Bias-Free Language

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We’ve long known that using gender-neutral language (aka: gender-inclusive language or non-sexist language) is the basic expectation in everyday communication–written or not. Long gone are the days when masculine pronouns were used by default when no gender was known. And gone, too, are the days of awkward and repetitive he/she and his/her constructs now that the singular “they” is the grammatical norm and formally endorsed by APA Style. But what about other contexts in which bias is evident in the language used? What’s the approach in those situations?

APA Style makes understanding appropriate usage clear by stating on its official website: “Writers . . . must strive to use language that is free of bias and avoid perpetuating prejudicial beliefs or demeaning attitudes. Just as you have learned to check what you write for spelling, grammar, and wordiness, practice reading your work for bias.” 

Indeed, bias-free language is needed to be inclusive of all people, and it may require some effort on the part of writers to rid their work of such usage so as not to offend or demean others. Some of the language bias concerns usage contexts that have been standard for a long time, and in this regard writers need to break those old habits. Unintentional or not, using terms such as policeman, mailman, mankind exclude women who surely serve and protect communities, deliver mail, and walk this planet. There’s no doubt that progress has been made using bias-free language with these examples as police officers, mail carriers, and humankind are not new terms, but what about language bias that doesn’t concern gender?

One classic example is the word “handicapped.” Writing “handicapped” or “hadicapped person” is biased because it makes a statement about the whole person, not the condition. APA Style recommends person-first language in which “the person is emphasized, not the individual’s disability or chronic condition.” With this in mind, phrasing such as “person living with a disability” would be the preferred language. If you are having doubts about the bias–and certainly to some, the offensiveness–of terms like “handicapped” or “disabled,” consider that it wasn’t until the 1970s that the term “crippled” stopped being used. While “handiapped” may be a shade better than “crippled,” it still expresses a bias. 

Some complain about excessive political correctness, but that seems more of an excuse to continue practices that are simply not sensitive to the needs of others. For decades people debated whether the name of the National Football League team Washington Redskins was demeaning to Native Americans, and now that that name has been finally removed, I guess we know the view that most people hold that prompted ownership to make the change. I’ve always been amazed at how strenuously some people will argue a view when it doesn’t affect them personally. After all, most of the folks who saw nothing wrong with “Redskins” as a team name were not Native American.

And I think this mindset gets to the heart of the matter: If certain usage doesn’t impact people personally, then many don’t see the problem. Take for example the word “refugee.” In 2005 my family and I evacuated the city of New Orleans a day before Hurricane Katrina ravaged our city. When it became clear what was happening, we headed to Maine where we had family, and it was along the way that news reports kept speaking of Katrina refugees fleeing the devastated areas. “Refugee”? At a hotel in Pennsylvania, the woman checking me in remarked after I handed her my driver’s licence, “You’re one of the ‘refugees.’” The word was not intended to be used in a demeaning manner, but that is exactly how it felt. After all, “refugee” is usually used to refer to those feeling a country for fear of persecution, not their own country. 

The use of biased language is as American as apple pie and baseball, and according to the University of New Hampshire’s 2015 “Bias-Free Language Guide” that has been removed due to backlash, such bias includes the word “American” because using the word as I have is not inclusive as it makes the assumption that an “American” is someone from the United States when other countries are part of the Americas. To be fair to UNH, its president at the time, Mark Huddleston, issued a statement saying the language guide was not policy and that he, too, was troubled by the guide flagging “American” as a biased word. 

Still, it makes me wonder: Is the word “American” biased? Why do people from the United States refer to themselves as “Americans”? Does someone from Mexico refer to themself as “American” or “Mexican”? Who does “American” include and according to whom? When I fill out an online form and have to select my country, “America” is not an option. Think of the logic: Someone from Italy is Italian. A person from Canada is Canadian. If you are from Greece, you are Greek. Yet if you live in the United States, you are an American.

In APA Style, the aim is not to create controversy but, rather, to guide writers to use language that is “accurate, clear, and free from bias or prejudicial connotations.” Avoiding the use of imprecise and overarching terms and using instead the terms the people being discussed use themselves is a positive step toward inclusivity and precision in language use.

