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APA Style


Point of View

Voice:  Active vs. Passive

Clarity and Conciseness

Word Choice

Appropriate Language

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The best medical writing is straightforward. It focuses on the ideas being presented, not the manner of presentation. APA style establishes a uniform structure, style and format to efficiently move ideas forward with maximum clarity and minimum distraction. The fundamentals of APA style have been designed to ensure clear and consistent presentation of written material.

Paper Format

APA papers follow a specific structural format.  Depending on the sections necessary for the type of paper you are writing, a paper will generally have the following structure:

  • Title Page - separate page
  • Abstract - separate page
  • Introduction – begins first page of paper body (no heading for this section)
  • Method - not all nursing papers will include Methods; instead, sections such as D efinition, Research , Literature Review, Background , etc., may be found here
  • Results - may also include assessment findings, results of studies performed by other authors, etc.
  • Discussion - analysis of content and synthesis of ideas; may also include reflection component
  • References - separate page
  • Appendices - each appendix is labeled and on a separate page

Paragraph Format (229KB)

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Point of View

Appropriate point of view is important in APA style because it conveys professionalism and proficiency to your audience.  Use first or third person when describing procedures that you or your cohorts conducted or studied:

First person : Appropriate to use when discussing or describing your actions, such as procedures, activities and research.
Example: “I assessed …” “I studied …” “I performed …”

Third person : Appropriate to use when discussing or describing the work of your cohorts.
Example: “The triage nurse assessed …” “The radiologist studied …” “The doctor performed …”

Second person is NOT appropriate because it assumes an audience and their feelings, actions, thoughts, and beliefs. Instead, refer to a specific population. 
Example: “Readers may find…” (rather than “you may find”)

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Voice:  Active vs. Passive

APA Style encourages the use of active voice verbs rather than passive.  Active voice is particularly important in procedural explanations (such as describing assessment findings); the subject performing the action should be clearly identified.
Example: Active - "We interviewed the patient ..." vs. Passive - "The patient was interviewed..."

For more information on active and passive voice, see the Purdue OWL:

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Clarity and Conciseness

Clear and concise writing is fundamental to APA style. It’s important to represent the details of a study or other research accurately.

Clarity :  Be specific rather than vague in descriptions and explanations. Use details accurately to provide adequate information so readers can follow the development of your study.
Example of vague hypothesis: "It was predicted that marital conflict would cause behavior problems  in children."

To clarify this vague hypothesis, use parallel structure to outline specific ideas:
Improved example: "The first hypothesis stated that marital conflict would cause behavior problems  in school-aged children. The second hypothesis stated that the effect would be stronger for girls than for boys. The third hypothesis stated that older girls would be more affected by marital conflict than  younger girls."

Conciseness : Remove unnecessary words and condense information when you can, particularly in introductory material or abstracts.

For more information on clarity and conciseness, see the Purdue OWL handouts:



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Word Choice

Exercise care when selecting certain words or terms to use in academic writing. To increase clarity, avoid bias, and control how your readers will receive your information, choose appropriate vocabulary:

  • Use terms like "participants" or "respondents" (rather than "subjects") to indicate how individuals were involved in your research.
  • Use specific terms like "a child" or "community members" rather than the general terms like “one” or “people” to provide more detail about who was participating in the study.
  • Use phrases like "The evidence suggests ..." or "Our study indicates ..." rather than referring to "proof" or "proves," because no single study can prove a theory or hypothesis.
  • Avoid absolute phrases like “always,” “never,” “everything” or “nothing,” because while a study may show a certain result at the time, findings may change over time.
  • The use of abbreviations is acceptable; state the whole phrase the first time, followed by the abbreviation in parentheses; anytime thereafter you may use the abbreviation.
    Example: Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a leading cause of death. CHF causes swelling and may require medication.

To better understand common terminology within the field of nursing, familiarize yourself with current nursing research and literature.

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Choosing Appropriate Language

APA style, unlike creative or literary styles, encourages the use of clear and concise language. Poetic expressions and figurative language can distract from your writing; because these are not a feature of nursing literature, they are inappropriate when describing issues or findings.

To choose appropriate language:

  • Use simple, descriptive adjectives and plain language that does not risk confusing your meaning.
  • Minimize the use of figurative language (such as analogies, similes, metaphors or idioms) in an APA paper, unless it is helpful in conveying a complex idea.
  • Avoid rhyming schemes, alliteration, or other poetic devices typically found in poetic writing.
    Acceptable example: “The patient had a facial hematoma with diffuse edema”
    Unacceptable example: “The patient’s head was bumpy like a toad, the color of a ripe grape”

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