Mastering the American Psychological Association’s (APA) (1994) writing and style guidelines may be as challenging as the most difficult clinical skill for some nursing students. There are a variety of software products available to assist students in applying the APA standards to their written work. These software products vary widely in cost, ease of use, and features. The purpose of this paper is to review the current software products available for WindowsÒ computers. The intent is to provide students who may be new to the APA writing style and to professional writing with the necessary information to make an informed software purchasing choice.
There are two types of software commonly used to assist students to format written work. These are formatting and referencing helpers also called bibliographic software. Formatting helpers are those software products that assist the user in setting up the formatting of the text of the paper and references according to APA, or other style guides such as MLA. Reference helpers assist with formatting references when writing a paper, however some also provide sophisticated assistance in searching online libraries and the Internet.
Identification of Software
The software titles used in this review came from several sources. The primary source was an Internet search using the term “APA software”. Although no additional titles were identified in this way, students and faculty were asked which software they used, if any, to assist in creating class papers. Finally, a discussion on the subject in the Nurse Educators listserv provided additional anecdotal information on various software programs. For the purposes of this paper -- only software that is available for a WindowsÒ operating systems was reviewed. However several of the programs are available in a variety of languages and for MacIntosh Ò computers. The author purchased all formatting programs.
Evaluation of Software
One important point the author would like to make is that ease of use is in the head and hands of the user. Learning style, computer skill, and other factors greatly influence a person’s judgment that one program is easy to use and another is not. The author is an advanced computer user with years of experience in writing and publishing. Since students are more likely to be novice computer users and writers, review of the products was conducted with a “beginners mind”. The goal was to use the software, with minimal technical assistance or use of printed directions.
point is that no software program eliminates the need for the printed APA
manual. All programs reviewed for
this article ease the work of creating references.
Most do not provide the same support for the other writing guidelines.
Students are advised to use the APA manual as a primary tool for
constructing papers and to make decisions about the format of the paper while
using any of the programs. This
will allow for a greater degree of accuracy in applying APA guidelines.
Each of the software products is reviewed in alphabetical order. Refer to Table 1 for a list of the Internet addresses for ordering either demo versions or the entire program. The reference management software includes two distinct types of programs. The first programs are those that the author calls “format helpers”. These programs assist the student with actually writing the paper. They include information on formatting the body of the paper and the reference list. However they do not include assistance with researching databases such as MEDLINEÒ or the Library of Congress. Nor do they allow for searching online databases. The second type of program is called “reference helpers” in this article, also known as bibliographic software by manufacturers. These programs do not provide assistance with formatting a paper. Instead, most are sophisticated database programs that greatly decrease the work of organizing references, searching databases, and creating user defined reference material.
Templates. Most of the format helpers are add-ins to Word. That means that the software is installed into Word as a template, it is not a separate program. The template is a preformatted file that provides the basic outline for the paper. To open any software template, open up the word processing program, select file, new from the toolbar, click on the template name and the file opens.
APA Style Helper 2.0. This program is available directly from the American Psychological Association’s web site. The download was lengthy and had to be repeated twice. The demo version does not allow full access to the features of the program. In order to fully use the downloaded version a serial number must be entered into the program. The author’s electronic mail request for the serial number took several days to receive an answer, as did other requests for technical information..
APA Style helper works in a unique way. The user first enters in the manuscript identifying information (headers, title, etc) and then the references. Once this preliminary data is saved, the user can then open up the file within a word processing program. This is in contrast to all other format helpers which function as templates in a word processing program. Students have reported this two-step process in writing a paper to be somewhat confusing. The most important issue is that the initial manuscript must be saved where the user can find the file to open in the user’s word processing program. In order to update or edit a reference list, the file must be re-opened in the APA program. Once it is open in the APA program, it can be edited, saved, and then reopened in the word processing program to continue working on the body of the paper.
The help files are extensive. They cover not only how to use the program but APA guidelines as well. In order to use the help menu, the user must open up a browser for the files to be displayed. This is another unique feature of this program.
FormatEaseÒ. FormatEaseÒ provides the most comprehensive formatting help of all programs reviewed. It is also relatively easy to install. The default settings for the install were not the correct ones for the author’s computer set up, however, it took just a few minutes to find the correct path to install the template into Word.
