Writing an introduction for a research paper apa style

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How to Write an Essay Introduction | 4 Steps & Examples

Published on February 4, 2019 by Shona McCombes. Revised on December 6, 2021.

A good introduction paragraph is an essential part of any academic essay. It sets up your argument and tells the reader what to expect.

The main goals of an introduction are to:

  • Catch your reader’s attention.
  • Give background on your topic.
  • Present your thesis—the central point of your essay.

This introduction example is taken from our interactive essay example on the history of Braille.

Essay introduction example

The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability. The writing system of raised dots used by visually impaired people was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. In a society that did not value disabled people in general, blindness was particularly stigmatized, and lack of access to reading and writing was a significant barrier to social participation. The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new, but existing methods based on sighted systems were difficult to learn and use. As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness. This essay begins by discussing the situation of blind people in nineteenth-century Europe. It then describes the invention of Braille and the gradual process of its acceptance within blind education. Subsequently, it explores the wide-ranging effects of this invention on blind people’s social and cultural lives.

Table of contents

  1. Step 1: Hook your reader
  2. Step 2: Give background information
  3. Step 3: Present your thesis statement
  4. Step 4: Map your essay’s structure
  5. Step 5: Check and revise
  6. More examples of essay introductions
  7. Frequently asked questions about the essay introduction

Step 1: Hook your reader

Your first sentence sets the tone for the whole essay, so spend some time on writing an effective hook.

Avoid long, dense sentences—start with something clear, concise and catchy that will spark your reader’s curiosity.

The hook should lead the reader into your essay, giving a sense of the topic you’re writing about and why it’s interesting. Avoid overly broad claims or plain statements of fact.

Examples: Writing a good hook

Take a look at these examples of weak hooks and learn how to improve them.

  • Braille was an extremely important invention.
  • The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability.

The first sentence is a dry fact; the second sentence is more interesting, making a bold claim about exactly why the topic is important.

  • The internet is defined as “a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities.”
  • The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education.

Avoid using a dictionary definition as your hook, especially if it’s an obvious term that everyone knows. The improved example here is still broad, but it gives us a much clearer sense of what the essay will be about.

  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a famous book from the nineteenth century.
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement.

Instead of just stating a fact that the reader already knows, the improved hook here tells us about the mainstream interpretation of the book, implying that this essay will offer a different interpretation.

Step 2: Give background information

Next, give your reader the context they need to understand your topic and argument. Depending on the subject of your essay, this might include:

  • Historical, geographical, or social context
  • An outline of the debate you’re addressing
  • A summary of relevant theories or research about the topic
  • Definitions of key terms

The information here should be broad but clearly focused and relevant to your argument.
Don’t give too much detail—you can mention points that you will return to later, but save your evidence and interpretation for the main body of the essay.

How much space you need for background depends on your topic and the scope of your essay. In our Braille example, we take a few sentences to introduce the topic and sketch the social context that the essay will address:

Example: Background information The writing system of raised dots used by blind and visually impaired people was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. In a society that did not value disabled people in general, blindness was particularly stigmatized, and lack of access to reading and writing was a significant barrier to social participation. The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new, but existing methods based on sighted systems were difficult to learn and use.

How to Write an APA Research Paper

An APA-style paper includes the following sections: title page, abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, and references. Your paper may also include one or more tables and/or figures. Different types of information about your study are addressed in each of the sections, as described below.

General formatting rules are as follows:

Do not put page breaks in between the introduction, method, results, and discussion sections.

The title page, abstract, references, table(s), and figure(s) should be on their own pages.
The entire paper should be written in the past tense, in a 12-point font, double-spaced, and with one-inch margins all around.

Title page

(see sample on p. 41 of APA manual)

  • Title should be between 10-12 words and should reflect content of paper (e.g., IV and DV).
  • Title, your name, and Hamilton College are all double-spaced (no extra spaces)
  • Create a page header using the “View header” function in MS Word. On the title page, the header should include the following:

Flush left: Running head: THE RUNNING HEAD SHOULD BE IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. The running head is a short title that appears at the top of pages of published articles. It should not exceed 50 characters, including punctuation and spacing. (Note: on the title page, you actually write the words “Running head,” but these words do not appear on subsequent pages; just the actual running head does. If you make a section break between the title page and the rest of the paper you can make the header different for those two parts of the manuscript).

Abstract (labeled, centered, not bold)

No more than 120 words, one paragraph, block format (i.e., don’t indent), double-spaced.

  • State topic, preferably in one sentence. Provide overview of method, results, and discussion.
Introduction

(Do not label as “Introduction.” Title of paper goes at the top of the page—not bold)

The introduction of an APA-style paper is the most difficult to write. A good introduction will summarize, integrate, and critically evaluate the empirical knowledge in the relevant area(s) in a way that sets the stage for your study and why you conducted it. The introduction starts out broad (but not too broad!) and gets more focused toward the end. Here are some guidelines for constructing a good introduction:

