Frequently Asked Questions

About Academic Writing

Question Categories

APA Format Elements

Q: How do I construct a table using the APA style?

A: You can find information regarding creating tables in the 6th Edition APA Manual, Chapter 5, pp. 125-143. It gives detailed information about how to create and display a table in your paper.

You can also find information regarding creating tables, figures, headings and other elements within an academic paper in the Online Writing Center in the APA Style and Formatting module at http://www.capella.edu/writingCenter/apaStyle.aspx

Q: I'm struggling with how to properly insert a figure into the text of a research paper

A: This is a mildly complicated question for two simple reasons: 1) For the purposes of publication, and to distinguish primary content from supplementary content, the 6th Edition of APA Publication Manual generally recommends inserting tables or figures as appendices at the end of a paper. However, your course instructor may ask you to insert tables or figures into the text of a paper—and this is okay. Just be aware that your course instructor may be asking you to place material within your paper that is a personal deviation from the 6th Edition APA Publication Manual.

  • Source: 6th Edition APA Manual, Section 2.13, pp. 38-39

Q: How do I properly format a Table of Contents according to the APA format?

A: This is a common question. The 6th Edition of the APA Publication Manual is intended for publications within journals that subscribe to the APA guidelines. Since most journals possess their own table of contents, the APA Publication Manual does not provide a template for a Table of Contents. You may consult with your instructor if she or he has a specific expectations on how you should format a TOC.

Q: How do I format the running header and page numbers?

A: According to the 6th Edition APA Publication Manual, the running header is indicated on the title page as "Running head: TITLE OF PAPER" on the title page and "TITLE OF PAPER" flush left throughout the rest of the paper. This may be a change from the 5th Edition, so you may encounter Capella instructors who have personal preferences from APA format guidelines.

  • Source: To check this information and for information on page numbers, see the Sample Paper that appears on page 41 of the 6th Edition APA Manual.

Q: I have figures that I have copied from research articles included in the dissertation, and understand from the notes that I need to request permission to reprint the figures in the dissertation, unless they are considered fair use. I have emailed the author of a dissertation that I am using one of the figures – and he has replied back that it is okay to print this figure in the dissertation. Is this sufficient for this figure? The other figures are from research articles, several of which include information that it is okay to reprint for educational purposes, so I am not sure if this applies, or if I need to write for permission to reprint. The final figure is available on the internet and illustrates the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award framework, and is included in publications I have received at conferences. Do I need to request permission to reprint this figure? I am looking for direction on how to include certain figures extracted from research articles in the dissertation?

A: Whether or not you need to ask permission to reprint material is an intellectual property question that is probably best answered by your committee and/or your Capella librarians. It is important to realize, however, that even material you have been given permission to reprint must be properly cited and referenced.

Q: I am not sure I understand the difference between a Running Head and a Page header? I have used the Professional Communications and Writing Guide as an example and I also consulted the APA 6th edition manual, but my instructors are still remarking that I have it wrong. Please advise where I can get assistance to get this correct?

A: You are looking at all the right resources. The APA manual, 6th ed., is the first and foremost guide for formatting research papers. Take a look at the sample papers in the manual, which will help you to understand the formatting and the headings. Please understand that some instructors may be well-informed on previous versions of the APA Manual and/or may have personal preferences that do not conform to the 6th Edition guidelines. It is recommended to follow your instructor's guidelines, but you may find it useful to ask your instructor for her formatting expectations in the beginning of each course, so that you can be informed if her preferences deviate from the manual. See the Sample Paper on p. 41 of the 6th Edition APA Manual for a visual reference.

Q: I recently received a comment on a paper that I should use the "official" Capella Font and size, however, I cannot locate the answer for this.

A: We follow APA guidelines: Times New Roman 12 point font.

Q: APA 6 now requires two spaces after the completion of a sentence. On page 88, the manual states "Spacing twice after punctuation marks at the end of a sentence aids readers of draft manuscripts." The explanation is vague because of the use of "draft." Does the spacing twice after a period apply to a final manuscript as well?

A: That's a great question and one that we think is up for interpretation.

On p. 88 of the APA 6th manual, the guidelines are vague and seem to be in place for draft manuscripts being submitted to readers for publication. It also says "aids readers"; it does not say you must have two spaces after a period. Period.

