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APA Style: Writing & Citation

This Research Guide has been created to help students use APA style in their writing.

First vs Third Person Pronouns

APA recommends avoiding the use of the third person when referring to your self as the primary investigator or author.  Use the personal pronoun I or we when referring to steps in an experiment.  (see page 120, 4.16 in the APA 7th Edition Manual)

Correct:  We assessed the vality of the experiment design with a literature review.

Incorrect:  The authors assessed the vality of the experiment with a literature review.

Editorial "We"

Avoid the use of the editorial or universal we.  The use of we can be confusing because it is not clear to the reader who you are referring to in your research.  Substitute the word we with a noun, such as researchers, nurses, or students.  Limit the use of the word we to refer to yourself and your coauthors. (See page 120 4.17 in the APA 7th edition manual)

Correct:  Humans experience the world as a spectrum of sights, sounds, and smells.

Incorrect:  We experience the world as a spectrum of sights, sounds, and smells.

Singular "They"

The Singular "They" refers to a generic third-person singular pronoun.  APA is promoting the use of the singular "they" as a way of being more inclusive and to avoid assumptions about gender.  Many advocacy groups and publishers are now supporting it.  

Observe the following guidelines when addressing issues surrounding third-person pronouns:

  • Always use a person's self identified pronoun.
  • Use "they" to refer to a person whose gender is not known.
  • Do not use a combination forms, such as "(s)he" and "s/he."
  • Reword a sentence to avoid using a pronoun, if the gender is not known.
  • You can use the forms of THEY such as them, their, theirs, and themselves.  
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