Until next week–

Kurtis Clements

Why Fonts Matter

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For years the default font size for an APA Style paper was 12. And not only was APA’s preferred font size 12, but also the preferred font style was Times New Roman. Well, the 7th edition of APA Style has changed such preferences, and it’s important to understand what has changed and why. 

In the 7th edition of the Publication Manual, APA says that standard sans serif or serif fonts of 10 to 12 point are acceptable. But what exactly does that mean? I conducted a non-scientific poll of my wife and fifteen-year-old son, both of whom looked blankly at me when I asked if they knew the difference between a serif and sans serif font. My son, surly by nature, even added, “What’s wrong with you?”

This kind of reaction begs the question, what do folks really know about fonts in general? I imagine that most have seen font style options that refer to “serif or “sans serif,” but perhaps the terminology wasn’t given much thought (we’re talking about fonts, after all) or perhaps it was just that the font option “Sans Serif” was simply the name of the font and meant nothing more than the style like “Calibri” or “Arial” or “Merriweather.”

Publishers, typesetters, designers, and typophiles (yes, people who love typography–the look and appearance of the printed word!) have been debating the merits of serif vs sans serif fonts for a very long time. Interestingly enough, these same parties have also been involved in the debate of one space or two after a period. 

So what’s the difference between a serif and sans serif style font? Serif typeface has little embellishments (actually called serifs) that are decorative in nature (more on this in a moment) and appear at the ends of letters. Picture a capital T with a straight line across and another straight line down; now turn the ends of the horizontal line slightly downward and add little feet on either side of the vertical line at the bottom and you have a serif font: T. 

A sans (French for “without”) serif font, by contrast, does not have the embellishments. Picture that same capital T but with only a line across and a line down from the center and you have a sans serif capital T–that is, a capital T without any embellishments. 

As it turns out, these embellishments on serif fonts may not be decorative at all at least in terms of their origin, though I want to emphasize the phrasing “may not be decorative” because this matter, along with the origin of the word “serif” itself, is still debated. Many believe that the little embellishments used in serif font styles may actually be a product of a time when Romans carved Latin letters in stone. The letters would first be painted on the stone and then the stonemason would chisel a mark just outside the painted letter to get a footing (serifs at the bottoms of letters are sometimes referred to as feet) to carve out the letter by following the painted lines. These starting points at different junctures of a letter created notches that Guttenberg carried over to moveable type and which were eventually called serifs. 

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) traces the origin of the word “serif” back to 1841 (Guttenberg invented moveable typeface in the 15th century) and says the origin is likely of Dutch descent (schreef). Some claim the serif typeface allows one to read content more easily and quickly, but others disagree (Note: Multiple studies have been conducted for anyone interested). 

What is important, however, from an APA Style 7th edition perspective is the accessibility for all readers. In fact, a key feature now in APA Style is the degree to which inclusivity is a part of the guidelines for usage. In general, APA says that serif and sans serif fonts of 10 to 12 point are fine, and the Publication Manual makes these specific recommendations (section 2.19):

serif fonts: 12-point Times New Roman, 11-point Georgia, or normal (10-point) Computer;

sans serif fonts: 11-point Calibri, 11-point Arial, or 10-point Lucida Sans Unicode.

Other font size designations are offered for writing that appears in tables and footnotes and the like, but again what is at the core of what APA Style conveys is the need for font choices to be such that the content is accessible (i.e., readable) to everyone. While at one time a 12-point font was the norm, technology has advanced and hence the resolution of computer monitors now makes it possible for smaller font sizes for some styles to be legible. 

Perhaps the great challenge for most now is determining what font styles and accompanying sizes will be clear and distinct for all readers. How does one know for sure, right? I realize that the variety of font sizes and styles permitted creates some uncertainty, and little doubt exists that some fonts might be better for electronic use and other fonts for print. Even the APA Style Blog points out that “Research supports the use of various fonts for different contexts.” So what’s the answer? What font size and style should be used to ensure accessibility for all?

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to play it safe. I’ve been using Times New Roman 12-point font for so long, I think I’ll stick to it. I wonder, though, is Times New Roman a serif or sans serif font?