So, when in doubt, it helps to use the old stand by—the sample paper (and I do have the 2nd CORRECT edition). The overwhelming majority of the spacing after periods is one space (yes, after reading a million papers, my eyes are sensitive to spacing. There is one instance where they used two spaces, but given the rest of the paper, I would say that was an error.

Given the evidence above, it seems most clear that the two space rule is NOT in effect for course papers, comps or dissertations—just article submissions to APA journals.

Q: What is the difference between an abstract and an introduction?

A: The level of detail, for one thing. An abstract is a highly condensed summary of the paper that only briefly mentions the main points, purpose, results, or conclusions of the paper. Also, because the abstract functions as a search tool for researchers browsing through publications—and is not really connected to the paper itself—specific details are not included, or appropriate, in the abstract.

However, the introduction is the actual unfolding of the details (or story, if you will) of the presentation, and therefore certain details are allowed, and appropriately placed, in the introduction.

  • Source: 6th Edition APA Manual, p. 25

Q: How do I choose how many levels of headings I have in my paper, and how do I format them?

A: The number of heading levels in your paper is generally determined by the number of sections of the same level. Most papers need only two levels, and will use the headings format indicated in section 3.03 in your trusty 6th Edition APA Manual. If for some reason your paper requires three or more levels of headings, by all means use the format that the good people at the APA have provided.

Q: Why doesn't the APA manual give instructions for creating a table of contents?

A: Because APA editorial style is oriented toward the production of journal articles, which do not contain tables of contents. The APA manual, being a book, does contain a table of contents, which you might use as a model. Before creating your own personal epic version of a Table of Contents, however, we suggest that you seek guidance from your instructor.

Avoiding Plagiarism & Other Intellectual Property Questions

Q: I would like to know if there is a program called Turn-it-in offered on the Capella website.

A: Capella does not use Turn-it-in. Instead, we use the SafeAssign Source Matching Tool. You can find a link to this Tool in your courseroom homepage. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the link. If you cannot locate it, then contact your instructor and ask for the link.

Q: Is there a universal standard for the percentage that is considered to be original work and not plagiarism? If so, where can this information be referenced?

A: There is no universal number. When you receive your report back from SafeAssign, you must check each instance of "matching" to make sure that it is correctly cited.

It is also important to make sure that you compose your paper in a way that achieves a harmonious balance between your paraphrasing and summarizing (which also must be cited), and keep the number of quotations within your paper to a minimum in order to prevent other voices from overwhelming the focus of your presentation.

If the number is too high (I know, what does that mean? You are getting too high if you are about the 20% range), then you need to paraphrase more. If your number is too low (you don't want zero because that means you didn't quote anyone!), then you need to make sure that you have enough evidence provided to support your point.

Academic writing is an act of balancing viewpoints and source material. Your ability to acieve this balance will improve the more you write and become more familiar with the scholarly texts in your field.

Q: I submitted my paper through SafeAssign and received a 7% match. I did the same for another paper and received 35%. What does this mean? Please advise.

A: The Writing Program does not support SafeAssign. You can find more information and some tutorials to help you decipher the codes at

https://campus.capella.edu/web/tutorials/safeassign

Q: Another learner in my course asked me to send her a copy of my final paper so she can show her father who is a doctor and teaches. While I have no problem sharing my insights and work, I am unsure of the correct approach as I do not want my work misused, plagiarized, or the many other issues that can arise as I pursue this subject matter. I have published my papers for other Capella courses using the Publish function—would this be the best route? What options do I have to protect my work while still sharing information?

A: We aren't experts in copyright issues in the Writing Program, so I'm sending you on to our librarians, who have a better take on such matters. You can find the contact information for the librarians on iGuide, under Library.

Q: I plan to use areas of the paper that I previously wrote to write the literature review chapter of a current paper. Because this is a paper that I previously wrote in another class will I be able to use my own writing and if so do I need to cite myself? If I do need to cite myself how do I do that?

A: You do need to cite yourself, and how to do that depends upon how retrievable your source is to others. If your paper is not published and not retrievable, my suggestion would be for you to look at the APA manual under citing unpublished papers or manuscripts in APA Manual Chapter 7 under Unpublished Work.

If your paper is published, you would cite it just as you would any other published paper...it would just have your name on it!

