Writing apa style research paper

A step-by-step guide for creating and formatting APA Style student papers

Kamin, H. (2020, September). A step-by-step guide for creating and formatting APA Style student papers. Psychology Student Network. https://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/psn/2020/09/apa-style-student-papers

The start of the semester is the perfect time to learn how to create and format APA Style student papers. This article walks through the formatting steps needed to create an APA Style student paper, starting with a basic setup that applies to the entire paper (margins, font, line spacing, paragraph alignment and indentation, and page headers). It then covers formatting for the major sections of a student paper: the title page, the text, tables and figures, and the reference list. Finally, it concludes by describing how to organize student papers and ways to improve their quality and presentation.

The guidelines for student paper setup are described and shown using annotated diagrams in the Student Paper Setup Guide (PDF, 3.40MB) and the A Step-by-Step Guide to APA Style Student Papers webinar. Chapter 1 of the Concise Guide to APA Style and Chapter 2 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association describe the elements, format, and organization for student papers. Tables and figures are covered in Chapter 7 of both books. Information on paper format and tables and figures and a full sample student paper are also available on the APA Style website.

Basic setup

The guidelines for basic setup apply to the entire paper. Perform these steps when you first open your document, and then you do not have to worry about them again while writing your paper. Because these are general aspects of paper formatting, they apply to all APA Style papers, student or professional. Students should always check with their assigning instructor or institution for specific guidelines for their papers, which may be different than or in addition to APA Style guidelines.

Seventh edition APA Style was designed with modern word-processing programs in mind. Most default settings in programs such as Academic Writer, Microsoft Word, and Google Docs already comply with APA Style. This means that, for most paper elements, you do not have to make any changes to the default settings of your word-processing program. However, you may need to make a few adjustments before you begin writing.


Use 1-in. margins on all sides of the page (top, bottom, left, and right). This is usually how papers are automatically set.

Use a legible font. The default font of your word-processing program is acceptable. Many sans serif and serif fonts can be used in APA Style, including 11-point Calibri, 11-point Arial, 12-point Times New Roman, and 11-point Georgia. You can also use other fonts described on the font page of the website.

Line spacing

Double-space the entire paper including the title page, block quotations, and the reference list. This is something you usually must set using the paragraph function of your word-processing program. But once you do, you will not have to change the spacing for the entirety of your paper–just double-space everything. Do not add blank lines before or after headings. Do not add extra spacing between paragraphs. For paper sections with different line spacing, see the line spacing page.

Paragraph alignment and indentation

Align all paragraphs of text in the body of your paper to the left margin. Leave the right margin ragged. Do not use full justification. Indent the first line of every paragraph of text 0.5-in. using the tab key or the paragraph-formatting function of your word-processing program. For paper sections with different alignment and indentation, see the paragraph alignment and indentation page.

Page numbers

Put a page number in the top right of every page header, including the title page, starting with page number 1. Use the automatic page-numbering function of your word-processing program to insert the page number in the top right corner; do not type the page numbers manually. The page number is the same font and font size as the text of your paper. Student papers do not require a running head on any page, unless specifically requested by the instructor.

Title page setup

Title page elements

APA Style has two title page formats: student and professional (for details, see title page setup). Unless instructed otherwise, students should use the student title page format and include the following elements, in the order listed, on the title page:

  • Paper title.
  • Name of each author (also known as the byline).
  • Affiliation for each author.
  • Course number and name.
  • Instructor name.
  • Assignment due date.
  • Page number 1 in the top right corner of the page header.

The format for the byline depends on whether the paper has one author, two authors, or three or more authors.

  • When the paper has one author, write the name on its own line (e.g., Jasmine C. Hernandez).
  • When the paper has two authors, write the names on the same line and separate them with the word “and” (e.g., Upton J. Wang and Natalia Dominguez).
  • When the paper has three or more authors, separate the names with commas and include “and” before the final author’s name (e.g., Malia Mohamed, Jaylen T. Brown, and Nia L. Ball).

Students have an academic affiliation, which identities where they studied when the paper was written. Because students working together on a paper are usually in the same class, they will have one shared affiliation. The affiliation consists of the name of the department and the name of the college or university, separated by a comma (e.g., Department of Psychology, George Mason University). The department is that of the course to which the paper is being submitted, which may be different than the department of the student’s major. Do not include the location unless it is part of the institution’s name.

Write the course number and name and the instructor name as shown on institutional materials (e.g., the syllabus). The course number and name are often separated by a colon (e.g., PST-4510: History and Systems Psychology). Write the assignment due date in the month, date, and year format used in your country (e.g., Sept. 10, 2020).

Title page line spacing

Double-space the whole title page. Place the paper title three or four lines down from the top of the page. Add an extra double-spaced blank like between the paper title and the byline. Then, list the other title page elements on separate lines, without extra lines in between.

Title page alignment

Center all title page elements (except the right-aligned page number in the header).

Title page font

Write the title page using the same font and font size as the rest of your paper. Bold the paper title. Use standard font (i.e., no bold, no italics) for all other title page elements.

Text setup

Text elements

Repeat the paper title at the top of the first page of text. Begin the paper with an introduction to provide background on the topic, cite related studies, and contextualize the paper. Use descriptive headings to identify other sections as needed (e.g., Method, Results, Discussion for quantitative research papers). Sections and headings vary depending on the paper type and its complexity. Text can include tables and figures, block quotations, headings, and footnotes.

Text line spacing

Double-space all text, including headings and section labels, paragraphs of text, and block quotations.

Text alignment

Center the paper title on the first line of the text. Indent the first line of all paragraphs 0.5-in.

Left-align the text. Leave the right margin ragged.

Block quotation alignment

Indent the whole block quotation 0.5-in. from the left margin. Double-space the block quotation, the same as other body text. Find more information on the quotations page.

Text font

Use the same font throughout the entire paper. Write body text in standard (nonbold, nonitalic) font. Bold only headings and section labels. Use italics sparingly, for instance, to highlight a key term on first use (for more information, see the italics page).

Headings format

For detailed guidance on formatting headings, including headings in the introduction of a paper, see the headings page and the headings in sample papers.

  • Alignment: Center Level 1 headings. Left-align Level 2 and Level 3 headings. Indent Level 4 and Level 5 headings like a regular paragraph.
  • Font: Boldface all headings. Also italicize Level 3 and Level 5 headings. Create heading styles using your word-processing program (built into AcademicWriter, available for Word via the sample papers on the APA Style website).

Tables and figures setup

Tables and figures are only included in student papers if needed for the assignment. Tables and figures share the same elements and layout. See the website for sample tables and sample figures.

Table elements

Tables include the following four elements:

  • Number
  • Title
  • Body (rows and columns)
  • Note (optional if needed to explain elements in the table)

Figure elements

Figures include the following four elements:

  • Number
  • Title
  • Image (chart, graph, etc.)
  • Note (optional if needed to explain elements in the figure)

Table line spacing

Double-space the table number and title. Single-, 1.5-, or double-space the table body (adjust as needed for readability). Double-space the table note.