  • Don’t put your readers to sleep by beginning your paper with the time-worn sentence, “Past research has shown (blah blah blah)” They’ll be snoring within a paragraph! Try to draw your reader in by saying something interesting or thought-provoking right off the bat. Take a look at articles you’ve read. Which ones captured your attention right away? How did the authors accomplish this task? Which ones didn’t? Why not? See if you can use articles you liked as a model. One way to begin (but not the only way) is to provide an example or anecdote illustrative of your topic area.
  • Although you won’t go into the details of your study and hypotheses until the end of the intro, you should foreshadow your study a bit at the end of the first paragraph by stating your purpose briefly, to give your reader a schema for all the information you will present next.
  • Your intro should be a logical flow of ideas that leads up to your hypothesis. Try to organize it in terms of the ideas rather than who did what when. In other words, your intro shouldn’t read like a story of “Schmirdley did such-and-such in 1991. Then Gurglehoff did something-or-other in 1993. Then. (etc.)” First, brainstorm all of the ideas you think are necessary to include in your paper. Next, decide which ideas make sense to present first, second, third, and so forth, and think about how you want to transition between ideas. When an idea is complex, don’t be afraid to use a real-life example to clarify it for your reader. The introduction will end with a brief overview of your study and, finally, your specific hypotheses. The hypotheses should flow logically out of everything that’s been presented, so that the reader has the sense of, “Of course. This hypothesis makes complete sense, given all the other research that was presented.”
  • When incorporating references into your intro, you do not necessarily need to describe every single study in complete detail, particularly if different studies use similar methodologies. Certainly you want to summarize briefly key articles, though, and point out differences in methods or findings of relevant studies when necessary. Don’t make one mistake typical of a novice APA-paper writer by stating overtly why you’re including a particular article (e.g., “This article is relevant to my study because…”). It should be obvious to the reader why you’re including a reference without your explicitly saying so. DO NOT quote from the articles, instead paraphrase by putting the information in your own words.
  • Be careful about citing your sources (see APA manual). Make sure there is a one-to-one correspondence between the articles you’ve cited in your intro and the articles listed in your reference section.
  • Remember that your audience is the broader scientific community, not the other students in your class or your professor. Therefore, you should assume they have a basic understanding of psychology, but you need to provide them with the complete information necessary for them to understand the research you are presenting.
Method (labeled, centered, bold)

The Method section of an APA-style paper is the most straightforward to write, but requires precision. Your goal is to describe the details of your study in such a way that another researcher could duplicate your methods exactly.

The Method section typically includes Participants, Materials and/or Apparatus, and Procedure sections. If the design is particularly complicated (multiple IVs in a factorial experiment, for example), you might also include a separate Design subsection or have a “Design and Procedure” section.

Note that in some studies (e.g., questionnaire studies in which there are many measures to describe but the procedure is brief), it may be more useful to present the Procedure section prior to the Materials section rather than after it.

Participants (labeled, flush left, bold)

Total number of participants (# women, # men), age range, mean and SD for age, racial/ethnic composition (if applicable), population type (e.g., college students). Remember to write numbers out when they begin a sentence.

  • How were the participants recruited? (Don’t say “randomly” if it wasn’t random!) Were they compensated for their time in any way? (e.g., money, extra credit points)
  • Write for a broad audience. Thus, do not write, “Students in Psych. 280. ” Rather, write (for instance), “Students in a psychological statistics and research methods course at a small liberal arts college….”
  • Try to avoid short, choppy sentences. Combine information into a longer sentence when possible.
Materials (labeled, flush left, bold)

Carefully describe any stimuli, questionnaires, and so forth. It is unnecessary to mention things such as the paper and pencil used to record the responses, the data recording sheet, the computer that ran the data analysis, the color of the computer, and so forth.

  • If you included a questionnaire, you should describe it in detail. For instance, note how many items were on the questionnaire, what the response format was (e.g., a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree)), how many items were reverse-scored, whether the measure had subscales, and so forth. Provide a sample item or two for your reader.
  • If you have created a new instrument, you should attach it as an Appendix.
  • If you presented participants with various word lists to remember or stimuli to judge, you should describe those in detail here. Use subheadings to separate different types of stimuli if needed. If you are only describing questionnaires, you may call this section “Measures.”
Apparatus (labeled, flush left, bold)

Include an apparatus section if you used specialized equipment for your study (e.g., the eye tracking machine) and need to describe it in detail.

Procedure (labeled, flush left, bold)

What did participants do, and in what order? When you list a control variable (e.g., “Participants all sat two feet from the experimenter.”), explain WHY you did what you did. In other words, what nuisance variable were you controlling for? Your procedure should be as brief and concise as possible. Read through it. Did you repeat yourself anywhere? If so, how can you rearrange things to avoid redundancy? You may either write the instructions to the participants verbatim or paraphrase, whichever you deem more appropriate. Don’t forget to include brief statements about informed consent and debriefing.

Results (labeled, centered, bold)

In this section, describe how you analyzed the data and what you found. If your data analyses were complex, feel free to break this section down into labeled subsections, perhaps one section for each hypothesis.

  • Include a section for descriptive statistics
  • List what type of analysis or test you conducted to test each hypothesis.
  • Refer to your Statistics textbook for the proper way to report results in APA style. A t-test, for example, is reported in the following format: t (18) = 3.57, p < .001, where 18 is the number of degrees of freedom (N – 2 for an independent-groups t test). For a correlation: r (32) = -.52, p < .001, where 32 is the number of degrees of freedom (N – 2 for a correlation). For a one-way ANOVA: F (2, 18) = 7.00, p < .001, where 2 represents the between and 18 represents df within Remember that if a finding has a p value greater than .05, it is “nonsignificant,” not “insignificant.” For nonsignificant findings, still provide the exact p values. For correlations, be sure to report the r 2 value as an assessment of the strength of the finding, to show what proportion of variability is shared by the two variables you’re correlating. For t- tests and ANOVAs, report eta 2 .
  • Report exact p values to two or three decimal places (e.g., p = .042; see p. 114 of APA manual). However, for p-values less than .001, simply put p < .001.
  • Following the presentation of all the statistics and numbers, be sure to state the nature of your finding(s) in words and whether or not they support your hypothesis (e.g., “As predicted …”). This information can typically be presented in a sentence or two following the numbers (within the same paragraph). Also, be sure to include the relevant means and SDs.
  • It may be useful to include a table or figure to represent your results visually. Be sure to refer to these in your paper (e.g., “As illustrated in Figure 1…”). Remember that you may present a set of findings either as a table or as a figure, but not as both. Make sure that your text is not redundant with your tables/figures. For instance, if you present a table of means and standard deviations, you do not need to also report these in the text. However, if you use a figure to represent your results, you may wish to report means and standard deviations in the text, as these may not always be precisely ascertained by examining the figure. Do describe the trends shown in the figure.
  • Do not spend any time interpreting or explaining the results; save that for the Discussion section.
Discussion (labeled, centered, bold)