Until next week–

Kurtis Clements

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Big Changes to Reference List

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APA Style 7th edition introduced some big changes to the references list that you will want to keep straight. Let’s start with the nomenclature. The list of references at the end of an APA formatted paper has long been referred to as the “references page” as a simple Google search will demonstrate, but the omission of this term in the APA manual makes it clear that “reference list” is the preferred term. In addition, APA no longer uses the term reference citations or full citations to refer to the bibliographic information about the sources that appear on the references list. That content is now called reference entries or references or even reference list entries. The term “citations” is now exclusively used to refer only to in-text citations. (For additional information, check out last week’s blogcast titled “New APA Lingo.”)

In terms of the basic formatting on the reference list, the one difference is the word “References” is not only centered at the top of the page, but it is also now bolded. I have to wonder to what extent this change is a result of so many students bolding the word “References” in the 6th edition even though such formatting was not correct until now in the 7th edition.

One welcome change on the reference list is the ability to tame the long and winding URLs via a URL shortener. Yes, gone are the days of unsightly chunks of white space and alphanumeric strings of characters that could take three or more full lines on the page. A URL shortener enables the writer to tame those URLs and present them neatly on the page. 

And for those sources with a long and winding DOI, APA Style 7th edition allows one to shorten the length of those links as well but stipulates that one must use the official ShortDOI service provided by the International DOI Foundation at http://shortdoi.org

In addition, DOIs should now be presented as weblinks and APA encourages writers to standardize the look of DOIs by making sure all begin with “https://doi.org/” followed by the alphanumeric character string. 

Students often ask what color font a hypertext link should be on the reference list and whether or not it should be underlined. Well, APA has an answer. First, the hypertext links should be live and function if the paper will be read online. In terms of the color and underlining of the link, APA says that it’s fine for the link to be the default color for hypertext links of the word processing software being used, which is usually blue, and it’s fine for the hypertext link to be underlined. APA also says that it’s fine to use plain text for the hypertext link and if that’s the case, the link should not be underlined. 

Another notable change to the reference list includes the elimination of the phrasing “Retrieved from” before a URL or DOI. APA points out such phrasing is no longer necessary because it’s understood that a link should take one directly to content for retrieval. 

APA Style has also eliminated the need to include the place of publication for a book that appears on the reference list because such information could easily be procured online. In many ways, what APA Style has tried to do in the seventh edition is simplify and make easier the requirements for documenting sources, which is why such changes as eliminating the place of publication for a book and the ability to use a URL shortener for references is now the standard. 

Having said that I will leave you with a doozy of a change: When listing authors on the list of references, APA Style now allows the inclusion of up to twenty authors. That’s right: If you have a source with twenty listed authors, then you will need to include each in the order in which they are listed in the source. What if there are more than twenty sources? List the first nineteen authors, include ellipsis marks followed by the last listed author.

Until next week–

Kurtis Clements

Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

New APA Lingo

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Shakespeare, loosely paraphrased, once wrote that a rose by any other name is still a rose, and that idea, by extension, now applies to APA Style as familiar terms now have new names. 

In the past, the term “citation” was used to refer to information about sources within a paper and at the end. To differentiate where the citations appeared in a paper, the terms “in-text citation” and “reference citation” and sometimes “full citation” were used. Now, however, the term “citation” refers only to those citations found within the body of the paper. The terms “reference citation” and “full citation” do not even exist in the 7th edition of APA Style. So if someone says, “Where’s the citation?,” the question can only refer to in-text citations. 

So what is all the bibliographic information that appears on the “references page” called? Well, first, the term “references page” is no longer being used in APA Style. That page is now called “references” or “references list” or even “list of references.” Now this is not to say that the page with the references could not be called “references page” given that it is a separate page with the list of references, but it is to say that APA is no longer using that nomenclature. 

Another language change concerns how to talk about in-text citations. 

In the previous edition of APA, citations within the body of the paper were referred to as “citations” or “in-text citations” and sometimes “parenthetical citations,” but all of the terms meant essentially the same thing–information about a source that followed APA’s author-date citation format within the body of a paper. Those same terms still apply in the 7th edition, but APA has taken steps to be more intentional in terms of the types of citations. 

