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APA Format Style Guide: Formatting Your Paper

This guide will assist you in writing research papers using the American Psychological Association (APA) Style. It will help explain formatting your paper as well as proper citation for various resources.

Formatting Your Paper

When writing a paper, consistency is key.  Consistency in order, structure, and format allow the reader to focus on the content of the paper rather than its presentation.

In general, guidelines for format apply to both student papers and professional journal publications.  Other projects, such as a website, a conference poster, or a PowerPoint presentation, may require other formatting to optimize presentation.

Always follow the specific guidelines provided by your professor, and don't be afraid to ask for clarifications on format.

Order of Pages

APA style papers are arranged as follows:

  • Title Page
  • Abstract 
  • Text
  • References
  • Footnotes
  • Tables
  • Figures
  • Appendices

Not all sections will be required for all papers.  See your professor or syllabus for requirements for your specific assignment.

Title Page

A student paper should have the following on the Title Page:

  • Paper Title
  • Author Names
  • Author Affiliation
  • Course Number and Name
  • Instructor Name
  • Assignment Due Date
  • Page Number

An example is shown below:

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Student papers do not require a running head, unless requested by the professor.  This is an update from APA 6th edition.

 

Paragraph Alignment and Indentation

Paragraph Alignment

Align the text of the paper to the left margin.  Leave the right margin uneven.  Do not use full justification.  

Do not insert hyphens in words at the end of a line.  It is acceptable if your word processing software automatically inserts breaks in long hyperlinks.

Paragraph Indentation

Indent the first line of each paragraph of text 0.5 inch from the left margin.  Use the tab key to create the indentation; do not use the space bar to indent.  Exceptions are as follows:

  • Title Page:  All information on the title page, except page number, should be centered on the page.
  • Section Labels: Section labels (Abstract, References) should be centered.
  • Abstract:  The first line of an abstract should be flush left, not indented.
  • Block Quotations: Indent a whole block quotation 0.5 in from the left margin.  If the block quotation spans more than one paragraph, the first line of the second and subsequent paragraphs should be indented another 0.5 in.
  • Headings:  Level 1 headings should be centered and bold.  Level 2 and 3 headings should be left aligned and in bold or bold italic, respectively.  Level 4 and 5 headings are indented like regular paragraphs.
  • Tables and figures:  Table and figure numbers (in bold), titles (in italics), and notes should be flush left.
  • Reference list:  Reference list entries should have a hanging indent of 0.5 in.
  • Appendices:  Appendix labels and titles should be centered and bold.

 

Font, Spacing, Margins

Font

The following fonts are acceptable for APA 7th edition.  Always check if your professor has specified a particular font and size.

  • Calibri, 11-point
  • Arial, 11-point
  • Lucinda Sans Unicode, 11-point
  • Times New Roman, 12-point
  • Georgia, 11-point
  • Computer Modern, 10-point

Line Spacing

In general, double space the entire paper, including the abstract, text, block citations, table and figure numbers, notes, and reference list.  Do not add an additional line after or before paragraphs.  Exceptions are as follows:

  • Title Page: Insert a double spaced blank line between the title and byline on the title page. 
  • Tables: The table body (cells) may be single spaced, one and a half spaced, or double spaced, depending on most effective layout.  Double space the table number, title, and notes.
  • Figures:  Words within the image part of a figure may be single, one and a half, or double spaced, depending on the most effective layout.  Double space the figure number, title, and notes.
  • Footnotes:  Use the default setting of your word processing program for footnotes.  Usually single spaced and smaller fot.
  • Displayed equations: It is permissible to use triple or quadruple spacing in special circumstances, such as before and after a displayed equation.

Margins

Use one inch margins on every side of the paper.

Reference List Citations

Each work cited in the text must appear in the reference list, and each work in the reference list must be cited in the text.  Works excluded from a reference list include:

  • Personal communications such as emails, phone calls or text messages, which are cited in text only, because they can not be retrieved by readers.
  • General mentions of whole websites, whole periodicals, and common software and apps because the use is broad and the source is familiar.
  • Quotations from research participants in a study you conducted can be discussed in the text, but do not need citations or list entries.  These are original research, and could compromise your participants' confidentiality and therefore is an ethical violation.

A reference list entry generally has four elements: author, date, title, and source.  

The following are some formatting guidelines for your reference list.

  • Ensure that a period appears after each reference element.  Do not put a period at the end of a DOI or URL because it may interfere with link functionality.  If the title of the work ends with a question mark, the question mark replaces the period.
  • Use punctuation marks between parts of the same reference element.  Ex. between author names, journal name and volume number, issue number and page numbers.
  • Do not use a comma between journal volume and issue numbers.  Place the issue number in parentheses after the volume number instead.
  • Italicize puntuation marks that appear within an italic reference element.  Do not italicize punctuation between reference elements.

 

Page Header

The page number appears on the top margin of every page of the paper

For student papers, the page header consists of the page number only.  The title page of every paper will be numbered page 1.  APA 7th edition no longer requires student papers to use a running head.

Professional papers require the use of a page number and a running head.  The running head is an abbreviated version of the title of your paper, or the full title if it is short.

If your professor wants you to use the professional format, the following is a guide to using the running head.