The goal of the discussion section is to interpret your findings and place them in the broader context of the literature in the area. A discussion section is like the reverse of the introduction, in that you begin with the specifics and work toward the more general (funnel out). Some points to consider:

  • Begin with a brief restatement of your main findings (using words, not numbers). Did they support the hypothesis or not? If not, why not, do you think? Were there any surprising or interesting findings? How do your findings tie into the existing literature on the topic, or extend previous research? What do the results say about the broader behavior under investigation? Bring back some of the literature you discussed in the Introduction, and show how your results fit in (or don’t fit in, as the case may be). If you have surprising findings, you might discuss other theories that can help to explain the findings. Begin with the assumption that your results are valid, and explain why they might differ from others in the literature.
  • What are the limitations of the study? If your findings differ from those of other researchers, or if you did not get statistically significant results, don’t spend pages and pages detailing what might have gone wrong with your study, but do provide one or two suggestions. Perhaps these could be incorporated into the future research section, below.
  • What additional questions were generated from this study? What further research should be conducted on the topic? What gaps are there in the current body of research? Whenever you present an idea for a future research study, be sure to explain why you think that particular study should be conducted. What new knowledge would be gained from it? Don’t just say, “I think it would be interesting to re-run the study on a different college campus” or “It would be better to run the study again with more participants.” Really put some thought into what extensions of the research might be interesting/informative, and why.
  • What are the theoretical and/or practical implications of your findings? How do these results relate to larger issues of human thoughts, feelings, and behavior? Give your readers “the big picture.” Try to answer the question, “So what?

Final paragraph: Be sure to sum up your paper with a final concluding statement. Don’t just trail off with an idea for a future study. End on a positive note by reminding your reader why your study was important and what it added to the literature.

References (labeled, centered, not bold)

Provide an alphabetical listing of the references (alphabetize by last name of first author). Double-space all, with no extra spaces between references. The second line of each reference should be indented (this is called a hanging indent and is easily accomplished using the ruler in Microsoft Word). See the APA manual for how to format references correctly.

Examples of references to journal articles start on p. 198 of the manual, and examples of references to books and book chapters start on pp. 202. Digital object identifiers (DOIs) are now included for electronic sources (see pp. 187-192 of APA manual to learn more).

Journal article example:
[Note that only the first letter of the first word of the article title is capitalized; the journal name and volume are italicized. If the journal name had multiple words, each of the major words would be capitalized.]

Ebner-Priemer, U. W., & Trull, T. J. (2009). Ecological momentary assessment of mood disorders and mood dysregulation. Psychological Assessment, 21, 463-475. doi:10.1037/a0017075

Book chapter example:
[Note that only the first letter of the first word of both the chapter title and book title are capitalized.]

Stephan, W. G. (1985). Intergroup relations. In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (3 rd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 599-658). New York: Random House.

Book example:
Gray, P. (2010). Psychology (6 th ed.). New York: Worth

Table
There are various formats for tables, depending upon the information you wish to include. See the APA manual. Be sure to provide a table number and table title (the latter is italicized). Tables can be single or double-spaced.

Figure
If you have more than one figure, each one gets its own page. Use a sans serif font, such as Helvetica, for any text within your figure. Be sure to label your x- and y-axes clearly, and make sure you’ve noted the units of measurement of the DV. Underneath the figure provide a label and brief caption (e.g., “Figure 1. Mean evaluation of job applicant qualifications as a function of applicant attractiveness level”). The figure caption typically includes the IVs/predictor variables and the DV. Include error bars in your bar graphs, and note what the bars represent in the figure caption: Error bars represent one standard error above and below the mean.

In-Text Citations:
(see pp. 174-179 of APA manual)
When citing sources in your paper, you need to include the authors’ names and publication date.

You should use the following formats:

  • When including the citation as part of the sentence, use AND: “According to Jones and Smith (2003), the…”
  • When the citation appears in parentheses, use “&”: “Studies have shown that priming can affect actual motor behavior (Jones & Smith, 2003; Klein, Bailey, & Hammer, 1999).” The studies appearing in parentheses should be ordered alphabetically by the first author’s last name, and should be separated by semicolons.
  • If you are quoting directly (which you should avoid), you also need to include the page number.
  • For sources with three or more authors, once you have listed all the authors’ names, you may write “et al.” on subsequent mentions. For example: “Klein et al. (1999) found that….” For sources with two authors, both authors must be included every time the source is cited. When a source has six or more authors, the first author’s last name and “et al.” are used every time the source is cited (including the first time).
Secondary Sources

“Secondary source” is the term used to describe material that is cited in another source. If in his article entitled “Behavioral Study of Obedience” (1963), Stanley Milgram makes reference to the ideas of Snow (presented above), Snow (1961) is the primary source, and Milgram (1963) is the secondary source.

Try to avoid using secondary sources in your papers; in other words, try to find the primary source and read it before citing it in your own work. If you must use a secondary source, however, you should cite it in the following way:

Snow (as cited in Milgram, 1963) argued that, historically, the cause of most criminal acts.
The reference for the Milgram article (but not the Snow reference) should then appear in the reference list at the end of your paper.

How to Write a Research Paper in APA Format – A Complete Guide

APA research paper format

Completed your research experiments and collated your results? Does it feel like you have crossed a major hurdle in your research journey? No, not even close! What lies next is — publishing your research work for it to reach the science world! The process of publishing a research paper is so intricate, if you miss one aspect, you could end up struggling with revisions and reworks or getting a rejection! Thus, there is a necessity of following an exceptional mode of writing. The APA style research format comes to a researcher’s rescue.

This article discusses how to effortlessly write an APA style research paper and how it is necessary to understand the basic elements of APA style research paper in order to write an article in APA style research format.

