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Understanding APA Format

If you’re writing academically, chances are you’ve been tasked with writing a paper that follows APA style. Although there’s a learning curve involved with adhering to APA style, it’s possible to learn the basics so you can turn in your assignments.

What Is APA Style?

APA is the official academic style of the American Psychological Association. This style was created in 1929 when a group of professionals worked together to devise a set of style rules for scientific writing as a means of making these documents easier to read and understand.

If an assignment indicates APA style, you will need to adhere to these style rules. These guidelines ensure that your document is consistent and uniform with elements such as punctuation, headings and subheadings, abbreviations, numbers, tables and figures and citations.

Main Sections of a Document

APA style dictates the format of the main sections of a document.

The title page includes a running head, the author’s name and the school.

The abstract is a succinct summary of the document. APA style dictates that abstracts be no more than 250 words, although some instructors give leeway regarding the length.

The main body of the document is the text of the essay or report. Some reports are divided into separate sections.

Your reference section follows the body. It includes a list of references you cited in your document.

How to Reference APA Style

In-text citations appear within the text, identifying any information you cite. APA format for in-text citations includes the author’s name and the date of the publication.

The reference page always begins on a new page with the title “References” centered at the top. Include all entries in alphabetical order, and each entry’s first line begins at the left margin, and additional lines are indented. Place titles of newspapers, magazines, journals and books in italics, and double-space the reference section.

Double-check that all of your sources appear as both in-text citations and in the reference section.

Use an APA Sample Paper

An APA style example can be helpful if you’re learning this style and trying to apply it to a writing assignment. Many schools and universities maintain resource web pages with APA samples to show students how to follow this style.

More APA Tips

If you’re struggling with creating APA citations and references, use a citation machine to check your work. You simply fill in the citation and click a button, and the tool tells you if you made any errors.

Consider hiring an academic editor to check your work after you finish writing. The editor can find and correct errors to make sure your document adheres to APA.


apa format title on second page

IRSC Libraries Home

APA 7th Edition Style Guide: Formatting Your Paper

APA recommends using the same font throughout your paper. IRSC Librarians recommend using 12-point Times New Roman font. If not using Times New Roman, then another serif  or  sans serif typeface should be used for its readability. Only use different typeface in figure descriptions, in that case, use a font between 8 and 14 points.

Line Spacing & Margins

Use double-spacing throughout the entire paper.To add double-spacing in Microsoft Word, highlight all the text you want double-spaced, then click on Page Layout . Next to the word Paragraph click on the arrow. Under Spacing , Line Spacing , select Double and then click OK .

Leave 1 in. margins from top to bottom and side to side. Microsoft Word usually is set to 1 in. margins. You can check this by clicking on Page Layout , then click on Margins. The margin you are using is highlighted, select Normal if it is not already selected. 

Number of Spaces after a Period

APA style recommends placing one space  after a period

Do not put a space after a period

Video How-To Set-Up an APA Paper for a Mac

APA Research Paper Template

You can save this template in Microsoft Word (IRSC students, download Office for free, see a librarian if you need help). Above is a template you can use every time you need to set-up a research paper using APA style format. Simply open the template and type your own information every time you need to write an APA style research paper. 

Sample Paper

Example Title Page

The new APA 7th edition has a format for writing a professional paper as well as one for a student paper. These directions are a set-up for student papers. In the header, on the right, is the page number, starting with 1. Centered on the page is the full title of the paper in boldface type. Place one extra space after the title of the paper. Following is the author (or authors if this is a group paper), the department and institution to which the paper is affiliated, the course number and course name, the professor's name, and the due date of the paper.

Example Page Two

The text of your paper begins on the second page. The full title starts it off at the top center of a new page, in boldface font. For the rest of the paper, you only need page numbers in the header. Remember to cite!


Your References start on its own page and goes at the end of your paper. Title it References, centered, and bold-faced at the top. The references are alphabetized and have a hanging indent.


General Guidelines

APA Paper Components

Every paper should include at least four main sections:

Reference List

Student papers do not typically include a running head, an author note, or an abstract, unless specifically requested by the instructor.

A title page is always required in all APA formatted papers. Students should follow the student title page guidelines, unless their instructor requires them to use the professional version. 

The student title page should include:

If requested by the instructor, students may need to include an abstract, especially for capstone projects.

The abstract should be one paragraph of between 150 and 250 words. It is not indented. The section label "Abstract" is centered at the top of the page and it is in bold title case.

Text (Main Body)

The text of the paper should start on a new page after the title page (and abstract, if included). On the first page of the text, you should repeat the paper title in title case, bold, and centered.

Use double-spacing throughout the paper, left align the text and indent the first line of each paragraph by one tab key (usually set to 0.5 in.). 

Throughout the body, in-text citations are used and they include the author’s/authors’ name(s) and the publication year, followed by the page number of the text cited if applicable (see the In-Text Citations section).

Organizing a Paper with Headings

In order to effectively organized the ideas in your paper, you can use headings to separate each different section. APA recommends the use of a maximum of five possible headings. Not all papers must include headings.

The Reference List appears on a new page after the end of the paper.

