Dr. Tamara Fudge, professor in the School of Business and IT, Kaplan University
Too often students complain that I am too tough on them for not following APA formatting. Lest anyone think this post is an apology, I will disappoint you! Formatting is important.
Sure, there are PowerPoints, podcasts, and other kinds of assignments, but most papers written in my school are to be completed using APA style, which was developed by the American Psychological Association. This method defines not just how sources are to be cited and referenced, but how the paper should look overall, including the size of margins, how far to indent first lines of paragraphs, where page numbers are placed, and more.
There are other formats, too, including but not limited to MLA (from the Modern Language Association) and Chicago (short for Chicago Manual of Style). Each style is picky about how words are placed on the page. It’s not that APA is any better than the others; it just happens to be the method of choice for my situation. The important thing is that there is a declared standard.
Why is formatting so important that I will dare to take a point or two off when it’s not followed?
- It demonstrates that you can follow instructions. If you were a hiring manager, you would not want to hire someone who either doesn’t, won’t, or can’t follow directions.
- It provides consistency. Your readers, whether they are your professors, your boss and coworkers, or your clients, won’t have to guess how you organized your ideas.
- It facilitates practice of discipline and adherence to standards. I can’t think of a field that doesn’t have some set of standards, such as how to meet web accessibility issues, provide network security, or maintain HIPAA requirements. Learning to stick to standards takes practice.
- It allows you to focus your efforts on content. There are no surprises in how you create a cover page or put the reference list together when you use an established method. Once you are used to the methodology – seriously, it’s not that difficult – you can spend the bulk of your writing time researching and organizing ideas into words.
Knowing how to use a prescribed formatting style can also help you excel in your career. For example, one of the ways to move upward in your chosen field is to become a published author; journals typically require a format and may summarily reject any submissions not meeting their standards. It’s also important to know that one of the reasons companies sometimes lose out on grants is that the writers didn’t follow posted guidelines (“The Top Five Reasons Grant Applications Are Rejected”, n.d.).
Legal documents also have very specific formatting. According to an article regarding California civil procedures, “there is a rule for everything … right down to the type of paper to use and the requirement to hole-punch your pleadings” (Haubrich-Hass, 2012, para. 1). I’ve been told that deviating from the requirements might well have an unhappy ending for the lawyer’s client.
My insistence on following rules should only make students stronger candidates for the workplace of their choice. They learn to follow instructions, provide consistency, practice discipline, and then have the ability to focus on content when they have mastered formatting. If I don’t insist on adherence to the rules, I fail to teach these things to my students. And so again, without apology, I declare that formatting is important!
Haubrich-Hass, B. (2012). Formatting California proceedings. Retrieved from https://thecalifornialitigator.com/pleadings/formatting-california-pleadings-2/
The top five reasons grant applications are rejected. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.grantgopher.com/news/articletype/articleview/articleid/1153/the-top-five-reasons-grant-applications-are-rejected.aspx