Writing Professional Articles

[a simulated journal article in the APA, 4th ed., style]

[NOTE: APA will soon publish their 5th edition that provides expanded coverage of technological advances in publishing, as well as the most up-to-date information on APA style guidelines and more in-depth coverage of case studies, tables, and more. See http://www.apastyle.org/pubmanual.html for more information. this primer will be rewritten to reflect these changes when the newest edition is available.]


Writing Articles for Professional Journals:

An APA Primer

Roger Hiemstra

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                                                                Writing Professional Articles


(To conserve space, the material in this simulation is single spaced. However, most periodicals require double spacing of everything. Note, too, that this simulation shows each new paragraph beginning without a tab or 5 space indentation. However, some periodicals will require a tab mark at the beginning of each new paragraph. The best rule of thumb is always to look at articles published in the targeted periodical and model after them. For more information on professional writing and publishing, consider Hiemstra, R., & Brier, E. M. (1994). Professional writing: Processess, strategies, and tips for publishing in educational journals. Melbourne, FL: Krieger Publishing Company. 152pp., $18.50, ISBN 0-89464-660-5; P.O. Box 9542, Melbourne, FL 32902-9542; Direct Order Line: 407-727-7270)

The purpose of this demonstration article is to serve as a model for adherence to APA Guidelines, 4th Edition. Presented are examples of most stylistic requirements, how an article is laid out, a references section, and supporting materials. The primer models the editors' expectations regarding a well-presented article. Future authors also are encouraged to become quite familiar with all portions of the guidelines and to develop a final draft in compliance with the journal's stylistic expectations. A successful author is a person who not only writes well and has an important message, but one who also reviews past issues of the journal, understands what the journal publishes, and adheres strictly to the stylistic guidelines.

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Preparing an Article

One of the difficulties faced by a journal editor is preparing an accepted piece for publication. For example, the Adult Education Quarterly uses the American Psychological Association's Publication Manual, Fourth Edition, as its stylistic comparison source (American Psychological Association, 1994). Depending on the rigor with which authors have adhered to the guidelines, it can take a copy editor from ten minutes to one hour or more per page to prepare the piece for a typesetter or desktop publishing format. Thus, authors can gain from a well-prepared manuscript as it frequently is published quicker. This demonstration article will use both real and fictitious examples, references, and quotes to provide examples of guideline features frequently violated.

The Purpose

The purpose, therefore, is to demonstrate even such features as levels of headings (American Psychological Association, 1994). For example, the heading shown at the top of this page (below the title) is a level one heading; note that it is centered, with only the first letter of major words uppercase. The article title in all caps and centered is referred to as a "level 5" heading when five levels are required (American Psychological Association, 1994, p. 91). The heading at the top of this paragraph is a level two heading. It is centered with the first letters of major words capitalized and underlined. There are other heading levels that should be used in a consistent manner.

Other Heading Levels

The heading at the top of this paragraph is a level 3 heading. There will be occasions when even a fourth or fifth level is required. Check the manual for details as many authors wish to jump to this level almost immediately, perhaps representing remembered adherence to another set of guidelines. It should be noted that authors seldom need more than two or three levels of headings.

Abstract Page

Some periodicals require that an abstract of 100 to 150 words be included with the article (although some journals may specify a maximum number of words or characters). One format is to place it as a stand-alone second page of the article such as used in this article. This is used in those instances when the author has responsibility to prepare an article for peer review and the title page can simply be removed before it is sent out for critiques. Always read the stylistic guidelines or create your own by reviewing past issues of your preferred journal to determine special abstract page requirements.

Page Headers

Note that at the top of the first page the author placed an abbreviated title on the right side. This is often shown as five spaces to the left of the page number. Some journals request such an abbreviated title be placed on each page and/or a suggested running head (abbreviated title descriptor) placed on the title page. Other journals may ask that the running head be placed above the page number. The abbreviated title should be three or fewer words (four words if short ones) and descriptive of the overall title. Some journals will require that the first two or three words of the actual title be used. Author's page numbers usually are placed at the top right hand side of each page.