APA Style 7th edition more clearly establishes two types of in-text citations: parenthetical and narrative. With the author-date citation system, sometimes both the author and date appear in parenthesis separated by a comma–thus, a parenthetical citation–and sometimes only the date appears in parenthesis, and the author’s name is used in the sentence as part of the narrative–hence narrative citation. Narrative citations existed in the previous edition of APA, but that term was not actually put into use. Now APA Style more intentionally uses the term. 

A sentence with a narrative citation, for example, would include some kind of signal phrase, the date of publication in parentheses, and the rest of the sentence like this: Clements (2020) (in parentheses) explained the difference between a parenthetical in-text citation and narrative citation. 

One final  language change concerns APA’s recognition of the singular “they,” which was the focus of an earlier entry (and if you missed that blogcast, you can view and listen to that content here). 

Grammatically speaking, the pronoun “they” has long been a plural pronoun in that “they” refers to more than one person. Grammar requires agreement between a pronoun and the antecedent (what the pronoun refers to), so a sentence like “Each grammar curmudgeon rolled their eyes at the thought of a singular ‘they’” would not be grammatically correct because “their” is plural and refers to “curmudgeon,” which is singular. Well, the singular “they” resolves this agreement issue, and thus “Each grammar curmudgeon rolled their eyes at the thought of a singular ‘they’” is now grammatically correct given “they” exists in both a singular and plural form. 

Singular “they” also resolves the awkward “he or she” and “his or her” constructs because with singular “they” sentences like “Each student realized that he or she should do all he or she could to write well” would not be needed since singular they could be used instead of “he or she.”

The primary impetus, however, for this language change has to do with APA Style’s strong belief in using bias-free language in writing. To this end, the singular “they” is a pronoun of inclusivity in that it is a nonbinary singular pronoun for those individuals who do not identify with either he or she. 

Until next week–

Kurtis Clements

First Impressions

First impressions are, after all, first impressions, so setting up your APA formatted title page and header correctly will provide the kind of first impression you want readers to have of your paper and of you.

And it’s the “and of you” part that’s worth a little discussion. When one writes, the writing to include the “look” of the paper is a reflection of the writer just like in a business context, the writing an employee produces reflects on the business or organization. A sloppy-looking title page sends a message whether the writer likes it or not, and that message does not bode well for credibility, so tuck in your shirt and wash your face if you want a favorable first impression. 

To learn the step-by-step process of setting up the title page and header based on the 7th edition of APA Style, view this six-minute video presented by Learning and Development Specialist, Chrissine Cairns. 

Until next week–

Kurtis Clements

If you do not see the video, click here to view.

New Video Tutorial: APA 7th Demystified!

Bewildered by APA? Head spinning just thinking about the transition to the 7th edition of the Publication Manual? Fear not! The Writing Center at Purdue Global has rolled out its updated video aptly titled “APA Demystified in Five Minutes.”

That’s right–in five minutes! Learn about the basic formatting of the header and title page for a student paper, the proper set-up of in-text citations, the differences between parenthetical and narrative citations, and the layout and purpose of the list of references.

If you need a brief orientation to or a general overview of the 7th edition of APA Style, this video is for you.

Until next week,

Kurtis Clements

If you do not see the video, please click here to view.

The Singular “They”

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The singular they?!

Yes, the singular “they,” as in Everyone learns “their” ABCs or What one doesn’t know can’t hurt “them.”

While the singular “they” has been a topic of much discussion lately, the Oxford English Dictionary traces its use back to 1375 where singular “they” appeared in a poem titled “The Romance of William and the Werewolf.” In fact, the singular “they” is not new at all and has been used for some six hundred-plus years as a gender-neutral pronoun when the gender of a pronoun’s antecedent (what the pronoun refers to) is not clear, known, or important.

What is new, however, is the use of “they” as a non-binary pronoun–that is, a singular pronoun for those who do not identify with either he or she.

Grammar curmudgeons and language snobs rail at such use because “they” is a plural pronoun and can’t possibly refer to a singular word.

