At roughly half the thickness of the fifth edition, the sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association might seem at first glance to be missing major sections. Parts may have been cut, but a good deal of space has been saved simply by having smaller margins and less space between lines and between sections. The reformatting doesn’t make the text any more difficult to read; if anything, the new page design is more contemporary and pleasing to the eye.
What information has been cut? In some cases, entire paragraphs have been deleted; that doesn’t seem to affect the meaning but simply makes it easier to see the important points. In addition, some details specific to psychology, including information on American Psychological Association (APA) journals, have been moved to the Web, at www.apastyle.org.
In looking at the new edition, I did read some chapters straight through. When that was not practical, such as for the chapter on references, I skimmed for general structure and read a few sections for content. Next, I compared the fifth and sixth editions side by side and read particular sections in each.
The two versions differ radically in ordering of the information, arrangement of the chapters, and layout of the pages. In my opinion, the new edition is much more readable, but it might take some adjustment for those accustomed to the old edition. Much of the text (including some of the examples) is taken verbatim from the previous edition. According to APA, the three main updates in the new edition are information on the impact of advances in computers, changes in organization, and a broadened focus to include fields beyond psychology.
The sixth edition is designed to be easy to use. Inside the front cover is “Contents at a Glance”, which lists page numbers of some of the most-used sections, such as “Spelling” and “When to Cite”. Inside the back cover is “Quick Guide to Common References”, which shows the page numbers of instructions for citing common types of sources. The traditional table of contents also includes a section listing all the tables and figures in the book. If all else fails, the index seems to be complete and useful.
One of the most valuable parts of the book is the appendix, which includes instructions—grouped by type of study (such as new data collections)—on what to have in a journal article. Even though intended to help authors to write publishable papers, it could also help editors to determine whether a manuscript includes all necessary information. Much of the material in the appendix is also presented (in an expanded format) in Chapter 2, but it’s useful to have a summary.
The editors of the new edition have put much of the information on the Web site, both to make the print manual shorter and to allow for quick updates and revisions. The information is openly accessible in PDF and numbered to match the sections in the hard-copy manual.
Chapter 1, “Writing for the Behavioral and Social Sciences”, includes information on confidentiality, peer review, and kinds of editorial judgment. Chapter 3, “Writing Clearly and Concisely”, and Chapter 4, “The Mechanics of Style”, provide clear guidelines on the specifics of writing. Perhaps the most useful elements are the examples of correct and incorrect phrasing.
Chapter 5, “Displaying Results”, provides instructions for and examples of correct ways to format tables and figures. Editors may be interested in the discussion of how to maintain the fidelity of authors’ intentions when transmitting and publishing tables and figures.
Chapter 6, “Crediting Sources”, and Chapter 7, “Reference Examples”, focus on proper ways to cite sources. There is discussion on fair use, too, that could be of value.
Chapter 8, “The Publication Process”, might be the most important section of the book from the standpoint of an editor. Knowing what authors have been told potentially allows greater ease of communication between authors and editors.
I have only a few small criticisms. Several places would benefit from definitions of terms (such as covariates and psychomet ric), especially given the diversity of the manual’s users. APA publishes a dictionary to meet that need, but definitions of the terms where they are presented would be more convenient. At times, the manual is repetitive; because most users will use only one section at a time, this may be appropriate. There was an outcry when the original printing of the manual was found to have errors, but these have been corrected in the second printing (which is now available), and the corrections have been posted on the APA Style Web site. Perhaps this incident tells us about the value of electronic publication for easy correction of errors, which is (ironically) one of the issues addressed in this new style guide.
I cannot decide for you whether the new features warrant the cost of buying the new edition (especially considering the material available online), but I can say that this is a very well-done update. The sixth edition reads more like a how-to guide than a style manual and so, in my opinion, should be required reading for anyone in the behavioral and social sciences and beyond.
Christina Sumners is a science and technology journalism graduate student at Texas A&M University and a recent Science Editor intern.
In Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style, Randy Olson uses his Hollywood expertise to suggest techniques for communicating science. Olson has a PhD in marine biology from Harvard and was a tenured professor before he left science to get his master of fine arts degree from the University of Southern California. This is Olson’s first book, but he has written several films, including Flock of Dodos: The Evolution–Intelligent Design Circus, which aired on Showtime.
Olson uses his film experience to analyze communication techniques and concludes that often “style is substance.” In his opinion, motivating members of the public to educate themselves about science can sometimes be more effective than trying to convey scientific facts directly. Film, he says, is an effective motivational tool, but his book’s purpose is not to advocate the use of film in science. Rather, he likens film making to scientific research: both are about gathering information, then telling a story. Olson shares lessons that he’s learned from film making, emphasizing the need to “motivate, then educate” the public.
Don’t Be Such a Scientist is organized into five chapters preceded by an introduction and followed by a variety of back matter. The introduction and chapters each begin with a humorous personal story that represents the overall message of the chapter. Each chapter is then broken up by subheadings and includes tables, figures, graphs, and diagrams. Throughout the book, important points are italicized for emphasis.
In Chapter 1, “Don’t Be So Cerebral”, Olson explains the “four-organs” theory of communication: the head is intellectual, the heart is emotional (including religious beliefs), the gut is instinctual, and the sex organs are unpredictable and spontaneous but with vast power. The audience broadens as you move downward through these organs—the head is mostly scientists, but pretty much everyone pays attention to sex and violence. Olson’s translation: facts alone aren’t enough for the masses.
Chapter 2, “Don’t Be So Literal Minded”, explains how to present the masses with more than facts by exploiting the “arouse-and-fulfill” strategy. Olson asserts in the third chapter, “Don’t Be Such a Poor Storyteller”, that storytelling is the best way to practice that strategy; he notes that although stories can capture and keep the public’s attention, they often have errors. However, Olson emphasizes that errors of accuracy are sometimes less detrimental than errors of boredom, both of which impede communication.
Olson begins Chapter 4, “Don’t Be So Unlikeable”, by describing the public’s love for mystery—an especially frustrating concept for scientists, Olson says, because they are trained to seek explanations. “Truth teller is a valiant role . . . but not a very likeable trait,” Olsen explains, so the scientist should try not to be the “party pooper”. In Chapter 5, “Be the Voice of Science!”, Olson expands on that point by using a corresponding theme from his movies: don’t be “handicapped by a blind obsession with the truth.” Style is a form of substance; scientists want to look through the way a subject is presented to see the facts, but the masses often don’t get past looking at something, so style matters.
All five chapters discuss the dichotomy of communication: objective versus subjective reasoning. Olson refers to the duality in almost every point he makes; this is an effective framework because it’s easy to follow new ideas cloaked in a familiar theme. However, sometimes the dichotomy seems strict, as though a scientist must choose between opposing options even though Olson’s advice is to blend the two sides through story telling.
True to its message, the book is filled with great story telling; anecdotes, analogies, and examples illustrate every point. Although the book’s structure sometimes seems haphazard because of the sea of anecdotes, the writing is so engaging that I didn’t mind. In fact, the anecdotes are occasionally rambling, but, again, Olson is so likable that I wasn’t confused or bored.
Perhaps the structural decisions were intentional—the whole book is meant to convince scientists that style can be as important as substance. In Olson’s movies, he admittedly tries to manipulate his audience by using style instead of substance to promote his ideas, so it wouldn’t be out of character for him to test such strategies in writing. If so, his manipulation worked. I was engaged by Olson’s writing despite some perceived shortcomings—with one exception. In the third chapter, the story telling is long winded and distracting, in my opinion.
Finally, I felt that sometimes Olson seemed defensive about his movies and boastful about his own ideas, and this makes some passages seem like advertisements. It is particularly noticeable in the three appendixes (an account of Olson’s difficulties with the movie Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy, a guide to film making for scientists, and a list of his movies). In my opinion, those sections, as well as the notes and index, don’t add anything to the book.
