APA Essay Format Guide

The APA format is the set of writing guidelines established by the American Psychological Association. The style is commonly used for writing papers in psychology, sociology, medicine, nursing, and so on. In other words, it is safe that anything concerning researching people and interacting with them is likely to be organized in accordance with the APA handbook.The most recent version of the APA style can be found in the 7th edition of the handbook which was published in October 2019.

This guide will be based on this edition. However, we will also mention the changes it introduces when compared to the previous one since there is still a transitional period during which instructors may request their students to use both the 7th and the 6th edition of the handbook when writing their research projects and other types of papers. Thus, you should be aware of possible confusion and always clarify with your instructor which version of the format to apply when writing your papers.

This guide will cover the following topics:

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • The layout of the paper
  • Headings
  • Paraphrasing and in-text citations
  • Formatting direct quotes
  • References list

We do not pretend to be able to cover the whole handbook comprehensively in this short guide on writing an APA paper. However, the key points that make the style stand out from the other formats commonly used in academic writing, such as MLA or Harvard, will be outlined.

Title Page

To write  proper APA paper, you need to create a standard title page unless specifically requested by your instructor not to do so. The text on the title page starts 3-4 spaces lower than the top and includes the following sections:

  • Page number in the upper right corner of the page. Note that each page of the paper has to be numbered, and the title page is considered to be page one.
  • The title of the paper. It should be written in title case and in bold (for seventh edition, APA 6 does not include this requirement).
  • Name of the author (list all the contributors if there are more than one of them).
  • Institutional affiliation.
  • Name of the instructor.
  • The assignment’s due date.

The information should be centered, each of the sections outlined above occupying a new line. In practice, a properly formatted title page would look like the example below:

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Note that while the general rule in the 7th edition is that student papers do not require an author’s note on the title page, your instructor may request one to be included in your writing. In that case, you should clarify the contents of that section individually.

Abstract

An abstract is a short summary of your paper meant to provide the reader with the general understanding of it but not to reveal too much detail before the person actually dives into our research. A point worth remembering is that not every APA paper requires an abstract. The section is necessary for comparatively large research projects. The rule of thumb is to create an abstract for a paper that contains more than five pages of text. However, your professor may request you to write an abstract even for shorter projects, and it is nothing you should be scared of.

An abstract starts on the second page of the paper. The headings stating “Abstract” should be written in bold. No matter how large your research is, it is ill-advised to have its abstract more than half a page long (it is permissible, though, to have shorter ones for comparatively short papers). A proper abstract should:

  • Define the topic of your research clearly.
  • Briefly outline the research method.
  • Mention the general takeaways from the research results.
  • NOT describe the results and their implications to the readers. Otherwise, they will have no reason to read the rest of your paper.
  • End with the list of keywords.

The Layout of the Paper

The APA format does not require anything unusual in terms of formatting the body of your paper. Apply one-inch margins at all sides of the page and double spacing throughout the paper (including the title page and references section). The common fonts to be used are 12 pt Times New Roman and Arial.

As for the peculiar stuff, the format requires page numbers to be mentioned in the upper right corner of each page. Also, you should be aware whether you need to include a running head in your paper. 7th edition of the handbook does not require a running head for student papers, yet it is still necessary for professional ones. Moreover, as it is already mentioned, instructors till may request you to follow the 6th edition of the handbook which requires you to create one. 

Therefore, let us look into the rules of creating a running head:

  • The running head is the title of the paper or its shortened version since the running head must contain no more than 50 symbols including spaces.
  • It should be written in all capital letters and placed in the upper right corner of the page.
  • Writing an APA 6 student paper, you should include the phrase “Running head:” on the title page, but omit it or the rest of the paper.
  • The phrase mentioned above is unnecessary for APA 7 professional papers.

Headings

As it is already mentioned, the length of APA papers varies significantly. While in a 1-2 pages paper, the sub topics covered in the body paragraphs are identifiable without any additional clues, larger research projects presuppose the use of headings to structure the paper and make the navigation through it easy for the reader. 

APA format has five level of headings, each of which is formatted distinctly to be easily recognizable:

  1. Level one headings are centered, written in title case and in bold. The text after the heading starts a new paragraph.
  2. Level two headings are also boldface and in title case. However, they are flush left. The text starts a new paragraph.
  3. Level three headings are flush left, written in both bold and italics, and in title case. The text starts a new paragraph.
  4. Level four headings are indented, written in bold and in title case. There is a period at the end of the period, and the text after it is written in the same paragraph.
  5. Level five headings are indented, written in bold and in italics, the title case is applied. There is a period at the end of the period, and the text after it is written in the same paragraph.