Figure line spacing

Double-space the figure number and title. The default settings for spacing in figure images is usually acceptable (but adjust the spacing as needed for readability). Double-space the figure note.

Table alignment

Left-align the table number and title. Center column headings. Left-align the table itself and left-align the leftmost (stub) column. Center data in the table body if it is short or left-align the data if it is long. Left-align the table note.

Figure alignment

Left-align the figure number and title. Left-align the whole figure image. The default alignment of the program in which you created your figure is usually acceptable for axis titles and data labels. Left-align the figure note.

Table font

Bold the table number. Italicize the table title. Use the same font and font size in the table body as the text of your paper. Italicize the word “Note” at the start of the table note. Write the note in the same font and font size as the text of your paper.

Figure font

Bold the figure number. Italicize the figure title. Use a sans serif font (e.g., Calibri, Arial) in the figure image in a size between 8 to 14 points. Italicize the word “Note” at the start of the figure note. Write the note in the same font and font size as the text of your paper.

Placement of tables and figures

There are two options for the placement of tables and figures in an APA Style paper. The first option is to place all tables and figures on separate pages after the reference list. The second option is to embed each table and figure within the text after its first callout. This guide describes options for the placement of tables and figures embedded in the text. If your instructor requires tables and figures to be placed at the end of the paper, see the table and figure guidelines and the sample professional paper.

Call out (mention) the table or figure in the text before embedding it (e.g., write “see Figure 1” or “Table 1 presents”). You can place the table or figure after the callout either at the bottom of the page, at the top of the next page, or by itself on the next page. Avoid placing tables and figures in the middle of the page.

Embedding at the bottom of the page

Include a callout to the table or figure in the text before that table or figure. Add a blank double-spaced line between the text and the table or figure at the bottom of the page.

Embedding at the top of the page

Include a callout to the table in the text on the previous page before that table or figure. The table or figure then appears at the top of the next page. Add a blank double-spaced line between the end of the table or figure and the text that follows.

Embedding on its own page

Embed long tables or large figures on their own page if needed. The text continues on the next page.

Reference list setup

Reference list elements

The reference list consists of the “References” section label and the alphabetical list of references. View reference examples on the APA Style website. Consult Chapter 10 in both the Concise Guide and Publication Manual for even more examples.

Reference list line spacing

Start the reference list at the top of a new page after the text. Double-space the entire reference list (both within and between entries).

Reference list alignment

Center the “References” label. Apply a hanging indent of 0.5-in. to all reference list entries. Create the hanging indent using your word-processing program; do not manually hit the enter and tab keys.

Reference list font

Bold the “References” label at the top of the first page of references. Use italics within reference list entries on either the title (e.g., webpages, books, reports) or on the source (e.g., journal articles, edited book chapters).

Final checks

Check page order

  • Start each section on a new page.
  • Arrange pages in the following order:
  • Title page (page 1).
  • Text (starts on page 2).
  • Reference list (starts on a new page after the text).

Check headings

  • Check that headings accurately reflect the content in each section.
  • Start each main section with a Level 1 heading.
  • Use Level 2 headings for subsections of the introduction.
  • Use the same level of heading for sections of equal importance.
  • Avoid having only one subsection within a section (have two or more, or none).

Check assignment instructions

  • Remember that instructors’ guidelines supersede APA Style.
  • Students should check their assignment guidelines or rubric for specific content to include in their papers and to make sure they are meeting assignment requirements.

Tips for better writing

  • Ask for feedback on your paper from a classmate, writing center tutor, or instructor.
  • Budget time to implement suggestions.
  • Use spell-check and grammar-check to identify potential errors, and then manually check those flagged.
  • Proofread the paper by reading it slowly and carefully aloud to yourself.
  • Consult your university writing center if you need extra help.

About the author

Hayley S. Kamin, PhD, is a content development manager with the APA Style team of the American Psychological Association. She started working at APA in 2018 and was part the team responsible for writing and updating the seventh edition Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association and Concise Guide to APA Style, contributing her knowledge of communication, higher education, teaching and instruction, and scholarly research and publishing. She continues to work on developing digital and print resources to facilitate the learning and teaching of APA Style. Prior to working at APA, Hayley received a PhD in developmental psychology from the University of Florida, where she researched antecedents and consequences of the biological stress system and published articles examining links of early social and maternal experiences to individual differences in responding to stress.

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Research Paper Writing: The Best Services and Websites Available Online in USA

Starting college, for the most part, is a dream come true. But there’s also that one part of this dream we all wish never came true. And that’s having to deal with research paper writing. The reason we all would love to avoid writing such isn’t far-fetched! It’s so not like the time you only had to write five pages of paper for your high school teacher. Now, in college, you’d have to prepare yourself for papers that include almost 30 pages!

It gets even sadder knowing that you won’t have to write this once while in college. And in fact, you’d probably end up writing more as you keep going in life! However, it’s not just your cross to bear. Millions of students all over the planet have to deal with the same. And when a seeming problem becomes a collective concern, solutions are bound to come up quicker! So, there is hope for you!

Research paper writing in the world today is a lot easier. And how is that? Today offers you general tips on how to complete your paper. The length of the paper and how much time you have on it don’t matter. These tips are sure to get you on a good start right through till you finish. In the end, nothing would beat your first-rate work! That’s if you follow the tips to the letter.

However, these tips are not all you have as help in the world today. There are also samples available online that help students prepare their papers. These are generally there to help the students with ideas and formatting styles that save a lot of time. It comes in handy when you’ve only got a few days to submit your work. But it’s also risky as there is the temptation to copy not just the idea but the content. And you know what happens when your professor figures out you’ve plagiarized? Yes! It could be a failure you’d never wish to reflect on your scores. So, while using sample papers save time, you also want to be careful with how you use them. But what happens when you only have some days to submit, and you’ve got other assignments to handle? That’s where these writing professionals come into the picture.

Today, you can rent the service of research writing experts. These will help write you custom papers to suit your goal and your professor’s! It gets even better knowing these writers are the best research paper writers the world currently has. Not only are they good at what they do, but they also have the experience. And when they write for you, getting good grades isn’t a thing of dreams again, but of reality!

PaperHelp – premium quality research papers

It’s not just enough to get help for your research papers. That help has to be the best of the best. And when it comes to the writing service market, no other beats PaperHelp in quality and early delivery times!

We all know how demanding some professors can be. You’d rather submit the best to them to avoid being at risk of low grades. And with PaperHelp, you only get the highest quality there’s to find out there. These, you’d see proof to so readily as you visit their website. As of the time of writing this, PaperHelp has completed over 680 000 papers. When you see a writing service grow this fast, then you know they are the real deal.

