Headings and outlining

The APA Publication Manual’s recommendation to use two spaces after sentence-ending punctuation has been our focus so far on this blog. Although the folks at APA have not answered questions about our concerns (e.g., Where’s the evidence for the assertion that the extra space increases readability), we want to let them have another opportunity to explain the recommendations in the sixth edition. In that spirit, we offer this opportunity to explain the rationale for the changes made with respect to headings.

According to the notes about chapter 3, the authors of the Publication Manual write that that there has been a “[n]ew heading structure established to simplify retrieval and ease reading comprehension.” This new style has several apparently beneficial features. For example, at least one of us has routinely had to thumb through the PM to determine which levels of headings people ought to have used in manuscripts (3.31 and 3.32 in the 5th edition). To be sure, in most manuscripts, it was simple: Just use levels 1, 3, and 4.

The good news in that older system, especially if one was writing a longer piece, was that one could use the word processor’s system of styles to identify the different levels of headings. Styles—in M$ Word for example—worked wonderfully with Levels 1, 2, 3, and 5 in the old APA system. One could make those styles correspond to the word processor’s system and then, voila, using the magic of the computer, generate a table of contents for a longer article. That was great for dissertations, for example.

The outlining feature of word processors didn’t work well for level-4 headings in the previous PM, however. Those “indented, italicized, lowercase paragraph heading[s] ending with a period” (section 3.31, p. 113) had to take the style of the entire paragraph. (We’re leaving alone the quasi-logic of of the 5th edition, in which the heading for one paragraph often was used for multiple paragraphs. Would the next paragraph require a new indented, italicized, lowercase paragraph heading[s] ending with a period or was it subordinate text to the previous heading?)

As it turns out, for those of us who outline our papers before we begin writing them (we hope that’s most scientific writers) and used the outlining system in Word and other programs, the word-processing styles organizational system worked pretty well. Indeed, because most popular word processing program (not just M$ Word, but also Pages, Open Office, and most RTF-based systems) have a built-in outlining system, one could make the upper levels of APA headings correspond to the word processing software’s headings (e.g., Word’s styles) and write what seemed a heckuvalot like a topic-sentence outline. That worked fine for all but the run-in paragraph headings.

With the 6th edition, however, the degrees of freedom in the outlining process have been narrowed. Common outlining programs such as those available in Word will only be able to support headings corresponding to two of the five APA levels of headings, not four of the five. Why? Well, word processing software creates styles based on paragraphs. From a word processing program’s point of view (please excuse the anthropomorphising), paragraphs with an indented heading with (a) no font features, (b) italics for the first few words, and (c) bold and italics all look the same.

APAWordOutliningTry it! If you use Word, start to a new document and pull down the “view” menu to “outline.” You can very quickly generate the outline for a paper such as shown here.

But, in the new APA style, you will only be able to use two levels of headings when employing outlining software. That’s because all the headings from level 3-5 must be the same in the word processing program.



One response to “Headings and outlining

  1. Anna

    THIS! I’m so glad I’m not alone in being frustrated by this.

    However, in my opinion this has nothing to do with APA (5th or 6th) and everything to do with how Word uses styles. Depending on which version of Word you have, there are at least 3-4 different “types” of styles, with the main ones being “Paragraph” (applied to the whole paragraph) and “Character” (applied to one or more characters). Why can’t there just be one type that works like the “Character” style? (If you can apply it to a few words, you can apply it to the whole paragraph if you want to, not hard!) This wouldn’t be as much of an issue except that assigning an outline “Level” to a style is only possible for the “Paragraph” type styles. (That is, you can’t create a new “Character” type style and tell it to use it as Level 3 in Outline View).

    You can assign individual paragraphs to a specific outline level manually, but that seems dumb and cumbersome. (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/using-outline-view-with-long-documents-in-word-HA001056919.aspx)

    I found a workaround for a slightly different purpose (trying to get Level 3 to show up in a table of contents), but TOCs function differently than Outline View, so it’s not a good substitute. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jT_oXvichg)

    For now, my solution is to fudge APA style while I’m drafting (have my Level 3s as their own paragraph and use the default Word style), and then clean them up when I’m done and no longer care about using outline view.

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