Frequently Asked Questions About APA Style
June 20, 2023

This week’s blog was contributed by Erika Thompson, PAR’s managing production editor. It is the third part in a series on writing. Catch up on parts one and two. 

As a mental health practitioner, you are required to write throughout your career. One way you can streamline your writing is by using a style guide. At PAR, the house style we use for all our publications is based on American Psychological Association (APA) Style. Via the PAR Blog, we’re providing some useful information about facets of APA Style that will help you tackle research, write better reports, and communicate more effectively with colleagues. 

This week, we’re covering some questions our editors frequently get asked about APA Style. 

I can never remember the rule about numbers! When should they be numerals and when are we supposed to use words? 

The general rule is to use numerals for numbers 10 and above and words for numbers zero through nine. However, there are exceptions. Ages, dates, and time should be expressed in numerals, even if they’re below 10: 3-year period, ages 18–25 years, 3:45 a.m. The same goes for numbers representing mathematical or statistical information: 5%, 0.45 of the sample, the 9th percentile. Any number that starts a sentence should be expressed in words, even if it’s 10 or above: “Seventy-six students took the test.” 

A hyphen and a dash are the same thing, right? 

Nope! The hyphen and the two dashes (en-dash and em-dash) look different from one another and have different uses. 

A hyphen is used to divide or link words and letters to form another word. Writers are sometimes confused about whether to use a hyphen to link prefixes and suffixes to root words—for example, “nonsignificant” versus “non-significant.” In general, APA style dictates that most prefixes and suffixes do not require hyphens, so “nonsignificant” is standard. Hyphens are also used to indicate negative values (with a space before it but not after it; e.g., -4). 

En-dashes are longer than hyphens. They’re used in text and tables to separate ranges of values, including those for age ranges and page numbers (including in reference lists; e.g., “See pages 3–4.”). En-dashes are also used instead of hyphens between words of equal weight in a compound adjective (e.g., “test–retest”). 

Em-dashes are the longest dashes. They’re used to set off an element added to extend or to digress from the main clause (e.g., “I spoke to him at length—at least 45 minutes—about this topic.”). They do not have to be used in pairs (e.g., “It was a chilly day—downright freezing, really.”). 

Here’s a handy hint: You can type an en-dash on a PC by holding down the Alt button and then hitting the numbers 0, 1, 5, and 0 in sequence, and you can type an em-dash by holding down the Alt button and then hitting the numbers 0, 1, 5, and 1 in sequence. (Wondering about the minus sign? It’s actually a special character in Word—it’s not the same as an en-dash, a hyphen, or any other symbol.) 

What’s the best way to report “partial ages”? 

I’ve seen it done a few different ways. In the testing field, it’s standard to present partial ages. Though some publications use commas, at PAR we find them to be confusing. So, we use colons instead—for example, “11:6” means 11 years, 6 months. When presenting a range of partial ages, it’s best to use “to” between them, to avoid any confusion (e.g., “11:6 to 11:11”). 

Can someone explain what a dangling modifier is? I know I learned this in high school… 

Modifiers seem complicated, but they’re actually simple. Modifiers are adjectives or adverbs (in the form of words, phrases, or clauses) that describe or limit nouns and verbs in the sentence. They must be placed directly before or after the word they are modifying—if not, the result is a misplaced modifier. For example, in “Riley only told Jade and Colin about the surprise,” the placement of “only” indicates that the only activity Riley did was tell Jade and Colin about the surprise, but the intention is to express that Jade and Colin were the only people Riley told. The sentence should be recast as: “Riley told only Jade and Colin about the surprise.” 

If the word the modifier is intended to modify doesn’t appear in the sentence at all, the result is a dangling modifier. For example, in “Using a saw, the wood can be cut easily,” the modifier “using a saw” is connected to the subject, “the wood.” However, readers know that wood doesn’t use a saw—people do. The sentence should be recast to include a logical subject: “Using a saw, I can cut the wood easily.” 

What’s the most common error you come across? 

Some of the most common errors we see in writing can be categorized as parallelism errors. “Parallelism—the matching of sentence parts for logical balance, especially by using grammatically coordinate structures—helps satisfy every reader’s innate craving for order and rhythm” (Garner, 2022, p. 801). This comes up frequently in lists—both bulleted and in sentences. 

In a bulleted list, begin each entry with the same part of speech and, as much as possible, retain a similar sentence/phrasing structure. For example, use a verb to begin each entry:

Steps to improve morale 

  • Ask for reactions and questions. 
  • Share your insights. 
  • Create a plan to follow up.

In sentences with lists, each entry should be the same part of speech (e.g., “The test is reliable, comprehensive, and easy to administer” [all adjectives]). One very common mistake is the improper insertion of a sole second verb in a listing sentence: “The test is reliable, comprehensive, and takes only 30 minutes to administer.” The verb must apply to all entries, or each entry should have its own verb. There are many ways to fix this… 

  • The test is reliable and comprehensive and takes only 30 minutes to administer. 
  • The test is reliable, is comprehensive, and takes only 30 minutes to administer. 
  • The test is reliable and comprehensive; it takes only 30 minutes to administer. 
  • The test is reliable, comprehensive, and short, taking only 30 minutes to administer. 


Do you have a style or grammar question you’d like us to answer? Email me anytime at ethompson@parinc.com

Interested in partnering with PAR for research or publishing? Visit our Partner with PAR page to learn more. 



American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1037/0000165-000 

Garner, B. A. (2022). Garner’s modern English usage (5th ed.). Oxford. https://www.oxfordreference.com/display/10.1093/acref/9780197599020.001.0001/acref-9780197599020