  • Type the running head in all capital letters.
  • Ensure it is no more than 50 characters, including spaces and punctuation.
  • Avoid using abbreviations in the running head, however an ampersand may be used in place of "and."
  • The format is the same on every page, including the first page.
  • Do not use the label "Running head:" before the running head
  • Align the running head to the left margin of the page header, across from the right-aligned page number.

 

Headings

Headings identify the content within sections of a paper.  Make your headings descriptive and concise.

Levels of Headings

There are five levels of headings.  Level 1 is the highest or main level.  Level 2 is a subheading of Level 1, Level 3 is a subheading of Level 2, and so on through Levels 4 and 5.  The number of headings depends on the length and complexity of the work.

  • If only one level is needed, use Level 1.
  • If two levels are needed, use 1 and 2.
  • If three are needed, use 1, 2, and 3.etc.

Use only the number of headings that are necessary; short student papers may not require headings.  

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Avoid having only one subsection heading within a section, just like in an outline
  • Do not label headings with numbers or letters
  • Double space headings; do not switch to single spacing within headings
  • Do not add blank lines above or below headings, even if a heading falls at the end of a page.

Heading Format

  • Level 1 - Centered, Bold, Title Case Heading. Text begins as a new paragraph.
  • Level 2 - Flush Left, Bold, Title Case Heading.  Text begins as a new paragraph.
  • Level 3 - Flush Left, Bold Italic, Title Case Heading.  Text begins as a new paragraph.
  • Level 4 - Indented, Bold, Title Case Heading, Ending with a Period.  Text begins on the same line ad continues as a regular paragraph.
  • Level 5 - Indented, Bold Italic, Title Case Heading, Ending with a Period.  Text begins on the same line and continues as a regular paragraph.

Because the first paragraphs of a paper are understood to be introductory, the heading "Introduction" is not needed.  For subsections within the introduction, use Level 2 for the first level of subsection, Level 3 for the next subsection, and so on.

Grammar

The APA guide provides guidance on a few different aspects of grammar.  If you need additional assistance with writing or grammar, visit the Write Solution for help.

Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism is when writers attribute human actions to inanimate sources or nonhuman animals.  For example, the incorrect phrase would be "The theory concludes" as it seems as though the theory is the one actually making the conclusion, not the writer.  Therefore, the proper phrase would be "The theory addresses," as a theory can address, indicate, or present, while researchers and writers conclude.

Acceptable phrases are:

  • In this section, I address
  • This section addresses
  • This paper focuses on
  • In this paper, I focus on
  • The results suggest
  • The study found
  • The data provide evidence that

Logical Comparisons

Make clear and logical comparisons in your writing.  Illogical comparisons often result from unparallel sentence structure or the omission of key words.  For example: 

You have higher odds of being injured by a vending machine than a cat.

The above sentence has two possible conclusions:

  1. You have a higher chance of injury from a vending machine than injury from a cat.
  2. A cat has less chance of injury from a vending machine than you.

Therefore, the conclusion is not clear.  If you rewrite the sentence either as "You have higher odds of being injured by a vending machine than by a cat" or "You have higher odds than a cat does of being injured by a vending machine,"  then either conclusion becomes clear.  Avoid ambiguity.

Verb Tense

Use the chosen verb tense consistently throughout the same and adjacent paragraphs to ensure smooth expression.

Use the following tenses to report information in APA papers.

Paper Section Recommended Tense Example
Literature Review or discussing another's work

Past

Present Perfect

Martin addressed

Researchers have studied

Method

Description of procedure

Past

Present Perfect

Participants took a survey

Others have used similar approaches

Reporting of your own or other researchers' work Past Results showed
Personal Reactions

Past

Present Perfect

Present

I felt surprised

I have experienced

I believe

Discussion of implications of results or of previous statements Present The results indicate
Presentation of conclusions, limitations, future directions, and so on Present

We conclude

Limitations of the study are

Active and Passive Voice

Voice describes the relationship between a verb and the subject and object associated with it.  In active voice, the subject of the sentence is followed by the verb and then the object of the verb (ex. "The children ate the cookies").  In passive voice, the object of the verb is followed by the verb and then the subject (ex. "the cookies were eaten by the children"). 

Both voices are permitted in an APA style paper, but active voice should be used as much as possible to create direct, clear and concise sentences.  Passive voice should be used when it is more important to focus on the recipient of the action rather tan who performed the action.

First Person Pronouns

Use first person pronouns to describe your work as well as your personal reactions.  Use "I" if you wrote the peaper alone;  use "we" if you have coauthors.

Do not refer to yourself in the third person.  This can create ambiguity for readers about whether you or someone else performed an action.

Avoid the editorial "we" to refer to people in general.  Instead, specify who "we" defines.  Ex. "As young adults, we often worry about what other people think of us."

 

Changes from 6th Edition to 7th Edition

The Title Page

APA 7th Edition recommends different title pages for student and professional papers.  Student papers no longer require a running head.  Professional papers include a running head on every page, including the title page.

Heading Levels

Level three, four, and five headings have changed.  All headings are now written in title case (important words are capitalized) and boldface.  Headings are distinguished by use of italics, indentation, and periods.

Grammar

7th edition now endorses the use of "they" as a singular pronoun.

Use "person-first" language when possible.

Avoid the use of adjectives as nouns to describe groups of people.

Mechanics of Style

Use one space after a period at the end of a sentence, unless instructed otherwise.

Use quotation marks around linguistic examples rather than using italics.