APA style

November 22, 2011

In a hypothetical reality where I have the kind of free time to devote to nerdy sidequests personal crusades, I would put serious effort into reforming APA formatting guidelines.

APA 6 already made some good headway in this area, especially in the reformatting of levels of heading.  I know that people who had already become set in their ways didn’t like that, because everyone hates memorizing new arbitrary rules of style.  But aside from recent modifications, APA formatting guidelines exist because of typewriters.  Before APA 6, you had a complicated set of headings that involved ALL CAPS and italics (formerly underline) because caps and underline were all you could do on a typewriter.  Now we have fancy-schmancy things like bold, so headings can actually stand out from the body text.  Yay!

But lots of things remain from the old typewriter days.  Does anyone know why we have a running head and define it on the first page?  It’s because in the old days scholars would send in typewritten manuscripts with a title page identifying author info.  The editor pulls off the title page and sends the anonymous manuscript out to reviewers (by mail!), then gets it back with actual red marks on it and needs a way to match it back up with identifying information.  I know there are still a couple Luddite journals out there that take paper submissions (I don’t know how many of them use APA style, however)–but by and large this is a completely unnecessary practice that continues out of tradition.  

But who cares–how hard is it to just type up a running head? No big.  What is perhaps more significant is the resistance of APA to put figures and graphs inline with the text.  Really? We still need to attach them to the end?  This practice dates to when you would have attached ACTUAL PHOTOGRAPHS, hand-drawn graphs and figures, output from a “supercomputer,” etc. that you needed to attach to your typewritten manuscript (and that would be captured to print in the journal with a camera… with film).  Now it’s actually (arguably) easier to put these things inline than it is to attach them to the end of the manuscript–especially if you’re using reference-management software or automatic endnotes that seem to think it knows better than you where things should be placed, making it difficult to put things in a single document AFTER the refs or endnotes.  Moreover, it is a LOT easier for reviewers to check your tables and figs when they are presented in with the text than when they are at the end of the document, especially when they are reviewing docs on a computer or tablet (as is increasingly the case).  

So yeah… this is my dream, this is my quest.  If I had the kind of time that Don Quixote did, anyway.