How not to worry about APA style

If you have gone through the trouble of picking up a copy of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA, 2010), I’m sure your first reaction was similar to mine: “Ugh! 272 pages of boredom.” Do people actually read this monster? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I know I haven’t read every last bit of it. You may be relieved to hear that your reaction resonates with some of the critique that has been voiced by senior researchers in Psychology, such as Henry L. Roediger III (2004). But let’s face it: APA style is not going anywhere. It is one of the major style regimes in academia and is used in many fields other than Psychology, including medical and other public health journals. And to be fair, standardizing academic documents is not a bad idea. It helps readers to efficiently access the desired information. It helps authors by making the journal’s expectations regarding style explicit, and it helps reviewers to concentrate on the content of a manuscript. Most importantly, the guidelines set a standard that is accepted by a large number of outlets. Imagine a world in which you had to familiarize yourself with a different style every time you chose a new outlet for your scholarly work.

APA style is hard

The data presented in an earlier post on this blog indicate that Psychology students find it difficult to adhere to the APA guidelines. Among the 9 most common mistakes in submissions to the Journal of European Psychology Students are

  1. missing or incorrect running head (86.3%)
  2. errors with in-text citations (84.0%)
  3. missing or incorrectly formatted page numbers (75.0%)
  4. incorrect margins (52.2%)
  5. indentation of first line of each paragraph (43.1%)

From my experience as an editorial assistant at the journal Experimental Psychology I know that fully mastering APA style is hard even for more senior researchers — and that’s okay. In fact, I’m glad that most researchers use their limited time on research (or teaching) rather than memorizing the “Publication Manual”. Life is too short to learn the ins and outs of APA style.

How not to worry about APA style

If you want to publish psychological research, you will have to produce properly formatted APA style manuscripts. Fortunately, this is a problem many researchers face; in other words, there is no reason to start from scratch. You could use an APA template for common word processors such as Microsoft Word or Libre Office that takes care of the page setup, line spacing, etc. But to be up-front, I want to convince you that there is a better way to write your manuscripts that prevents all of the above mentioned errors and more. I want to introduce you to Markdown, an easy-to-read and -write annotation system that makes writing APA style a breeze.

Don’t mix content and style

A general principle in typesetting — be it on (digital) paper or the web — is to separate content and style. Separation is commonly achieved through the use of a markup language, which is a system of document annotations. These annotations declare portions of text as title, section headings, or list items but crucially, they are agnostic to what this means visually (e.g., <bold>text</bold> instead of text). There are several advantages to this approach but I’ll only briefly name three of them here:

  1. Focus on writing. It seems that a common form of procrastination for many writers is making a document pretty. Adding a newline here or a manual line break there, moving a table just two pixels to the left, etc. When writing a markup document in a plain text document it let’s you focus on the content rather than the style.
  2. Swiftly adjust the style. If your paper is rejected and the next target journal prefers a different flavor of APA style, there is no need to touch your writing. As a simple example, I recently submitted a paper to a journal that asked me to collect all figure captions at the end of the document on one page rather than printing them below the corresponding figures. Because my captions were declared as such, I left the text unchanged (captions below the figures) and simply changed the option controlling the captions’ position within the document.
  3. Write plain text files. Once you move to writing in plain text files, you open yourself up to a whole new world of very helpful tools to facilitate your writing and collaboration, such as dynamic documents or the version control system git, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

Learn Markdown

Am I suggesting you replace one evil with another? Not learning APA style requires learning a whole new language? No, Markdown is intended to be as easy-to-read and easy-to-write as possible. The following is an excerpt from the APA example manuscript written in Markdown.

Without knowing anything about Markdown, it should be easy to guess what the annotations mean. # declare hierarchical section headings, <!-- and --> envelope comments, and [^p] adds a reference to a footnote. As you can see, Markdown is easy to learn and will quickly save time in manuscript preparation. The only thing that may be scary at first are the equations enveloped by $. Equations are written in the powerful, yet, fairly simple equation syntax used in LaTeX. Although LaTeX is widely used to write entire manuscripts (not just equations), it is not very popular in the field of Psychology. I suspect that the neglect is largely due to its complexity and long learning curve, which I find rather deterring myself. Both seem to outweigh the advantages of the system when it comes to handling citations and cross-references or typesetting large documents, complex tables, and equations which are rare in the average Psychology paper. That is why I like the idea of using Markdown as a simple interface to harness the power of LaTeX without having to write or know much about LaTeX.