Overall, the book is fun and provocative. At around 200 pages, it’s also a quick and easy primer on the views of a science communicator in Hollywood. The book is filled with great quotations and lots of humor (often with nerdy punch lines designed for the scientist audience), and Olson mixes in plenty of pop-culture references, including recent events. Although the book is intended for a scientific audience, I think it will be enlightening for science communicators, and it is definitely worth the time to read and consider.
Emily White is a graduate student in science and technology journalism at Texas A&M University.
Described briefly below are some recent books of possible interest to editors and authors in the sciences. Inclusion of a title should not be construed as a recommendation. Books in this list may be candidates for reviews or book notes in Science Editor. Prospective reviewers of these or other books are invited to contact Susan M Shirley, book-review editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A-Z of Medical Writing. Tim Albert. London: BMJ Books; 2008. 160 pages. Paperback $42.95. ISBN-13: 978-0-7279- 1487-3.
Written for doctors and other health professionals, this book “consists of several hundred topics, from the process of writing to authorship, and from the use of semi-colons to the law of late literals”. It contains concise, practical information on various forms of writing that may be required in health-care professions.
Eloquent Science: a Practical Guide to Becoming a Better Writer, Speaker & Atmospheric Scientist. David M Schultz. Boston: American Meteorological Society; 2009. 412 pages. Paperback $45.00. ISBN-13: 978-1-878220-91-2.
This book (intended for students and researchers in the atmospheric sciences and intersecting disciplines) “distinguishes itself from and complements” similar guides by discussing what the author sees as “relevant, topical, and important issues” and presents such topics as “editing your writing, writing reviews for scientific journals, attending conferences, and presenting posters”. Most examples are drawn from atmospheric science. The main parts of the book are “Writing and Publishing Scientific Research Papers”, “Participating in Peer Review”, “Preparing and Delivering Scientific Presentations”, and “Communicating Throughout Your Career”.
Escape from the Ivory Tower: A Guide to Making Your Science Matter. Nancy Baron. Washington DC: Island Press; 2010. 240 pages. Hardcover $55.00. ISBN-13: 978-1-59726-663-5. Paperback $27.50. ISBN-13: 978-1-59726-664-2.
Scientists who want to inform and help to guide public discourse need to learn a new set of skills because they represent a culture different from that of journalists or policy makers. “No matter what your scientific specialty is”, writes Baron, “the keys to success are thinking clearly, knowing what you want to say, understanding your audience, and using everyday language to get your main points across.” Developing those skills is the object of this book.
Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. Mark Garvey. New York: Touchstone; 2009. 240 pages. Hardcover $22.99. ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-9092-7.
In his tribute to the 50th anniversary of the famous writing guide, Garvey tells his well-researched story of the origin and development of The Elements of Style with anecdotes and insights into the lives of Strunk and White.
Writing About Archaeology. Graham Connah. New York: Cambridge University Press; 2010. 210 pages. Hardcover $88.99. ISBN-13: 978-0-521- 86850-1.
Not a technical or style manual, this book presents the author’s views on the task of writing about archaeology and encourages writers to think about the process of writing and communicating effectively.
Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future. Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. New York: Basic Books; 2009. 224 pages. Paperback $15.00. ISBN-13: 978-0-309- 11970-2.
The most urgent problems of our century require science-based solutions, but Americans are exposed to less science through the mass media and are paying less attention to scientists. Mooney and Kirshenbaum explain the disconnect and how “hyperspecialized scientists” have been unable to correct it.
Statistics at Square One, 11th ed. Michael J Campbell and T D V Swinscow. Hoboken NJ: Wiley-Blackwell/ BMJ Books; 2009. 192 pages. Paperback $29.95. ISBN-13: 978-1-4051-9100-5.
New material on risk, diagnostic tests, sensitivity, and specificity and new sections on reading and reporting statistics and formula appreciation have been added to this manual of statistics for health-care professionals and medical students.
Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, 3rd ed. Patricia T O’Conner. New York: Riverhead Books; 2009. 288 pages. Hardcover $22.95. ISBN-13: 978-1- 59448-890-0.
This edition of the witty grammar guide includes new chapters on spelling and pronunciation and updated and expanded material throughout.
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