Punctuation Problems

These are several common punctuation errors that appear in 70% or more of submitted manuscripts. One correct usage just demonstrated that is often misused was the fact that a percent sign (%) should be used after numbers rather than the word spelled out. The purpose of this section is to highlight some of the most common errors and demonstrate correct usage. For more detailed information, refer to the stylistic manual (American Psychological Association, 1994).


The major problem found in comma usage is failure to place a comma before "and" and "or" in a series of three or more items. One correct example would be that one, two, three, or more authors can be cited in an article. Another example is that andragogy, pedagogy, and eldergogy have all been terms used in the Adult Education Quarterly.

One more problem is that a comma needs to be used as follows: to separate two independent clauses joined by a conjunction. For example, "Andragogy was popularized around 1970 in the United States, and eldergogy was a contrived term used for a particular age group" (Drake, 1984, p. 14).

Commas, Periods, Quotations, and End Marks

A general rule of thumb is that commas and periods come before the final quote mark and all other punctuation marks go after the final quote mark unless they are part of the quote. Deviation from this rule presents problems for editors and copy editors. An example is as follows: Smith (1986, p. 1) noted that "it is essential to make life easy for the editor." Smith's (1986) article, "Improving Your Chances," is a fictitious reference.


Brackets are used to enclose parenthetical material that fall within parentheses. An example follows: Several authors used a sample size of 5 to 12 in the learning projects research (Able, 1991 [n = 5]; Able, in press [n = 12]; Adams, Calder, & Petering, 1983 [n = 9]; Billings, Drake, Elias, Jones, & Peters, 1992 [n = 6]; B.H. Diamond, 1983 [n = 10]; G.C. Diamond, 1981 [n = 6], 1983 [n = 11]; Smith & Thomas, 1985a [n = 12]; Smith & Thomas, 1985b [n = 12]). Readers of this article also should notice how single and multiple authors are cited and where punctuation marks are used in the preceding sentence. Note the differences when cited names are not within parentheses: Billings et al. (1976), Carry (personal communication, April 1, 1986), Drake, Adams, and Smith (1992), and Judd and Ryner (1981) demonstrated the power of the instrument.

Brackets also are used to enclose material shown in a quotation that is from some person other than the original author. Drake (1984) found the following:

The use of the term, "andragogy," has been documented to have appeared in publications as early as 1690. Furthermore, one source even induced that androgogy [sic] had been spelled out in an ancient rock formation. This formation was sighted by an adult education helicopter crew [italics added] flying over a plateau in the mountains of Chili [sic]. (p. 310)


Correct usage of the lonely hyphen, a much misused mark, is shown in Table 1. If you still are in doubt, as a rule of thumb use hyphens for clarity rather than omit them.


Capitalizing the first letter of a word is required for five major areas: (a) the first word of a complete sentence, (b) beginning or major words in titles of books or articles, (c) nouns followed by numbers or letters, (d) proper nouns and adjectives, and (e) special situations. Specific instances are as follows:

(Note: the following seriated items are shown with the numbers left justified. However, some periodicals will require an indentation of 5 spaces or a tab before the number.)

1. The first word after a colon if part of a complete sentence.

2. Article headings and subheadings, major words in table and figure legends, included words of a hyphenated compound, the first word in a complete sentence clause following a colon, and the first word after a dash.

3. Proper names, names of university departments (Department of Instructional Design), and trade or brand names. Laws, theories, and hypotheses are not capitalized.

4. Nouns followed by a number or letter denoting a numbered or series position (Table 1).

5. Test titles, factor analysis names or numbers, and names of variables (Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale; Factor 1).

Stylistic Requirements

There are several stylistic requirements of a more general nature. Several important ones are summarized in this section.

1. Underlining should be used primarily for indicating words to be italicized. A general rule of thumb is to use italics and other marks of emphasis (i.e., such things as quote marks, dashes to separate words, and capitalized letters) sparingly.