Editing, Reviewing & Feedback

Q: I need somebody to look at my paper before I submit it.

A: You can submit your questions and your written work to our online tutoring service, Smarthinking, which is free to Capella learners. You can find information on how to register with and submit your written work to Smarthinking on the Online Writing Center at http://www.capella.edu/writingcenter/smarthinking.aspx

To get to Smarthinking, click on the Tutoring link (1), then follow the Smarthinking links for instructions for registration (2). Once you have created your own account, submit your written work for feedback (3). The writing tutors at Smarthinking can provide you with tips and strategies for you to strengthen your writing.

Often Capella learners who receive the best results from Smarthinking are those who ask specific questions on particular aspects of their writing.

Q: How do I check my paper before I turn it in to the Instructor?

A: That depends on the type of review you want. Capella learners have two options that are provided to you free at no extra cost.

Option #1: If you want to see how many sources in your text match other online sources—so you can make sure that you have cited correctly—then you use SafeAssign. You do not need instructor permission to use this tool, but it is located in your courseroom.

Option #2: If you want feedback on your writing from a writing tutor, you can use our online tutoring service, Smarthinking. You can find more information about registering with and submitting your work to them in the Online Writing Center. Look under Resources on the homepage and click on Tutoring. Follow the links to the instructions for registration and submission.

Q: I tried to go to Smarthinking via the public Online Writing Center link, but could you email me an alternative way to access Smarthinking?

A:

  1. ) Go to iGuide 3
  2. ) Click on Schools & Programs tab
  3. ) Find the Writing Program
  4. ) Click on the Undergraduate Online Writing Center Link
       Once there,
  5. ) Click on Tutoring and follow the instructions for registering with and submitting papers to Smarthinking.

You can submit your questions and your written work to our online tutoring service, Smarthinking, which is free to Capella learners. You can find information on how to register with and submit your written work to Smarthinking on the Online Writing Center at http://www.capella.edu/writingcenter/smarthinking.aspx

Click on the Tutoring link, then follow the Smarthinking links for instructions. They can provide you with tips and strategies for you to strengthen your own writing.

Q: My paper is a whopping 65 pages long. However, I noticed Smarthinking tutors only read 10 or 20 pages at a time. Since my paper is quite lengthy, will a tutor read the entire document?

A: With Smarthinking, you can choose a 30 minute or a 60 minute review of your paper. They don't go by the pages and would rarely be able to read a document longer than 20 pages in the longest time frame. We suggest to learners that they divide their longer paper up into chunks to submit to Smarthinking. So, divide your paper into chapters or sections or whatever will help to get the page number down to a reasonable level for a 60 minute review. You can submit multiple times and if you run out of minutes in your Smarthinking account, just contact Learner Support, ask for a recharge on your account, and we'll give you 20 more hours.

Q: Help! I feel stuck in my writing and my level of frustration is totally bumming me out! What can I do?

A: The best thing you should do when you are stuck is to find a trusted reader and GET FEEDBACK. Any writer will tell you, writing sometimes comes easy; sometimes it's a struggle. Asking someone to review your work—a trusted friend or a writing tutor—is helpful during ANY part of the writing process, but it can be particularly helpful when you feel stuck in the midst of a particularly sticky writing process. Fortunately, all Capella learners can solicit feedback on writing matters from a Smarthinking tutor, whether working on a rough draft or a more finished piece of work.

Handouts & Resources

Q: My paragraphs are internally jumbled and disconnected! Can you send me a copy or link to the Meal Plan in the writing center?

A: You can find the MEAL plan in the Online Writing Center under handouts and modules. Here is a direct link to the MEAL plan and other resources:
http://www.capella.edu/writingCenter/handoutsModules.aspx

Q: I need to better understand the difference in function and purpose between an abstract and an introduction for my research papers. What resources do you have?

A: The Online Writing Center (OWC) features a small galaxy of handouts on various aspects of writing, and the handout on abstracts is just one of them. We strongly recommend that you review this list so that you are aware of information that might be helpful when you begin longer writing projects.

To get there, go to www.capellawritingcenter.org and check the Writing Resources link, and then follow Handouts and Modules.

Q: Help! I feel stuck in my writing and my level of frustration is totally bumming me out. What can I do?

