Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Format Helpers

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.