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The process of getting help from them is pretty straightforward. It starts with filling their form of what you need. And just so you know, your journey with them will involve 1-on-1 support from a research paper writer who’s at the Ph.D. level. Imagine having someone just as good as your professor helping you with your paper. Such an excellent assurance, isn’t it?

After filling the form, you can track the progress, and you also get to see samples that put you at peace. When it comes to PaperHelp, there’s no paper you can’t write with them! In fact, they call themselves your universal writing solution. Whatever paper you want, they help write it. And you don’t have to only take our words for it. Sites like Trustpilot and Sitejabber also feel the same way about PaperHelp. On these third-party websites, PaperHelp maintains proud scores over 4.5/5. And trust us, when it comes to such professional service as in research paper writing services, it’s tough to have such a high score.

Prices at PaperHelp can start from as low as $12. But depending on how many pages you order for, you are liable to get a discount as high as 20%! Besides, there’s also a money-back guarantee that keeps you secured about getting only quality value in exchange for your cash.

99Papers – U.S. based writing service

Recall we stated earlier the whole issue of writing research papers is a global problem. Now, imagine working with experts who provide global solutions? Yes! That’s right! 99Papers take their reputation from being a world-classed writing service. And if you work with them, you’d be enjoying world-class services.

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  • Inquiry
  • Plagiarism check
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  • Unlimited revisions
  • Title page
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With these out of the way, you can focus on paying for only the best content. Their prices start from as low as $9.95 for 275 words. And they also have an option for you if you wish to get it delivered within 3 hours.

EssayPro – the best at a budget for American students

When it comes to being college students, our finances take a huge chunk of that. You’d rather go for the cheapest and best quality you can get. And that’s really what EssayPro offers you. With EssayPro, you get to have the best writers work on your research paper and still save some money. In other words, you are not only saving time and energy, but you’re also saving money!

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So you don’t miss the point, EssayPro stands shoulder to shoulder with the best writing services around. They have a league of writers that can help you out. And they cover a broad spectrum of jobs from college to doctorate level. Besides, you get to have access to their writers’ ratings. That way, you can choose only the best for your work that works perfectly for your goal.

  • Originality reports
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  • Outline
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Being only a rookie in the business, PaperCoach is a good choice if this is your first time. Like the other services, they have their selling traits which put them off as a good writing service. And not just that as they provide their service at one of the lowest prices ever.

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However, while the cost of working with them is perfect for a student, there’s a slight risk attached. Being a rookie also means not being as experienced as the rest. Hence, while they do give you quality, they are yet to stand out as the best of the best.

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EssayBox – another good website from USA

When we talk of writing services that stand out, EssayBox is one we can’t leave out. With outstanding writing experts, EssayBox is one to work with. Not only do they have good research paper writers. Their customer service is one to love. They make themselves available to you via a live chat function on their website. Also, via calls and emails. All these are the perfect options for a student with a hectic curriculum.

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Right down to details, EssayBox offers you writing services that span several paper types. Besides, they are well skilled not only in college papers but are just as experienced up to doctorate level. And they boast of being stellar in any discipline your college has to offer.


When it comes to selecting a writing professional, you can’t exclude two things. Quality and experience are almost all that make the best experts around. And SpeedyPaper is another one worthy of such praises. With its team of qualified writers, they’ve spent years gaining experience. So, compared to rookies, they know exactly what you need per time and give you exactly that.

When it comes to research paper formatting, SpeedyPaper makes it all perfect. They understand the importance of these and ensure it’s nothing short of good quality.


Our list continues with 1Essay, another to stand tall among our list of the best 9. If nothing else, 1Essay commits itself to making everything easy for your customers. Right from the primary service of producing quality papers for you, the customer service and payment channels are just the best. They even have a bitcoin payment option!

To return to the primary service, you should know their writers also stand as one of the best in the market. With academic backgrounds that come close to your professors and experience in writing, you can be sure of getting only high grades! Besides, they go beyond native English speakers to ensure you get not just local standards but international recognition! It gets even better as they make life better even for high school students, and their price starts from as low as $9 per page! Talk about quality and relevance! They know what works for the world today and give their customers that — at the lowest price possible.

EssayFactory – UK based website

If you’re in the UK, then you definitely want to check out the EssayFactory. They only work with native UK writers and editors. These ensure you get only the best papers that help you stand out among your peers in any school in the UK.

Their services also go beyond research paper writings. And these can be for levels as high as doctorate degrees.


Ivory Research is another writing service you can’t but try out if you’re in the UK and USA. With the best writers the UK has to offer, Ivory Research ensures all their papers pass all UK academic needs.

Their writers help you because they enjoy it. So, you don’t have to get bothered about receiving lousy work. They give it their best, and you get to have a good grade. Moreover, with their years of experience, they know exactly where to go to get the specific content for your paper.

However, their pricing details might be a bit confusing with their website quote always showing a sum of £90 on all orders. But we are sure their customers’ service is always there to make all things clear.

There you have it! Nine professional writing services that will make your college experience stress-free. Now, we know you might have other questions regarding research paper writing. So, we’ve dedicated the following sections to clear all your doubts.


What is a Research Paper?

As a college student, it’s one sure thing you can’t escape writing one. And why must that be? It’s so you can be a contributor to the body of knowledge. You also get to enhance your understanding of the topic. So, what exactly is this research paper? We will answer this by stating what it is and what it’s not.

  • Stellar research,
  • Critical thinking,
  • Source evaluation,
  • Content organization, and
  • Professional writing.

Hence, it is a form of academic writing that provides your analysis, interpretation, and argument on a topic after in-depth research.

  • Your summary of a topic
  • Your summary of what others have written
  • A book report.

Now, it’s a given that while writing your paper, you might end up including any of the above points. But the primary message in your writing should give a unique perspective. In other words, your professor is expecting a new contribution from you to that topic. And if your paper fails to achieve this, it might affect your grading adversely.

  • Argumentative, which is when you take a stand as the writer on an issue. You begin this by making your stand clear. And you end with a persuasion of your reader towards your stand.
  • On the other hand, you can also write an analytical paper. This is to answer a question. It requires a lot more of your critical thinking. And also your ability to support your answer.

Research Paper Writing Guide

Before now, writing a research paper has probably been scary. And now that you’ve seen what it is, you might be more perplexed as to how to go about it. That’s where the following guidelines come into play. Ready? Let’s go!

Take Time to Understand the Assignment

The first step to creating every perfect solution is understanding the problem. If you hope to submit your best work yet, you need to take time out to understand your assignment. This is the time to write out your deadline, goal, formation, paper length. Also, here’s another tip to make your work easier as you move on. Create a checklist of key points from your assignment. Tick this off as you continue with writing.

