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Matthew Hesson-McInnis, Ph.D.

Professor and Coordinator

Grammar & Style Codes

Table of Contents

AA = Avoid Anthropomorphism

Do not assign uniquely human qualities to inanimate objects. For instance, results do not think and the literature does not believe. Inanimate objects or concepts can perform actions, such as supporting theories, demonstrating effects, and so forth, but they cannot engage in strictly human activities such as thinking and believing.

See Section 3.09 (Precision and Clarity - Attribution), p. 69 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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AWO = Awkward Word Order

Clear writing depends on a logical word order; placing words in an awkward order can obscure the meaning entirely or confuse the reader. The word reordering symbol, , may have been used to suggest an alternative word order. A frequent mistake is to place an interruptive word, such as however at the beginning of a sentence (or worse yet, a paragraph) when there are no continuing ideas to interrupt.

The APA Publication Manual does not provide further details.

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BL = Biased Language

It is very important to make sure that our language is unbiased and to avoid subtle forms of unintential bias. The APA Publication outlines three guiding principles for avoiding bias.

Describe at the appropriate level of specificity.

Typical specificity problems involve using terms that are overly broad and do not accurately describe the sample. For example, if all participants are of Chinese descent and living in the U.S., then they should be described as Chinese Americans rather than Asian Americans. Similarly, using the noun forms, males and females to refer only to people lacks appropriate specificity that many species have two sexes.

Be sensitive to labels.

Typical label problems involve equating people with a group to which they belong by using noun-forms rather than adjective-forms to identify group membership. Thus, we should use the term children with dyslexia rather than dyslexics; we should use the term gay men rather than homosexuals.

Acknowledge Participation.

Typical problems in acknowledging participation often involve using passive voice to describe what was done to the participants in the study rather than what the participants did.

See Sections 3.12 to 3.17 (Reducing Bias in Language), pp. 70-77 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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CS = Comma Splice

A comma splice occurs when a comma has been used incorrectly in an attempt to splice two ideas together. Usually, this error occurs when two independent clauses have been joined with a comma, rather than (a) a comma and a coordinating conjunction, (b) a semi-colon, or (c) a semi-colon and a coordinating conjunction. A comma alone is not strong enough to hold two independent clauses together.

Wrong: The participants were shown to a workstation, they were then instructed to read and sign the consent form.
Right: The participants were shown to a workstation, and they were then instructed to read and sign the consent form.
Also Right: The participants were shown to a workstation; they were then instructed to read and sign the consent form.
Also Right: The participants were shown to a workstation then were instructed to read and sign the consent form.

Note that the first correct example uses the simple comma and coordinating conjunction option. Although the second correct example uses the semi-colon option, it isn't really necessary in this particular example because commas are not used elsewhere. If the sentence contained one or more dependent clauses set off from the rest of the sentence with commas, then the semi-colon must be used to give greater clarity by signaling the reader that this conjunction is a major one (i.e., of two independent clauses).In the third alternative, the sentence has been rewritten to have a compound verb, eliminating the second independent clause altogether. The sentence also could have been rewritten to change one of the independent clauses into a dependent clause.

A very frequent context for comma splices is when presenting a list of statistics for different sub-groups.

Wrong: Of the 240 participants, 120 (50%) were White, 60 (25%) were Black, 30 (12.5%) were Asian, and 30 (12.5%) were Hispanic.
Right: Of the 240 participants, 120 (50%) were White; 60 (25%) were Black; 30 (12.5%) were Asian; and 30 (12.5%) were Hispanic.
Also Right: Of the 240 participants, there were 120 (50%) who were White, 60 (25%) who were Black, 30 (12.5%) who were Asian, and 30 (12.5%) who were Hispanic.

See also ROS and NIC.

See Section 4.03 (Comma), pp. 88-89 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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IPP = Imprecise use of a Personal (or impersonal) Pronoun

Only personal pronouns should be used to refer to people. Using the pronoun it to refer to a person is as disturbing and creepy as using the relative pronoun that to refer to people.

Wrong: The participants that were assigned to the control group were taken to a separate room.
Right: The participants who were assigned to the control group were taken to a separate room.

See Section 3.20 (Pronouns), pp. 79-80 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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IRP = Imprecise Use of a Relative Pronoun

The relative pronoun which is used with nonrestrictive clauses (clauses that do not change the meaning of the sentence), and the relative pronoun that is used with restrictive clauses (clauses that do change the meaning of the sentence). Also, keep in mind that restrictive clauses must not be separated from the rest of the sentence by commas, and non-restrictive clauses must be set off by commas. To use which and that precisely, first decide if the clause is restrictive or non-restrictive; if the former, use that and no commas; and if the latter, use which and commas.

Wrong: The debriefing form, that was printed on letterhead, was provided after the session was concluded.
Also Wrong: The debriefing form which was printed on letterhead was provided after the session was concluded.
Right: The debriefing form that was printed on letterhead was provided after the session was concluded.
Also Right: The debriefing form, which was printed on letterhead, was provided after the session was concluded.