Table of Contents

What Is APA Style?

The APA format is the official style of American Psychological Association (APA) and is commonly used to cite sources in psychology, education and social sciences. APA research paper format is widely used in the research publishing industry.

Students and researchers usually get confused with various research paper writing formats and are unclear about the requirements from the research publication journals. Therefore, the best way to deal with beginning to write a research paper is to first know the journal’s requirement and then follow the guidelines accordingly.

Though the reference section may change over the course of time, the information related to the other sections in APA research paper format is similar and could be referred to, for writing an exemplary research paper.

Guidelines for APA Style Paper (7th edition)

An APA style research format is different as compared to a term paper, a creative writing paper, a composition-style paper, or a thought paper. Throughout the paper you need to apply these guidelines while writing the paper –

Page Layout:

Type the content and keep double-space on standard-sized paper (8.5” x 11”), with 1” margins on all sides.

You should indent the first line of every paragraph 0.5 inches

Include a page number on every page.

You could use an accessible font like Times New Roman 12pt., Arial 11pt., or Georgia 11pt.

APA Research Paper Sections

The APA research paper format is based on seven main components: title page, abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, and references. The sections in APA-style paper are as follows:

1. Title Page

As per the APA research paper format, the title should be between 10-12 words and should reflect the essence of the paper. After writing the title, write your name followed by name of the college. Furthermore, create a page header using the “View Header” function in MS Word and on the title page include a running head — a short title that appears at the top of pages of published articles (flush left) and page number on the same line (flush right). The running head should not exceed 50 characters, including punctuation and spacing. Moreover, you could use the toolbox to insert a page number, so that it automatically numbers each page.

APA research paper format

APA Style – Student Paper in APA 7 Style

2. Abstract

Abstract should contain no more than 120 words, and should be one paragraph written in block format with double spacing. Additionally, state the topic in a sentence or two. Also, provide overview of methods, results, and discussion.

APA research paper format

3. Introduction

An introduction of APA research paper format is the most difficult section to write. A good introduction critically evaluates the empirical knowledge in the relevant area(s) in a way that defines the knowledge gap and expresses your aim for your study and why you conducted it. However, the challenge here is to keep the reader’s interest in reading your paper.

A good introduction keeps readers engaged with your paper. For writing an interesting introduction, researchers should introduce logical flow of ideas which will eventually lead to the research hypothesis. Furthermore, while incorporating references into your introduction, do not describe every single study in complete detail. Summarize the key findings from the article and do not quote from the articles, instead paraphrase the content.

4. Methods

The method section in APA research paper format is straightforward. However, the protocol and requirements should be mentioned precisely. The goal of this section is to describe your study and experiments in detail, so that there is no issue in reproducibility of results and other researchers could duplicate your methods effectively.

This section includes Materials and/or Apparatus and Experiments/Procedures/Protocols. Furthermore, keep the procedures brief and accurate, and make sure to read through so as to not repeat the steps or avoid redundancy.

5. Results

In this section, you could describe how you analyzed the data and explain your findings. If your data analyses are complex, then break the section into subsections, ideally a subsection for each hypothesis and elaborate the subsections by using statistical analysis and including tables or figures to represent results visually. Most importantly, do not share interpretation of the results here. You can interpret and explain the results in the discussion section.

6. Discussion

Results are interpreted and understood in this section. Discussion section helps understand the research hypothesis better and places the results in the broader context of the literature in the area. This section is the reversal of introduction section, wherein you begin with the specifics and explain the general understanding of the topics.

In discussion, you start with a brief of your main findings, followed by explaining if your research findings support your hypothesis. Furthermore, you could explain how your findings enhance or support the existing literature on the topic. Connect your results with some of the literature mentioned in the introduction to bring your story back to full circle. You could also mention if there are any interesting or surprising findings in your results. Discuss other theories which could help you justify your surprising results.

Explain the limitation of your study and mention all the additional questions that were generated from your study. You could also mention what further research should be conducted on the topic and what are the knowledge gaps in the current body of research. Finally, mention how your results could relate to the larger issues of human existence and highlight “the big picture” for your readers.

7. References

Provide an alphabetical listing of the references. Do not keep extra spaces between references and double-space all the references. The second line of each reference should be intended. You could refer to the examples (mentioned below) to know how to format references correctly.

I. Journal Article:

Only first letter of the first word of the article title is capitalized; the journal name and volume are italicized. If the journal name had multiple words, each of the major words are capitalized.

Example: Ebner-Priemer, U. W., & Trull, T. J. (2009). Ecological momentary assessment of mood disorders and mood dysregulation. Psychological Assessment, 21 , 463-475. doi:10.1037/a0017075

II. Book Chapter:

Only the first letter of the first word of both the chapter title and book title are capitalized.

Example: Stephan, W. G. (1985). Intergroup relations. In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (3rd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 599-658). New York: Random House.

III. Book:

Example: Gray, P. (2010). Psychology (6th ed.). New York: Worth

IV. Table:

There are various formats for tables, depending upon the information you wish to include. So, be thorough and provide a table number and title (the latter should be italicized). Tables can be single or double-spaced.

V. Figure:

Be sure to mention x- and y-axes clearly. Underneath the figure provide a label and brief caption. The figure caption typically includes variables and units of measurements. Also, include error bars in your bar graphs, and note what the bars represent in the figure caption – Error bars represent one standard error above and below the mean.

VI. In-Text Citation:

  1. Mention the authors’ names and publication date while citing sources in your paper.
  2. When including the citation as part of the sentence, use AND: “According to Jones and Smith (2003), the…”
  3. When the citation is written in parentheses, use &: “Studies have shown that priming can affect actual motor behavior (Jones & Smith, 2003; Kiley, Bailey, & Hammer, 1999). The studies in parentheses should appear alphabetically by first author’s last name, and separate it with semicolons.
  4. You should avoid quoting directly, but in case you do – along with the name and date, include the page number.
  5. For sources with three or more authors, once you have listed all the authors’ names, you may write “et al.” on subsequent mentions: “Klein et al. (1999) found that…”.
  6. Meanwhile, when source has six or more authors, the first author’s last name and “et al.” are used every time the source is cited.