Decide on a Research Topic

The next step is to choose your topic. You can reach a conclusion on this yourself. Other times, you might need to discuss with friends and your professor. And the trick is to go with ideas that are both original and specific! Save yourself from the stress of broad concepts. A good way to start with your topic indeed is to first decide on a wide area of interest. But, always narrow this down to something original and specific!

Start with a Research

What you end up writing depends mainly on your research! The tip here is you don’t focus on resources that support your argument. Also, search for those than oppose it. This way, you’d be a master of your topic and can successfully erase all doubts about your argument as you write.

Write Your Thesis Statement

The next thing is to write your thesis. This is bound to keep changing as you carry out more research and write. But still, it’s a good guide as to what your central argument is. It’s there to ensure your paragraphs all align with your argument. It’s the part where you make your claim. Your paper will then go on to prove this claim.

Create Your Outline

This is how you roughly determine how your paper will look like. It contains all you plan to include in your paper arranged into sections and headings.

Start with Your First Draft

The next thing then is to write! Now, writing your first draft isn’t about perfection. It’s about writing something that clearly explains and supports your claim. You might decide to leave out your introduction and conclusion till after the main body. And that’s really where your outline comes into play. With your outline, you can easily start your writing from your best section. Also, try not to delete your mistakes. They may come in handy later.

Then, Your Second Draft

Your second draft is there to confirm if your first draft aligns with your goal. Over here, be open to rearrange your ideas. And if you find any part that requires more information, be quick to add more. Ensure there’s no question left unanswered.

The Final Revision Process

Finally, you can now move to reconfirm all you confirmed with the second draft. But this stage also includes some fine-tuning. Here, you should check through the grammar, formatting, sentence structure, among others. This is the part you ensure it’s perfect work!

With these steps, you’re ready to take on your next project. But if you need help, don’t forget there are professional writing services out there.

Research Paper Formats

  • APA Guidelines
  • MLA Guidelines
  • Chicago formatting guidelines
  • Font choices
  • Headings formats
  • Reference page formats
  • Layout of pages

APA Guidelines

  • A standard font like 12pt Times New Roman
  • 1-inch page margin
  • Double line spacings
  • Paragraph indent of a half inches

Also, the APA dictates other things as how the title page will appear, the running head, other headings, and the reference page layout.

MLA Guidelines

  • A readable font like the 12pt Times New Roman
  • Double line spacings
  • 1-inch page margin
  • Title case capitalization for heading
  • Half inch indentation for paragraphs

Other guides include how the first page will appear, the headers, and the works cited page.

Chicago (Turabian) Guidelines

  • A standard font like 12pt Times New Roman
  • One or more inch margins
  • Double line spacings
  • Half inch indentations for paragraphs
  • Page numbers must appear in the top right or bottom center.

The title page and reference list also have a defined style when it comes to the Chicago style.

The best research paper topics

When it comes to choosing your research paper topic, it can be as daunting as the writing itself. However, there are easy ways to go about this. First off, you must have understood your assignment. You know your goal, and you know exactly what you want.

Then the next thing is to consider specific key points under three broad categories: location, person/thing, and time period. Mix keywords from these three categories and put them into your search engine. You’d see the topic ideas that will come out on the engine pages. These, you can tweak to better fit your goal, and that way, you’re on your way to choosing the perfect topic. However, we’ve also prepared for you a list of the best topics to write in some disciplines. But before that, what are some of these keywords you can mix?

  • Italian
  • French
  • English
  • American
  • Greek
  • Royalty
  • Morality
  • Agriculture
  • Scientific advances
  • Fashion trends
  • 17th Century
  • Ancient World
  • Dark Ages
  • Renaissance
  • Colonial Period

By mixing these words, you can derive the best topics ever. Now, let’s see some of our examples:

  • The Study of Constellations in Astronomy
  • Geologic Ages that Created Coal
  • Structure and Actions of Tsunamis in the 20th Century
  • Historic Architecture of the Netherlands
  • Theatre Trends of Ancient Rome
  • The Thin Line Between Science Fiction and Science Fantasy.
  • Issues Faced By Adopted Children in their Teen Years
  • Lack of Ethical Practices in Drug Development
  • Environmental Management for Sustainable Living.

These examples are a good starting point for any student to dive deeper and form topics that win.

Research paper iIntroduction and outline writing tips

The introduction is a crucial part of your paper. This can either make or mar your work. In fact, it determines if your professor will have interest in reviewing your work. Hence, you can’t rush it, and we usually advise you to put it off until you’ve written your main body of text.

  • What your paper is about
  • Why they should keep reading
  • And how you plan to present your arguments

The way to go by this is simple. First, start by writing your topic clearly. Also, present your background and hold nothing back about your key terms and concepts. This tells your reader what you are about to discuss.

  • What new insight will your paper provide?
  • What essential issue will your paper help answer, or at least define?

By giving answers to these, your reader develops an interest in the whole of your paper.

For the last part of your introduction, let your reader know what to expect next in chronological order. It should be a text map that prepares your reader on how you plan to prove your claim.

  • List the major points that support your thesis and label them. You can use roman numerals for this.
  • Next, list supporting ideas or arguments that prove these points. You can label these with capital alphabet letters.
  • From these, you can keep creating sub-sections depending on if you have supporting points for your supporting ideas.

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What is APA?

In this section we are going to look at how you can set up a paper in APA style. Specifically, we are going to look at citing books and journal articles within your research paper.

APA is the style of documentation of sources used by the American Psychological Association. This form of writing research papers is used mainly in the social sciences, like psychology, anthropology, sociology, as well as education and other fields.

How Does APA Style Work?

When working with APA there are two things to keep in mind: in-text citations and the reference page. In-text citations will use the author’s name and the date within your research paper. These citations will refer back to the reference page at the end, which lists all the sources that you may have used in your research paper.

Note: If you are assigned a research paper in APA style for one of your courses, it’s a good idea to ask your instructor the questions below. He or she will be able to explain details about the requirements for the paper. For now, we will go over the basic instructions of how to use in-text citations and how to set up the reference page.

When Would I Have to Cite a Source in APA?

Anytime you summarize, paraphrase, or quote information from another source, like passages from books or articles in an academic journal, you are required to list within your text the author’s name and the year the article was published. There are a couple of ways this can be arranged. Here are a few examples.

  • Another theory came from the idea of the “matching hypothesis.” This was presented by Goffman (1952), who believed that men had the tendency to choose spouses who were of similar social status. The sums of these attributes include are social skills, wealth, power, intelligence, attractiveness, and other skills that are valued in society.

With the example above, the writer puts the author’s last name in the text and immediately after it puts the date in parentheses.

  • In 1971 Berscheid, Dion, Walster, and Walster conducted another “computer date” dance. This time they paired similar attractive persons together for the date. An independent panel of judges assessed the attractiveness of each of the subjects.

Here, the authors’ names and the date of publication are both put into the body of the text, without using parentheses.

