Tag Archives: academic writing

Big Changes to Reference List

If you do not see the podcast player, click here to listen.

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

If you do not see the podcast player, click here to listen.

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

The Three-Ingredient Thesis Statement

Molly Wright Starkweather, MA, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

When teaching thesis statements, the standard advice from teaching guides varies depending on the expertise of the student and the content area and level of study of the course. In the Kaplan Guide to Successful Writing, a thesis statement is considered effective if it sticks to one idea, focuses on a reasonably sized aspect of that idea, takes a clear position on the subject, and uses solid support. These are quality goals for students, but how does a student get in the right frame of mind to begin writing a thesis statement after having conducted all the research? A first term student will likely consider the main points to be included and build a thesis statement from there, which works fairly well in shorter assignments, but it can become an unwieldy proposition when it comes to more complex compositions.

Graduate students might not be expected to write the same sort of thesis statement as first year composition students, but they can benefit from considering a focused central argument in a sentence or two for the sake of those reading their papers. One of the reasons it is important to distinguish the type of central argument graduate students will make in their writing is because it might be easy to confuse a thesis statement with a graduate thesis, which is a specific type of original research report described in our Graduate Thesis resource.

A formula I have developed for thesis statements takes into consideration the notion that a thesis statement is often designed to address a situation in a field of study, typically solving a specific problem by offering a specific solution. The first ingredient in an effective thesis statement, then, is to mention the problem briefly. A template for mentioning the problem might look like one of the phrases below.

Considering the challenge of _________

When addressing the situation of __________

Professionals who face the scenario of __________

Here is how one thesis might begin.

Considering the challenge of keeping infants safe on airplane flights

Next, it is always good communication to have a solution in mind when mentioning a problem. Make sure to mention the specific solution for the specific problem being addressed, and consider one of the phrases below as a template for introducing the solution.

… an effective approach might be _________

… one good solution is _________

… the best response is to _________

Now, the effective thesis started earlier might go on to look like this. Considering the challenge of keeping infants safe on airplane flights, the most effective solution is to have the infant ride in a rear-facing car seat secured to the infant’s own airplane seat.

Finally, effective thesis statements can offer the reader a sense of what to expect in the body paragraphs of the paper. One way to incorporate the main points from the body paragraphs is to consider why the solution being offered in the thesis statement is effective or perhaps even the best solution. Adding “because” after naming the solution in the thesis can pave the way for establishing the main points right there within the same sentence. Here is an example of how all three ingredients—mentioning the challenge at hand, the solution, and the main points supporting the solution—can make for an effective thesis statement.

Considering the challenge of protecting infants on flights, the most effective solution is for the infant to be rear-facing in a car seat, because this solution addresses an infant’s physical development, the latest safety guidelines from experts on child travel safety, and the need for parents to protect themselves in a crash.

This is only one model for an effective thesis statement, so I encourage those reading this blog entry to consider other models for thesis statements as well. No matter what, make sure to phrase the central argument or main point or thesis statement based on the assignment instructions and any other supporting material (like a rubric) provided by the professor.


Topic Selection

Dr. Tamara Fudge

Professor,  School of Business and Information Technology, Kaplan University


There are some nice benefits to allowing students to pick their own topics for papers. First, there tends to be a lot less complaining about having to write in the first place. Also, the teacher doesn’t have to read through dozens of papers that cover the very same content.

Girl hiding behind blue book.


However, when students pick their own topics, they tend to write mostly about things they already know instead of investigating new concepts. They tend to use familiar sources instead of learning how to research or might even skip using source material altogether. Some students will try to re-purpose previous papers (most schools have rules against doing this) or at least cannibalize old ones.

“Professor, can I send in a project proposal I did for a real-life client?”

“Can I just show a website I built for my cousin instead of doing the coding assignment?”

“Is it okay to send in the paper that Professor X said was so good in my other class? ”

“I know you wanted me to research, but I wrote from my own experiences. I hope that’s okay.”