Note that in the two wrong examples, we cannot tell if the author intended for the detail about letterhead to change the meaning of the sentence if it were left out. In the first correct example, the author clearly intended for the reader to consider the letterhead paper to be so important that the meaning of the sentence would change if it had been eliminated. In the second correct example, the author clearly intended for the reader to consider the letterhead paper to be a secondary and less important matter. It is important to follow the rules outlined here about the precise use of which and that (with appropriate commas) to signal the reader whether the clause is restrictive or non-restrictive. These rules apply even when several clauses in a row use the same relative pronoun.

See Section 3.22 (Relative Pronouns and Subordinate Conjunctions), pp. 83-84 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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IS = Incomplete Sentence

All sentences must have a subject and a verb. This problem can be more frequent when the subject is a complex phrase, rather than a simple noun, especially when the verb is a state of being rather than an action.

Wrong: Trying to avoid the confusion of not having both a verb and a subject, especially in sentences with complex subjects, such as this one.
Right: Trying to avoid the confusion of not having both a verb and a subject, especially in sentences with complex subjects, such as this one, can be frustrating.

There is no further detail in the APA Publication Manual because it is assumed that anyone writing in APA format should already know how to write in complete sentences.

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ISC = Imprecise Use of a Subordinating Conjunction

To increase precision in scientific writing, reserve the subordinating conjunctions, while and since to express temporal relationships. Do not use while as a synonym for and, whereas, or although. Do not use since as a synonym for because. While is reserved for linking actions that take place at the same time. Similarly, since is reserved to indicate that one action followed another in time.

Wrong: While the data in Reeder and Pryor's (1992) first study were collected from undergraduates, their 1995 study used data collected from the community at large.
Right: Although the data in Reeder and Pryor's (1992) first study were collected from undergraduates, their 1995 study used data collected from the community at large.
Also Right: Whereas the data in Reeder and Pryor's (1992) first study were collected from undergraduates, their 1995 study used data collected from the community at large.

We note that it is actually highly unlikely that the data for the two studies were being collected at the same time, which is one valid interpretation of the incorrect wording.

See Section 3.22 (Relative Pronouns and Subordinate Conjunctions), pp. 83-84 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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NIC = Not an Independent Clause

When a coordinating conjunction is preceded by a comma that is not being used to punctuate a list of three or more elements, the comma and coordinating conjunction should indicate the beginning of an independent clause. If there is no such independent clause, then the comma must be removed.

Wrong: Prior to conducting the main analysis, the data were screened for outliers, and cases with large numbers of missing data points.
Right: Prior to conducting the main analysis, the data were screened for outliers and cases with large numbers of missing data points.

Including the comma as in the incorrect example leads the reader to expect an independent clause. When the reader gets to the period without having found a verb for what was thought to be an independent clause, the reader has to go back and try to figure out why the comma is there. The answer, of course, is that there is no reason for the comma to be there. Keep in mind that a compound verb, subject, or predicate object with only two components will not need a comma to separate them.

See Section 4.03 (Comma), pp. 88-89 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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NPA = Noun-Pronoun Agreement

Pronouns must agree with the nouns to which they refer in both gender and number. Singular nouns take singular pronouns; plural nouns must take plural pronouns; and gender-neutral, singular nouns must take gender-neutral, singular pronouns.

Wrong: Each participant was asked to provide their informed consent.
Right: Each participant was asked to provide his or her informed consent.
Also Right: All participants were asked to provide their informed consent.

Also, be sure to avoid over-using the gender-neutral personal pronoun construction he or she by rewriting the sentences to have plural objects as in the last example. Do not use the plural pronoun their to refer to a singular, gender-neutral object.

See also S/H.

See Section 3.20 (Pronouns), pp. 79-80 and Section 3.12 (Gender), pp. 73-74 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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NVA = Noun-Verb Agreement

The subject and verb must agree in number: Plural subjects must be paired with plural verbs, and singular subjects must be paired with singular verbs. Very often, the confusion stems from intervening phrases or clauses between the subject and verb.

Wrong:The proportion of variance accounted for by the main effects were significant at the .05 level.
Right:The proportion of variance accounted for by the main effects was significant at the .05 level.

The plural word effects may be distracting and lead the writer to use the plural verb form even though the subject of the sentence is proportion, which is singular.

Note that the word data is always a plural word! The singular form of data is datum. Further, the word data is always plural in context.

See Section 3.19 (Agreement of Subject and Verb), pp. 78-79 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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OC = use the Oxford Comma

When there are three or more elements in a list, all elements must be separated from the others with a comma, and the last two elements must be separated from each other with a comma and a coordinating conjunction.. Although this last comma is optional in non-technical writing (you don't usually see it in novels, for instance), it is not optional in technical writing.

Wrong:The participants were given an informed consent form, several surveys and a debriefing form.
Right:The participants were given an informed consent form, several surveys, and a debriefing form.

See Section 4.03 (Comma), pp. 88-89 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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ROS = Run-on Sentence

A run-on sentence is one that contains too many independent clauses. These sentences may occur because the independent clauses are improperly punctuated or when there are simply too many ideas in the same sentence.

Wrong: The experimenter read the instructions aloud and the participants read and signed an informed consent form.
Right: The experimenter read the instructions aloud, and the participants read and signed an informed consent form.