A: The best thing you should do when you are stuck is to find a trusted reader and GET FEEDBACK. Any writer will tell you, writing sometimes comes easy; sometimes it's a struggle. Asking someone to review your work—a trusted friend or a writing tutor—is helpful during ANY part of the writing process, but it can be particularly helpful when you feel stuck in the midst of a particularly sticky writing process. Fortunately, all Capella learners can solicit feedback on writing matters from a Smarthinking tutor, whether working on a rough draft or a more finished piece of work.

Q: My writing feels PowerPointish and choppy because that is the kind of "report" style writing I do at my workplace. What can I do to adjust my writing style to make it more appropriate for research writing projects?

A: Academic writing (AW) can feel different for those who are used to writing styles outside of academic contexts. However, writing based on sources does not necessarily mean using lots of sophisticated words or convoluted jargon, as some might assume. AW can be straightforward and simple.

The difference between academic writing and informational writing is the space you are allowed within the genre (or the format) to interpret sources and/or to describe the context behind the issue or complexity of the problem being written about. Numerous strategies are available help to expand writing styles that feel choppy. For example, the MEAL Plan is designed to smooth rough transitions between paragraphs; attention to sentence style can improve clarity. On the other hand, looking for wordiness can help identify writing habits that stray too far into the "red zone" of excessively numerous strings of unnecessarily protracted sentence-units that obfuscate the technical ontologies of the linguistic interfaces.

References & Citations

Q: When you compose an annotated bibliography do you continue to cite the authors using APA within the description part of the article summary? I'm a bit puzzled; I normally receive high scores with comments about the APA being tight; however I recently turned in an assignment and the instructor returned it stating to make APA corrections. The annotated bibliographies I've reviewed do not use APA within the body of the description. Does the 6th edition require this? I can't find any information in the APA manual regarding annotated bibliographies.

For example:

Gostecnik, C. (2007). Sexuality and the longing for salvation. Journal of Religion & Health, 46(4), 580-590. doi:10.1007/s10943-007-9114-5.

Christian Gostecnik, Faculty of Theology at the University of Ljubljana, provided an article which evaluates all factors of sexuality i.e. biological, psychological and spiritual. Gostenik described a healthy sexuality as having a "powerful reflection of an aching body, longing for purification, and thus, salvation" (Gostecnik, 2007, p. 580). In addition, Gostecnik analyzed the development of sexuality to the family paradigm in which the underlining imprint or influences set by family relations promote sexual behaviors and ideals later in life. Gostecnik argued sexuality is based on emotional need vs. physical needs stating "...the establishment and preservation of intimate emotional impulses and by no means of only physiological needs; for the relationship is a fundamental and mutual need of two people who emotionally respond to each other" (Gostecnik, 2007, p. 586).

Do I need to replace Gostecnik described a healthy... with Gostecnik (2007) described... every time during the description?

A: Annotated bibliographies are not covered in the APA manual because the manual was written for people who are submitting articles for APA journal publication. That said, the writers of the manual know that universities nationwide use their text for style guides, as we do at Capella. So they have given us permission to adapt the manual to certain situations.

This would be one of those situations. Annotated bibliographies don't usually have citations within the annotation, because they are usually a report of the same author and same article. But, there are cases when your instructor will ask you for citations. Follow the guidelines of the instructor in cases like these. In the future, feel free to contact your instructor to ask about the expectations regarding annotated bibliographies, because there are no guidelines in the APA manual.

Q: I am writing a paper (APA format), regarding a personal interview. I know no reference is needed, but I am having difficulty doing the citations, as it seems awkward to cite the interviewed person after each fact (which is almost every line). Any advice would be appreciated.

A: You do have to cite each and every personal interview in the text. If you are finding that you are citing each and every line, then my suggestion would be to reassess your point in the paragraph and find your voice to explain, analyze, and evaluate the sources you are using, so that your voice is prominent in the paper rather than using the other voices to make your point.

You can submit your written work to our online tutoring service, Smarthinking, which is free to Capella learners. You can find information on how to register with and submit your written work to Smarthinking on the Online Writing Center:
http://www.capella.edu/writingcenter/smarthinking.aspx

Click on the Tutoring link, then follow the Smarthinking links for instructions. They can provide you with tips and strategies for you to strengthen your own writing. They can also give you some direct feedback about how to work with what you believe is the awkward construction of your written work using personal interviews as sources.

