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Formatting and Style

APA requires certain formatting, but your professor may have different requirements. Check your assignment or ask your professor if you're not sure.


Always defer to your specific assignment requirements, which may be different than what APA requires.

Your document should be formatted using:

  • 1-inch margins
  • 12-point serif typeface (APA suggests 12-point Times New Roman)
  • double-spacing
  • running head

Required elements include:

  • A cover or title page
  • Abstract
  • Body
  • Reference list

Other items that may be included are:

  • Appendixes
  • Author note
  • Tables
  • Figures (graphs, photographs, or other illustrations)
  • Figure captions

APA Sample Papers – APA

  • Numbers in the annotations on these papers refer to the section numbers in the APA Manual.

APA Format Citations – Sixth (6th) Edition – YouTube

  • This video illustrates how to set up your document in Microsoft Word, including running head and page numbers.


Refer to page 27 of the APA manual (6th ed.) for more information.

APA states that an abstract should do three things:

First, clearly identify the intended audience.

Second, summarize the essence of the article in a way that gives all essential information but sifts out the inessential. Although certain core information is consistent across all articles, specific kinds of articles—for example, a literature review or meta-analysis, a theory-oriented paper, or a case study—have specific requirements so there will be some variations depending on the type of study being abstracted.

Third, follow APA rules that are unique to the abstract. Follow any specific instructions for the purpose of your document. For example, if the abstract is for a journal, the rules vary in terms of length (word limits vary and typically range from 150 to 250 words) and required elements.

Last but not least, make sure the abstract makes sense when read in isolation from the article.


Refer to page 62 of the APA manual (6th ed.) for more information.

Section headers can help readers follow the organization of text. The exact formatting of headings, however, is based on the structure of the paper. To determine how many levels of headings you’ll need, you may want to make an outline.

Only the headings at levels 1-4 use bold. APA does not use the heading “Introduction” because that section at the beginning of the paper is assumed to be the introduction.

The first heading is a Level 1 heading. If you have chapters, then Chapter 1 would be the first heading. If your assignment is divided into sections, then a section like “Literature Review” might be the first Level 1 heading.

Subsequent headings of equal importance to the first heading are also Level 1 headings. So in a research study, other Level 1 headings might be Method, Results, or Conclusions. You are not required to use subheadings, but if you do have them, you should have at least two (e.g., a Literature Review section would have at least two subsections on varied topics.)

The number of subsections needed will depend on the topic and your writing style.

Levels of Heading

Level of Heading Format
1 Level 1 Headings, Centered, Bold, Title Case (Upper and Lowercase)
2 Level 2 Headings, Flush Left, Bold, Title Case
3        Level 3 Headings, indented, bold, sentence case (the first word is capitalized), ending in a period.
4        Level 4 Headings, indented, bold, italicized, sentence case, ending in a period.
5        Level 5 Headings, indented, italicized, sentence case, ending in a period.


APA says to use numerals to express numbers 10 and above, and use words to express numbers below 10. This rule is applied even when you have numbers being compared that are above and below 10.

A total of 13 students and two teachers participated in the presentation.

The students took about three seconds to find the correct answer.

Use numerals to express units of time, dates, ages, and numbers that denote a specific place in a numbered series.

Writing Style

Refer to page 65 of the APA manual (6th ed.) for more information about writing in APA style.

Voice and Tense

Active voice is preferred.

We conducted the research for the study in 2012.


The research was conducted in 2012.


Several suggestions from APA can help improve the clarity of your writing.

  • Use verb tenses consistently.
  • Use a professional, noncombative tone.
  • Avoid wordiness, redundancy, and jargon.
  • Use of the word “we” should be restricted to refer to yourself and coauthors (or “I”, if you are the sole author). Other uses may leave the reader wondering if “we” means the authors, members of a certain profession, or humans in general.


Refer to page 63 of the APA manual (6th ed.) for more information.

Seriation organizes text within a section, paragraph, or sentence. Items in a series should be kept parallel.

You can use a numbered list to separate paragraphs in a series such as steps in a process or itemized conclusions.

Collection for the data in the citation analysis used the following steps:
1. All dissertations completed between 2000 and 2005 by… [paragraph continues].
2. The reference lists were photocopies and… [paragraph continues].
3. A database was created with categories for the… [paragraph continues].
4. The data was analyzed using… [paragraph continues].

If numbering items in a series may impart unwanted meaning, such as order, importance, or priority, use a bulleted list instead.

Information literacy address a number of skills:

• Students need to be able to locate information… [paragraph continues].
• A wide range of search skills… [paragraph continues].
• Evaluating the reliability of sources… [paragraph continues].
• Ethical use of information is… [paragraph continues].

Within a paragraph or sentence, identify elements in a series using lowercase letters in parentheses. Use commas between three or more elements.

Students need to (a) participate in all discussion, (b) complete the mini activities, (c) make a presentation to the class, and (d) collaborate on a group assignment.

If the sentence requires internal commas, use semicolons to separate elements:

The subjective rubric used four categories including (a) relevancy, when the sources were about the topic discussed; (b) currency, published within the last five years; (c) depth, when sources were scholarly and included landmark and seminal works; and (d) breadth, when a variety of sources were included.

Reducing Bias

In general, avoid labeling people. This can be challenging in research studies where participants can lose their individuality and become categorized by a condition or disease. Solutions include using the descriptor as an adjective (e.g., gay men, older adults, amnesic patients) or use “people first” language (e.g., people diagnosed with schizophrenia).

Gender is cultural and can be used when referring to women and men as social groups. Sex is a biological term which is not to be confused with sexual behavior.

When describing groups of people, specificity may help. Instead of Asian Americans, Korean American may be more accurate.

To reduce bias, certain distinctions should be mentioned only when relevant to the topic. Marital status, sexual orientation, race, ethnic identity, or the fact that a person has a disability should not be mentioned in excess.

Mechanics of Style

These are just a few of many the guidelines APA observes. Refer to page 87 of the APA manual (6th ed.) for more information.


Use one space after:

  • commas, colons, and semicolons;
  • periods that separate parts of a reference list citation; and
  • periods that separate initials of a personal name (e.g., J. R. Zhang).

Use two spaces after periods, or other punctuation, at the end of a sentence.


Use periods for initials in names and the abbreviation for United States when used as an adjective (U.S. Marine Corps).

Do not use periods:

  • in state abbreviations in reference list entries;
  • abbreviations and acronyms such as APA, NIH, or IQ;
  • URLs in text or reference list entries
  • measurement abbreviations such as cm, ft, kg, or lb.
    Exception: Use a period after the abbreviation for inch (in.) because without the period it could be misread.

To avoid using periods after a URL in text, put the URL in parentheses if possible, or revise the text to avoid ending a sentence with a URL.


Use a comma between elements of three or more in a series, including before “and” and “or.” This is sometimes called the Oxford or serial comma.

The flag is red, white, and blue.


The flag is red, white and blue.