2. Use abbreviations and acronyms sparingly. Excessive use of abbreviations actually hinders communication.

3. Short quotations (fewer than 40 words) should be incorporated in the text and longer quotes in freestanding, indented blocks of lines (double spaced), without quotation marks:

Start such a block quotation on a new line, indented five spaces from the left margin. Type the entire quotation . . . on the new margin and indent the first lines of any subsequent paragraphs within the quotation five to seven spaces from the new margin. (American Psychological Association, 1994, pp. 95-96)

Quote accurately, using sic (i.e., [sic]) immediately after an error to indicate errors in the original material. Use three ellipsis points (three spaced dots) for omitted material within a quoted sentence and four ellipsis points for omissions between two or more sentences (literally a period followed by the spaced dots). Use page numbers in text only for identifying quoted materials; page numbers are not needed for non-quoted ideas. Quoting more than 500 words normally requires the author to obtain written permission from the original source (some publishers vary this requirement and it is always best to determine if a journal or publisher has special requirements). Qualitative data excerpts also should be written as block quotations.

4. Use figures to express numbers 10 and above except at the beginning of a sentence; spell out words for nine and below, except for numbers used in conjunction with a larger number (e.g., 5 to 12), numbers in mathematical functions, and numbers denoting place in a series (e.g., Grade 6). The latter could be rewritten correctly as the sixth grade.

5. Use the following for common statistical terms:  SD; N (total sample); n (portion of a sample); %; t-test; m; M; and p > .05.

6. Footnotes should be used very sparingly (most articles are much better without footnotes), although explanatory footnotes for tables and figures sometimes are necessary. Some periodicals forbid footnotes or will prefer that you use endnotes.

7. Use the common two-letter abbreviations for states and territories (e.g., AL, NY, WI, etc.) in the references list shown at the end of the article. (American Psychological Association, 1994, p. 177).

8. Personal communications are cited only in the text and are not included in the references list.

9. Copy should be double-spaced with margins of one and a half inches on all four sides (this may vary in some periodicals). Onion skin pages, erasable bond, or other types of paper on which it is difficult to write are not acceptable. Copies usually are stapled together and many journals require the submission of four copies or more.

10. Do not hyphenate words at the end of a line. Let the line run short of the margin instead.

11. Adhere carefully to the "guidelines to reduce bias in language" (American Psychological Association, 1994, p. 46).

12. Departmental affiliations, special circumstances, and acknowledgements are placed in a separate author note. This should be double-spaced, on a separate sheet of paper, and included after the references section, or on the title page if journal allows it. Include a complete mailing address for correspondence and an email userid if available.

Tables and Figures

Table 1 (described earlier) illustrates the stylistic expectations for table use in Adult Education Quarterly. Use figures when a picture, model, or drawing augments text information. They should be easy to read and understand. Camera ready figures are preferred and may even be required by some periodicals. Figure legends and captions should be concise, communicate well, and be shown flush to the left margin at the bottom of the page. Any necessary notes go below the legend. Written permission is required for anything other than the author's original work, including even prior work of the author published elsewhere. Figures and tables using reduced type usually are not acceptable.

Reference Citations in Text

There are several rules that need to be followed in referencing supportive materials. In addition to those shown earlier in this article, the following illustrations typify the most common rules:

Drake (1984) discovered that . . .

In a recent article (Drake, 1984) it was discovered . . .

Drake, Adams, and Smith (1992) found . . .

It was found later (Drake et al., 1992) . . . that

[this illustrates a subsequent citation for Drake, Adams, & Smith])

Judd and Ryner (1981) demonstrated . . .

It was demonstrated (Judd & Ryner, 1981), . . .

In 1981, Judd and Ryner demonstrated . . . . the theory's viability

[this illustrates a period and three ellipsis points used to indicate at least two sentences omitted]

In 1981 (Judd & Ryner), it was demonstrated . . .

B.H. Diamond (1983) and G.C. Diamond, (1983); G.C. Diamond (1981); Smith & Thomas, (1985b).