Use a reference manager

If you are not already using a reference manager such as Zotero, I strongly suggest you start doing so. Reference managers are like iTunes for your literature; they help you search, download, and organize papers. Most importantly, with a few clicks you can export a collection of references you need for a paper into a .bib-file. Once your references are in a .bib-file that resides in the same folder as your Markdown-file, you can easily add citations to your Markdown document. Each reference has a unique handle, e.g. lewandowsky_computational_2011, which you can use in Markdown. @lewandowsky_computational_2011 creates an in-text citation; [@lewandowsky_computational_2011] creates a citation in parentheses. Everything reference-related, such as in-text citation and the reference section, will be taken cared of automatically.

Let R take care of the rest

To turn your Markdown file into a polished APA manuscript, you need to set a few options and then create a .pdf-file. Both could be done manually but the way I do this is by using the text editor RStudio (a text editor for R, but you literally need no knowledge about R to do this) and papaja, the R package I’m developing with Marius Barth. In turning your Markdown into a .pdf-file there are intermediate steps and software involved that are really not important to know. RStudio lets you do all of this by the click of a button. As a side note, if you use R for your analyses, you can embed the analysis code into your document and insert statistics, figures, and tables on the fly while creating your manuscript. This is what is called a dynamic document (Xie, 2013) and the topic of a future blog post.

How to create your first manuscript


If you want to try writing a manuscript in Markdown, you need to install a couple of things:

Make sure you install the complete—not the basic—TeX version and if you are on Ubuntu 14.04 you need a couple of extra TeX packages. Finally, install the development version of papaja by opening RStudio and copying the following into the R console:

New documents

Once you installed papaja you can create an APA document through the menus in RStudio (File > New File > R Markdown). If you take the time to explore the menu a little bit you will find that Markdown can be used to create a range of different documents like slides or HTML-files. template_selection The new text file will contain a document header enveloped by --- followed by the body of the text. There will be some scary looking R stuff following the header; feel free to delete all of it. To preview your manuscript click the Knit-Button. knitting If you click on the question mark next to it, you can get help regarding Markdown in case you get stuck. Also, a look at the papaja-example document may be helpful. All you need to do now is fill in the meta-information, e.g. authors, title, and abstract in the header of the document, start writing, and stop worrying about APA style.


American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Roediger, H. L. (2004). What Should They Be Called? APS Observer, 17(4). Retrieved from

Xie, Y. (2013). Dynamic Documents with R and knitr. Boca Raton: Productivity.

Of Elephants and Effect Sizes – Interview with Geoff Cumming

We all know these crucial moments while analysing our hard-earned data – the moment of truth – is there a star above the small p? Maybe even two? Can you write a nice and simple paper or do you have to bend your back to explain why people do not, surprisingly, behave the way you thought they would? It all depends on those little stars, below or above .05, significant or not, black or white. Continue reading

Interview with Prof. Dermot Barnes-Holmes


Prof. Dermot Barnes-Holmes was a Foundation Professor at the Department of Psychology at National University of Ireland, Maynooth. He is known for his research in human language and cognition through the development of the Relational Frame Theory (RFT) with Steven C. Hayes, and its applications in various psychological settings. barnes_holmes_pic_edit

What I enjoy most about my job as a researcher … Supervising research students who are passionate about and genuinely interested in their research. Sharing what is often a voyage of intellectual discovery for both the student and me is still, after all these years, by far the most stimulating and enjoyable feature of what I do as an academic. Continue reading

Interview with Prof. Alice Mado Proverbio

Prof. Alice Mado Proverbio has a degree in Experimental Psychology from the University of Rome “La Sapienza” and a PhD in General Psychology from the University of Padua. She did her Post Doctoral training at the University of California at Davis and at the University of Padua. As a research scientist at the University of Trieste, she guided the Cognitive Electrophysiology Laboratory from 1996 to 2000. Since 2001, she is Associate Professor of Psychobiology and Physiological Psychology at University of Milano-Bicocca. She founded the “Cognitive Electrophysiology” Lab at the same University in 2003. In 2014, she received the Habilitation as full Professor.

What I enjoy most about my job as a researcher …  Without a doubt what I enjoy most about my job as a researcher is the possibility to create and devise new experiments, to test new exciting ideas, to challenge pre-existing models with new hypotheses that I gather from discussions with people, but especially from a lot of reading and listening to insightful talks. It’s not rare that I get, what seems to be, a brilliant idea from reading or listening to scientists working outside my specific research field (cognitive electrophysiology). This can be genetics, evolutionary psychology, cellular biology, primatology or even molecular neuroscience. It can be something on Twitter, or even something that I spotted online. That’s what I like most: the creative process that precedes the actual experimental testing.

