headings by making all five heading levels title case (Section 2.27); that is, most words are capitalised. Otherwise, the format of each heading is the same as before. The new heading format is handily printed on the inside cover of the manual for quick reference (see also Table 2.3). See APA Style Blog (Headings).

4.  Font and type size: more flexibility

With a greater focus on accessibility, APA Style now recommends a font accessible to all users (Section 2.19) as long as the author maintains consistency throughout the manuscript, a change from the sixth’s recommended but (some would argue) rather boring Times New Roman 12 pt.

The manual sets out examples of sans serif and serif fonts widely regarded as the most legible and that include the most commonly used special symbols (e.g. mathematical). There is also new guidance on the font/type size when presenting figure images, computer code and footnotes. See APA Style Blog (Font).

5.  One space after a full stop/period

Much to the relief of many, APA recommends only one space after a full stop/period — even in draft (Section 6.1). At last, a definitive guideline!

6.  Singular ‘they’ endorsed

In an improved focus on bias-free language, this edition addresses use of the singular ‘they’, a third-person singular pronoun (Section 4.18). APA recommends you use this both when a person’s pronoun is ‘they’ and when their gender is unknown or irrelevant; this promotes inclusivity and respect. This section includes lots of examples of usage; see also the APA Style Blog (Singular They).

7.  Punctuation: clearer guidance

APA’s punctuation guidance layout is much clearer in this new edition, with many more examples of how to use the period, comma, semicolon, colon and em/en dashes (Sections 6.2–6.6).

New to this edition is a more extensive section on quotation marks usage (Section 6.7) rather than using italics for linguistic examples of words, phrases or sentences; this is more accessible to the reader as sentences are easier to read.

8.  Verb tenses: recommended usage

New to this edition is a table setting out recommended verb tenses for particular sections of a paper or thesis (see Table 4.1, Section 4.12). See APA Style Blog (Verb Tense).

9.  Table and figure captions: standardised formatting

APA Style has standardised the format of table and figure captions: both captions now sit above the table or figure (like the table caption in the sixth edition), and the number is bold (to match section headings).

See Section 7.9 for table components and Tables 7.1–7.24 for sample tables. See also the APA Style Blog (Table Setup).

See Section 7.23 for figure components and Figures 7.1–7.21 for sample figures. See also the APA Style Blog (Figure Setup).

10.  Tables and figures: new checklists

The new table checklist (Section 7.21) and figure checklist (Section 7.35) help to ensure the information you’re displaying is relevant, communicated effectively and follows APA Style guidelines.

11.  How a reference works: new colour-coded examples

Under Principles of Reference List Entries, a new Figure 9.1 (Section 9.4) shows colour-coded examples of how a reference works. 

Table 9.1 gives comprehensive examples of how to create a reference when information is missing.

12.  In-text citations: three or more authors ‘et al.’

One big change to in-text citations is that published works of three or more authors are now cited as the first author plus ‘et al.’ at first mention (Section 8.17); the sixth edition listed up to five authors. Guidance regarding three or more authors shortening to the same form remains the same as the sixth (Section 8.18). See APA Style Blog (Author/Date).

Although the advice around in-text citations (Sections 8.10–8.22) is largely the same at the sixth, new tables give clearer, more comprehensive examples of basic in-text citation styles (Table 8.1) and the correct and incorrect ways to cite a direct quotation, with rationales (Table 8.2).

13.  Published works requiring special approaches

This edition includes new guidance on works requiring special approaches, including interviews (Section 8.7) and classroom and intranet resources (Section 8.8). Updated personal communications includes advice on citing traditional knowledge or oral traditions of indigenous peoples (Section 8.8). See also the APA Style Blog (Personal Communications).

14.  DOIs and URLs: new format

The new format of DOIs and URLs (Section 9.35) will be a welcome change to many: both are now presented as hyperlinks (starting ‘http://’ or ‘https://’). See APA Style Blog (DOIs and URLs).

Because of this, both the DOI prefix and the ‘retrieved from’/‘accessed from’ wording is unnecessary, which simplifies and standardises retrieval.

If a DOI is long and complex, a DOI shortened version can now be used, although since publication of the manual, APA has clarified that the shortened versions are better suited to short-lived works like student papers rather than published works (see APA Style Blog).

15.  Punctuation between reference elements: no italics

In what some might see as an over-fiddly addition to the seventh edition, punctuation between reference elements (e.g. the full stop following a book title) is no longer italicised (Section 9.5). Punctuation that appears as part of an element in italics is still italicised.

16.  Books/chapters: publisher location not required

I’m sure we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief at this one — no longer will we need to google obscure US towns to find the state initials: for books and chapters, the publisher location is not required (Section 10.2).

17.  Journal articles: list up to 20 authors

Great news for the seventh author! New guidance is to spell out up to 20 authors (Section 10.1[4]) in the reference list — that is, the first 19 authors and the last; the previous edition listed only the first five authors and the last. See also the APA Style Blog.

18.  Journal articles: always include issue number

New guidance is that issue numbers should always be included in journal article references where possible (Section 10.1). In this new, simplified process, if the journal doesn’t use issue numbers, there’s no need to include the issue number element. The APA Style Blog has further information.

19.  Reference examples: new template for each category

As well as more than 100 new reference examples, including for websites, web pages and electronic sources, each reference category now has its own template for both in-text citations and reference list (Chapter 10).

20.  Style and grammar guidelines: updated

Addressing all matters APA seventh edition, the style and grammar guidelines are available on the new APA Style Blog page and present information as described in the manual under easy-reference headings: paper format, grammar, bias-free language, tables and figures, in-text citations, references, research and publication and mechanics of style (punctuation, spelling and hyphenation, capitalisation, numbers, italics and quotation marks, abbreviations and lists). See Style and Grammar Guidelines.

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