VII. Secondary Source:

It is a term used to describe material that is cited in another source. Avoid using secondary sources in your papers. Try to find the primary source and read it before citing in your work. However, if you must mention a secondary source, refer to the APA style paper example below:

Primary source author’s last name (as cited in secondary source author’s last name, year) argued that…

7 Tips for Writing an Error-free APA Style Research Paper

APA research paper format

  1. Although there are exceptions, minimize using first person while writing.
  2. Avoid including personal statements or anecdotes.
  3. Although there are exceptions, use past tense while writing.
  4. Do not use contractions. (e.g., “it does not follow” rather than “it doesn’t follow”)
  5. Avoid biased language – Be updated with appropriate terminologies, especially if you are writing a paper that includes gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.
  6. Be certain to cite your sources.
  7. Try to paraphrase as much as possible, and do not directly quote from source articles.

This article contains only a few aspects of an APA research paper format. There are many APA style rules which can be explored before you begin to write an APA style research paper. Many of the APA research paper format rules are dynamic and subject to change, so it is best to refer to 7 th edition (latest) of the APA Publication Manual and be thorough with every section’s format before writing a research paper.

Have you used an APA research paper format to write your article? Do write to us or comment below and tell us how your experience writing an APA style paper was?

Shrutika Sirisilla is a content expert with 2 years of experience in academic research. Previously, she has worked as a content writer and created reader friendly scientific content for a reputed diagnostic company and contributed in the publishing process of its healthcare magazines. She has also worked as a linguistic specialist and is certified with C1 Advanced English Language. As an academic, she pursued research in the field of stem cell. Her research expertise also includes developmental biology, molecular biology, cellular biology, and genetics. Currently, she is dedicated toward creating scientific content for early career professionals in the STEM industry.

How to Write a Research Paper in APA format

Becoming academically successful is not easy. In order to accurately and academically write about research results, you have to get acquainted with the rules of formatting a research paper or you can pay for custom research paper according to all APA formatting rules.

APA style is used worldwide for formatting and referencing sources used in research papers. APA formatting guidelines allow authors to efficiently organize their arguments and properly credit secondary literature to avoid plagiarism. Furthermore, the APA style improves comprehension for readers as the consistency it provides allows readers to focus on the contents of the paper instead of its presentation. The APA style guidelines are updated according to feedback from researchers and educational stakeholders. The APA style guidelines provide authors with a credible and well-recognized format, which makes their paper well-organized and easy to read.

What is APA?

A set of guidelines when writing a piece of literature not only makes the organization of arguments easier but also enables better readability. The APA style has been created by the American Psychological Association as a language to be used in research papers and higher education. An APA research paper is formatted according to an expected standard and sources are cited correctly to avoid plagiarism.

The APA research paper format allows writers to be consistent with their writing, which increases efficiency concerning research and organizing arguments.

Using APA in-text citations and references in the bibliography can prevent writers from accidental plagiarism. Besides enabling the organization of ideas and preventing plagiarism, using APA provides writers with credibility as the use of APA style proves that one can ‘speak’ the language of academia. Following APA style provides writers with a predictable format to organize their ideas and provides readers with easier comprehension. Knowing how to use APA format is also key. In addition, you can always get a research paper written for you.

The latest APA style in use is the 7th Edition, which was published in 2020. Several changes were made in this edition to make the format easier to use for educational stakeholders. Some of the pertinent changes include alterations to formatting and citations. The 7th edition has recommended different cover pages for professionals and students. Student papers also do not require a running head in the current edition, and professional papers’ running head does not require the label “running head”. Furthermore, level three, four, and five headings have been modified. The recent edition is also more lenient concerning font choices, and a variety of fonts are acceptable given one is used consistently throughout the paper. Several changes have been made to the reference list and the APA format citation. Writers must follow the guidelines of the latest APA style unless specified otherwise. If students encounter difficulties with this type of writing, they usually use help of research paper services .

General Requirements for APA Format

Paper Length

Given that the APA style is usually used in the literature about the scientific field, the authors must remain concise and precise. Professional language is key, and the main ideas should be written clearly. Authors should avoid irrelevant details. Overall, the length of APA style papers should be kept to the minimum while encompassing the author’s ideas.

Margin Requirements

APA formatting rules call for papers to be typed on a standard-sized paper of 8.5 inches times 11 inches. The text in the paper should be double-spaced with a one-inch margin on all four sides. The font used should be easily readable; however, 12-point Times New Roman is generally used . Students are to follow these standard guidelines unless specifically informed otherwise by their professors.

Title Page Components

The 7th edition calls for a different APA title page research paper format for students and professionals. A student paper will include the title of the paper, the author’s name, institutional affiliation, course name, and number, the name of the instructor, and the due date of the assignment. The title should be centered and in boldface and should be one or two lines long. The title can contain uppercase and lowercase letters. The title should be concise and writers should avoid using irrelevant words or abbreviations. Similar to the rest of the paper, the title page should also be double-spaced. In a professional paper, the title should be followed by the institutional affiliation with the location where the research was conducted. These papers also include an author’s note, which is divided into several paragraphs. The first paragraph consists of the authors’ name and ORCID ID (omitted if the author(s) do not have an ORCID ID). Any deaths of authors or changes in affiliation are written in the second paragraph, and the third paragraph includes any acknowledgments and disclosures. Student papers do not require an author’s note.

Running Heads

Running heads are not required for student papers, however, professional papers include a running head. The “running head” label has been omitted in the APA’s 7th edition A running head is flush left of the paper and should not exceed more than 50 characters including spacing and punctuation. Furthermore, the running head is in all uppercase . In both types of papers, the header has the page number flush right.