Yet such style guides and publications as The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), The Washington Post, The Associated Press, Chicago Manual of Style, Modern Language Association, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary, and the list goes on, all recognize this new use of and meaning for “they.” The American Dialect Society, a long-standing group of linguists, scholars, grammarians, etymologists, editors, and others, not only voted singular “they” the word of the year in 2015 (as did Merriam-Webster’s unabridged dictionary in 2019), the American Dialect Society also voted singular “they” the word of the decade for 2010 – 2019.

While some are not comfortable with or simply dislike the use of singular “they,” one needs to realize that language is a reflection of culture, and culture, we can only hope, evolves. In Puritan New England in the 15th century flirting was considered a crime. Flirting! If you had too much to drink and wandered about in public, your punishment was to march around town with a sign that read “Drunkard.” And let’s not forget poor Hester Prynne or the

“witches” in Salem. Much as those crimes and punishments changed over time, so, too, has the meaning of “they.”

In fact, language changes all the time. New words are added. Old words fall out of favor. Words take on new meanings or have new shades of meaning. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 650 new words were added in 2019 alone, bringing the total of words in the English language to around 470,000 words. That’s a ginormous number of words!

At one time the word baseball was written as two separate words, base ball, but over time as the word (and indeed, the sport) caught on, it evolved to “base” and “ball” being hyphenated and then eventually, as use continued and as the sport continued to gain in popularity, “base-ball” became “baseball” to reflect its ongoing presence in American culture. The etymological evolution of the word parallels the way in which the word became a part of American culture. The nonbinary use of the singular ‘they” is essentially following the same trajectory as the word baseball in terms of its general evolution and use in American English. 

So what’s all the hooey?

Perhaps tradition. Perhaps stubbornness. Perhaps just a general resistance to change. One long-standing work-around to the singular “they” conundrum had been the use of a singular masculine pronoun. For many years, such bristle-worthy sentences as “Everybody is entitled to his opinion” or “I do not know who the doctor is, but I am sure he is great” were not only commonplace but they were also correct. In the1960s, such usage of masculine pronouns exclusively began to lose favor because they excluded women and the singular gender-neutral pronoun constructs “he or she” and “his or her” saw the light of day. While gender neutrality is important and using sexist language in one’s writing is not acceptable or correct by today’s standards, the problem with using “he or she” came down to awkwardness.

Listen to this sentence: “Everybody tries to do his or her best but success is determined by how much motivation he or she has and the sacrifices he or she is willing to make in order to reach his or her goal.” Sure, the sentence is an extreme example, but the awkwardness is real, and often several sentences running need to use a “he/she” construct, so the awkwardness continues.

“They” as a singular nonbinary word makes perfect sense for a couple of reasons. First, its initial use was not only an effort to improve the ambiguity of a reference, but it was also an effort at gender-neutral language in the sense that using “they” in the singular could be both masculine and feminine. Second, just as the use of “he/she” constructs was an effort at language inclusivity, so, too, is the nonbinary singular “they” as more and more people do not identify with the pronoun “he” or “she.” Bias-free language is needed to be inclusive of all people regardless of what language purists or traditionalists or stuck-in-the past grammarians advocate is the correct way to use language. While the “rule” may require pronoun-antecedent agreement, if “they” is both singular and plural, then it would agree with a singular antecedent.

To be fair, the singular nonbinary use of “they” is gaining wider acceptance even among staunch grammarians. In addition, the 7th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association–that’s right, APA–has now officially endorsed the use of singular “they,” writing on its blog the pronoun is “inclusive of all people and helps writers avoid making assumptions about gender.”

Thus, we have grammatically correct sentences such as “When someone feels alienated by language that is not inclusive, they feel left out.”

Many people will not even be aware of the difference in usage as “they” in the plural has long been used to refer to singular indefinite pronouns such as “each,” everyone,” “everybody,” and “someone” much to the chagrin of English teachers everywhere. However, the times they are a-changing, and some may even find it ironic that a sentence like “Each person had to make their own decision” that was once grammatically incorrect when they were in school is now grammatically correct.

Some people–even those who recognize the importance of inclusivity in language use–may find using the singular “they” difficult, but the English language does not have a singular pronoun other than “it” that lacks gender identification, and writing a sentence like “The linguist said that it thought any change in language usage would certainly bring about new language problems” just sounds wrong.

