Essay Format: APA Style

What Is APA Format?

Whether you are undertaking an introductory or postgraduate course in psychology, there is a good chance that you will need to write at least one article during the semester. In almost all cases, you will need to write your essay using APA format, officially used by the American Psychological Association.

While this may seem like something you can just ignore, most instructors, also publishers have strict guidelines on the format you must use for your writing. The APA formats will not only allow your readers to have a foreknowledge of your writing, but it also means your work will be able to retain some critical points that might be lost through formatting error.

Why APA format is important?

To avoid plagiarism

Citing people’s work helps to avoid plagiarism and the severe consequences that follow. If you use people’s ideas, research, or discoveries without mentioning them, you are essentially giving the credit of their work to yourself, which most educational institutions consider being cheating. Citing is a professional courtesy that recognizes the effort of other authors. At the same time, it will make your work to be more credible. It shows that your writing is comprehensive and further helps you present your ideas in a more convincing way.

Consistency makes work clearer

The APA style make writing on complicated topics clearer to the readers. This makes people easily grasp what they are communicating. When you cite sources, the same method every time, and the paper has a uniform format, this provides better flow and helps maintain the primary aim of the essay. The APA style can help the author have a better organization of his research and help the reader to find important information to evaluate this research.

The Basics of APA Style

It can be confusing and time-wasting going through the manual of a style in order to master the correct formatting techniques, and you have to strictly follow the APA guidelines to get the best grade. Do you find it difficult to format your essay using the APA style? Following the simple steps below, you can be sure that your work is ready for submission:

  • The APA style usually divides articles into eight sections; title page, abstract, introduction, method, results, discussions, references, and appendices.
  • Every page has a number in the right corner and has a header with the title of the article.
  • The whole paper must have double space, with no additional spaces between paragraphs.
  • The font must be defined in Times New Roman, 12 points, or Arial, 12 points.
  • The standard margins are one inch all through the paper.

Generally, the structure of an APA outline for any academic paper or essay must have these main parts:

  • The cover page or title page
  • Abstract, introduction/ outline
  • The main body, analysis, or main arguments
  • Conclusions, recommendations, or discussions
  • Reference list

The topics and the individual requirements of the university will influence the sections that should be present in the essay or article. The sections will also be influenced by the arguments the student seeks to present in the essay and how they are developed in the main section of the paper. But no essay in APA format can be written without these five essential components.

Title pages

The first page while writing an essay in the APA format cover page or title page, like MLA essay. Some teachers do not ask for a cover page, but others do. If you are unsure whether or not to include one, ask your instructor. Some of them require a page, which clearly shows the name of the writer and the title of the article.

The title page of the APA format style for essays and student papers has six main parts:

  1. The APA format paper title
  2. The author’s name (all of them)
  3. The names of their institution
  4. The course number and title
  5. The name of the instructor
  6. Expiration date

If you are writing a student paper, you do not need a running head; however, professional papers require it.

Publications for some instructors and professionals also require a note from the author. If you need or want to include a note from the author, place it under the institutional affiliation. Some of the information in the author’s note are ORCID ID number, disclosure, and acknowledgment.

Running heads

The 7th edition of the Published Handbook of the American Psychological Association (p. 37) states that students’ work does not require any running head unless instructed to do so by the instructor. Student assignments still require a page number, which is in the top right-hand corner of each page. The 6th edition required a running head for student writing, so make sure you check with your instructor which edition you should adhere to. It is worth mentioning that this guide follows the 7th edition.

Running head is needed for professional papers (for example, submitted manuscript for publication). Continue reading to know how you can create them.

Do you want to know what a running head is? It is essentially a page header at the upper part of each page. To make the process straightforward, configure your word processor to automatically place these components on each page. You may want to search for a “Header” in the functions.

A running head or page header has two pieces:

  • the paper titles,
  • page numbers.

Enter the page numbers that are justified on the right side of the APA paper (do not place the p. Or the pg. before the page numbers).

For each page of the article, including the title page in APA format, place the title of your paper with left justification and in capital letters (i.e., running head). If the full title is extended (more than 50 characters), the running head title must be an abbreviated version.

Correct usage of headings and subheadings

Headlines have an important purpose in research papers – they make your paper more organized and make it easier to find different information.

Additionally, the heading gives readers an insight into the main idea or topic they are reading.

In APA format, there are five levels of headings, each with different formatting:

Level 1:

  • The title of your paper,
  • The title must be centered in the middle of the page,
  • The title should be bolded,
  • Use uppercase and lowercase letters where necessary (called title capitalization).