Citing a Journal Article

If I cite a journal article in the body of my text does it mean that the authors of that journal article agree with the arguments in my paper?

No, not necessarily. Dr. Sadler, a professor in the psychology department at IUP, states that you can cite articles that will agree or disagree with your ideas. He goes on to say:

  • The agreement or disagreement should be conveyed by your wording. For example, “This interpretation is consistent with findings by Smith and Jones (1999) . . . .” Or, you might say, “If my prediction is confirmed, it would falsify the theory of episodic memory proposed by Tulving (1984)” Or, “A number of researchers do not agree with this view (e.g., Brown, 1993; Stevens, 1992; Treisman, 1994).”

So, not only can you use journal articles to support your ideas, but you can also use them to show that some authors do not agree with your ideas or have ideas different from yours.

Preparing to Cite A Source

How do I let the reader know that I am about to cite a source?

To let the reader know that a journal article is about to be cited in the body of your paper, you can use signal phrases that are appropriate for the ideas you want to express. These words include: adds, argues, claims, denies, illustrates, grants, notes, observes, suggests, etc. You could also use the standard “said.”

This is expressed in the sample below:

  • In an influential article, Terrace, Petitto, Sanders and Bever (1979) argued that the apes in the language experiments were not using language spontaneously but were merely imitating their trainers, responding to conscious or unconscious cues.

References Page

What is the References page and how is it put together?

The References page lists all the sources you have cited in your paper. The entry for a journal article should look like this:

  • Berscheid, E., Dion, K. K., Walster, E., and Walster, G. W. (1971). Physical attractiveness and dating choice: A test of the matching hypothesis. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7, 173-189.

As you can see in the example above, the authors’ names appear first (last name, first name). Then the year of publication is given in parentheses. Then the title is listed (with only the first word of the title, the first word after the colon, and proper nouns capitalized). Then the name of the journal (in italics) is listed, the volume number, and finally, the pages of the article.

For a book, the entry looks like this:

  • Schaller, G. B. (1993). The Last Panda. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

In the example above, the author’s name is listed (last name, first name), then the date, followed by the title with only the first word capitalized, the city of publication, and then the name of the publisher.

Written by Mariel Lorenz
This guide for APA was adapted from: Hacker, D. (2003). A Writer’ Reference. (5th ed.). Boston: St. Martin’s.
American Psychological Association. (2001).
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Updated January 28, 2005 by Renee Brown

Sample Papers

This page contains sample papers formatted in seventh edition APA Style. The sample papers show the format that authors should use to submit a manuscript for publication in a professional journal and that students should use to submit a paper to an instructor for a course assignment. You can download the Word files to use as templates and edit them as needed for the purposes of your own papers.

Most guidelines in the Publication Manual apply to both professional manuscripts and student papers. However, there are specific guidelines for professional papers versus student papers, including professional and student title page formats. All authors should check with the person or entity to whom they are submitting their paper (e.g., publisher or instructor) for guidelines that are different from or in addition to those specified by APA Style.

Sample papers from the Publication Manual

The following two sample papers were published in annotated form in the Publication Manual and are reproduced here as PDFs for your ease of use. The annotations draw attention to content and formatting and provide the relevant sections of the Publication Manual (7th ed.) to consult for more information.

We also offer these sample papers in Microsoft Word (.docx) format with the annotations as comments to the text.

Finally, we offer these sample papers in Microsoft Word (.docx) format without the annotations.

Sample professional paper templates by paper type

These sample papers demonstrate APA Style formatting standards for different professional paper types. Professional papers can contain many different elements depending on the nature of the work. Authors seeking publication should refer to the journal’s instructions for authors or manuscript submission guidelines for specific requirements and/or sections to include.

Sample papers are covered in Chapter 2 of the APA Publication Manual, Seventh Edition

This guidance is new to the 7th edition.

Related handouts

Other instructional aids

Sample student paper templates by paper type

These sample papers demonstrate APA Style formatting standards for different student paper types. Students may write the same types of papers as professional authors (e.g., quantitative studies, literature reviews) or other types of papers for course assignments (e.g., reaction or response papers, discussion posts), dissertations, and theses.

APA does not set formal requirements for the nature or contents of an APA Style student paper. Students should follow the guidelines and requirements of their instructor, department, and/or institution when writing papers. For instance, an abstract and keywords are not required for APA Style student papers, although an instructor may request them in student papers that are longer or more complex. Specific questions about a paper being written for a course assignment should be directed to the instructor or institution assigning the paper.

Sample papers in real life

Although published articles differ in format from manuscripts submitted for publication or student papers (e.g., different line spacing, font, margins, and column format), articles published in APA journals provide excellent demonstrations of APA Style in action.

APA journals began publishing papers in seventh edition APA Style in 2020. Professional authors should check the author submission guidelines for the journal to which they want to submit their paper for any journal-specific style requirements.

Credits for sample professional paper templates

Quantitative professional paper template: Adapted from “Fake News, Fast and Slow: Deliberation Reduces Belief in False (but Not True) News Headlines,” by B. Bago, D. G. Rand, and G. Pennycook, 2020, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 149(8), pp. 1608–1613 (https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000729). Copyright 2020 by the American Psychological Association.

Qualitative professional paper template: Adapted from “‘My Smartphone Is an Extension of Myself’: A Holistic Qualitative Exploration of the Impact of Using a Smartphone,” by L. J. Harkin and D. Kuss, 2020, Psychology of Popular Media, 10(1), pp. 28–38 (https://doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000278). Copyright 2020 by the American Psychological Association.

Mixed methods professional paper template: Adapted from “‘I Am a Change Agent’: A Mixed Methods Analysis of Students’ Social Justice Value Orientation in an Undergraduate Community Psychology Course,” by D. X. Henderson, A. T. Majors, and M. Wright, 2019, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 7(1), 68–80. (https://doi.org/10.1037/stl0000171). Copyright 2019 by the American Psychological Association.

Literature review professional paper template: Adapted from “Rethinking Emotions in the Context of Infants’ Prosocial Behavior: The Role of Interest and Positive Emotions,” by S. I. Hammond and J. K. Drummond, 2019, Developmental Psychology, 55(9), pp. 1882–1888 (https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000685). Copyright 2019 by the American Psychological Association.

Review professional paper template: Adapted from “Joining the Conversation: Teaching Students to Think and Communicate Like Scholars,” by E. L. Parks, 2022, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 8(1), pp. 70–78 (https://doi.org/10.1037/stl0000193). Copyright 2020 by the American Psychological Association.

Credits for sample student paper templates

These papers came from real students who gave their permission to have them edited and posted by APA.

What is APA Style?

