Answered By: Theresa Bell
Last Updated: Dec 08, 2017     Views: 19

The APA Style manual (American Psychological Association, 2010) encourages writers to “make certain that every word means exactly what you intend it mean” (p. 68), and recommends writing for an audience who are unfamiliar with your area of literature and expertise (p.67).

At the same time, the APA Style manual does suggest thinking of your audience as someone familiar to you, which means that you will use the language most of your friends or colleagues use, where possible. These common words will help educate and persuade, rather than frustrate or confuse, a typical member of the academic community (p. 67).

 When deciding what words to use, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the dictionary definition of this word match my intended meaning?
  • Would a member of the general academic community require a dictionary to understand this word?
  • Am I comfortable using this word or words? Am I familiar with this language in other situations?
  • Would I use this word to express or explain this idea in a verbal conversation with my audience?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you may need to consider alternatives. Ultimately, you want to be confident in using your words, and if you aren’t sure that you fully understand a word, chances are you are not using it in the most appropriate way. For more information, please see Chapter 3 of the APA Style manual as well as our Writing Tips on vocabulary.


American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.