Professors and tutors often hear questions and statements like these from students.  Where’s the learning?

Part of the problem is that students need motivation. It is not always enough to explain course objectives or spend time in seminar talking about the relevance of the topic to real-life application, although these are important. Sometimes we just need to allow for some options (“Enhancing education”, n.d.).  Consider the following:

  • Offer topic options that can fulfill the same requirements. For example, instead of having them write about how they would develop a network for a particular business, give them three scenarios from which they can choose. In a health class, give the students a list of diseases; they choose one to research.
  • Offer formatting options, if you can make the grading rubric work for both. For example, allow students to choose whether to write an APA paper or present their findings in a PowerPoint.

When students are given some options, they are more likely to feel like they are in control of their learning, even if they didn’t get to write about their favorite topic.  This positivity will likely be reflected in their research and their final product.

I should provide a disclaimer: not all assignments need to offer options. But placing some control in the students’ hands now and then can make learning a little more interesting. With a little creativity on our part, there are ways to avoid their complaint of not being able to pick the topic themselves and along the way provide a little more motivation for learning.



Enhancing education: Solve a teaching problem; students lack interest or motivation. (n.d.). Retrieved from Carnegie Mellon University Eberly Center for Teaching Excellent & Educational Innovation: https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/solveproblem/strat-lackmotivation/lackmotivation-01.html


The Big Misconception about Writing to Learn

By Chrissine Rios, MA, Kaplan University Writing Center

Who’s heard this one before?

(c) clipart.com

(c) clipart.com

“I can’t write.”

In the twenty years that I’ve been tutoring writing, I’ve heard it a bunch.  Even if you’ve been an educator for one year, if you’ve assigned an essay, you’ve likely heard it.  In fact, I’m guilty of saying it!  It’s truly hard to get started sometimes, and that is usually the diagnosis: writer’s block.  Invention strategies like freewriting can help:  Just start writing, and the words will come, right?  The idea is that the very act of writing will help you learn what you have to say, or as put by some more famous writers as quoted on Goodreads:

  • “Writing is thinking on paper”  (William Knowlton Zinsser).
  • “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” (E.M. Forster).
  • “I write to discover what I know”  (Flannery O’Connor).
  • “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means” (Joan Didion).

In my last blog post, I wrote about the importance of encouraging revision in Writing Across the Curriculum courses because revising involves making “decisions . . .that help writers discover what they didn’t know they knew and communicate it to the reader in a way that makes sense and matters” (Rios, 2015).  In short, I was saying that revision evokes critical thinking, and we want our students to think critically, yes?

Writing-to-learn emerged in the 1970s as a model of education in which writing became more than a method to help students communicate effectively; it was also a method that Klien (1999) described as helping students “think critically and to construct new knowledge” (p. 203).  Klein’s research, to be fair, actually exposed the inconclusiveness of the writing-to-learn research as of 1999.  He explored the “hypotheses concerning the role of writing in thinking and learning” during the writing process (Table 1) and found each of them valid but lacking in empirical evidence regarding how writing contributes to the construction of knowledge and when.

In his analysis of the cognitive processes involved with each of the writing-to-learn hypotheses, he even argued that because of the “misconceptions that arise wholly from language,” such as the concept of heating being confused with insulation (“warm sweater”) and fertilizer being confused with photosynthesis (“plant food”), freewriting derived from spontaneous language full of misconceived knowledge “may not lead to the revision of students’ existing conceptions” (p. 219), i.e., learning, unless, however, the freewriting involved reflection and critical thinking, which is where the research is today:

Writing is a tool for critical thinking only when one is thinking critically.

Writing is connected to learning only as much as a person knows how to learn.

It’s not automatic.  Writing words does not equate learning.