Q: After reviewing the APA 6th edition, I noticed that on page 171 it recommends that paraphrases include a page number. Does this mean that it is an optional practice?

A: Including page numbers with direct quotes is required; including page numbers with paraphrases is optional, but a best practice, particularly if you are citing an idea from a long source. For instance, including a page number for a paraphrase from a book would save the reader the time and trouble of reading the entire book.

Q: What is the difference between a direct quotation and a paraphrase?

A: A direct quotation is using ideas from a source word for word and using quotation marks; a paraphrase is taking what your source says, but you write what your source is saying in your own words. The difference between a quotation and a paraphrase is like telling a story that someone else told you. If you quote the person directly word for word without any changes to the words or sequence of ideas, it's a quotation; if you summarize, interpret, or take selections from what someone told you, it is more of a paraphrase. It is very important to understand that both direct quotations and paraphrases need to be cited within the text.

Q: How do I cite electronic sources or sources found through an internet source?

A: On page 193 of the 6th Edition of the APA Publication Manual, you will find the most current and comprehensive list of APA reference examples. While this list may seem intimidating, it may please you to know that the makers of APA included as Number One (on page 198 of the 6th Edition APA Manual) a journal article with a DOI. A DOI is short for Digital Object Identifier, and it simply is one of the new ways that electronic sources, such as articles found through a database or online search engine, are listed in your Reference List. It looks like this:

Smith, J.Z., & Herzog, J.Z. (2010). Developing invisibility without the risks of succumbing to evil. Superhero Quarterly, 12, 138-142. Doi: 10.2380/2331-0978.32.2.112

However, note that with the rapid evolution of internet sources, many other examples of electronic sources are also included in APA's list of sources. Some of these sources are podcasts (included under "Audiovisual Media", p. 209), electronic versions of books (included under "Books, Reference Books, and Book Chapters", p. 202) and blog posts (included under section "Internet Message Boards, Electronic Mailing Lists, and Other Online Communities", p. 214).

Please remember, though, the point of the Reference List Citations is not to make them "look" perfect, but rather to provide your readers with the most precise information needed to follow the thread of information you followed.

Source: 6th Edition APA Publication Manual, p. 193

Q47: How do I cite a secondary source?

A47: Often, while reviewing literature, you will find that an article cites useful information from another article. Academic best practice is to obtain the cited article and read it yourself, so you can cite it directly. If, however, you choose not to obtain the cited article, you only cite the article that you did read:

Text citation

Johnson and Chu's study (as cited in James, 2005) found that...

Reference list entry:

James, T. K. (2005). Transitions in pop music. Culture Today Journal, 25, 73-98.

  • Source: APA 6th Edition, p. 178

Q49: How do I cite a personal communication?

A49: Conversations, unpublished interviews, e-mail messages and other personal communications are not retrievable sources, meaning that other researchers cannot access the original source. Since one of the main purposes of the reference list is to lead researchers to your sources, inaccessible personal communications are not placed on the reference list. They are, however, cited parenthetically in the text:

Example 1

Olga Stevens said that "Biologically speaking, we are all one" (personal communication, December 30, 2010).

Example 2

Many leading experts in oneness say that the world's creatures are so closely connected in terms of function that essentially we are all component parts of a singular giant and unitary organism (Olga Stevens, personal communication, December 30, 2010).

  • Source: 6th Edition APA Manual, p. 179

Q: How do I cite a Kindle?

A: We've left this answer to the experts at APA on www.apastyle.org. The answer can be found at http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2009/09/how-do-i-cite-a-kindle.html.

Research Writing

Q: I've done most of my research, but now I'm not sure where to begin. What do you suggest?

A:An outline is arguably one of the most underused pre-writing strategies. Most time-deprived writers are resistant to developing an outline because they think it adds an extra layer to the writing process that they want to begin as soon as possible. But the bird's eye view of your paper's organization that an outline and/or other prewriting strategies provide should—ideally—save writing time in the long run.

You can find many different handouts on prewriting strategies in the Online Writing Center at www.capellawritingcenter.org

Click on the Writing Resources tab, then click on Handouts and Modules.

