Why has the APA format become such a strong and frequently utilized style for professional writing? What are some examples of other formats used, and the professional disciplines that utilize them?

Tilak Ramaprakash
4 min readJul 22, 2022

The need for a defined format stems from the potential and reality of authors having their own way of formatting that may be inconsistent for readers. The reader must have a format that is standardized in a way that can be expected by any scholarly reader.

The need for a consistent, defined style becomes more apparent when complex material, such as tables or statistics, is presented. As scientific writing encourages full disclosure of essential information, a uniform style helps the reader scan articles quickly for key points and findings. A defined style also helps express key elements of quantitative results, choose graphic forms that will best suit the reader’s analyses, report details of research protocol, and describe individuals with accuracy and respect.

A writer’s integrity and reputation depends on his conduct and adherence to academic ethics and norms in the context of research and publishing. Proper writing formats provide guidelines to these writers and researchers in formatting research papers and other reports.

Professional formatting is as important as good research and record keeping. When one reads a journal article, the standardized format allows the reader to not spend (i.e. waste) time or effort deciphering the layout of the material and can concentrate on the subject matter itself. In other words, he knows what to expect in terms of format. And just the same, when authors, like ourselves, write articles, we are expected to follow a standardized format for the same reasons.

As stated in the Foreword of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition, p. xiii), “When we use an editorial style, we remove the distraction of puzzling over the correct punctuation for a reference or the proper form for numbers in text. Those elements are codified in the rules we follow for clear communication, allowing us to focus our intellectual energy on the substance of our research.”

The American Psychological Association (APA) format has become one of the more frequently used formats for academic papers. This format is particularly popular in science-related papers along with education, psychology, and business-related publishings. The APA format itself continues to evolve with periodic changes being incorporated from time to time.

The APA format calls for mandatory guidelines such as specific margins, font size and type, spacing, alignment, and indentation. It also defines the inclusion of a running head which is a notable characteristic of APA formatting.

Other standardized formats that are use include the Modern Language Association (MLA) format. The MLA format is more commonly used in the liberal arts and humanities field. Screenwriters use their own specific format for writing screenplays called the Standard American Format.

Other examples of writing formats include: AAA for Anthropology, ASA for Sociology, CSE for science, and Turabian style for history. The Chicago style format is used for literature, history, and the arts along with other scholarly and non-scholarly publications.

There are even special formats for specific organizations. For example the United Nations uses its own standard report format for internal reports.

Any researcher writing for a publication such as a journal must follow the established rules set by the publisher. This is to avoid inconsistencies among other journal articles and books. An example used to illustrate what could possibly happen without rules of style is having three different manuscripts using sub-test, subtest, and Subtest in one issue of a journal. Although the meaning of the word is the same (in this case, subtest is APA style), such variations in style may distract or confuse the reader.

Whatever the format may be that is defined, its use must be enforced by the professional organization or discipline at hand, not only for the reasons of standardization mentioned earlier, but also to avoid any confusion in the layout of the document.

A specific format or style will define guidelines for formatting manuscripts when using the English language in writing. The various formats available for different fields all have some common guidelines — one of these being the referencing of sources. Referencing and citing of sources is very important, as this protects writers from allegations of plagiarism. By properly referencing, accountability for the source materials can be successfully demonstrated. Writers who properly use a specific format, such as APA, also build their credibility by demonstrating accountability to their sources.

Lastly, there is the subtle, yet compelling, reason for a defined format: Professionalism. When an author publishes a paper on behalf of, or for, a professional discipline in which the content is of paramount relevance, the last issue at hand that a reader should be concerned about is how the document is laid out or how it reads.

Adhering to a particular format that is tied to a specific organization or discipline — in our case, APA — will provide the guidelines for a professional document that both the author can be proud of and the reader can learn from.

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Tilak Ramaprakash

Tilak S. Ramaprakash — Experienced Pilot with Auditor Certifications