Table of contents

The table of contents is an important part of an academic paper as it provides readers with a roadmap for the paper. Adding a table of content is not compulsory in APA, but is recommended for lengthier papers. The table of contents should be in the same font and double-spaced such as the paper.

The table of contents should begin with a centered heading of “Table of Contents” in boldface at the top of the page.

All main headings are flushed to the left, and subheadings are indented by five spaces. Lower level headings can also be included, but they should be additionally indented. All headings should be in the title case, and dotted lines should be included between the headings and their page number for easier readability. The table of contents will include all pages, including preliminary and supplementary, and should not exceed two pages. Table of contents makes the paper easier to navigate through, which in turn allows the readers to focus on the content of the paper, one of the key purposes of using APA style.

Outline

A solid outline forms the foundation of a well-organized paper. An APA paper is broadly divided into three parts, namely, the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. The introduction provides background for the paper and contains the thesis statement. In the body, the writer presents the main points that support the thesis statement. The conclusion provides the overall summary of the points made in the body and justifies how the paper supports the thesis statement. The references list follows the conclusion. For research papers, an abstract should also be added before the introduction. All research papers may not follow this exact outline, but this outline serves as a general guideline.

Abstract

The abstract is written after the title page. Although generally overlooked, the abstract serves as a pivotal part of any well-written research paper. The purpose of an abstract is to provide the readers with a summary of the research paper. Being the first thing the reader sets their sight upon in the research paper, the abstract should inform the reader what the research paper is about and what they can expect. An abstract is a single paragraph in block format. Moreover, the abstract is written on its page titled “abstract”, which is centered. Given that the abstract is required to be 150 to 250 words, each sentence should be packed with information for maximum impact. The information in the abstract should be structured according to the paper. writers should ensure that the abstract is succinct yet well-organized and packed with information.

An APA-style paper broadly consists of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. This part of the paper contains indented paragraphs.

The introduction is written after the title of the paper, which is placed on the top of the page, centered. The introduction paragraph is not labeled. According to Hamilton (n.d.), the introduction of an APA-style paper is one of the most difficult components to write.

The purpose of the introduction is to provide writers with a critical overview and summary of empirical knowledge to define why the researchers chose to conduct the study.

The first line of the introduction is crucial as it can either cause the readers to continue reading the paper or otherwise. Therefore, the first line should “hook” the readers by being something interesting and thought-provoking. The introduction begins by broadly exploring the topic area and further narrows towards the hypothesis or thesis statement. References may be used in the introduction of research papers. Nevertheless, the use of direct quotes should be avoided. The introduction ‘introduces’ the paper to the readers and contains the hypothesis or thesis statement, making it critical for the paper.

The body contains the main points of the paper. In the case of a scientific research paper, the body will begin with the Method. All main headings of the body should be centered and in boldface. Albeit the Method section is quite straightforward, it must be precise and comprehensive to ensure that any other researcher can replicate the method used in the research paper exactly. The Method section can further be divided into Participants, Materials (and/or Apparatus), and Procedure sections. These sections will be labeled in boldface and flush left. Following the Method section will be the Results section. This section contains the methods used for the analysis of the data and the results so obtained. Researchers may also use tables and graphs to visually present the data to improve comprehension. The next section is the Discussion in which the researcher(s) interpret the data and compare them with existing literature concerning the topic. The Discussion section can be deemed as the opposite of the introduction concerning how it is organized. That is, it begins with specific information and further broadens. Limitations and scope for further research may be included in this section. The concluding paragraph of the study reiterates the need for the study and how it has added to existing literature. The above-mentioned outline for a research paper is for mainly scientific fields; APA format is used in several types of papers and should be outlined accordingly.

Reference Page

The APA format reference page consists of a detailed list containing information regarding the sources used throughout the paper. This section begins on a new page titled “References”, which is centered and on top of the page. The first line of the reference is flush left with the rest of the lines indented. The references are arranged alphabetically and are double-spaced. Books and journal titles are italicized, and the punctuation and capitalization used in the source are retained even if they are not standard. The format of the references should follow the guidelines outlined in the latest edition of APA format. The reference page is of utmost importance as it credits the sources used in the paper; if the sources are improperly credited or not credited at all, the author of the research paper loses credibility and risks plagiarism.

Guides for Writing in APA Format

How to Use References in APA

APA referencing can be divided into two components: reference list and in-text citation. The core elements of an APA citation format are author rules, date rules, title rules, publisher rules, and the “Retrieved from…URL” if the source is found online. The reference begins with the author’s last name followed by a comma and then his or her initials. Commas are used to separate multiple authors, and an ampersand is used before the name of the last author. If the source contains authors with the same surname and initial, their name should be added next to their initials in square brackets. Following the authors’ name, the date when the source was published is written. In case the date is missing, “n.d.” is written. The format of the title of the source differs depending on what is being referenced. For example, good titles for research papers require the proper nouns and the first word to be capitalized. The periodical title is italicized and written with normal capitalization. The volume number follows the title. Subsequently, the page numbers that were accessed in the article are mentioned . In Publisher rules, if the location of the publisher is in the US, the name of the city and the two-letter state code is written. Otherwise, the name of the city and the country are written for publishers located outside of the US . Following the correct format for the APA reference page is requisite.

Research Paper Structurestructure

Whether you are writing a B.S. Degree Research Paper or completing a research report for a Psychology course, it is highly likely that you will need to organize your research paper in accordance with American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines. Here we discuss the structure of research papers according to APA style.

Major Sections of a Research Paper in APA Style

A complete research paper in APA style that is reporting on experimental research will typically contain a Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References sections. 1 Many will also contain Figures and Tables and some will have an Appendix or Appendices. These sections are detailed as follows (for a more in-depth guide, please refer to “How to Write a Research Paper in APA Style”, a comprehensive guide developed by Prof. Emma Geller). 2

Title Page

What is this paper called and who wrote it? – the first page of the paper; this includes the name of the paper, a “running head”, authors, and institutional affiliation of the authors. The institutional affiliation is usually listed in an Author Note that is placed towards the bottom of the title page. In some cases, the Author Note also contains an acknowledgment of any funding support and of any individuals that assisted with the research project.