The APA (American Psychological Association) style format is the preferred citation style for social science research papers. What does APA style mean? APA style is a set of guidelines for writing and formatting research papers in psychology and related fields. APA is frequently used in the fields of economics, criminology, political science, sociology, business, and pedagogy. When we talk about APA style in research, we are talking about the rules for what a research paper must contain and how it should be written. APA provides specific guidelines for nearly all aspects of manuscript formatting, from font choice to margins and punctuation.

Why Do We Use APA Style?
We use APA style for several important reasons. First, APA is referred to as a citation style because it includes specific rules for how the references you cite should be formatted and indicated in your research paper. Proper citation ensures that you will never be accused of plagiarism and lets others who read your paper understand where you got your information. Second, APA style provides style and writing guidelines to make sure that your research paper is easy to read and has all of the necessary elements. The primary purpose of APA style is to promote scientific communication by facilitating clarity of expression and standardizing the organization and content of manuscript formatting.

What Does APA Style Include?
So, what is included in an APA style research paper? In fact, APA style has three levels. The first level dictates organization. The second level addresses writing style and language use. The third level deals with mechanics such as punctuation. Let’s begin with the first level – organization.

Level 1 – Organization

An APA style research paper must include:

  • A title page– limit your title to a maximum of 12 words and avoid the use of abbreviations and unnecessary words
  • An abstract– the abstract should discuss the topic under study, the research questions, any subjects of the research, your research methods, the findings/results, analysis of the data, and your conclusions
  • An introduction– address the problem and premise upon which the research was based
  • Your methodology– explain in detail how you did your research
  • Your results– explain what you found
  • A discussion– talk about what your findings mean
  • References – a list of the sources you cited

There are more specific guidelines for the manuscript formatting of abstracts and title pages, many examples of which can easily be found by referring to the APA Manual of Style.

Level 2 – Writing Style

An APA style research paper should be written formally. Your intended audience is other academics, your colleagues, and you want to communicate with them very clearly and professionally. This means:

  • No slang
  • No pop culture references
  • No humor
  • Minimize literary devices (metaphors, irony, imagery, etc.)
  • Be direct and straightforward
  • Use technical terms, but only where appropriate
  • Avoid biased language

In other words, your writing should sound as clear and neutral as possible. It is recommended that you avoid using colorful language to try to sound fancy. For example, if you had your research subjects jump up and down on one leg for ten minutes, say so. Don’t try to use complex phrasing like “participants utilized a unipedal movement to propel themselves off of the ground and then return to land.” With regard to biased language, always use gender-inclusive language (firefighters vs. firemen). Use specific group labels (Asian Americans vs. minorities) and avoid euphemisms (adults with learning disabilities vs. special adults). It’s always a good idea to Google search any terms you want to use if you aren’t sure whether they are offensive or not.

Level 3 – Mechanics

APA style manuscript formatting demands the use of double-spacing and 8.5 x 11 paper with 1-inch margins. Times New Roman 12pt font is recommended. There are a large number of specific recommendations for proper manuscript formatting of an APA style paper, which can be found in the APA Manual of Style. Some of the most common recommendations include:

  • Use title case for headings
  • Use numerals for numbers 10 and above
  • Hyphenate compound adjectives that precede a noun (fact-checking organization,not fact checking organization)
  • Spell out a term before introducing its abbreviation in parentheses (the United Nations (UN))
  • Left align all tables and figures
  • Use in-text citations for sources
  • Use footnotes sparingly

What is APA Citation?

Citation in APA style follows a specific format. In general, you should cite citations in the text and then provide the full citation in the “References” section at the end of your paper. Note that APA style requires this section to be titled “References.” “Works Cited” or “Bibliography” is not an acceptable alternative in APA style manuscript formatting.

Citation style will differ somewhat depending on whether you are citing a journal article, book, blog entry, news article, conference paper, social media post, or some other type of media. For the sake of a simple example, we will cite a journal article here.

In-text Citation Example

  1. According to some scholars (Lee, 2005), civil society in South Korea plays a divisive rather than a unifying role in the nation’s fledgling democracy.
  2. Lee (2005) argues that civil society in South Korea plays a divisive rather than a unifying role in the nation’s fledgling democracy.

References Citation Example

Lee, S. J. (2005). Democratization and polarization in Korean society. Asian Perspective, 99-125.

Fortunately, you don’t need to worry about memorizing the tricky details of APA citation for every media format you might cite in your research paper. Citation generators abound online that can do the job for you. However, it’s always a good idea to double-check the APA Manual of Style to make sure your references are cited correctly.

Now that you know what APA style is all about, you’re ready to write a great research paper! Remember, there are numerous online sources that can help you format your citations. Always check the APA Manual of Style or ask your professor or advisor for help if you need it. Once you get the hang of it, writing in APA style will come naturally to you.

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13.1 Formatting a Research Paper

In this chapter, you will learn how to use APA style , the documentation and formatting style followed by the American Psychological Association, as well as MLA style , from the Modern Language Association. There are a few major formatting styles used in academic texts, including AMA, Chicago, and Turabian:

  • AMA (American Medical Association) for medicine, health, and biological sciences
  • APA (American Psychological Association) for education, psychology, and the social sciences
  • Chicago—a common style used in everyday publications like magazines, newspapers, and books
  • MLA (Modern Language Association) for English, literature, arts, and humanities
  • Turabian—another common style designed for its universal application across all subjects and disciplines

While all the formatting and citation styles have their own use and applications, in this chapter we focus our attention on the two styles you are most likely to use in your academic studies: APA and MLA.

If you find that the rules of proper source documentation are difficult to keep straight, you are not alone. Writing a good research paper is, in and of itself, a major intellectual challenge. Having to follow detailed citation and formatting guidelines as well may seem like just one more task to add to an already-too-long list of requirements.

Following these guidelines, however, serves several important purposes. First, it signals to your readers that your paper should be taken seriously as a student’s contribution to a given academic or professional field; it is the literary equivalent of wearing a tailored suit to a job interview. Second, it shows that you respect other people’s work enough to give them proper credit for it. Finally, it helps your reader find additional materials if he or she wishes to learn more about your topic.

Furthermore, producing a letter-perfect APA-style paper need not be burdensome. Yes, it requires careful attention to detail. However, you can simplify the process if you keep these broad guidelines in mind:

  • Work ahead whenever you can.Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” includes tips for keeping track of your sources early in the research process, which will save time later on.
  • Get it right the first time. Apply APA guidelines as you write, so you will not have much to correct during the editing stage. Again, putting in a little extra time early on can save time later.
  • Use the resources available to you. In addition to the guidelines provided in this chapter, you may wish to consult the APA website at http://www.apa.org or the Purdue University Online Writing lab at http://owl.english.purdue.edu, which regularly updates its online style guidelines.

General Formatting Guidelines

This chapter provides detailed guidelines for using the citation and formatting conventions developed by the American Psychological Association, or APA. Writers in disciplines as diverse as astrophysics, biology, psychology, and education follow APA style. The major components of a paper written in APA style are listed in the following box.