FormatEaseÒ provides an array of choices in formatting a document. The user can select a paper, a dissertation, thesis or term paper. For the purposes of this review, the “apapaper” was selected. Once the type of document is selected, the user is presented with an instructional document in which the type is replaced as the paper is created. There is a line which says: “The Title of the Paper Goes Here” and the user replaces that text with the title of the paper.
As the user replaces and adds to the text in the stock document, the paper conforms to APA standards. This product also leads the user through the five levels of headings, the appendix and information on footnotes and figures. This software may be the most suited for students who have no experience with APA and need the largest amount of information about the style guide on their computer screen at one time.
Microsoft Template. Microsoft maintains a library of templates at their site. The APA template is a basic tool for completing documents. The template is formatted to APA line spacing, margins and headers. The template includes a narrative describing how to complete an abstract, table of contents and other APA style features. There is no direct help in formatting references but there is a list of reference examples. This product’s best attribute is that it is free to Microsoft users.
PERRLA. This program was the least expensive and easiest to begin using. An interesting aside is that the developer of the program is an FNP. As with other template based format helpers, PERRLA uses Microsoft Word and is an add-in. The web site gives clear directions for installing PERRLA into Word as a template. Electronic requests for information were returned the same day.
Once installed, an APA style paper is initiated by selecting “new” from the file menu. PERRLA 4.2 is then selected and the user is presented with a popup window that asks for the running head, header, title and author’s name. This information is then placed appropriately throughout the document.
Adding references is very simple. Click on the icon “create citation” and another popup window appears. This window asks for information on the type of publication, for example book, journal, or a chapter in a book. Once the type of publication is selected, the user is prompted for specific information about the citation. As the user inputs information, references to the APA manual also appear. This is a useful feature as it also reinforces standards while assisting with the creation of the paper. Once all the information is completed, the citation is inserted into the paper and the reference is placed at the back of the paper.
Reference Point Ò. Reference PointÒ (RP) is another inexpensive APA template add-in software that is easy to use. Many of the author’s students use this program and recommend that users insert all references first and then type the paper. This helps RP format citations using the same reference correctly each time it appears in a paragraph.
When RP is installed, a template is automatically inserted into Word. To open RP, Open Word, select new file and then the template for RP (APA2000 is the file name if it is being used with Word 2000). When a new document is started, the user is prompted to select the header, running head, title, and so forth until all document options are inserted. Any notations that are not needed, can be bypassed by leaving the field blank.
Suggested Group Learning Activity. It is possible and can be highly desirable to have students create their own template. This is an especially important learning activity for graduate students. The author has given students an assignment of developing their own APA template in both traditional and online classes. This encourages students to learn new features of their word processing programs and to develop something that can be very helpful. This project has been especially helpful when nursing programs have individualized guidelines for formatting papers.
Referencing helpers are those programs that provide assistance with searching, cataloguing, and retrieving information from online libraries and the Internet. They do not provide help with formatting the text of an APA style paper beyond the reference list. All programs format references in multiple styles, including APA. They are amazingly powerful tools that are most helpful when introduced to students early on in their programs. This would allow students to maintain their own “libraries” of research material. These programs are especially helpful for graduate students and researchers. ISI Research Soft distributes Reference Manager, EndNote and ProCite. Oberon distributes Citation and BookWhere2000.
BiblioscapeÒ. Biblisoscape provides several products that assist in searching, cataloguing and managing references. Biblioscpae organizes references into folders like other reference formatters. It can search both libraries and the web and support SQL servers. There is a built in spell checker, which is a value added feature of this product. Biblioscape reports it works well with groups of users which is a feature not tested in this review.
Biblioexpress is a free, smaller version, of the referencing software. It is a smaller version of the product with less features for searching. In this version it is primarily used for collecting references using specific styles. Many undergraduate nursing students will find this program is all they need for collecting references for papers.
Biblioweb is a product designed specifically for use in an
organization’s Intranet. The
manufacturer’s site allows users to test out a live database. While this
program is very useful in formatting a large number of references, it may be
beyond the needs of most students. Nursing
departments that conduct collaborative research may benefit most from use of
BookWhere2000Ò. BookWhere is specifically designed to search online libraries. Search results can be exported into CitationÒ, which is a popular referencing format helper made by the same company. Databases can be searched simultaneously, which saves time. This program was very easy to use. The author was able to search several databases within minutes of installing the software. It is designed to work specifically with CitationÒ.