The References List

The final presentation in all articles (unless tables or figures are included) is a complete reference list of all citations noted in the paper, including even this electronic journal citation (Rossman, 2000). Don't include references not cited. The general pattern of necessary elements is as follows: (a) author's last name, (b) author's initials as shown on the original source, (c) the year of the publication in parentheses, (d) the title (if an article or book capitalize the first word, proper names, and the first word after any colon; books should be underlined to show the words as italicized); (e) for journal articles use journal names, volume number (both italicized), and page numbers; for books use city, state (if city not well known), and the publisher. Each element generally concludes with a period. Multiple citations by the same author in the same year should be alphabetized (see the "References" section). See this article's reference list for several samples.

[Note: Only the fourth reference is a real source. All others are fictitious.]


Able, C. D. (in press). Adult learning is limitless. Journal of Adult Studies.

Able, C. D. (1991). Learning is lifelong. (Doctoral dissertation, Nebraska State University, 1980). Dissertation Abstracts International, 36, 4311A.

Adams, J. P., Calder, C., & Petering, I. S. T. (1983). The phenomenon of self-directed learning in Germany. (H. Van Zandt & P. Lenhert, Trans.). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

American Psychological Association. (1994). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Billings, B. B., Drake, S. F., Elias, N., Jones, S., & Peters, W. (1992). An ode to adult learning. Magazine of Adult Issues, 14(4), 4-10.

Diamond, B. H. (1983). The total adult learner. Unpublished manuscript, Hawaii State University, Center for Adult Studies, Honolulu.

Diamond, G. C. (1981, November 17). The older adult as a new learner. The Texas Evening Journal, pp. 4, 17.

Diamond, G. C. (1983, June). Older adults as new learners. Readers Digest, p. 43-49.

Drake, S. F. (1984). Learning throughout life (rev. ed.). San Francisco: J. Trout.

Drake, S. F., Adams, B., & Smith, J. H. (1992). Contemporary research on learning projects. In V. Q. Valquez & W. Walden (Eds.), Handbook of adult learning (pp. 310-317). Chicago: Chicago Books.

Judd, B., & Ryner, P. D. (1981). Early learning projects (Report No. 4A-301). Harbor, NY: National Learners Association.

Rossman, M. H. (2000). Andragogy and distance education: Together in the new millennium. [On-line.] Available: http://www.nova.edu/~aed/horizons/vol14n1.htm. [NOTE: A new APA style (5th Ed.) will be published soon. It will include revised guidelines for electronic citations. See http://www.apastyle.org/elecref.html for more information.]

Smith, J. H. (1986). Improving your chances. Adult Education Journal, 79, 17-21.

Smith, J. H., & Thomas, R. (1985a). Adults in a learning society. Proceedings of the 24th Annual Meeting of Adult Education Researchers, 24, 44-55.

Smith, J. H., & Thomas, R. (1985b). The learning society: A nationwide study (Occasional Paper No. 4). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University, Center for Adult Studies. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 104 104)

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Table 1

Guide to Correct Hyphenation

Rule Example(s)
Compound with a participle when preceding a modified noun role-playing exercise
Adjective phrase when preceding a modified noun one-or-two item questionnaire
Adjective and noun compound when it precedes a modified noun lower-class cohort
Compound with a number preceding a noun two-way analysis of variance

10th-grade class

Two or more compound modifiers for a common base long-, short-term memory
Capitalized base word compounds pro-Knowles
Number as base word in a compound pre-1970
Abbreviation as base word in a compound pre-SDLRS era
Several word compound non-SDLRS-oriented
All self-compounds self-directed learning
Words that could be misunderstood re-pair the group

[pair again]

Words that would be misread anti-instructional

Author Note

This primer was developed to assist beginning authors or authors unfamiliar with the American Psychological Association's Publication Manual, Fourth Edition (American Psychological Association, 1994). The primer provides a simulated look at how a manuscript should be formatted prior to submission to a periodical. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Roger Hiemstra, 318 Southfield Dr., Fayetteville, NY 13066. Electronic mail may be sent to rogerhiemstra@gmail.com.

December 30, 2005

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