As a writing tutor who also taught college composition for years, I can hardly keep myself from deleting that line, for I’ve always believed that writing triggers the same brain synapses as learning.  But according to research since Klein such as that of Fry and Villagomez (2012), “the impact writing has on student learning depends on context” (p. 170) such as how experienced the students are with writing-to-learn, whether or not “the writing task required metacognition,” (p. 170) and whether the students received positive instructor feedback to encourage deeper thinking.

So what does this mean for you?

Assigning an essay and encouraging writing as a process sets the stage for learning, but it does not guarantee learning will happen.  You also have to teach students how to use writing to learn, how to think critically.

When your students come to the Writing Center with complete drafts of assignments from your class, and they know they need to revise, but they do not know how or why, or they come with your assignment instructions knowing they need to write a college-level essay but say, “I can’t write,” the problem may not be their writing but rather, their thinking, and it’s not that students can’t think, either.

The assignment itself needs to prompt critical thought. Also, the students need to know that their goal is to learn, not just write in APA format. They need to be metacognitive and think about their thinking as they are writing. Goodwin (2014) suggests you “introduce students to the language of logic and reason, providing them with an approach to analyze their own and others’ thinking” (para. 13).  You don’t want to tell the student what needs to go in every paragraph, for instance, and assignments that rely too heavily on research or ask students a series of questions to answer with research may also stifle self-aware critical thought.

Consider this:  If students have to research first then write their paper, how different is that from the current traditional education in which writing is considered a two-step process: think first; write second?  Students will report on the research as instructed and put their efforts into writing cohesive and clear sentences instead of questioning or reasoning.  They will essentially write an elaborate summary.  Summary has its merits.  It’s fundamental, in fact.  My kindergartener is learning how to summarize.  It shows your understanding of a text, but it doesn’t require you make something of it.  Just saying.

There’s also a difference between writing that communicates a clear and well supported idea and writing that analyzes, evaluates, reflects on, and/or makes sense of content by forming new relationships between ideas.  Writing can be and do both; academic writing should be both clear and critical.  That’s scholarly discourse.  But both are learned, and especially in the lower-level courses, you may need to decide which is more important at the time, academic style or writing-to-learn, for an essay based in reflection or reasoning that encourages critical thinking might not be tidy or conclusive.  It might expose contradictions and leave them unresolved.  It might explore multiple possibilities instead of focusing on one sustained line of thought. But this too is why reflective journals are assigned along with research papers in many composition courses. You might try it.

The purpose of critical thinking is to construct new meaning, discover new relationships, learn.  Writing is an ideal method for critical thinking because through writing, students can reflect, analyze, evaluate, and reason.  So writing remains an effective way for students to make sense of course content. But the goal of the writing task should not be to report the course content back to you—that banking concept of education didn’t work. Remember Friere’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (1970)? Students learn better when asked to solve problems.

Will students also write better when the purpose is to solve a problem?

That may depend on what we–you and I (speaking on behalf of the Writing Center)–teach them about writing. Always know that the Writing Center is here to help.


Fry, S. W., & Villagomez, A. (2012). Writing to learn: Benefits and limitations. College Teaching, 60, 170-175. doi: 10.1080/87567555.2012.697081

Goodwin, B. (2014). Research says / teach critical thinking to teach writing. Writing: A Core Skill, 71(7), 78-80. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr14/vol71/num07/Teach-Critical-Thinking-to-Teach-Writing.aspx

Klein, P. D. (1999). Reopening inquiry into cognitive processes in writing-to-learn. Educational Psychology Review, 11(3), 203-270.

Rios, C. A. (2015). How to make your students’ writing matter–to them and to you. Retrieved from https://purdueglobalwritingcenter.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/how-to-make-your-students-writing-matter-to-them-and-to-you/

Table 1. Adapted from Klein (1999):

Klein 1999

Note: Adapted and intended for individual use only.

How to Make Your Students’ Writing Matter—to Them and to You

By Chrissine Rios, MA, Kaplan University Writing Center

Academic writing doesn’t come naturally to most new college students.

