Writing Clearly and Concisely

APA Manual Chapter 3 and Supplemental Material


3.01 Length
“less is more”
3.02 Headings
Equal importance to same level headings
Avoid having 1 subsection in heading
3.03 Levels of heading
Assume introduction, no header

3.04 Seriation

Ordinal emphasis
Squares or circles
(a), (b), (c)

Organization of key points within sections, paragraphs, and sentences
Itemized conclusions or steps in a procedure

3.05 Continuity in Presentation of Ideas


Thematic development

Time links (then, after)
Cause-effect links (therefore, consequently)
Addition links (moreover, furthermore)
Contrast links (but, conversely)

3.06 Smoothness of Expression

Consistent use of verb tense
Past tense-results
Present tense-implications and conclusions
Careful hyphenation
Choose synonyms with care

3.07 Tone

Envision the reader
Be clear and direct, but also interesting and compelling.
Be professional.

Chan (2010) did not address
Chan (2010) completely overlooked

3.08 Economy of Expression

Use short words and sentences.
“Say only what needs to be said” (p. 67).
They were both alike
a total of 68 participants
instructions, which were exactly the same as those used
absolutely essential
has been previously found
small in size
one and the same
completely unanimous
period of time

Unit Length

3.09 Precision and Clarity

Word Choice
Say what you mean, mean what you say
Feel vs. think or believe
Like vs. such as
Colloquial expressions
Write up vs. report
Expressions of quantity
Quite a large part
Practically all
Very few
Is it necessary to be technical?
Clearly define term
Monetarily felt scarcity vs. poverty
Be sure referent is clear
This, that, these, those
This test, that trial, these participants
Avoid ambiguity
“Ten year olds were more likely to play with age peers than eight year olds”

Third person
Use a personal pronoun
We reviewed the literature vs. the authors reviewed the literature
No human characteristics associated to animals or innate objects
Pairs of rats vs. rat couples
Researchers controlled for versus the experiment controlled for
Editorial we
Only use “we” to refer to self and co-authors
We usually attempt to be clear in writing.
As researchers, we usually….

3.10 Linguistic Devices

Heavy alliteration
Poetic expressions
Use sparingly
Figurative expressions
Use with caution

APA Style Tutorial


Literature Review

Empirical reports designed to:

Test a theory
Reveal a qualifier of an existing effect
Resolve conflicting findings
Contrast two theories against each other
Link two previously unconnected bodies of research
Extend prior work in some theoretically meaningful way

Empirical reports require a review of the literature that already exists

Allows you to familiarize yourself with current theories, trends, concepts in specific area of interest – what’s already been done? What still needs to be accomplished? What interpretations have others offered?
Enables you to understand and evaluate the findings of previous researchers in order to plan for future research – allows you to add to body of knowledge
Provides a rational for your hypothesis
Provides a foundation for your study

Benefits of reviewing the literature

Helps clearly define your area of interest or research problem
Allows you to discover new approaches by reviewing what has been done and not done
Avoids approaches of replicating past research that has been shown to be futile
Gain insight into previous methods, measures, approaches
Find recommendations for future research
Gain knowledge about a particular area of interest

Approaches to literature reviews

Choose an area of interest, read all relevant studies and organize in a meaningful way
Choose an organizing theme or point that you want to make and select your studies accordingly

Choosing a topic

Choose a topic of current interest
Narrow the topic
Write about something that interests you

Example of focusing a research topic:
autism (much too broad)
Description of autistic children (still too broad)
Symptoms of autistic children and emotionally disturbed children (getting there but still a little too broad)

Create a controlling question such as “what are the theories explaining autism? How well do the theories fit the symptoms?”

What literature do you review?

Empirical (database) studies
Review articles
Theoretical articles
Methodological articles
Case studies
Government documents
On-line documents

Okay, now where do I get the literature?

Journal databases
World Wide Web
Unpublished reports

Basic literature search strategies using electronic databases

State your topic in a sentence or question
Choose effective keywords or short phrases
Use a shortcut (truncation symbol) for variant word endings (e.g., *, ?,:, !)
Connect the keywords using ORs or ANDs

Basic Search Process

Plan search
Choose database(s)
Select words to represent concepts
Construct strategy
Perform search
Review results
Change strategy if necessary
Search again
Print or download or e-mail results

Strategies to adjust if too many or too few records

Too many?
Limit years of publications
Require one or more keywords to be in article title
Use proximity operators (ex: Psychosocial NEAR intervention)
Too few?
Include more terms
Separate phrases
Use truncation (ex: autis* instead of autistic or autism)
Choose a different database

Examples of databases

Academic Search Premier
CHINAHL Plus with Full Text