Sample Paper

Sample paper and template.

This is a Word office version of a sample APA student paper, and it can also be used as a template for formatting your paper.

American Psychological Association

Title Page Setup

A title page is required for all APA Style papers. There are both student and professional versions of the title page. Students should use the student version of the title page unless their instructor or institution has requested they use the professional version. APA provides a student title page guide (PDF, 199KB) to assist students in creating their title pages.

Student title page

The student title page includes the paper title, author names (the byline), author affiliation, course number and name for which the paper is being submitted, instructor name, assignment due date, and page number, as shown in this example.

diagram of a student page

This guidance has been revised from the 6th edition.

Related handouts

Student papers do not include a running head unless requested by the instructor or institution.

Follow the guidelines described next to format each element of the student title page.

Professional title page

The professional title page includes the paper title, author names (the byline), author affiliation(s), author note, running head, and page number, as shown in the following example.

diagram of a professional title page

Follow the guidelines described next to format each element of the professional title page.

From the APA Style blog

apa format title on second page

APA Style student papers webinar

A new APA Style webinar, “A Step-by-Step Guide for APA Style Student Papers,” taking place on September 10, 2020, will provide detailed guidance on creating, formatting, and organizing APA Style student papers.

apa format title on second page

Who needs an author note? You … maybe

Professional papers intended for submission to a journal must always include an author note. Student papers do not typically include an author note.

illustration of fireworks exploding

Running head or no running head?

The new APA Style guidelines have separate instructions for students and professionals.

Purdue Online Writing Lab College of Liberal Arts

apa format title on second page

APA Headings and Seriation

OWL logo

Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

Note:  This page reflects the latest version of the APA Publication Manual (i.e., APA 7), which released in October 2019. The equivalent resource for the older APA 6 style  can be found here .

APA Style uses a unique headings system to separate and classify paper sections. Headings are used to help guide the reader through a document. The levels are organized by levels of subordination, and each section of the paper should start with the highest level of heading. There are 5  heading levels  in APA. Regardless of the number of levels, always use the headings in order, beginning with level 1. The format of each level is illustrated below:

Thus, if the article has four sections, some of which have subsections and some of which don’t, use headings depending on the level of subordination. Section headings receive level one format. Subsections receive level two format. Subsections of subsections receive level three format. For example:

Method  (Level 1)

Site of Study  (Level 2)

Participant Population  (Level 2)

Teachers  (Level 3)

Students  (Level 3)

Results  (Level 1)

Spatial Ability  (Level 2)

Test One  (Level 3)

     Teachers With Experience.  (Level 4)

     Teachers in Training.  (Level 4)

     Teaching Assistants .  (Level 5)

Test Two  (Level 3)

Kinesthetic Ability  (Level 2)

In APA Style, the Introduction section never gets a heading and headings are not indicated by letters or numbers. For subsections in the beginning of a paper (introduction section), the first level of subsection will use Level 2 headings — the title of the paper counts as the Level 1 heading. Levels of headings will depend upon the length and organization of your paper. Regardless, always begin with level one headings and proceed to level two, etc.

Special headings called section labels are used for certain sections of a paper which always start on a new page.

These labels should be positioned on their own line at the top of the page where the section starts, in bold and centered. 

APA also allows for seriation in the body text to help authors organize and present key ideas. For lists where a specific order or numbered procedure is necessary, use an Arabic numeral directly followed by a period, such as:

On the basis of four generations of usability testing on the Purdue OWL, the Purdue OWL Usability Team recommended the following:

Numbered lists should contain full sentences or paragraphs rather than phrases. The first word after each number should be capitalized, as well as the first word in any following sentence; each sentence should end with a period or other punctuation.

For lists that do not communicate hierarchical order or chronology, use bullets:

In general, participants found the user-centered OWL mock up to be easier to use. What follows are samples of participants' responses:

Authors may also use seriation for paragraph length text.

For seriation within sentences, authors may use letters:

On the basis of research conducted by the usability team, OWL staff have completed (a) the OWL site map; (b) integrating graphics with text on the OWL homepage; (c) search boxes on all OWL pages except the orange OWL resources (that is pending; we do have a search page); (d) moving the navigation bar to the left side of pages on all OWL resources except in the orange area (that is pending); (e) piloting the first phase of the three-tiered navigation system, as illustrated in the new Engagement section.

Authors may also separate points with bullet lists:

On the basis of the research conducted by the usability team, OWL staff have completed

If your bulleted list is part of the sentence and is not preceded by a colon, treat the bullets like a part of the sentence, adhering to standard capitalization and punctuation. This option is helpful for complex or longer bulleted sentences that may be more difficult to read without the aid of punctuation. For items in a bulleted list that are phrases rather than sentences, no punctuation is necessary.


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    The text of your paper begins on the second page. The full title starts it off at the top center of a new page, in boldface font.

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    Type your title in upper and lowercase letters centered in the upper half of the page. The title should be centered and written in boldface. APA recommends that

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    CREATING AN APA STYLE TITLE PAGE. (AND OTHER FORMATTING TIPS). Using MS Word 2010. Updated 10/2011. The Running Head: • Click on the Insert tab near the top