How to Write APA Format (Plus Rules and Important Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 31, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Specific writing formats make it easier for editors and readers of a particular discipline to read and understand a paper. American Psychological Association (APA) format is a style that many fields use. As a professional, you may use APA format to write reports for your organization or research papers for submission to journals. In this article, we answer how to write APA format, provide its common and specific formatting rules, and highlight tips when using APA.

How to write APA format

If you want to learn how to write APA format, you can follow the guidelines set in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition). The APA format is a set of writing standards that addresses writing style, organization, citations and references, and manuscript preparation.

The American Psychological Association (APA) issues the publication manual of the same name that provides guidelines for authors who want to write in this format. It's the style most students and professionals use in fields like business and psychology. The following are some general formatting guidelines to help you write an APA paper:

1. Create your title page

The title page in APA format follows a specific arrangement. To create a title page, include the following elements in the following order:

  • Header: Include the page number on the top right corner of the header on the title page. For professional papers, also include the abbreviated form of the paper title.

  • Paper title: Three or four lines down from the top of the page, center and bold your paper's title. Place any subtitle on a separate line from the main title and capitalize the first and last words of the title and the subtitle, the first word after a colon or em dash, all parts of a major hyphenated word, and any word with four or more letters.

  • Author name: Write your first name, middle initial, and last name below the paper title. For a two-author paper, separate the names with the word and or if there are three or more authors, separate each name with a comma, with the word and before the final author name.

  • Author affiliation: On a separate centred line below the byline, include the department's name and the institution, with a comma between them. For professionals, place each affiliation on a separate line and connect it to the appropriate author with a superscript numeral.

  • Author note: On the bottom half of the page, center and bold the heading Author Note. Organize the information in separate, left-aligned, indented paragraphs, omitting any information that does not apply to your paper.

Related: Understanding the 4 Writing Styles (And How to Use Them)

2. Write your abstract

The abstract is a summary of the content of a paper that appears on the second page. It's 250 words long and includes an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, and conclusion. The APA requires the abstract to be a single paragraph, double-spaced without headings.

On the first page after the title page, center the word Abstract with no additional formatting on the first line. Beginning on the line after that, without indenting, write a single paragraph of not more than 250 words about your key findings. Include your topic, questions, participants, methods, results, data, and conclusions. You can include keywords on a new, indented line with the word Keywords in italic, then the key terms in roman type, with commas separating them.

Related: How to Write a Conclusion for a Research Paper (And Example)

3. Write the main body under specific headings and subheadings

After the abstract, format your paper to have a clear structure with particular headings and subheadings. Here are the formatting rules for headings and subheadings:

  • Main heading: Centre and bold the main heading and write in title case.

  • Level two subheading: Align it to the left, set it in bold, and format it in title case.

  • Level three subheading: Write in bold sentence case and align it to left.

  • Level four subheading: Indent, set the subheading in bold, write it in title case, and punctuate it with a period.

  • Level five subheading: Indent, set the subheading in bold and italic, write it in title case, and punctuate it with a period.

4. Cite your sources

Credit the original author if you include quotes, paraphrases, or summaries of any information obtained from another source. Basic rules for citing sources in the main text:

  • Use an author's last name and the publication year in parentheses when typing a direct quote.

  • Place a comma after the author's name and put the page number in parentheses if you paraphrase or summarize only part of a sentence from your source.

  • Place a colon after the first sentence and put the page number in parentheses if you use two or more consecutive sentences from your source.

  • Begin with the author of the first piece of information if you use more than one source for a given claim or idea.

  • List additional sources alphabetically by author's last name and date cited.

5. Format tables

Tables can help readers quickly scan and understand your data. APA format tables can be either above the text that they illustrate or on a separate page following your reference list.

Create tables in APA format with headings, columns, and rows that are easy to read without reference to the paper. APA format for tables includes general location information followed by a colon, table label at the centre, bold, and in italics, unit of measure, table title in italics, footnotes, and notes.

6. Create your reference list

APA requires a standard approach to citing sources using in-text citations and a reference list at the end of every paper. In-text citations provide a brief description within parentheses when introducing a paraphrased sentence or idea from another source. Begin alphabetizing entries in an APA-style references list by author's last name, then title, then date of publication. Each of these items requires a hanging indent that is a one-half inch away from the margin.

After the main body of the paper, add a separate page with the title "References" to your paper and list all sources. Type your references in alphabetical order according to the first author's last name and include the publication date and page number in parentheses. When writing an APA-style paper, your reference list can only contain items you cited in your paper's text. Therefore, every time you add a new source to your reference list, delete the older sources you no longer cite.

Importance of using APA format

Here are some reasons to use the APA format:

Standard format

When you use APA format, your paper may conform to a standard style that is used by many journals in the social sciences. Many peer-reviewed journals accept its usage, making it easier to get your research published. The standard format also allows readers to understand your paper quickly.

Easy to read

The APA format is easy to read. Headings divide the paper into sections and sub-sections, and font sizes and types are standard throughout the document. This makes it less likely that your reader may squint or use a magnifying glass to read the paper. It also makes it easier for a reader to find specific information in your document.

Consistent presentation

When you use APA format, you can present all of the information in your paper consistently. This makes it easier for the reader to understand your work and compare it with other papers. It also allows them to find the information that they are looking for quickly.

Common APA format rules

Though there may be variations in details between written works, there are common guidelines that all APA-formatted papers follow. These include:

  • Margins: Set one-inch margins on all sides. It's best to use a ruler to ensure accuracy.

  • Spacing: Double-space the entire document, including the title page, abstract, main body, and references list. It's also helpful to double-space between paragraphs.

  • Font: Select a font that's easy to read. APA recommends Times New Roman typeface in 12-point size.

  • Running head: On the top left of every page, include a shortened version of your title in all capital letters. This may be no more than 50 characters, including spaces.

  • Page numbers: In the upper right corner of every page, include the current page number. To follow the format, start the page numbering after the title page or the abstract.

  • Table of contents: If your document is long, you may want to include a table of contents. To create one, simply insert page numbers before the section headings in your document.

Related: How to Write an Effective Abstract

Tips to follow the APA format correctly

Here are a few tips to help you follow the APA guidelines:

  • Label the page numbers for headings and subheadings.

  • Indent under a heading or subheading.

  • Use the appropriate number of headings.

  • Cite all sources.

  • Credit ideas to authors.

  • Use the hanging indent for references.

  • Capitalize following the APA guidelines.

  • Use italics when you want to emphasize a word or phrase.

  • Proofread your work carefully before submission.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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