These are the major components of an APA-style paper:

  1. Title page
  2. Abstract

Body, which includes the following:

  • Headings and, if necessary, subheadings to organize the content
  • In-text citations of research sources

All these components must be saved in one document, not as separate documents.

Title Page

The title page of your paper includes the following information:

  • Title of the paper
  • Author’s name
  • Name of the institution with which the author is affiliated
  • Header at the top of the page with the paper title (in capital letters) and the page number (If the title is lengthy, you may use a shortened form of it in the header.)

List the first three elements in the order given in the previous list, centered about one third of the way down from the top of the page. Use the headers and footers tool of your word-processing program to add the header, with the title text at the left and the page number in the upper-right corner. Your title page should look like the following example.

Beyond the Hype: Evaluating Low-Carb Diets cover page


The next page of your paper provides an abstract , or brief summary of your findings. An abstract does not need to be provided in every paper, but an abstract should be used in papers that include a hypothesis. A good abstract is concise—about one hundred fifty to two hundred fifty words—and is written in an objective, impersonal style. Your writing voice will not be as apparent here as in the body of your paper. When writing the abstract, take a just-the-facts approach, and summarize your research question and your findings in a few sentences.

In Chapter 12 “Writing a Research Paper”, you read a paper written by a student named Jorge, who researched the effectiveness of low-carbohydrate diets. Read Jorge’s abstract. Note how it sums up the major ideas in his paper without going into excessive detail.

Beyond the Hype: Abstract

Exercise 1

Write an abstract summarizing your paper. Briefly introduce the topic, state your findings, and sum up what conclusions you can draw from your research. Use the word count feature of your word-processing program to make sure your abstract does not exceed one hundred fifty words.

Depending on your field of study, you may sometimes write research papers that present extensive primary research, such as your own experiment or survey. In your abstract, summarize your research question and your findings, and briefly indicate how your study relates to prior research in the field.

Margins, Pagination, and Headings

APA style requirements also address specific formatting concerns, such as margins, pagination, and heading styles, within the body of the paper. Review the following APA guidelines.

Use these general guidelines to format the paper:

  1. Set the top, bottom, and side margins of your paper at 1 inch.
  2. Use double-spaced text throughout your paper.
  3. Use a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, in a legible size (10- to 12-point).
  4. Use continuous pagination throughout the paper, including the title page and the references section. Page numbers appear flush right within your header.
  5. Section headings and subsection headings within the body of your paper use different types of formatting depending on the level of information you are presenting. Additional details from Jorge’s paper are provided.

Cover Page


Exercise 2

Begin formatting the final draft of your paper according to APA guidelines. You may work with an existing document or set up a new document if you choose. Include the following:

  • Your title page
  • The abstract you created in Note 13.8 “Exercise 1”
  • Correct headers and page numbers for your title page and abstract


APA style uses section headings to organize information, making it easy for the reader to follow the writer’s train of thought and to know immediately what major topics are covered. Depending on the length and complexity of the paper, its major sections may also be divided into subsections, sub-subsections, and so on. These smaller sections, in turn, use different heading styles to indicate different levels of information. In essence, you are using headings to create a hierarchy of information.

The following heading styles used in APA formatting are listed in order of greatest to least importance:

  1. Section headings use centered, boldface type. Headings use title case, with important words in the heading capitalized.
  2. Subsection headings use left-aligned, boldface type. Headings use title case.
  3. The third level uses left-aligned, indented, boldface type. Headings use a capital letter only for the first word, and they end in a period.
  4. The fourth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are boldfaced and italicized.
  5. The fifth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are italicized and not boldfaced.

Visually, the hierarchy of information is organized as indicated in Table 13.1 “Section Headings”.

Table 13.1 Section Headings

Level of Information Text Example
Level 1 Heart Disease
Level 2 Lifestyle Factors That Reduce Heart Disease Risk
Level 3 Exercising regularly.
Level 4 Aerobic exercise.
Level 5 Country line dancing.

A college research paper may not use all the heading levels shown in Table 13.1 “Section Headings”, but you are likely to encounter them in academic journal articles that use APA style. For a brief paper, you may find that level 1 headings suffice. Longer or more complex papers may need level 2 headings or other lower-level headings to organize information clearly. Use your outline to craft your major section headings and determine whether any subtopics are substantial enough to require additional levels of headings.

Exercise 3

Working with the document you developed in Note 13.11 “Exercise 2”, begin setting up the heading structure of the final draft of your research paper according to APA guidelines. Include your title and at least two to three major section headings, and follow the formatting guidelines provided above. If your major sections should be broken into subsections, add those headings as well. Use your outline to help you.

Because Jorge used only level 1 headings, his Exercise 3 would look like the following:

Level of Information Text Example
Level 1 Purported Benefits of Low-Carbohydrate Diets
Level 1 Research on Low-Carbohydrate Diets and Weight Loss
Level 1 Other Long-Term Health Outcomes
Level 1 Conclusion

Citation Guidelines

In-Text Citations

Throughout the body of your paper, include a citation whenever you quote or paraphrase material from your research sources. As you learned in Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?”, the purpose of citations is twofold: to give credit to others for their ideas and to allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired. Your in-text citations provide basic information about your source; each source you cite will have a longer entry in the references section that provides more detailed information.

In-text citations must provide the name of the author or authors and the year the source was published. (When a given source does not list an individual author, you may provide the source title or the name of the organization that published the material instead.) When directly quoting a source, it is also required that you include the page number where the quote appears in your citation.

This information may be included within the sentence or in a parenthetical reference at the end of the sentence, as in these examples.

Epstein (2010) points out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

Here, the writer names the source author when introducing the quote and provides the publication date in parentheses after the author’s name. The page number appears in parentheses after the closing quotation marks and before the period that ends the sentence.

Addiction researchers caution that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (Epstein, 2010, p. 137).

Here, the writer provides a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence that includes the author’s name, the year of publication, and the page number separated by commas. Again, the parenthetical citation is placed after the closing quotation marks and before the period at the end of the sentence.

As noted in the book Junk Food, Junk Science (Epstein, 2010, p. 137), “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive.”

Here, the writer chose to mention the source title in the sentence (an optional piece of information to include) and followed the title with a parenthetical citation. Note that the parenthetical citation is placed before the comma that signals the end of the introductory phrase.

David Epstein’s book Junk Food, Junk Science (2010) pointed out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

Another variation is to introduce the author and the source title in your sentence and include the publication date and page number in parentheses within the sentence or at the end of the sentence. As long as you have included the essential information, you can choose the option that works best for that particular sentence and source.

Citing a book with a single author is usually a straightforward task. Of course, your research may require that you cite many other types of sources, such as books or articles with more than one author or sources with no individual author listed. You may also need to cite sources available in both print and online and nonprint sources, such as websites and personal interviews. Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting”, Section 13.2 “Citing and Referencing Techniques” and Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provide extensive guidelines for citing a variety of source types.