Abstract

One-paragraph summary of the entire study – typically no more than 250 words in length (and in many cases it is well shorter than that), the Abstract provides an overview of the study.

Introduction

What is the topic and why is it worth studying? – the first major section of text in the paper, the Introduction commonly describes the topic under investigation, summarizes or discusses relevant prior research (for related details, please see the Writing Literature Reviews section of this website), identifies unresolved issues that the current research will address, and provides an overview of the research that is to be described in greater detail in the sections to follow.

Methods

What did you do? – a section which details how the research was performed. It typically features a description of the participants/subjects that were involved, the study design, the materials that were used, and the study procedure. If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Methods section. A rule of thumb is that the Methods section should be sufficiently detailed for another researcher to duplicate your research.

Results

What did you find? a section which describes the data that was collected and the results of any statistical tests that were performed. It may also be prefaced by a description of the analysis procedure that was used. If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Results section.

Discussion

What is the significance of your results? the final major section of text in the paper. The Discussion commonly features a summary of the results that were obtained in the study, describes how those results address the topic under investigation and/or the issues that the research was designed to address, and may expand upon the implications of those findings. Limitations and directions for future research are also commonly addressed.

References

List of articles and any books cited – an alphabetized list of the sources that are cited in the paper (by last name of the first author of each source). Each reference should follow specific APA guidelines regarding author names, dates, article titles, journal titles, journal volume numbers, page numbers, book publishers, publisher locations, websites, and so on (for more information, please see the Citing References in APA Style page of this website).

Tables and Figures

Graphs and data (optional in some cases) – depending on the type of research being performed, there may be Tables and/or Figures (however, in some cases, there may be neither). In APA style, each Table and each Figure is placed on a separate page and all Tables and Figures are included after the References. Tables are included first, followed by Figures. However, for some journals and undergraduate research papers (such as the B.S. Research Paper or Honors Thesis), Tables and Figures may be embedded in the text (depending on the instructor’s or editor’s policies; for more details, see “Deviations from APA Style” below).

Appendix

Supplementary information (optional) – in some cases, additional information that is not critical to understanding the research paper, such as a list of experiment stimuli, details of a secondary analysis, or programming code, is provided. This is often placed in an Appendix.

Variations of Research Papers in APA Style

Although the major sections described above are common to most research papers written in APA style, there are variations on that pattern. These variations include:

  • Literature reviews – when a paper is reviewing prior published research and not presenting new empirical research itself (such as in a review article, and particularly a qualitative review), then the authors may forgo any Methods and Results sections. Instead, there is a different structure such as an Introduction section followed by sections for each of the different aspects of the body of research being reviewed, and then perhaps a Discussion section.
  • Multi-experiment papers – when there are multiple experiments, it is common to follow the Introduction with an Experiment 1 section, itself containing Methods, Results, and Discussion subsections. Then there is an Experiment 2 section with a similar structure, an Experiment 3 section with a similar structure, and so on until all experiments are covered. Towards the end of the paper there is a General Discussion section followed by References. Additionally, in multi-experiment papers, it is common for the Results and Discussion subsections for individual experiments to be combined into single “Results and Discussion” sections.

Departures from APA Style

In some cases, official APA style might not be followed (however, be sure to check with your editor, instructor, or other sources before deviating from standards of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association). Such deviations may include:

  • Placement of Tables and Figures – in some cases, to make reading through the paper easier, Tables and/or Figures are embedded in the text (for example, having a bar graph placed in the relevant Results section). The embedding of Tables and/or Figures in the text is one of the most common deviations from APA style (and is commonly allowed in B.S. Degree Research Papers and Honors Theses; however you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first).
  • Incomplete research – sometimes a B.S. Degree Research Paper in this department is written about research that is currently being planned or is in progress. In those circumstances, sometimes only an Introduction and Methods section, followed by References, is included (that is, in cases where the research itself has not formally begun). In other cases, preliminary results are presented and noted as such in the Results section (such as in cases where the study is underway but not complete), and the Discussion section includes caveats about the in-progress nature of the research. Again, you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first.
  • Class assignments – in some classes in this department, an assignment must be written in APA style but is not exactly a traditional research paper (for instance, a student asked to write about an article that they read, and to write that report in APA style). In that case, the structure of the paper might approximate the typical sections of a research paper in APA style, but not entirely. You should check with your instructor for further guidelines.

Workshops and Downloadable Resources

Workshops

  • For in-person discussion of the process of writing research papers, please consider attending this department’s “Writing Research Papers” workshop (for dates and times, please check the undergraduate workshops calendar).

Downloadable Resources

  • How to Write APA Style Research Papers (a comprehensive guide) [PDF]
  • Tips for Writing APA Style Research Papers (a brief summary) [PDF]
  • Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – empirical research) [PDF]
  • Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – literature review) [PDF]

Further Resources

How-To Videos

APA Journal Article Reporting Guidelines

  • Appelbaum, M., Cooper, H., Kline, R. B., Mayo-Wilson, E., Nezu, A. M., & Rao, S. M. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for quantitative research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report. American Psychologist, 73(1), 3.
  • Levitt, H. M., Bamberg, M., Creswell, J. W., Frost, D. M., Josselson, R., & Suárez-Orozco, C. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for qualitative primary, qualitative meta-analytic, and mixed methods research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report. American Psychologist, 73(1), 26.

External Resources

References

1 VandenBos, G. R. (Ed). (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) (pp. 41-60). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
2 Geller, E. (2018). How to write an APA-style research report. [Instructional Materials].

