APA Paper Format: All Guidelines You Need to Know

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Updated May 18, 2021
APA Paper Format: All Guidelines You Need to Know

While writing an essay, your guidelines ask you to format your paper in the APA style. What exactly is an APA format? The American Psychological Association (APA) set formatting and citation guidelines for research papers to follow. Their format establishes a standard that organizes the paper's content to communicate the paper's main topic efficiently.

The APA standardization simplifies the work of the writer and editor while providing the reader a structure that's recognizable and easy to follow. The format allows your thoughts and opinions to shine without the reader getting distracted.

Who Is APA For?

The APA manual is widely used to write academic papers. Their guidelines are comprehensive enough to cover any discipline but have traditionally been used in Social Sciences, Business and Economics, and Nursing. 

Students who are new to this style may find the format difficult to follow at first. That's where our guide comes in to help ease you into this writing style with general APA guidelines.

The General Format

Note: This part of our guide covers the latest version of the APA Publication Manual (APA 7), released in late 2019.

Layout

Type your essay onto a standard-sized page (8.5" x 11") with 1" margins on all sides. Use double-spaces (line spacing of 2.0), with no additional spacing between paragraphs. The first line of each section should be indented to 0.5" (thus creating a hanging indent), except for the Abstract. If you use Microsoft Word, the application can automatically set this up for you.

Page Header

Each page needs to include a page header or "running head". If you write a professional academic paper, have your paper title flush left in capital letters and the page number flush right in the running head. If you are a student writing an essay for class, you only need to include the page numbers.

You have limited space in your page header, so if you are including your paper title, shorten it to 50 characters, including spacing and punctuation.

Font

APA 7 requires the paper's font to be legible to all readers and consistent throughout the piece. While the guidelines do not specify a particular font style, a few are expected in professional writing. Here are some common ones that you may have come across: 12-point Times New Roman, 11-point Calibri, 11-point Arial, and 11-point Georgia.

Many legitimate font choices equally get your points across. Ultimately, it's up to the publishers or instructors to let you know if they have font preferences.

Sections

Any paper written in the APA style needs to include these four sections: Title Page, Abstract, Main Body, and References.                                                

Title Page

The APA title page contains the title of your paper, includes the main author/s and institutional affiliation. Depending on whether it’s a student or academic paper, this page may include more information. This is the first page the reader encounters, so catch and keep their attention here.

Student Paper

In addition to the guidelines above, a student paper will also include the course name and number, instructor’s name, due date, and the page number.

As your title contains the first words that reach your reader, it should be focused, concise, and limited to one or two lines. While its recommended length is up to 12 words, your title is as long as it needs to be to summarize the main idea of your paper. Good titles do not contain filler words, abbreviations, or terms that serve no purpose.

Beneath your title, note the author's name laid out as first name, middle initial/s, and last name. If there are two authors, use the word "and" between the names. If there are three or more authors, place a comma between the author's names and an "and" before the last author's name. Do not include titles (Dr.) or degrees (Ph.D.) in the author section.

Beneath the author's section, type your institutional affiliation, which is where the research took place. Include the department and name of the college, university, or institution, separated by a comma.

Below this section, include the course number followed by a colon and the course name. On the line below, include the instructor's name, and beneath that, the assignment due date.

As with every page in your essay, include the page number flush top right. You can use the automatic page number feature included in your favorite writing application.

Professional Paper

The main difference between a student and a professional paper is the lack of a course information section and the inclusion of a running head and an author’s note.

The previous guidelines for title and page number remain the same. If there is more than one author and each author has a different affiliation, superscript numerals at the end of the author's last name are included. The numeral will consist of each institution where the research was conducted. If the author's researched the same university or institution but in different departments, each department must be differentiated with a unique numeral.

The author's note is divided into several paragraphs. The first includes the author's name, and symbol, and URL for ORCID, with each author occupying their line. The second paragraph tells the reader of significant changes since the research was conducted, like a change in affiliation or death of an author.

The third paragraph will include acknowledgments or disclosures of conflicts of interests, financial support, and related material. The fourth paragraph provides contact information for the corresponding author.

Abstract

Like your title page, your abstract will have a dedicated page as well. The first line of your abstract page, centered and bold, is the word" Abstract". No italics, underlining, or quotation marks are required.

From the next line, begin composing a concise summary of your work (flush left with no indentation). The abstract introduces the reader to your research and entices them to read through your findings. This paragraph should contain your research topic and main question/s, methods or participant information, analysis and sentence on results, and final conclusions – all within 250 words.

Depending on the journal or course, you may also include a list of keywords in your abstract. This section begins after the main abstract paragraph and is indented and italicized. You will start with the term "Keywords:", followed by your list of keywords. This section helps readers find your work within online databases.

Main Body

The body of the paper will depend on the type of essay you are writing. If you are a student writing a lab report, your piece may include an introduction, methods, results, and discussion sections. A dissertation may consist of an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, and discussion (including a summary, implications, and conclusions section within it). A journal article may have a variation of the above. What's essential for your sections using the APA formatting are your headings and paragraph style.

Headings

There are five types of headings that the American Psychological Association 7th Edition format covers. We begin at Level 1, which is the main heading level. Level 2 is a subheading of Level 1, Level 3 a subheading of Level 2, and so on through Level 5.

Level 1

Centered and bold

The text for this section begins as a new paragraph.

Level 2 

Flush left and bold

The text for this section also begins as a new paragraph.

Level 3

Flush left, bold, and italicized

The text, not italicized, begins as a new paragraph.

Level 4

Indented, bold, and ends with a period. The text begins on the same line and continues as a normal paragraph.

Level 5

Indented, bold, italicized, and ends with a period. The text continues on the same line as a normal paragraph but not italicized.