I also like that magic moment when, with my young co-workers standing all around my computer, we run the final ANOVA on a particular set of data we judge to be crucial to test our hypothesis. And we are all there, laughing and crossing our fingers, hoping for a high statistical significance, and then it gets p<0.005 and we all scream! I also love when an idea, just an incorporeal dream or a rough sketch at the beginning, but after months of working with my students, and refining details, re-adjusting the methodology, and changing the paradigm and all, finally becomes a consolidated paradigm, a concrete thing, almost a “person”, with a given personality and specific attitudes. We love to coin names for our new studies and paradigms, and stimulus types. Even computers and supplies and ERP components have personalized names in my lab. There are unofficial names (“just for us”) and more official, scientific terms that will be used later in the paper or in the dissertation.

The biggest challenge in my career so far was … there have been several challenging moments in my career, especially when I changed role, by becoming first a PhD student, then a Post-Doc fellow, a Researcher, and finally a Professor. Every passage required great effort in adjusting to the new situation and the many new commitments (not to mention, the new town or country, the new home, the new life, etc..). When I got a PhD student position I had to learn how to speak in public, deliver talks and travel a lot (while I enjoyed running experiments and writing my own papers). When I became a Post-Doc, I had to learn how to manage international relations and cooperate with multiple subjects and research groups. As a researcher, I had to face a lot of new work, mostly coming from student supervision, teaching and writing (books, chapters, papers), not to mention being the only person responsible for the ERP  lab. I often I had to work overnight. Becoming a Professor was very challenging at first, because of the large amount of teaching and lessons that I had to prepare for the first time. I learned how to be a good referee, a wise editor and the best mentor as possible for my students. I learned how to be very efficient with bureaucratic, administrative, and faculty duties, in order to have time for my research and my lab.

One research project I will never forget is…  I will never forget the research project aimed at testing the existence of possible subcortical inter-hemispheric pathways transferring visuomotor information in the brain of callosotomy (split-brain) patients, that I carried out in Ron Mangun’s lab in cooperation with Michel Gazzaniga, at the Center for Neuroscience of University of California at Davis. I had the extraordinary opportunity to test and get to know personally a beautiful person, the famous patient JW. I recall being incredibly excited and proud of my work at that time.

What I look for in a student who wants to work under my supervision … I mainly look for dedication, enthusiasm, patience, competence, rigor and loyalty, not necessarily in that specific order.

Student research could be improved by … I think that student research deserves the right equilibrium between autonomy and supervision. Sometimes I meet bright young researchers presenting poor pieces of evidence or lousy talks because of their inexperience mixed with a lack of supervision from their mentor. Its’ a real pity. Other times, I assist students acting as mere executors of projects they do not fully comprehend and testing hypotheses that they do not even scientifically understand. I think that students should not only perform the practical hands-on work in laboratories, but also do a lot of studying and reading to build a strong specialized knowledge.

Academically, I most admire … woman researchers (especially if independent and not grown under the wings of a powerful male mentor) …  because …. sometimes, they have to work twice as hard as their male colleagues, to prove their qualities. Indeed gender discrimination and inequalities of various types (from the most subtle to the most evident and gross inequalities) are still present at any level along the academic trail.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career … I do not how to answer to this. I think that no advice can teach you better than your own personal experience. But I recall what I was actually being told, which revealed to be very useful in the hard times, and that is: do what you feel is better for you.

The largest changes in psychological science in the next 10 years will be … I am unsure what to predict. But I am pretty sure that the future is linked to a multidisciplinary integration, and that Psychology will grow only in interaction with other scientific disciplines, such as Cognitive Neuroscience, Genetics, Evolutionary Psychology, Cellular Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Neuroimaging and the new emerging techniques (such as diffusor tensor imaging), and others that are still developing these days such as Brain Computer Interface (BCI), robotics.

Interview with Prof. Csikzentmihalyi


Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University and was the former head of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago. He is noted for his research on happiness and creativity, on which he published over 120 scientific articles and book chapters. He is also well known for introducing the concept of flow in his seminal work “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience“. Csikszentmihalyi_Mihaly_WEB

What I enjoy most about my job as a researcher …  two things: the early analysis of data, when you are looking for patterns — exploring the psychological landscape, so to speak. Then the last part, when you start writing and trying to find the best way to express what you have learned.

The biggest challenge in my career so far was … to break out of the two reigning paradigms of my student’s days; the Freudian and the Skinnerian approaches.

One research project I will never forget is… perhaps the few months in 1968 when we started collecting data on the flow experience with a group of students at the college I was teaching at at the  time, Lake Forest College.

