How Purdue Owl Saved My Ass

I’ve always been a Chicago girl. I learned copyediting by the big orange book, but then I started tutoring college students who worked overwhelmingly with APA. I decided that APA wasn’t too bad. It was far more up to date than, say, MLA. (Seriously, MLA, you were underlining book titles—which was a typewriter convention—in 2008!)

Suddenly I got a copyediting gig that required APA. Well, flying by the seat of my pants is entertaining, so I went forward. I’m neck deep in a paper and trying to figure out if APA capitalizes a person’s title, or how to set a report in the references when it exists both in print and online, or whether it prefers numbers or letters when making a list within a sentence (this is called seriation—who knew?).

And I’m not getting any answers. It’s not just the crappy index, insufficient examples, or my having to wade through statistics trying to find some answers. It’s also deep distrust. The first printing of the new edition of the book that students, academics, and editors turn to for the right answer was rife with errors.

There was outrage. There were enough errors that the corrections available from the APA website are grouped into four categories. There are eight pages of corrections and 19 pages of corrected examples. And they refused to send people new books, although the errors were corrected by the second printing. Who is going to go through and make 27 pages of corrections in their old books? I’m mad just thinking about it.

There is one shining light in this maelstrom of ineptitude: Purdue Owl. The online writing labs at Purdue University do APA better than the American Psychological Association. They understand APA, they present it clearly, they do not repeat errors, and they have a ton of examples. After an hour of thumbing through the APA manual, I turned to the wise owl, who answered all my questions. And I am a convert. My father got a degree in engineering at Purdue and never would have imagined that his literary, English-major daughter would say this, but Go Boilermakers!

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2 responses to “How Purdue Owl Saved My Ass

  1. Thanks for the tip! I have managed to avoid APA thus far in my career (the reference style alone just about makes my head explode), but it’s good to know there’s a handy tool available.

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