In-Text Citations

When citing within a paragraph, enclose the author's last name and the reference's publication year within parenthesis at the end of the sentence before the period. For example, students initially have difficulty when encountering the APA style (Grisham, 2002).

The above rule is valid if you are referencing or paraphrasing the entire work. If you refer to a particular page or chapter that's part of a larger article, you can include the page number/s at the end of the APA citation. For example, (Grisham, 2002, p. 99) or (Grisham, 2002, pp. 99-101) depending on how many pages the idea gets covered.

If the piece you refer to has multiple authors, include all of their last names separated by a comma and an "&" before the final author. For example, (Grisham, Jones, & Lee, 2003) or (Grisham & Lee, 2003)

Quotations

Each direct quotation you add to your text follows a unique rule based on the category it falls under.

Short Quotes

When you quote within the text, you need to include the author, when the work was published, and the page number of the text references. You can choose to follow. The guideline for in-text citations above, or you break up the reference. For example:

According to Grisham (2002),  “students initially have difficulty when encountering the APA style” (pp.  99-101).

Long Quotes

What if you would like to quote sections that are over 40 words? You can type the entire quotation as its own paragraph, indented within a 0.5 inch from the left margin. For example, According to Grisham (2002):

students initially have difficulty when encountering the APA style. This difficulty could be attributed to the fact that many students do not have access to the style manual or fail to ask their teachers for help (p. 99).

Remember, only the quotation is indented; the remaining paragraphs flow flush left.

Sources Without Pages

If your source does not have a page number you can reference, you may choose another logical identifier such as the chapter number, table number, even verses. For example:

Grisham (2002) stated that students had trouble when first using the APA style (paras. 4-5)

References

The last section of your APA paper is the reference list. A new page is dedicated to this section which lists a complete reference for each citation you included in the main body of the text. Whichever source you choose to have, you will need to organize the list in alphabetical order.

The APA style states that authors are named using their last name followed by their initials and the publication year within parenthesis, followed by a period. You will then cite the article's title according to the styles below that depend on the kind of source you use. If you are using an online source, you will always include a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) link at the end of the citation.

The first line of your reference will always be flush left. If each reference requires more than one line, you will need to indent the parts that do not fit onto the first line. If you reference the same author or director multiple times, you should arrange their work chronologically.

Journals

Most journal citations will include the article title, followed by the journal title, volume number (issue number in parenthesis), and pages referenced after the author details. For example:

Jones, A. (2009). The Impact of Immigration on Children. The Journal of Mental Health, 2(8), pp. 89-93. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1109/

Books

The basic book template includes the author’s Last Name, First and Middle Initials. (Year of publication). Title of work: Subtitle. Publisher Name. DOI (if available). For example:

Stoneman, R. (2008). Alexander the Great: A life in legend. Yale University Press.

Note how each section is separated by a period.

Depending on the type of book you reference, you can edit the citation to include more information. If you are citing an edited book, you can include this information after the title.

For example:

Stoneman, R. (2008). Alexander the Great: A life in legend (J. Grisham, Ed.). Yale University Press.

If your book was translated from another language, you can include the translator in place of the editor and also include the original publish date. For example:

Stoneman, R. (2008). Alexander the Great: A life in legend (J. Grisham, Trans.). Yale University Press. (Original work published 1999)

You can also include pages or chapters you reference in the citation if you do not quote the entire book. For example, to quote the chapter 236 – 323 BCE, which is from pages 99 to 110:

Stoneman, R. (2008). 236 – 323 BCE. In Alexander the Great: A life in legend (pp. 99-110). Yale University Press.

Audiovisual Media

For films or videos, you will follow a similar structure to the above citations.

You will begin with the director’s name, follow that with “Director” in parenthesis, and end with a period. You will include the date of publication in parenthesis, end with a period and then follow that with information about the media: its title, what form it’s in within brackets, and the production company. For example:

Loyd, P. (Director). (2008). Mamma mia! [Film]. Universal Pictures.

If the media is translated from another language, you will include the title in the original language and then in your paper’s language. For example:

Del Toro, G. (Director). (2006). El laberinto del fauno [Pan’s labyrinth] [Film]. Warner Bros. Pictures.

If you are referencing an entire series, you will use the Executive Producer’s details as directors can change for each episode. For example:

Sherman-Palladino, A., Palladino, D. (Executive Producers). (2017-present). The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel [TV series]. Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions; Picrow, Amazon Studios.

If you are quoting from an episode, you will need to include the writer and director details and episode details. For example:

Korsh, A. (Writer & Director). (2019, September 25). One last con (Season 9, Episode 10) [TV series episode]. In D. Liman & D. Bartis (Executive Producers), Suits. Untitled Korsh Company; Universal Content Productions; Open 4 Business Productions.

Bonus Tips

Now you are comfortable with the basics of the format, here are a few more things that can help you become an APA pro.

Research First

Look through published material on your topic as soon as you know what you want to write about. Doing so will make creating the reference section go quicker and allow your ideas to flow smoothly.

Abstract Last

Although this is the first chunk of ideas the reader encounters, it's a good idea for you to write it last. That way, you're already familiar with the heart of the topic, making it easier for you to summarize.

Use a Citation Tool

There are incredible online tools present that can organize your references and automatically cite them according to the APA guidelines. These tools can also update citations that were created with APA 6th edition or earlier.

Once you have the opportunity to use the guide we've put together, you will notice that writing in this format is not that difficult. All you need is the correct information and a little practice.

Tasha Kolesnikova
Content Team Member

I write articles and do SEO-optimisation here at Studybay. I'm obsessed with creating content both people and Google love, surfing in Portugal, and dancing Jazz-funk.