What I look for in a student who wants to work under my supervision … besides the obvious ones (academic and intellectual abilities): intrinsic motivation, a sense of humor, lack of excessive egotism.

Student research could be improved by … learning that what matters is engagement in a worth-while project.

Academically, I most admire … my friend Howard Gardner …  because …. he is an unselfish, sophisticated intellectual.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career … how to get financial support for conducting large-scale research — although I probably would have ignored the advice anyway . . .

The largest changes in psychological science in the next 10 years will be … I am not a prophet, alas, so I have no idea. I know that the best-case scenario would be for psychology to focus on human experience, and establish conceptual links with other social sciences like sociology, anthropology, history, economics, and political science . . . The worst-case scenario would be selling out to neurobiology, and becoming a sub-discipline of that field. But I have no clue as to which of these two scenarios will win out in the evolutionary process.

Interview with Dr. Deirdre Barrett

Dr. Deirdre Barret is a researcher and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. She is well known for her research on dreams, hypnosis, and imagery. More recently she has written about evolutionary psychology and technology. She has also written severa successful books for the general public. deirdre barrett outside ucl 3a

What I enjoy most about my job as a researcher …  Any questions I have—in my case about dreams—I can come up with a way to operationalize the question and get an answer. Continue reading

Make the Most of Your Summer: Summer Schools in Europe

11051177_10205216017873360_1194271846_mWhy should you attend Summer Schools?

To put it simply: there is no better way to learn about psychology (and related disciplines), to travel, and to meet new people, all at the same time! Summer schools offer the opportunity to explore areas of psychology that might not be taught at your university, or to really explore a subject, seeing as this scheme allows you to  focus your work on one topic in the company of students who are enthusiastic about the same subject. Last year, I attended a summer school on Law, Criminology and Psychology – coming from Germany, where Criminology is in the Law faculty, that was my opportunity to learn more about eye-witness accounts, lie detection, psychopathy, and how to interrogate children. Aside from classic lectures, summer schools often include seminars and group work. Continue reading

Answering Frequently Asked Questions about JEPS

Is there anything you ever wanted to know about JEPS and the people behind it? Here are answers to our ten most frequently asked questions.

  1.  Who are we?

We are students from all over Europe and, as Editorial Team of the Journal of European Psychology Students (check out our Website here), we run JEPS.  Together with a group of other people (Associate Editors, Reviewers, Copyeditors, and Proofreaders), we see students’ manuscripts through the publication process.

Continue reading

Most frequent APA mistakes at a glance

APA-guidelines, don’t we all love them? As an example, take one simple black line used to separate words – the hyphen: not only do you have to check whether a term needs a hyphen or a blank space will suffice, you also have to think about the different types of hyphens (Em-dash, En-dash, minus, and hyphen). Yes, it is not that much fun. And at JEPS we often get the question: why do we even have to adhere to those guidelines?


Common APA Errors; Infographic taken from the EndNote Blog

The answer is rather simple: The formatting constraints imposed by journals enable for the emphasis to be placed on the manuscript’s content during the review process. The fact that all manuscripts submitted share the same format allows for the Reviewers to concentrate on the content without being distracted by unfamiliar and irregular formatting and reporting styles.

The Publication Manual counts an impressive 286 pages and causes quite some confusion. In JEPS, we have counted the most frequent mistakes in manuscripts submitted to us – data that the EndNote-blog has translated into this nice little graphic.

Here you can find some suggestions on how to avoid these mistakes in the first place.


American Psychological Association. (2009). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Vainre, M. (2011). Common mistakes made in APA style. JEPS Bulletin, retrieved from

A Psychologist’s Guide to Reading a Neuroimaging Paper

Psychological research is benefiting from advances in neuroimaging techniques. This has been achieved through the validation and falsification of established hypothesis in psychological science (Cacioppo, Berntson, & Nusbaum, 2008). It has also helped nurture links with neuroscience, leading to more comprehensive explanations of established theories. Positron Emission Tomography (PET), functional MRI (fMRI), structural MRI (sMRI), electroencephalography (EEG), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and numerous other lesser-known neuroimaging techniques can provide information complimentary to behavioural data (Wager, 2006). With these modalities of research becoming more prevalent, ranging from investigating the neural effects of mindfulness training to neuro-degeneration, it is worth taking a moment to highlight some points to help discern what may be good or poor research. Like any other methodology, neuroimaging is a great tool that can be used poorly. As with all areas of science, one must exercise a good degree of caution when reading neuroimaging papers. Continue reading