Prepared by S. C. Pan for UCSD Psychology

Writing Research Papers

  • Research Paper Structure
  • Formatting Research Papers
  • Using Databases and Finding References
  • What Types of References Are Appropriate?
  • Evaluating References and Taking Notes
  • Citing References
  • Writing a Literature Review
  • Writing Process and Revising
  • Improving Scientific Writing
  • Academic Integrity and Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Writing Research Papers Videos

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APA Research Paper Outline: Examples and Template

Formatting your paper in APA can be daunting if this is your first time. The American Psychological Association (APA) offers a guide or rules to follow when conducting projects in the social sciences or writing papers. The standard APA style to format research papers includes proper layout from the title page to the final reference pages. There are formatting samples to create outlines before writing a paper. Amongst other strategies, creating an outline is the easiest way to format your paper.

Why Is Research Paper Format Necessary?

Consistency in the sequence, structure, and format when writing a research paper encourages readers to concentrate on the substance of a paper rather than the manner in which it is presented. The requirements for paper format apply to both student assignments and papers that are submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed publication. APA Style may be used to create a website, conference poster, or PowerPoint presentation. If you plan to use the style for other types of work like a website, conference poster, or even PowerPoint presentation, you must format your work accordingly to adjust to requirements. For example, you may need to use different line spacing and font sizes. Follow the formatting rules provided by your institution or publication to ensure that its formatting standards are followed as closely as possible. However, to logically structure your document, you need a proper APA paper outline format. You may ask: why is it necessary to create an outline for an APA research paper?

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Concept & Purposes of Research Paper Outline

A path, direction, or an action plan! It may seem easy to write short essays without a layout, but not for 10,000 or more words. Yet, confusing a table of contents with an outline is a major issue. The table of contents is an orderly list of all front matter, primary, and back matter of the chapters. It includes sections and, often, figures in your work, labeled by page number. On the other hand, a research paper outline is a proper structure to follow.

Purpose of research paper outline

An outline is a formalized essay in which you give your own argument to support your point of view. And when you write your paper, you expand on what you already know about the topic. Academic writing papers examine an area of expertise to get the latest and most accurate information to work on that topic. It serves various purposes, including:

  • APA paper outline discusses the study’s core concepts.
  • The research paper outlines define the link between your ideas and the thesis.
  • It provides you with manageable portions that you can handle.
  • The research paper APA outline enables the detection of structural faults or gaps.
  • As shown in the example, it must offer a clear comprehension of the subject at hand.

APA outline example

Research Paper APA Outline

This research paper outline example will guide you in formatting the layout for a clear direction to work on. It eliminates the inconsistency along with lacking proper substance in the paper.

Understanding the APA Outline Format

It would not be wrong to say that there is no standard format for writing an outline. The official publishing handbook does not give precise guidelines for preparing an outline. But, it requires certain basic guidelines to follow when it comes to typeface, font size, structure, margins etc.

APA paper outline example

Moreover, the final shape of your work relies on your instructor’s specifications and your particular preferences for APA citation format. Though, it would be better to follow some standards for formatting your outline, for instance:

Times New Roman is a widely accessible standard typeface for an APA essay format in 12-point font. However, serif and sans serif fonts like Arial and Georgia are acceptable in font size 11pt.

Writing Tips for APA-Style Research Papers

Most professional journals require papers to be submitted in conformity with the APA (American Psychological Association) style guide. While some may differ slightly in minor areas, the APA style is the accepted format for publication. Here are some writing tips for APA-style research papers.

Basic Tips

Follow the APA Style

The best tip for writers of research papers is to become familiar with the APA style and write your reports and papers according to their guidelines. By doing this, any specific changes that a particular journal may require will only demand minor changes to your draft before submitting.

Use the Standard Organizational Sections

The basic sections of a scientific report or paper are the abstract, introduction, method (experimental, hypothesis), results and conclusions. Each of these sections has very basic formats and requirements for the content. An examination of each section will allow you to both plan your research and be prepared to report it correctly.

Abstract

The abstract of any scientific paper is designed to reveal what research was performed and to give a very brief summary of the results obtained. According to the APA Style Guide, the abstract of a research paper is to be around 120 words and include approximately one sentence for each of the sections of the paper.

The abstract should include a basic description of the work being reported.

Introduction

The introduction is much more extensive in scope. It includes a comprehensive review of the literature concerning the topic of research and attempts to convey what is known about the topic of interest.

The introduction also explains, as descriptively and accurately as possible, the basics of the topic of interest and of what will be done to investigate it further. A short discussion of the proposed research in light of what is currently known is undertaken.

The introduction concludes by declaring the hypothesis of the research.

Method

The method section is sometimes referred to as the experimental section. This section is used to describe not only how the research was done, but also what was used during the research.

An example of a chemical or physical experiment would include all the equipment used in the experiment. All hardware used is listed by name, model number and manufacturer.

There should be enough detail included that any other researcher could replicate the results of the reported research without severe difficulty.

Results

Analysis of the data is conducted in the results section. This section evaluates the data and compares it to previous results.

A comparison is also made with results obtained using other methods of measurements.

Discussion Conclusions

The discussion section clearly states whether the hypothesis was supported or not supported by the experiments.

Based on the results, comments are made as to the importance of these studies.

References

The references used in the paper are to be written in the format specified by the APA style guide. There are specific formats defined for books, articles and online sources.

Ensure that you use the correct citation for sources. List the references alphabetically according to the citation.

Key APA Style Issues

The previous tips are basic for all research papers; but, there are some things you need to remember specifically about the APA style. Specifically:

  • The paper needs to be written in an impersonal style. Their should be no personal statements or anecdotes.
  • You are reporting work that has already been performed, so the paper shoud be written in the past tense.
  • Do not use contractions (such as “don’t”).
  • When citing an external source, either use the source in the structure of your sentence or reference it at the end of the sentence by placing it in parentheses.

Hopefully, these writing tips for APA-style research papers will be useful for you the next time you need to submit a research paper.

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