There are several rules to follow when applying headings to your APA paper:

  • The introduction never has a separate heading. The section should just follow the title.
  • The title is considered to be level one heading. Therefore, it has to be restated on the top of the first page of the body of your paper (which is the next one after the title page or the abstract if your writing contains one).
  • Never skip a level of headings. It means that you cannot uea level three heading after the first-level one without having level two heading between them.
  • Be careful while using level two headings after the title. While it is permissible to divide your introduction into subsections, you should avoid making it too long. A proper introduction comprises about 10% of the overall length of your work.
  • Do use the word “conclusion” and the first-level heading for the final section of your paper.

Paraphrasing and In-Text Citations

It is impossible to write a proper research paper, or virtually any other type of work without consulting sources. At the same time, modern rules of academic honesty place stringent limitations on what students can do and not plagiarize the works of others. 

The most obvious solution to this problem is paraphrasing. However, there are to issues associated with this process:

  • You must paraphrase the source material in a manner that renders its original meaning but does not stay too close to the original wording.
  • There is still a need to acknowledge the author of the original saying.

The way to deal with the latter issue is to cite your sources both in the text and in the references section (which will be discussed in more detail later on). In-text citations in APA papers are based on the author-date approach which means that you are obliged to mention the author(s) of the source and the year in which it was published. 

Note that for the books with multiple editions you should mention not the date of the earliest or the most recent one, but of the one you have actually used. Also, for online sources, you must search for the date of the last update of the article. The APA handbook encourages you to also mention the number of the page on which the paraphrased information can be found, but it is not mandatory.

Depending on the manner in which you are introducing the authors and their number, an in-text citation may look as follows:

  • Parenthetical citation of a source with single author – (author’s Last Name, year, p. # (if necessary)).
  • Parenthetical citation of source with two authors – (first author’s Last Name & second author’s Last Name, year, p. # (if necessary)).
  • Parenthetical citation of source with more than two authors – (first author’s Last Name et al., year, p. # (if necessary))
  • Introducing a single author in the sentence – as Last Name (year) argues… (you may place the page number at the end of the sentence, but not after the author’s name).
  • For sources with two authors use the word “and” in the text of the sentence instead of ampersand.

Formatting Direct Quotes

Another way to avoid plagiarising your sources is to quote them directly. However, beware of the fact that most instructors demand quotes to comprise no more than 10% of your work. Again, given the fact that APA format encompasses a wide array of tasks and their length varies significantly, there might be sufficient space in your paper to include several short quotes and even a few prolonged ones.

Short quotes are formatted in the same manner as paraphrased material except for two important considerations:

  • The quoted passage must be enclosed in quotation marks.
  • You must mention the number of the page on which the quote can be found. If your source is not paginated, you may replace the page number with the number of paragraph, section/chapter number or title and so on. The main point is to identify the placement of the quote as narrowly as possible.

Block quotations (the ones containing more than 40 words) are formatted differently. They are placed in a free-standing block and written without quotation marks. The parenthetical citation is placed within the same block but after th closing punctuation mark. The citation may contain the whole information about the source. If th author and the year of publication are mentioned in the signalling phrase, cite only the page number in parentheses. It will look as shown on the picture below.

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References List

Every source you have used in your research and cited within the text must be mentioned in your references list. It is the final section of your APA paper. It should start on a separate page and use the word “References” written in bold as the heading. Note that the plural form of the word is used even if there is only one entry in the list. The basic layout rules are:

  • The references must be formatted using hanging indentation which means the first line being flush left while the rest of the lines have 1/2 inch indent.
  • The entries must be ordered alphabetically.
  • If you have several sources from the same author(s), order them chronologically.

A standard reference includes:

  • The last name of the author followed by the initial. Last names and initials of two authors should be connected with ampersand. Use commas in longer lists of authors.
  • The year when the source was published in parentheses.
  • The title of the source was published. Note that you should not enclose in quotation marks, underline or italicize the titles of comparatively shorter works (book chapters, article titles, short stories etc). The titles of the longer works (books, academic journals etc.) must be italicized.
  • Titles of books and articles should be written in sentence case (only the first word in the title and the first word after the colon/dash should be capitalized).
  • Titles of academic journals should be written in title case (all major words should be capitalized).
  • Provide edition information for books and issue and number information for journals.
  • Mention page numbers if you are citing an article or a chapter.
  • For journal articles, provide doi.

An example of  proper references list entry is shown below.

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