APA for Beginners: Baby Steps Towards Perfection


Writing is often a big part of university. Apart from what you write, how you write is also very important in academic writing. There are specific standards in academic writing, and one of them is APA. Some students call it Another Pain in the A**, because it’s painful to do when one is not familiar with it!

When people talk about APA, they are re usually talking about APA style. APA style is one of the styles of academic writing; depending on the disciplines of studies, there are also other styles such as MLA (e.g. English Literature), Chicago (e.g. History), CSE (e.g. Science), etc. In the assignment descriptions, instructors usually tell you specifically which style you need to use for the assignments.

What is APA style?

APA stands for American Psychological Association. APA style is a set of standards set for academic publication, including formatting, language style, and citations.

Why do we use APA?

APA style is designed for academic publications, so the standards are set based on the requirements of academic writing (such as clarity).Since academic publications often discuss complicated matters with a large amount of information, the standards of APA style would help the author(s) to display the information to the audience through writing without creating misunderstanding or miscommunication. Using academic styles like APA is also beneficial to university students as a guideline to develop academic skills. It seems to be a little redundant when you use APA in your first or second year undergraduate courses, but the academic skills and learning habits you promote through using APA will benefit you in your upper level courses and research. 

How to apply APA in your paper?

  • Do not freak out when your instructor says, “I want your paper to be perfect APA!” There’s nothing to fear: APA has clear guidelines, and you can find them in the book “APA Manual”, which has everything about APA in it. The 6th edition is the most recent update (yes it changes over time!); it looks like this:



  • Follow APA since the beginning of your paper!

Reading the standards and guidelines of APA carefully will give you an idea how your paper need to be set up and what you must keep an eye on. I’ve been working in the writing centre for almost two years, and here are the examples of why I suggest using APA since the beginning.

The first example is about the formatting. A student has finished writing her paper and came into the Writing Centre asking for help with her APA. Her instructor asked for a 2-page paper in APA style. As soon as we adjust the space into APA style, her paper became 4 pages instead of 2. She ended up having to revise the whole paper. Fortunately, she had enough time to do so.

Another example is related to the references. The student rushed into the Writing Centre 3 hours before the deadline. His paper looked good and he needed help with putting in citations and setting up the references. As hardworking as he is, he pulled up 11 articles he read related to the topic he was writing about. However, here comes the problem: He doesn’t remember where he used which article and some articles might not have been used! Each time you use a resource, you need to cite; all the cited articles have to be on the list of references while the unused ones shouldn’t be put in. He took a whole day trying to match the information he mentioned in his paper with the articles he had. His grade for that paper was lower than he could have got because he submitted late.

APA is not only about format but also about the language you use, including political correctness and consistency of terms. Setting up your paper in APA style since the beginning can help you avoid a lot of troubles, especially when you are not familiar with APA.

  • Follow the guidelines carefully

The APA Manual has descriptions, explanations, and examples. There are a lot of detailed information in the Manual, so the TRU Writing Centre and the TRU Library created a little pamphlet summarizing most of the important information of the APA format. Some students would grab the pamphlet and almost never read it – but putting the pamphlet under your pillow does not help! Some details need special attention, including font, size, space, punctuation, capitalization, special formats, etc.

Pamphlets in Christmas colour in the Writing Centre!

  • Ask a lot of questions! 

APA includes many important details, and it might be difficult to notice all of them. When you are not so sure, it is important to ask questions and clarify what is required.

  • Apply it over and over again.

Practice makes perfect. It is totally okay to not know anything about APA before you read this post, but don’t avoid the work by asking someone to do it for you. Applying APA step by step each time will help you gain an understanding of how APA works and why things are set up that way – after awhile, it just makes so much sense!


Where can I get help with…

Computer literacy?

We all know the computer programs can be very tricky. If you’re not sure how to apply the settings as APA requires, feel free to ask the IT Service at TRU for help, as they are the experts of computers and programs. Your instructors, classmates, tutors in the TRU Writing Centre, and staff in the TRU Library would also be helpful. 

Resources about APA?

As we mentioned above, the blue book APA Manual is the ultimate resource of APA. However, it can be very overwhelming to start with the big Manual. TRU Library and TRU Writing Centre have the small pamphlets with the key things about APA you can use, and you can download it here.

The pamphlets would be great resources to start with. Ask a tutor or a librarian for explanations if anything on the pamphlets is not clear to you. When you have things that are not included in the pamphlets, you can look for it specifically in the APA Manual.

Finding academic resources?

TRU Library is definitely the place you should check out! TRU has amazing librarians helping students to find good quality academic resources. The reference support desk in TRU Library is open almost everyday during the year, helping students to find academic resources from databases. Some librarians know particular disciplines very well, so you can even book appointments with the librarian in your discipline and talk about your research.

Extensive information about APA?

Worst scenario: you need something that is not included in the pamphlet and you can’t find it in APA Manual (while you’re not sure if it is somewhere in the Manual). In this case, internet will be your best friend – search it online! The more reliable resources for APA are the websites of university libraries and APA OWL. If you have something that is not included in the APA Manual, it is necessary to check with your instructors and clarify the expectations, as some instructors might particular things different than APA while the paper is overall APA.

