If your instructor has asked you to write an APA format essay, it might at first seem like a rather daunting task, especially if you are accustomed to using another style such as MLA or Chicago. Before you begin your essay, familiarize yourself with some of the basics.
The following tips offer some useful guidelines that will help you prepare your paper and ensure that it is formatted properly.
What Is APA Format?
Whether you’re taking an introductory or a graduate-level psychology class, chances are strong that you will have to write at least one paper during the course of the semester.
In almost every case, you will need to write your paper in APA format, the official publication style of the American Psychological Association.
APA format is used in a range of disciplines including psychology, education, and other social sciences. The format dictates presentation elements of your paper including spacing, margins, and how the content is structured.
While it might seem like something you can just gloss over, most instructors, as well as publication editors, have strict guidelines when it comes to how your format your writing. Not only does adhering to APA format allow readers to know what to expect from your paper, it also means that your work will not lose critical points over minor formatting errors.
While this guide offers some basic tips on how to present your APA format essay, you should always check with your teacher for more specific instructions.
Basics of an APA Format Essay
- There should be uniform margins of at least one-inch at the top, bottom, left, and right sides of your essay.
- Your paper should be double-spaced.
- Every page of your essay should include a running head at the top left. The running head is a shortened form of your title, often the first few words, and should be no more than 50 characters (including spaces).
- Every page should also include a page number in the top right corner.
- Your essay should also have a title page in APA format. This title page should include the title of your paper, your name and school affiliation. In some instances, your teacher might require additional information such as the course title, instructor name and the date.
- The title of your paper should be concise and clearly describe what your paper is about.
- Your title can extend to two lines but it should be no longer than 12 words.
- Your essay should also include a reference list. Located at the end of your paper, the reference section is a list of all the sources that were cited in your essay. References should be listed alphabetically by the last name of the author, and they should also be double-spaced.
- The first word of each paragraph in your paper should be indented one-half inch.
- The American Psychological Association recommends using Times New Roman size 12 font.
- While the formatting requirements for your paper might vary depending upon your instructor's directions, your essay will most likely need to include a title page, abstract, introduction, body, conclusion, and reference sections.
Tips for Writing an Essay in APA Format
In addition to ensuring that you cite your sources properly and present information according to the rules of APA style, there are a number of things you can do to make the writing process a little bit easier.
Start by choosing a good topic to write about. Ideally, you want to select a subject that is specific enough to let you fully research and explore the topic, but not so specific that you have a hard time finding sources of information. If you choose something too specific, you may find yourself with not enough to write about; if you choose something too general, you might find yourself overwhelmed with information.
Second, start doing research as early as possible. Begin by looking at some basic books and articles on your topic. Once you are more familiar with the subject, create a preliminary source list of potential books, articles, essays, and studies that you may end up using in your essay.
As you write your essay, be sure to keep careful track of the sources that you cite. Remember, any source used in your essay must be included in your reference section. Conversely, any source listed in your references must be cited somewhere in the body of your paper.
After you have prepared a rough draft of your essay, it is time to revise, review, and prepare your final draft. In addition to making sure that your writing is cohesive and supported by your sources, you should also watch carefully for typos, grammar errors and possible problems with APA format.
Writing your first APA format essay can be a little intimidating at first, but learning some of the basic rules of APA style can help. Always remember, however, to consult the directions provided by your instructor for each assignment.
American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington DC: The American Psychological Association; 2010.
Lee, C. Running head format for APA style papers. APA Style Blog. 2010.
APA (American Psychological Association) style is most commonly used to cite sources within the social sciences. This resource, revised according to the 6th edition, second printing of the APA manual, offers examples for the general format of APA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the reference page. For more information, please consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (6th ed., 2nd printing).
Contributors: Joshua M. Paiz, Elizabeth Angeli, Jodi Wagner, Elena Lawrick, Kristen Moore, Michael Anderson, Lars Soderlund, Allen Brizee, Russell Keck
Last Edited: 2018-02-21 02:26:13
Please use the example at the bottom of this page to cite the Purdue OWL in APA.
To see a side-by-side comparison of the three most widely used citation styles, including a chart of all APA citation guidelines, see the Citation Style Chart.
You can also watch our APA vidcast series on the Purdue OWL YouTube Channel.
General APA Guidelines
Your essay should be typed and double-spaced on standard-sized paper (8.5" x 11"), with 1" margins on all sides. You should use a clear font that is highly readable. APA recommends using 12 pt. Times New Roman font.
Include a page header (also known as the "running head") at the top of every page. To create a page header/running head, insert page numbers flush right. Then type "TITLE OF YOUR PAPER" in the header flush left using all capital letters. The running head is a shortened version of your paper's title and cannot exceed 50 characters including spacing and punctuation.
Major Paper Sections
Your essay should include four major sections: the Title Page, Abstract, Main Body, and References.
The title page should contain the title of the paper, the author's name, and the institutional affiliation. Include the page header (described above) flush left with the page number flush right at the top of the page. Please note that on the title page, your page header/running head should look like this:
Running head: TITLE OF YOUR PAPER
Pages after the title page should have a running head that looks like this:
TITLE OF YOUR PAPER
After consulting with publication specialists at the APA, OWL staff learned that the APA 6th edition, first printing sample papers have incorrect examples of running heads on pages after the title page. This link will take you to the APA site where you can find a complete list of all the errors in the APA's 6th edition style guide.
Type your title in upper and lowercase letters centered in the upper half of the page. APA recommends that your title be no more than 12 words in length and that it should not contain abbreviations or words that serve no purpose. Your title may take up one or two lines. All text on the title page, and throughout your paper, should be double-spaced.
Beneath the title, type the author's name: first name, middle initial(s), and last name. Do not use titles (Dr.) or degrees (PhD).
Beneath the author's name, type the institutional affiliation, which should indicate the location where the author(s) conducted the research.
Image Caption: APA Title Page
Begin a new page. Your abstract page should already include the page header (described above). On the first line of the abstract page, center the word “Abstract” (no bold, formatting, italics, underlining, or quotation marks).
Beginning with the next line, write a concise summary of the key points of your research. (Do not indent.) Your abstract should contain at least your research topic, research questions, participants, methods, results, data analysis, and conclusions. You may also include possible implications of your research and future work you see connected with your findings. Your abstract should be a single paragraph, double-spaced. Your abstract should be between 150 and 250 words.
You may also want to list keywords from your paper in your abstract. To do this, indent as you would if you were starting a new paragraph, type Keywords: (italicized), and then list your keywords. Listing your keywords will help researchers find your work in databases.
Image Caption: APA Abstract Page
Please see our Sample APA Paper resource to see an example of an APA paper. You may also visit our Additional Resources page for more examples of APA papers.
How to Cite the Purdue OWL in APA
Contributors' names and the last edited date can be found in the orange boxes at the top of every page on the OWL.
Contributors' names (Last edited date). Title of resource. Retrieved from http://Web address for OWL resource
Angeli, E., Wagner, J., Lawrick, E., Moore, K., Anderson, M., Soderlund, L., & Brizee, A. (2010, May 5). General format. Retrieved from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/