(c) clipart.com Writing formally can be like wearing stiff new shoes to a special occasion: uncomfortable if not also painful; the shoes demand more attention than the purpose of the occasion, and once it’s over, the shoes go back in the box. Not only do the expectations of academic style feel rigid, they can also seem prescriptive with the standards, rules, and criteria for grading. It’s no wonder that when students revise, they only concern themselves with presentation—making superficial corrections in spelling, mechanics, and usage. Students cling to the assignment rubric to determine the paper’s completeness and submit it to the Writing Center hoping the tutor who reads it finds nothing wrong.

Writing Center tutors are skilled academic readers, accustomed to providing revision suggestions on first drafts, and some make a good first impression—APA formatted title page, clear intro and thesis, no intrusive grammar errors, yet after reading to the end, the tutor goes to respond and has to scroll back to the title page and introduction to remember what the paper was about. The student never took her new shoes out of the box or did more than try them on, and so begins the work of the writing tutor: help the student re-see her draft, so she rewrites it with more audience awareness, focus on the dominant idea, structure, information, and voice. No simple task for either the tutor or the student.

“Most beginning writers refuse to rewrite,” explains acclaimed journalist and writing teacher, Donald Murray (2013). “Writing is always an act of self-exposure,” says Murray; “When we finish a draft, all writers feel vulnerable,” and since students are also writing to have their knowledge tested, “Any suggestion for a change in a draft is a personal insult” (p. 2). An Aha! moment can quickly turn to dread: “Now I’m going to have to rewrite my whole paper!” said my student while I was helping her paraphrase. She sounded defeated, and kind of angry with me. But this, again, is part of the my work as an academic writing tutor, helping students write beyond the assignment, to let go of correctness, and understand what Murray (2013) calls “the secret of our craft. Writing is rewriting” (p. 2).

When students are writing in the disciplines, and the writing process isn’t built into the curriculum as it is in a composition course, instructors can and should enlighten students in the art of revision and allow time for it.

reading laptop copyRevising is not the end of the writing process but the beginning (Murray, 2013)—it’s when writers re-see the entire draft and make decisions about focus, audience, form, structure, and language—the concerns that help writers discover what they didn’t know they knew and communicate it to the reader in a way that makes sense and matters. A revision worksheet or checklist can help. If you provide one to your students, does it include some or all of the following?

Assignment (The writing prompt, expectations, and guidelines): Does the writing fully address the requirements of the assignment?

Purpose (To inform, persuade, instruct, report, critique, compare/contrast, inspire, reflect . . .): Is the purpose of the writing clear and consistent throughout the writing?

Focus (Similar to photography—where the emphasis is, the dominant idea, clarity): Is the focus of the writing clear? Is it on one main idea?

Structure (The order of ideas, organization): Will the sequence of ideas make sense to a reader? Would any ideas raise questions that go unaddressed? (Why? Who cares? Who says? How so? What do you mean?)

Development (How the structural skeleton is fleshed out with information—content, context, research, specific details, illustrations, facts, examples, evidence, explanations): Are the ideas in the writing developed with enough information to sound authoritative, relevant, convincing, and clear?

Voice (The words, collocations, and patterns of language that project the persona and style of the writer and the formality or informality of the writing occasion): When reading the draft aloud, I sound _______________ (matter-of-fact, persuasive, light-hearted, folksy, logical and measured, sarcastic, impassioned, preachy, humorous, confident, unsure, surprised, honest, like me!). Is my voice appropriate for the subject matter and my purpose? Will it appeal to an academic audience?

Language (The use of rhetorical and literary devices: alliteration, anecdote, metaphor, analogy, assertion, authority, allusion, figurative language . . .): Are the rhetorical strategies and/or literary devices in the writing effective? Do they serve the purpose of the writing? Advance the argument? Clarify the focus? Ground ideas in logic? Reveal your integrity as a writer and researcher? Engage the reader?