Level 2:

  • Place this heading against the left margin,
  • Use bold letters,
  • Use uppercase and lowercase letters where necessary.

Level 3:

  • Put this heading against the left margin,
  • Use bold letters,
  • Make use of uppercase and lowercase letters where needed,
  • End the heading with a period.

Level 4:

Indented in from the left margin,
Use uppercase and lowercase letters where necessary,
End the heading with a period.

Level 5:

  • Indented,
  • Bolded,
  • Italicized.
  • Use uppercase and lowercase letters where needed.
  • Put period t the end of the heading.
  • Going by the general format rules, the headings must have double space, and there are no additional lines between sections.

Preparing a Proper APA Outline

The outline of the text is a short structure that has two purposes:

Preparatory purpose: Creating the outline helps the writer organize their ideas and estimate the amount of work/research required to complete the text.

Explanatory purpose: An outline helps the reader have a good idea of ​​what to expect from the essay and the parts and concepts that the author encompasses.

One of the lifesaving skills as beginner writers is writing outlines – they help keep your ideas organized and guide your mind through a stable roadmap, reducing your chances of getting lost in your ideas or endless research.

Abstract in APA format?

The abstract is a very consolidated and informative section containing the key information that the reader must know about the text before reading it. Creating abstracts is an art in itself. In a brief abstract of only 200 words (and can take longer depending on the essay – usually about 10% of the number of essays), a writer should consider the main idea of ​​the text, objectives, research question, clearly state methods, and main conclusions.

For formatting, the abstract of this format is the separate section of the text, which if it is different contextually and visually from other parts of the text. Generally, it is written in plain text, with no format and a simple Abstract title at the upper part. Finally, many students like to include the keyword that identifies the content of the paper.

Writing the Main body of the essay in APA Format

The main body is the most important part of the article. It has all the ideas, thoughts, and arguments of the writer. It continues immediately after the abstract page and is preceded by a running head, with a small caption written in capital letters. Every page must be numbered, and the abstract page must be the second page (the title page is included on page 1, but the number does not appear).

The main body of the essay is divided into two parts. The main ones are the introduction, the methods, the arguments/debates, and the conclusions. Depending on the needs of the department or discipline, there are also specific sections in the arguments – always keep in mind to check with the teacher what should be covered in the body of the text. For instance, for a policy report, the arguments should include a review of the structure, an analysis of the organization’s challenges or policies, and recommendations according to the academic literature.

Every section, methods, conclusions, and discussions should start with another paragraph and have a title. It can be as simple as “Methodology” or something more complex as “The results of the analysis of how sanitation affects literacy.” Most of the text should contain discussions or arguments, so the main body is usually divided into subsections – to avoid and elaborate the results in a structured way.


In APA format, the spelling you must use should be similar to ones found in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

If the word you are trying to spelling is not in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the second option is Webster’s New Third International Dictionary.

If you are trying to spell psychology correctly, consult the American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology.

Compliment of the useful tools and resources, like the spell checker, in word processing programs, most of us believe that our document contains everything we need. However, there are some useful resources elsewhere.

Abbreviation Guidelines

Abbreviations can be trivial. You might ask questions like, “Do I put dots between the letters?” “Do I need to capitalize all letters?” “Do I have to write my full name every time?” Don’t worry; here are the abbreviations for the publication manual.

First, use abbreviations with restraint. If the abbreviations are too many, you will be left with a paper filled with capital letters mixed together. In addition, it does not provide an easy and smooth reading. Readers might need to pause and understand the meaning of the abbreviations and often stumble over them.

If you use the abbreviations less than three times in the essay, type it out every time. It would be very difficult to remember what an abbreviation or acronym means if you write a long article.

If you decide to spread abbreviations, you do not need to include dots between letters.

Before using an unknown abbreviation, you must type it in the text and put the abbreviation immediately in brackets. Any use of the abbreviation after the initial description may be used without the description.

Example: Although it may not affect a patient’s short-term memory (PTM), it can affect his ability to understand new terms. Patients with PTM losses while using the drug should talk to their doctor.

If an abbreviation appears in the existing Merriam-Webster Collegiate dictionary, it need not be explained.

Example: AIDS

For units of measure, include the abbreviation if there is a number. If the unit of measure is alone, write it out.

Examples APA format: 4 lbs.

The weight in pounds exceeded what we previously thought.


The manual recommends the use of space after most punctuation marks, including punctuation when ending sentences. It does not hurt to ask your teacher to ask for their choice, as this rule has recently changed (in 2020). The official APA book was created primarily to help people submit their articles for publication in a professional journal. A lot of schools take certain parts of the textbook and modify the sections according to their preferences.


