The basic principles of academic writing are simple:
Back up what you say.
Give credit to your sources.
In academic writing, your opinion is only as good as your reasons. Don’t you have a right to your opinion? Of course. Can you expect anyone to agree if you don’t give good reasons? Not really. The more your readers know about a topic, the more important it will be to show that you have read and considered what others have said about the topic.
Your writing will be more convincing if you use evidence from other authors to back up your opinion. The challenge is to balance your original ideas with the evidence.
For example, let’s say that you’re writing about procrastination. You read an article in which Ferrari identifies three types of procrastinators. Arousal types get a thrill from beating a deadline. Avoiders put off doing things that might make others think badly of them. Decisional procrastinators postpone making a decision until they have enough information to feel confident they are making a good choice.
If you just summarize Ferrari’s three types, you won’t get much credit for original thought. What can you add? You might argue that each type procrastinates for different reasons. Therefore, each type needs to use different time management strategies to overcome procrastination. Now you’ve taken an idea from a source and applied it to solve a problem: how can people stop procrastinating? The answer depends on what type of procrastinator you are.
Another approach is to compare Ferrari’s definition of procrastination with other experts’ definitions, such those from Steel or Cao. Comparison requires analysis, which is a form of higher-order thinking. The more you use higher-order thinking, the more original your ideas will be.
Another way to be original is to make a judgment. Is what this author says really true? Could this idea actually be put into practice?
Combining ideas from several sources, or synthesis, is another type of original thinking. To explain how police should treat mentally ill suspects, you might draw on ideas from the fields of criminal justice and psychology.
The Basics of APA Style
This tutorial is one of several free resources from the American Psychological Association. You’ll also find Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and model papers at APAstyle.org.
APA Documentation Guide
This handbook from the University of Wisconsin-Madison includes a clear explanation of how to create parenthetical citations and reference list entries.
APA Without Agony (PPT)
Many questions graduate students have about APA-style documentation are covered in this introduction.
Recommended APA Resources (.doc)