Writing at Work

APA is just one of several different styles with its own guidelines for documentation, formatting, and language usage. Depending on your field of interest, you may be exposed to additional styles, such as the following:

  • MLA style. Determined by the Modern Languages Association and used for papers in literature, languages, and other disciplines in the humanities.
  • Chicago style. Outlined in the Chicago Manual of Style and sometimes used for papers in the humanities and the sciences; many professional organizations use this style for publications as well.
  • Associated Press (AP) style. Used by professional journalists.

References List

The brief citations included in the body of your paper correspond to the more detailed citations provided at the end of the paper in the references section. In-text citations provide basic information—the author’s name, the publication date, and the page number if necessary—while the references section provides more extensive bibliographical information. Again, this information allows your reader to follow up on the sources you cited and do additional reading about the topic if desired.

The specific format of entries in the list of references varies slightly for different source types, but the entries generally include the following information:

  • The name(s) of the author(s) or institution that wrote the source
  • The year of publication and, where applicable, the exact date of publication
  • The full title of the source
  • For books, the city of publication
  • For articles or essays, the name of the periodical or book in which the article or essay appears
  • For magazine and journal articles, the volume number, issue number, and pages where the article appears
  • For sources on the web, the URL where the source is located

The references page is double spaced and lists entries in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If an entry continues for more than one line, the second line and each subsequent line are indented five spaces. Review the following example. (Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting”, Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provides extensive guidelines for formatting reference entries for different types of sources.)

How to Write a Paper in APA Format

Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

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The APA format is a set of citation and formatting guidelines developed by the American Psychological Association, or APA. These guidelines are documented in the “Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association” and are used by students and professionals in a variety of disciplines, including business, economics, nursing, and, of course, psychology.

The publication manual provides writers with a consistent formula for acknowledging the works of others. It also provides fairly comprehensive guidelines for how to order, structure, and format a paper, as well as practical writing and grammar tips.

If you’ve never written an APA paper before, the formatting rules and guidelines can seem daunting and difficult at first. You might be used to writing papers in another format such as MLA or Chicago style, so it might take some time to get the hang of writing in APA format. Familiarizing yourself with some of the basics is a great place to start.

APA Format Guidelines

Although your instructor, institution, or publisher may have other specific formatting requirements for you to follow, there are some general guidelines you should know. These include:

  • Paper size: Use standard, white, 8.5 x 11–inch paper.
  • Margins: Set page margins to 1-inch on all sides.
  • Line spacing: Type and double-space your paper. Do not add extra space before or after paragraphs.
  • Font: A variety of accessible fonts are allowed. Acceptable choices include sans serif fonts (such as 11-point Calibri and 11-point Arial) and serif fonts (such as 12-point Times New Roman).
  • Page header: The page header appears within the top margin of every page of the paper. For student papers, the page header only consists of the page number, which is located in the top right corner of each page. Professional paper headers consist of the page number and running head (top left corner).

The seventh edition of the APA publication manual was published in October of 2019. In addition to following any specific requirements of a publisher or instructor, you should always consult the latest edition of the publication manual if you have any questions about formatting or style.

Sections of an APA Format Paper

The exact structure of your paper will vary somewhat depending upon the type of paper you have been asked to write. For example, a lab report might be structured a bit differently than a case study or critique paper. Sometimes submitting a manuscript for publication in a journal can be even more complex because each study type and journal has its own format you must adhere to.

But no matter what type of APA paper you are writing, you should include four key sections: a title page, an abstract, the main body of the paper, and a reference section.

Title Page

The title page is the cover page of your APA format paper. As its name suggests, the goal of the title page is to present the title. This is where you can inform and engage your reader without being too wordy.

The title page should include the following components:

  • Title of the paper
  • Names of all authors
  • Institutional affiliations
  • Author’s note and running head (for professional papers only)
  • Course number and name, instructor name, and assignment due date (for student papers only)


The abstract is a brief (around 150 to 250 words) but comprehensive summary of your paper. This summary helps your reader decide whether it is worth their time to read the rest of the paper.

An APA abstract is found on its own page, directly after the title page. It usually includes the following major aspects of your paper:

  • The overall purpose of your paper
  • Clearly stated hypotheses
  • Information regarding the method and participants
  • Main findings
  • Conclusions
  • Implications/significance of your findings

Most professional papers that are submitted for publication require an abstract, but abstracts are usually not required for student papers. If you are not sure, please ask your instructor if an abstract is required for your paper.

The exact format of this section can vary depending upon the type of paper you are writing. For example, if you are writing a lab report, the main body will include an introduction, a method section, a results section, and a discussion section.

Check with your instructor or publication guidelines for more specific information on what to include in the main body of your APA paper.


The reference section is where you provide detailed information about all the references you used throughout your paper. This section should begin on a new page, with the word “References” centered at the very top of the page.

  • The first line of each reference should be flush left, with additional lines of the reference indented.
  • All references should be double-spaced.
  • All references should be listed alphabetically by the last name of the first author.
  • Any books or materials written by the same author(s) should be listed in chronological order from oldest to most recent
  • Use whatever capitalization and punctuation is used by the source, even if not “standard.”
  • Book titles and journal titles should be italicized.

According to the “Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association,” if there is a citation in the body of the paper, it must also appear in the reference list and vice versa.

While writing an APA paper may seem difficult or confusing, start by breaking it down into more manageable steps.

  • Preparation: Begin by doing your research. As you begin researching your topic, creating an outline and a working bibliography can help you structure your paper and keep track of all of the references you use.
  • Abstract: It may be tempting to start by writing your abstract because it is short and appears in the first section of your paper. However, it should be written last so that it accurately summarizes the paper. Only write the abstract section of your paper after you are completely finished writing your paper.
  • Body: As a general rule, use the past tense (e.g., “was,” “stated”) or past perfect or present perfect tense (e.g., “had been,” “have shown”) throughout an empirical research paper. Also, do not use contractions (e.g., “it does not follow” rather than “it doesn’t follow”).
  • References: Be sure to keep a careful record of all your references. Using a citation tool is a great way to manage, organize, and correctly cite your references.
  • Edit: Review your finished APA paper to ensure that your language, citations, and formatting are correct.

If you need additional help with APA format, consider purchasing your own copy of the APA publication manual.

APA format has changed over the years, so there are different iterations found in earlier editions of the official publication manual. While online sites can offer helpful tips, always consult the most recent version of the publication manual if you have questions.


The APA also offers accessibility guidelines for students who need accommodations for a disability. This includes changes to aspects of a paper including typography, headings, URLs, and the use of color.

A Word From Verywell

Writing your first APA format paper can be a little intimidating, but learning some of the basic rules of APA style can help. Always remember, however, to consult the directions provided by your instructor or publication.

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