Here are some important punctuation guidelines.


It is always a debate whether using the Oxford comma is right or wrong; however, for this style, ensure you use an Oxford comma. This comma type is always seen before words such as AND and OR or when listing multiple items.

Example of APA format for commas:

The medication resulted in a headache, upset stomach, and tiredness.

Here’s another example:

You have a choice between cold, room temperature, or warm water.


When the singular noun is possessive, the apostrophe must be positioned before s. However, for plural nouns, it must be placed after the “s”.

Singular: Linda joe’s jacket

Plural: The Johnsons’ house


The long dash (em) is used to direct focus to a specific point. There is no need for spaces after these dashes.

The short dash (en) should be used with compound adjectives. Avoid putting spaces before or after the dashes. Below is some example:

pp. 91-109

Number rules

Usually, Science papers involve that you use numbers and are mostly displayed in data, tables, and experimental information. The rule is to remember that numbers less than 10 are spelled out. If the number is greater than 10, then use numerals.

APA format examples:

  • 17 kilograms
  • six individuals
  • 84 years old
  • fifth grade

There are also exceptions for numbers, you can use numerals in APA if you are:

  • Displaying numbers in a graph or table
  • Making reference to information in a graph or table
  • For example: Table 8

Or when including a unit of measurement after the number.

Examples APA format:

  • 9 lbs.
  • 7 cm

Showing a math equation

  • 8 divided by 4

Showing a time, age, or date

7:08 a.m.

Spell the numbers out as words if you are:

Beginning a sentence with a number, however, always strive to avoid this.

  • Eighty-two percent of students don’t cheat….
  • Spell out a word that is commonly used or said
  • Hundred Years’ War

Including a fraction

  • One-third of the workers

Showing a time, age, or date

  • 8:08 a.m.
  • 6-month-olds

Other APA formatting number rules to always remember:

  • There must always be zero before a decimal point
  • 0.14 g

Please do not touch the Roman numerals; leave as they are. Avoid changing them to Arabic numerals.

Examples APA format:

  • World War II
  • Super Bowl LII

If you are writing a plural, do not include an apostrophe!

  • It’s the 1980s, not 1980’s!

You can find other numeral rules in the publication manual.

References page

Use a readable font, such as Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, or Lucida (p. 44).

Creating an APA reference page is probably easier than you think. If you want a brief overview of the reference page, then we have got you covered.
Here are some tips to keep in mind on the APA reference page:

This page has its own separate page. Start on a clean new document.

Justify to the center and boldened the “References” heading (do not mention, highlight, or italicize this heading).

ALL entries in alphabetical order and double space.

Use a font that is easy to read, e.g., Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri.

You must put in a quote or reference every information used in the essay or research paper, and they must have an entry.

Although it’s called a “reference page,” it can be extended to a page.

Therefore, it’s okay to have a reference that’s longer than a page.

You can only add the running head if your teacher instructed you to or you are submitting a professional paper.

In-text citations

Did you have a quote or information that you want to add to your project? Good for you! It is always a pleasant feeling when we find that useful piece of data or information to add to our season essay. You probably already know you cannot copy and paste into your paper or just add it without giving credit to the original author.

Indicating the original source of information is easier than you can ever think. The name of the author and the year must be added next to the information that was added. This enables your reader to have a clear understanding of the original source of information, thereby making your work more credible.

In APA format, you can use two different types of in-text citations; they are parenthetical and narrative. Both forms require two principal elements:

  • the name of the author
  • year of publication

The disparity between them is the way you present the information to the readers.

The Parenthetical citations are the commonest in academic works, and the two needed reference elements will be presented after the sentence in parentheses.


Marley had many songs and recordings in the late 1960s (Alhassan, 2008).

While the Narrative citations enable the author to present either one or the two references element in the running sentence, which allows you to avoid repetition. Or burdensome. When you show one of the two elements in the sentence, the other will be in the parentheses.


According to Alhassan (2008), Marley had many songs and recordings in the late 1960s.

If you have two authors in the source entry, then you must include both of them in the parentheses.

(Alhassan & Jaden, 2008)

If the authors are more than two in the source entry, then you must abbreviate the parenthetical reference with “et al.”, which means “and others.”

(Jaden et al., 2008)

The names of the authors will have different structures if there us more than an author. And it will be completely different if there is no author (which is common for website pages)


In order to avoid going through the stress of mastering the APA format from the official handbook, you can follow the steps above. At a glance, the format might look cumbersome and difficult; however, it will make your work look more professional and presentable.

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