Diving into APA Style Citation with DNP Students

The Director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program came to me with a request in Fall 2016:  would I work more closely with her DNP students as they complete their dissertations?  She was frantic (“They need help with APA!”) and requested immediate assistance.  When the cohort began in early January, at the beginning of the new year, I met the ten DNP students, who were anything but refreshed.  I dedicated five hour-long sessions from January through March to help these students write an APA-style research paper.

The sessions were as follows:

1. Paraphrasing v. Summarizing – A Review

The first of the five sessions was conducted in person, and the following four were in a synchronous online space.  Because of the constraints of online courses, I decided to tackle paraphrasing in Session 1, which I thought would benefit from in-class discussion.  I think that paraphrasing is one of the hardest parts of APA because interpretation is involved.

I introduced the students to paraphrasing via Purdue OWL and then gave them an assignment:  could they paraphrase four paragraphs from four separate research articles?  They were given time to work in small groups and then shared their attempts with the class for evaluation.  My hope was that students would be able to paraphrase and summarize successfully, remember to cite paraphrased or summarized content, and identify how a seemingly easy endeavor is, in fact, intricate.  This assignment certainly inspired a great deal of discussion!  Throughout all of their work I provided suggestions for more active reading and stronger articulation of meaning, but the amount of ambiguity of my own class participation resulted in many students expressing frustration.  If you have taught a similar class to this one, I certainly would love to hear about it!

2.  Citation of Resources A-Z

In order to cover the development of a reference page I recycled my content my previous APA Citation Workshop Series.  I added a bit of instruction on how to request use of figures from other’s publications and how to include copyright statements.

3.  Tables and Figures in APA Style

In the middle of a snow storm, I promised to teach the students about proper table formatting in APA style.  However, I was unable to get to work and, unbeknownst to me, we do not have Microsoft Office at my house!  So a video tutorial had to do.  Here it is, in under 10 minutes!


4. Grammar Rules

Many students write as they speak, and need to be reminded of the rules for scholarly (aka formal) writing. We discussed rules of hyphenation, active and passive voice, contractions, gender pronouns, abbreviation, punctuation, verb agreement, and capitalization. One surprising takeaway – did you know that data is plural?

5. Scholarship and Wrap-Up

I wanted these students to be prepared for publication in their new field so during this session I discussed Creative Commons, Open Access, and ORCID ids. I wanted the students to recognize the value of Open Access, I am a librarian after all! I hope that they recognize that they have choices when publishing and that there is value in allowing their research to be immediately and widely available. In the future I hope to include predatory journals in this discussion, but I’m not entirely knowledgeable in this area. I would love some reading recommendations!

Wrap-up also included any lingering questions and a form for feedback. Overall, the students requested that I hold more sessions and that the topics be introduced earlier in their program. One student said that they hung my PowerPoints all over their office for reference, a scene that makes me chuckle. Another student suggested that the sessions allow students to practice while I am present. Perhaps in the future I will use the whiteboard function of Blackboard Collaborate and allow students to type up citations for review? If so, I will report back.

Teaching DNP students is a challenge. They are tired from a long day of work, overwhelmed at the amount of schoolwork expected of them, and respected in their field. I quickly learned to exhibit great compassion and humility while leading these sessions. The students responded well when I directed them to reference resources in my efforts to teach them and not just provide the answers. Though this was an intensive experience, I am happy that my own knowledge of APA has developed significantly and hope that I was able to support these students’ performance to their advantage.

APA Citation Workshop Series

One of the challenges I’ve embraced in my position is instruction of APA formatting and citation.  My colleagues do not enjoy teaching citation style, likely because of the shortcomings of the content: it is neither exciting for students nor challenging for those of us who have mastered it long ago.  Last school year my instruction was limited to a nursing class every once in a while.  This year the nursing department requested that I do APA Citation workshops to encourage student ownership of their success and so began my efforts to create an engaging and informative APA Citation workshop series.

My first worry was student attendance.  A workshop series is only successful if students show up!  Previous library workshops were very poorly attended.  Therefore, for this set of workshops we decided to host them on Blackboard Collaborate.  Each synchronous online meeting is about an hour long from 8-9 PM on dates that spanned my entire work week to provide a variety of possible opportunities.


I created this flyer to advertise the workshop series.  They were sent around campus to department secretaries, posted in hallways, and included in the university-wide daily email.

We’ve had two sessions so far and they have been a relative success!  Student attendance has been around 10 people a session.  I utilize a PowerPoint for presentation purposes, but I want these workshops to be interactive! There are a few components of my instruction that I feel have been critical to our success:

  1.  Poll Everywhere polls.  Everyone loves participating in a poll and they are even more fun when they give students the opportunity to write short answer responses.citation-importance
  2. Color coded reference instruction.  Students don’t seem to see the similarities in each citation even if I specifically state that the type of bibliographic information included in each citation does not change between texts.  Colors help students identify the similarities between references.  I’ve utilized these colors throughout the entire Power Point so that the information in an in-text citation can be connected to the full reference more easily.citing-an-article-screenshot
  3. Practice “reading” citations.  This is a fun opportunity for students to engage with the presentation and helps them to practice identifying the components of the citation.  I generally provide the first example so they know what I’m looking for:  “C. Lockwood wrote “What is the best nursing handover style to ensure continuity of information for hospital patients?,” which was published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies in 2016.  It is in volume 58 on pages 97 through 99.”  Of course, these citations can be read in different ways, but the idea is that they begin to recognize the different pieces of bibliographic information.

Teaching APA citation has been a challenge, but it has provided me with additional experience utilizing Blackboard Collaborate (Ultra – I’m testing the next generation.  It’s great!), leading my own instruction sessions, and engaging students online.  It has seriously increased the number of calls I receive on a daily basis.  I am now widely recognized as the “APA Expert” on campus, and instructors across campus send their students my way for assistance.  In this case, a challenging experience has opened up an opportunity to do something I love!  I have had a few occasions to discuss the benefits of Zotero, a citation management tool that I ADORE, and so I have a few Zotero workshops in my near future.  Stay tuned!