Another point to make here is that the process of academic writing is essentially a process that involves time management. You need to give yourself sufficient time to not only digest the research material, but also to simply think about it. Some people use free writing as a way of thinking on paper. Others go for a walk, meditate, make diagrams, or drive. The time you invest in developing a solid understanding of your research material will pay off once you begin to compose a first rough draft.

Q: I've begun writing, but I'm not sure where I'm going yet, and I feel like I'm rambling. What do I do?

A: See the above question regarding the use of outlines. If you've begun writing, but you don't feel as though you're going anywhere, now might be the time to think about developing a thesis statement, or at least a working one. By thesis, we mean an arguable and supportable statement to give your paper a guiding purpose as you blend the fruits of your research with analysis.

You can find many different handouts on writing strategies in the Online Writing Center at www.capellawritingcenter.org

Click on the Writing Resources tab, then click on Handouts and Modules.

Q: How do I write an academic paper in third person? The instructor wants the paper to be written in third person, so if I use "this learner," is that okay?

Example:

"This learner compared milestones and successes to four developmental theories."

A: The short answer is "no," but stick with me for the explanation because it gets complicated. The "this learner" construction is not an academic writing convention – take a look at the literature in your field. It’s rare to find "this learner" or "this researcher" or any other form of this construction in the accepted, published, peer-reviewed literature. It is an attempt to write in third person, but it fails on several levels: it does not remove the learner from the sentence; it creates an awkward shift in the point-of-view; and it creates ambiguity (who is "this learner"? the author? The learner described in the last paragraph? Did I miss a reference somewhere?). The last thing you want to do is create ambiguity in your academic writing.

On the other side of the debate, faculty might request that you use "this learner" in your papers to avoid anthropomorphisms, or giving human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects. For instance:

Example: The report stated...

Well, reports are inanimate and cannot "state" anything. Only people can "state" what is in the report. Do you see what I mean? It would be best practice to put the people back in the sentence, like this:

Example: In their recent report, Smith and Jones (2011) stated...

If your instructor asks you to use "this learner," then follow that guidance, understanding that it’s great to learn different conventions because you will use different conventions in the world outside academia. If you become a journalist, you may even be asked to use "this reporter" in your written work, where it is the convention to identify yourself when appropriate.

Just remember that "this learner" is not an academic convention. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edition, supports this point of view. In the manual, section 3.09, page 69, the guidelines are to use a personal pronoun rather than "this learner." You can read more about anthropomorphisms, the editorial, and writing in third person in this section.

You should also find this handout helpful – it offers ways to write in third person. It's in the Online Writing Center:

www.capellawritingcenter.org

Writing in Third Person: What not using the first person REALLY means - PDF

Q: My writing feels PowerPointish and choppy because that is the kind of "report" style writing I do at my workplace. What can I do to adjust my writing style to make it more appropriate for research writing projects?

A: Academic writing (AW) can feel different for those who are used to writing styles outside of academic contexts. However, writing based on sources does not necessarily mean using lots of sophisticated words or convoluted jargon, as some might assume. AW can be straightforward and simple.

The difference between academic writing and informational writing is the space you are allowed within the genre (or the format) to interpret sources and/or to describe the context behind the issue or complexity of the problem being written about. Numerous strategies are available help to expand writing styles that feel choppy. For example, the MEAL Plan is designed to smooth rough transitions between paragraphs; attention to sentence style can improve clarity. On the other hand, looking for wordiness can help identify writing habits that stray too far into the "red zone" of excessively numerous strings of unnecessarily protracted sentence-units that obfuscate the technical ontologies of the linguistic interfaces. In other words, this handout can help you choose your words for brevity and clarity.

Voice

Q: I am preparing a paper regarding Kmart's ability to compete against other big-box retailers. I worked there for a short time, and would like to strengthen my arguments with accounts of personal experiences. How may I best write in the first person? I know there's a Capella document somewhere regarding this topic, but I am unable to find it (due to no fault of yours).

A: For a course paper, I strongly recommend that you contact your instructor for his or her expectations for writing in the first person. Usually academic papers are written in third person, but there have been times when first person is acceptable. Your instructor will make that decision for papers in the courseroom.

If your instructor allows first person accounts, then all you need to do is use the first person pronouns, for example, "in my experience," "I led a team," "we completed the assignment."