While no singular gender-free pronoun other than “it” exists in English, some have used such alternatives as “zir,” “ze,” “hir”–h, i, r–and others, but no particular pronoun substitute has caught on. Other countries without gender-neutral singular pronouns have faced the same dilemma, but so far only Sweden seemed to have solved the problem by officially adding the singular gender-neutral pronoun “hen” to its language.

One way writers resolve this issue is by using the pronoun of choice of an individual when possible. APA says in the 7th edition to “always use a person’s self-identified pronoun, including when a person uses the singular “they” as their pronoun.” Of course it’s not always possible to know an individual’s choice, and a writer should not make assumptions about what someone’s choice might be, so in this regard, the best approach is to either reword the sentence entirely to eliminate any pronoun reference or follow the rule for usage and use the singular “they.”

Until next week–

Kurtis Clements

One Space, Two Spaces

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One mind-blowing change APA made in the 7th edition is the switch to using one space after a period rather than two. Why is this mind-blowing? After all, most publication styles such as MLA, Chicago, and AP specify that one space is to be used after a period. Even Microsoft has an opinion, as Word will flag two spaces after a period as an error. 

The reason the change from two spaces to one space is mind-blowing–and perhaps mind-numbing– is that the 5th edition of APA specified that one space be used after a period, but when the 6th edition came out in 2009, APA changed the requirement to two spaces. And now the 7th edition has returned to the one-space-after-a-period requirement. 

As a result of this change, folks in the Writing Center have been busy updating all of our resources from two spaces after a period to one space. I’m serious. The task would be far more tedious than you might think if it weren’t for the word processor’s “Search and Replace” function. 

It’s worth noting that when APA shifted to two spaces after a period in 2009, an appreciable level of hullabaloo followed. Everyone had an opinion. Those who learned to type on an actual typewriter felt vindicated. Typesetters were flummoxed. A 2018 Skidmore College research study found that two spaces after a period was actually beneficial to readers in that the two spaces allowed readers to process text faster. Of course that same study ended with “while period spacing does influence our processing of text, we should probably be arguing passionately about things that are more important.”

What’s confounding about the whole one-space-two-spaces issue, however, is the way in which APA discusses the change in the new publication manual. APA writes that it recommends (emphasis on recommends) the use of one space after periods, but if an instructor or publisher has other requirements such as using two spaces after a period, to follow those guidelines. There. That clears it up. Nothing fuzzy about the spacing requirement at all. To quote my favorite tragic literary hero, “Good grief!”

Until next week–

Kurtis Clements

Sneak Peek: APA 7th Edition Key Changes

Hands-down the most significant change in the 7th edition of APA is its conscious effort to produce a more student-friendly publication manual. Indeed, APA 7th offers a kinder and gentler student experience, one that expunges a few maddening requirements such as formatting the running head so that it appears one way on the title page and a different way on every other page.

To give you a little taste of what’s to come in the weeks ahead on this blog, we are including a podcast that provides an overview of such key APA changes as student-specific paper formatting requirements, a number of shortcuts to make citation and working with sources easier, and a major and long-anticipated language usage update.

APA 7TH EDITION KEY CHANGES PODCAST

Until next week–

Kurtis Clements

APA 7th Edition Key Changes Podcast Transcript

Meet the New Blog

Get ready! Every Friday the Purdue Global ASC and WC Resource Center and Blog will publish new content for our learning community. 

“Every Friday?” you might be asking. Yes, starting today, each and every Friday a new blog article will be published, so you might want to mark your calendars, tie a piece of string around your finger, or subscribe to our blog to ensure new content finds its way to you. 

And to kick things off, our article next Friday, July 31, will begin a series of posts that discuss the key changes made in the 7th edition of APA as colleges and universities prepare for the transition that for most will take place in January 2021. Next week’s article will not only have written content, but it will also have an accompanying podcast that you will be able to stream or download so that you can listen to the blog in the car, at the gym, on walks–wherever you happen to be and whenever you like. 

If you already have APA 7th edition on your mind, you might like to know that the  Writing Center has already begun to roll out APA 7th edition resources, and if you want to take a look click here.  

We are looking forward to the weeks to come and hope to find you right back here next Friday. Until then–

Kurtis Clements