CitationÒ. Citation is one of several powerful database programs that work from the tools menu of Word or Word Perfect word processing programs. Citation allows a user to create nearly unlimited databases, adding notes to records, searching and retrieving references. Citation also allows users to find duplicate entries; merge databases and spell check documents.
Citation is beyond what a typical undergraduate student would need for referencing helpers but would be very useful for graduate students and researchers. On the Citation web site, there is an excellent lesson plan for instructors to use that shows students what bibliographic software does and how to use it. Click on teaching notes from the home page to find this information.
EndNote 4.0Ò. EndnoteÒ provides a wide variety of tools for creating, organizing, sorting and retrieving information for bibliographies. EndNoteÒ uses “libraries” to organize data. These libraries can be sorted in a variety of ways and hold thousand of references. Bibliographies or reference sheets can be created by drag and dropping references, or cut and pasting. The user can create custom search terms for databases and link these terms to specified fields. Reference lists are generated by selecting references from a list and dragging and dropping them into the file. An add-in is available to make bibliography selection automatic within a word processing program.
The author was able to use this program with a minimum amount of instruction from the user manual. A connection to several databases was made on the first attempt. This program is used by many students, faculty and librarians who are in contact with the author. No user reported dissatisfaction with the program’s ability to manage references.
ProCite is another of the powerful Internet library search programs.
Over 200 libraries can be searched using ProCite.
It is also possible to collect references across several databases,
which decreases the time for necessary to create expansive bibliographies for
larger projects. The user can
collect reference information directly from the web, although graphics,
tables, or figures are not stored, only text.
Reference ManagerÒ. Reference Manager (RM) provides another solid product for searching, organizing, and sorting references. It includes both the searching program, the organizer, and the database builder features. The author found this one the easiest to read from the computer screen. The features of RM, like other reference helpers are very sophisticated and will usually exceed the needs of an undergraduate student. Users of RM report a steep learning curve for this software, as the features are extensive. However, once the overall organization of the files is developed, updating is very easy.
Students and researchers can use this program to track and insert
references into manuscripts, and to catalog research results.
Academic institutions may want to use this product, or others, to track
faculty publications. Librarians
can use this product to keep track of specific collections and to disseminate
information easily to groups of people. Faculty
will find this and other reference manager programs an ideal tools for
developing reading lists for students. Other
features are beyond the scope of this paper, however the author urges any
student beginning a thesis or dissertation to use one of the programs listed
here. These programs not only
save time but promote the discipline in researching that is so important in
quality research studies.
Scholar’s Aide Ò. Scholar’s Aide, like PERRLA, was first developed by an individual who needed the product. It is the program of choice for students on a budget. There is a free 60 day trial period, a free “lite” version and it is the least expensive of the bibliographic software reviewed. They also offer a “starving student” discounted price for the full version.
Scholar’s Aide (SA) is very user friendly. The interface between the user and the computer is simple to use. The program actually consists of two programs. One organizes notes and the other the references. Each feature provides the user with an array of possibilities for searching, organizing, and formatting the outputs.
The program can be downloaded from the web site. The author found that several downloads were necessary in order to get the program properly installed. The downloaded files come in a compressed file format, so it is necessary to first decompress or unzip the file before using the program. Users will need a program that “unzips” files in order to be able to properly install this program. Directions are clearly posted on the web site to do this.
The use of specific style guidelines continues to be an important part of scholarly meetings. Although there are a variety of style formats, APA continues to be the dominant style guide for student and practitioner health professionals. Several programs have been reviewed which will assist the user in formatting papers and manuscripts to meet the APA standard guidelines. The ultimate choice of the software depends on the user’s budget, willingness to use the printed reference book, and familiarity with computerized word processing programs.
As the amount of information available expands, it has become necessary to consider using additional computer aided tools to keep track of relevant information. It is also necessary to present information in a scholarly format so that others will be able to find and utilize reference material as cited in prior publications. Computer software products provide much support for students, faculty, and researchers in gathering, organizing, and utilizing reference material. However, in order to get the maximum benefit from these products, users must devote the necessary time to understand all of the features of the various products. None of the products reviewed replace the conceptualization and organization a writer puts into a paper or literature search. However, they make the completion of many tasks possible in a shorter period . Like other software programs, their usefulness will come directly from the user’s knowledge of the product.