See also CS and NIC.

See Section 4.03 (Comma), pp. 88-89 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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SEP = Seriation Elements Parallel

All elements in a seriation (list) must be parallel in form and construction (e.g., all elements are infinitives; all elements are nouns; all elements are gerunds, and so forth. Be especially careful with paired conjunctions, such as neither and nor, that both elements are strictly parallel.

See Section 3.23 (Parallel Construction), pp. 84-85 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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S/H = Avoid s/he Constructions

Avoid s/he or (s)he or his/her constructions: Use he or she or she or he, but be careful to avoid over-using these cumbersome constructions by rewriting the sentence or sentences to have plural objects so that the plural pronoun, their, is appropriate. Do not use the plural pronoun their as a generic pronoun to refer to a singular, gender-non-specific object.

See Section 3.20 (Pronouns), pp. 79-80 and Section 3.12 (Gender), pp. 73-74 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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SI = Split Infinitive

The two elements of an infinitive should not split by other words. Adverbs, adjectives, and other modifiers should be placed before or after, rather than inside, an infinitive. We frequently split infinitives in our spoken language, so often such phrases sound right, whereas the correctly worded phrasing sounds stiff and formal when spoken.

Wrong: The researcher used Tukey's HSD for post-hoc testing to further explore the differences between the cells of the ANOVA design.
Right: The researcher used Tukey's HSD for post-hoc testing to explore further the differences between the cells of the ANOVA design.

There are no further details in the APA Publication Manual.

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SP = Definite Spelling Error

This word is definitely spelled incorrectly. Use your spell-checker and proof-read your work carefully. Also, be sure to check the rules on hyphenation of compound words.

See also SP?.

See Section 4.12 (Preferred Spelling), pp. 96-100 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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SP? = Possible Spelling Error

This word might be spelled incorrectly. Please look it up and correct it, if necessary.

See Section 4.12 (Preferred Spelling), pp. 96-100 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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TW = Too Wordy

The sentence contains an overly wordy phrase containing superfluous and meaningless words. The classic example is using in order to when to would suffice. Similarly, use Because instead of based on the fact that.

See Section 3.08 (Economy of Expression), p. 67 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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UPV = Unnecessary Passive Voice

Avoid the passive voice when the subject is known. Only in very rare situations is the verb to be so heavily emphasized and the subject de-emphasized, that case passive voice is okay. Also, if the subject of the action is unknown, then passive voice is okay.

Wrong: Several questionnaires were administered to the participants.
Right: The participants filled out several questionnaires.

See Section 3.18 (Verbs), pp. 77-78 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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UPR = Unclear Pronoun Reference

It is important that the reader can determine, without ambiguity, the person, object, or idea being referred to by a pronoun. The problem of unclear pronoun reference is particularly notable when the pronoun starts a sentence.

Wrong:This suggests that people often assume that the pronoun reference is obvious.
Right:This phenomenon suggests that people often assume that the pronoun reference is obvious.

See Section 3.09 (Precision and Clarity - Pronouns), p. 68 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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UA = Unnecessary ACRONYM or Abbreviation

Only use acronyms or abbreviations for extremely well known names or constructs. Use acronyms or abbreviations only for the convenience and ease of understanding of the reader and not the ease or convenience of the author. An abbreviation should be used when the abbreviation is more familiar than the full expresion (e.g., using IQ in lieu of intelligence quotient. Abbreviations of measure names are an excellent example of abbreviations that are often more recognizable than the full name. Do not coin abbreviated terms or acronyms for their own sake or for the convenience of the author. Remember that readers are not as familiar with abbreviations as an author. Also, be aware that abbreviations make direct quotations more awkward and force those quoting passages with abbreviations to add editorial comments to define the abbreviation.

See Section 4.22 (Use of Abbreviations), pp. 106-107 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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Paragraph Break Error

Add a paragraph break where indicated by the symbol because the main topic or central idea has shifted. Each paragraph should have only one major theme, and very long paragraphs with multiple themes should be avoided. If the symbol is preceded by the word no or has a line drawn through it, then do not break for a new paragraph at that location because very short paragraphs with the same major ideas should be avoided.

See Section 3.08 (Economy of Expression — Unit Length), p. 68 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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Delete Text

Remove the indicated text.

For Example:

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Insert Text

Insert the text at the indicated point.

For Example:

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Insert Some Space

Add some space here.

For Example:

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Close Up Space

Close up the extra space here.

For Example:

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CAP or LC = Change Capitalization

Characters that are double underscored should be capitalized, and characters that have a slash through them should not be capitalized. Alternatively, CAP or lc may be noted in the margin.

For Example:

Be aware that Microsoft WORD will "autocorrect" some words to have the wrong capitalization. The most frequent example at this university is incorrectly capitalizing midwestern in describing a large, midwestern university. In this context, midwestern is an adjective describing the location of the university and not part of a proper name, such as Midwestern Proofing Reading Associates, Inc..

See Sections 4.14 - 4.20 (Capitalization), pp. 101-104 of the APA Publication Manual for further details.

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