That last one, language, could be part of “development” or “voice” too, and you may have your own way of defining other or all of the above ideas. Terrific! Your students would love to hear them. If you don’t yet provide a revision guide to your students writing academic papers, I invite you to develop one from my list and adapt it accordingly. It may make all the difference in helping make your students’ writing matter more, to them and to you!


Murray, D. M. (2013). The craft of revision, fifth anniversary edition. [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

Three Common APA Mistakes Students Make

By Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

Learning and using APA Style, or any citation style, can be difficult for students. While there are many areas where students may encounter confusion, in the writing center we often see students repeating the same types of mistakes, and, unfortunately, some of these mistakes tend to look like plagiarism. By understanding some of the most common mistakes students may be making and the misconceptions that may be behind the errors, tutors and teachers can help students learn how to correctly use APA Style and avoid issues with plagiarism in their writing.

  1. Citations and references do not match. – Often students will use one piece of bibliographical information to cite a source in-text and then begin the full reference with a different piece of information. For example, I often see the title of the article, journal, or book cited in the text when the reference, correctly, begins with the author’s last name.   Another very common error occurs when students cite in-text with the URL for the source.   While there may be a number of reasons that students make this type of error, one possible reason is that they are attempting to establish credibility by including the medium in the text of their essays. My advice to students when they make this mistake is to do a careful comparison of their in-text citations and full references to ensure that the information in each citation exactly matches the first word in the reference.   It is also usually helpful to remind students that APA follows an author-date system to cite in-text and that information like an URL does not indicate the author or the year.
  2. The student includes too much information in references. I often see references with information like the author’s university affiliations, professional titles, and degrees. Similarly, a reference might include information like the number of charts and tables in an article.   There may be a couple reasons that students err by including too much information in references. They may simply be copying all of the bibliographic information from the source and then pasting it on their references page.   Student writers also may be including extra information to show that their sources are credible. In this case, it is helpful to remind students that references generally should have only four key pieces of information: Who, When, What, and Where.
  3. Sometimes students’ work reflects an attempt at APA, but all of the elements may not be present. For example, students may have in-text citations but no references on a references page, or, they may have no in-text citations but complete references. Sometimes, there may be some in-text citations, but not enough. In these cases, there may a couple different misconceptions in play.   Students may not fully understand, for example, that both citations and references are required for successful use of APA. In this case, I find it helpful to remind students that each serve separate and important purposes. Citations indicate what information in the students’ work has been borrowed from other sources and which outside sources the information has been borrowed from. Full references are included so that the reader, if desired, can locate the source that the writer has cited.   Finally, sometimes several passages in the students’ work have obviously been borrowed from outside sources, but there is not sufficient citation.   For example, I typically see only one citation at the end of the paragraph mainly composed of source material.   This may especially occur when students are writing about topics that they may have initially been unfamiliar with; thus they may struggle with citing entire paragraphs of paraphrased material. When I see this issue in students’ writing, I often direct them to a helpful post from the APA Style Blog, Citing Paraphrased Work in APA Style.     In this post, APA Style Expert, Timothy McAdoo (2011) poses the question of what to do when writers need to “ clearly attribute multiple ideas within a paragraph yet maintain a readable and interesting text” (para. 2) and invites readers to share examples in the comments. Several readers share examples that include providing the author’s name in the running text of the essay. Students can review these examples and see how to successfully attribute paraphrased work and, hopefully, avoid insufficient citing.

By knowing some of the common mistakes that students make when learning to use APA and the misconceptions that may be behind those mistakes, tutors and teachers can take a proactive approach to helping students understand the correct use of APA Style and avoid plagiarism.


McAdoo, T. (2011). Citing paraphrased work in APA style.   Retrieved from http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2011/03/citing-paraphrased-work-in-apa-style.html