I'd like to learn the APA style guide, so that, in addition to the fiction and general non-fiction I work on currently, I can start accepting academic editing jobs. However, I know very little about the details of APA and I don't know what the best strategy is for learning it. I also understand it's very different from AP and Chicago, the style guides I use most and know the best.

The tutorials John linked to in the comments look like a good resource and, best of all, they're free. However, from experience, I learn best by hands-on, applied project-based learning. However, this style guide is a foreign country to me, and I don't know if my usual style of learning will work well with APA.

My question:

How do I learn APA quickly? Should I look for training right away, or, since I learn best when I have a project, should I dive right in and then fill in the gaps later on? At which point can I consider myself competent enough at the style manual that it would be ethical for me to start accepting editing jobs using APA? How will it be different from other, non-academic style manuals?

  • I'd welcome any edits or suggestions that would make this question better. This is a collaborative site; please feel free to be bold and edit stuff in here. I'd like to specifically avoid answers that are links to training resources and little else. I'm specifically looking for an overview of the process of applying APA to papers, so I know how to approach learning it. Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 17:56
  • TLA? WTF? APA? Besides that, you should mention, why you do not use the most obvious steps: Getting the book (apastyle.org/manual/index.aspx) and looking at the tutorials (apastyle.org/learn/tutorials/basics-tutorial.aspx) - Are there any problems with them? Not "quickly" enough? I mean if you want to go professional with APA, you need the manual anyway (that means, if I haven't picked the wrong TLA). Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 12:11
  • @JohnSmithers - I missed those tutorials; thanks, will go through them. However, the thrust of the question isn't how to learn APA but how to learn APA when I learn best by hands-on, applied project-based learning. Will edit the question to make that clearer. Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 17:21
  • John Smithers – Good info. I'm going to look those links up myself. Keep the good stuff coming. ;-)
    – Ace
    Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 17:44

3 Answers 3


My first thought was "Why not start with the Web site you mentioned and take the Basics Tutorial?" You mention that you learn best with "applied project-based learning," but you cannot work on projects without first having a least a little knowledge of the topic -- it's a "chicken and egg" thing. I would look at the tutorial, because they provide examples of manuscript formatting, citing references, etc., which are basic to doing any work with APA.

After the tutorial, you should read the "Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association" (currently, Sixth Edition). If you want to take a course, there's the "Mastering the Sixth Edition" course.

Especially with academic style-guides, there are a lot of rules and idiosyncratic syntaxes to memorize. Sometimes there are no shortcuts.


I agree with getting a copy of the APA publication manual, sixth edition either digital or hardcopy. I have both and use them all the time. The APA also has a website for reference based on the book. But, I also highly recommend using the Purdue OWL (online writing lab) APA style section. It is great for quick reference because it is searchable and is based on the APA Manual. Their website has examples of APA papers and a APA style workshop.

Website is here


Response to a long ago question . . .

You need a publication and/or website available, especially if you don't have patience and time to deal with either. You might want to make a short list with your own examples of each different type of citation and keep it nearby as a template (journals, newspapers, websites, books, maps, charts . . . )

I like to be precise and accurate in blog articles, and some topics require much more of that than others. Then it become more academic, when nuances associated with a specific set of facts make a huge difference especially when connecting the dots that do not seem to have yet been reasonably connected.

What you need would require some amount of familiarization with APA formatting (the examples available interspersed with explanations in the pub and websites). You can look at the format examples of each type of citation without reading all about them, then just make your own list of examples based on the format examples.

Eventually, when you peruse the manual and tutorials it will make sense without being a struggle.

One difficulty is in figuring out how to format a citation with no examples you can use as templates.

These days quotes from websites might be in that category; information at monuments, museums - especially when there are no citations for descriptions! You might have to look long and hard in manuals and tutorials to find how those unpublished types of citations might be categorized. However, at least website citations should be covered in the most updated versions of pubs and websites. Of course the "quality" of a website matters, especially in academic writing.

For questionable material when there is attribution without a citation, I mention it in a note in my citation (_______ mentioned as source of information without a citation).

If there is a reference mentioned I provide a citation for the claimed source and list it separately in an "additional sources" list (of background material) IF I am not able to access the referenced item, directly. If do access it but do not use a quote from it, I still include it in an additional sources list.

When I do not find a citation example of a similar nature, to use as a template, I also might include extra details in a note. Something like that is likely covered in tutorials and the manual.

That is likely not advisable with academic writing, since hearsay is almost like hearsay in a court case! Even so, if it is about something for which there is little or no information available, then any little tidbit might be worth mentioning.

I've done some digging around in history to connect the dots, and it is amazing where an uncited comment can lead which provides more information that is needed. If it is not possible to pursue and provide more information for readers, then it might lead them to find more information, themselves.

There really are no shortcuts for academic writing. There is little space between what is excellent and what is lousy. Since that is what you stated you want to venture into, best to know all the ground rules and details, first, whether or not you remember them all. Familiarize yourself with the manuals and keep them nearby. Then you will know where to find what you need to look up how to cite a specific type of source.

The problem I had/have which was more of a struggle, initially, was how to use the computer "language" to get the citation formatting showing correctly! I am still not sure what it is (doesn't seem to be simple html, but is like html). It may differ from website to website, and program to program. I still have to review my list of examples about how to do that, the citation formatting at times too, to be sure it is accurate, if I haven't done either for a while. It is easier each time.

Of course you could always post a question about a specific instance and ask for opinions about formatting.

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