Writing and citations?

The TRU Writing Centre , located in Old Main 2674, is a great place to ask for writing support. Tutors in the Writing Centre have different backgrounds and are good at different things when it comes to writing. Other resources are available on the TRU website as well. Both online and face-to-face appointments are available throughout the year.


Still have questions? Please feel free to email me at vera@ourtru.ca!





在国内,很多大学会直接给学生一个期末论文或毕业的模版,学生可以直接根据模版把论文设置成统一要求的格式。但在北美,大学论文的格式一般都遵循出版的要求,而且这些要求是由具有强大学术背景的组织来制定的,大学里无论是学生还是教授都要选择一种版本并且遵循其中的要求。无论你是出国读语言、本科还是研究生或博士,写论文一般都逃不过APA (纯科学类或者纯文史类的进阶课程有可能会用相应学科的其他格式)。很多中国学生在刚入学第一个学期都会被APA吓到。没关系,有很多加拿大的本地学生也并不认识APA。今天我们就来剖析一下,看看怎么学习APA更有效率哈。

APA格式是多种出版格式中的其中一种,是由美国心理学会(American Psychological Association)制定的,所以简称为APA。APA说白了就是学术写作规范,包括多个组成部分,其中学术表达、排版格式和引用规范尤为重要且常用。我读的是教育类的课程,所以所有论文都要求是APA格式的。学术写作和普通写作的主要区别就在于其规范性,学术写作的目的是清楚而没有歧义地表达错综复杂的概念或分析,这些学术写作的规范能帮助我们减少歧义、表达不清、信息来源不严谨等的风险。APA用久了,感觉越用越方便,设置起来很顺手,因为APA设计都是有学术的目的的,并不是随意决定的标准。


有一本书叫APA Manual,我叫它APA蓝宝书,这本书目前为止出到了第六版,里面包括了所有APA涵盖的学术写作规范,从语言到格式,从封面页到引用文本(references),事无巨细全部都能在蓝宝书里查得到。不过这本书有个缺点,就是对初学者来说内容太庞大,很多同学会觉得无从下手而直接“弃疗”。不着急,TRU还给同学们准备了浓缩版小处方:APA小册子。TRU学校图书馆(TRU Library)和TRU写作中心(TRU Writing Centre)联合编写了一些小册子(有电子版!),都是关于不同学术写作规范的基本要点的,叫做XXX “in a nutshell”,比如APA格式的小册子就叫“APA in a nutshell”。这些小册子囊括了一般课程论文需要用到的格式规范,只要仔细阅读并按照指引一步一步完成,一般都不会有大问题。不过因为版面有限,小册子并不能涵盖所有的规范,网上查的有可能因为版本不一样而要求不同,有时小册子的例子未必人人看得懂,所以还是建议家中常备APA蓝宝书以防不时之需哈。当然,如果你认识某个APA达人(比如某位老师、学长学姐、图书馆员)的话,多请教也会很有帮助。



以上介绍这些资料都有什么用呢?以下是我在TRU 和Writing Centre两年来积累的一些经验,或许会对大家有所帮助。

拿到一份作业,首先要做的不是低头猛写,而是仔细阅读作业的要求。以APA为例, 有些老师要求的是全部APA格式,而有些老师则喜欢MLA格式(另一套不同的学术写作规范,主要针对英文文学类的写作)加APA格式的references,当然还有老师有其他不同的要求。仔细看清楚要求不仅是为了做好作业,也是学术研究的基本素养之一。另外,很重要的一点是不要一看到APA就害怕,你不是一个人在战斗,只要你愿意学,一定会有人帮你的,这个在下一部分我们会讲到。




TRU学校图书馆(TRU Library)不仅能回答关于APA的问题,最重要的是他们能帮你找写论文需要的学术资料。国内的图书馆系统和北美的不一样,加上语言上的不同,搜索资料并不容易。如果感觉自己怎么搜也找不到合适的资料写论文,可以试试约一位图书管理员帮忙,他们都对数据库非常了解,有些图书馆员还对特定的学科非常熟悉,只要你知道你在找的是什么,他们可以帮你定位搜索词和重要的数据库,快速有效地找资料。

关于电脑、软件和设置的问题也会影响到APA格式的设置。然而,并不是每个人都会了解办公软件的所有功能,TRU的IT Service也许能帮得上你哦。而且,所有的TRU学生都能免费使用正版的Microsoft Office软件,避免盗版软件带的bug,保证设置的正常运行。如果你的电脑安装了国内下载的盗版Microsoft Office软件,安装正版的软件前务必先把之前的盗版软件清理干净,以防后患。

我们之前提到过和TRU写作中心(TRU Writing Centre)是求助APA相关问题的好去处,为所有的TRU学生提供免费辅导哦,需要的话一定要勇敢寻求帮助。我刚到加拿大的时候就对APA完全没有概念,坚持去了一个学期Writing Centre,不仅写作进步了,还学会了怎么把论文做成“perfect APA”。心动不如行动,快快上Writing Centre约个Tutor帮忙吧。




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