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APA Formatting

When instructors ask you to write a paper using APA formatting, they are referring to the editorial style of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition. APA Style was designed to ensure clear and consistent presentation of written material. When writing in APA Style, it is important to focus on the format of your paper, including headings, your abstract, and citing references both in-text and on your reference list.

For more information about APA Style, please visit:

Papers should be double-spaced (do not quadruple-space between paragraphs or sections) with 1" margins on all sides. APA recommends using a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Calibri, at 12 pt.

Every page should have a page header that includes a running head and a page number.  The running head is a shortened form of the title of the paper (50 characters or less).  It should be in all capital letters and left justified; the page number should be right justified.

The running head on your title page will be slightly different than the running head in the rest of the paper.  On that page only the words ‘running head’ and a colon appear before the running head. Click here to view our sample APA paper.  

There are five levels of headings in APA Style.  Each section of a paper starts with the highest level of heading, the lower level of headings are used as subheadings are needed.  Headings are used only in the body of the paper and are not used for the introduction.




Centered, Bold, Upper & Lowercase


Flush Left, Bold, Upper & Lowercase


Indented, bold, lowercase ending with a period.


Indented, bold, italicized, lowercase ending with a period.


Indented, italicized, lowercase ending with a period.


According to the APA Manual, an abstract is a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of an article.  It does not evaluate the content of an article, but rather accurately reports on the contents of an article.  The abstract should be concise (150-250 words) and include the four or five most important concepts, findings, or implications.

Direct Quote vs. Paraphrasing
A direct quote is where you include a word-for-word copy of the source text into your work. A paraphrase is your interpretation of the source text in your own words. Please note that merely substituting or changing a couple of words in a direct quote is not a paraphrase. A paraphrase is articulating what you believe, through your own understanding and language, is the salient idea of the source text you are referencing. However you do not need to change every word when paraphrasing. You may borrow keywords and discipline-specific language to keep the consistency of thought. Avoid using whole ‘phrases’ in your paraphrase. If you are unable to put a phrase in your own language than you may directly quote the phrase within your paraphrase.  

All details from the original source do not need to be included in a paraphrase.  The writer (you) decide on what is worth sharing from the original source. A paraphrase is an analysis, by putting their ideas or data in your own words you are laying bare the structure, organization or validity of their work.

When using a direct quote or when paraphrasing it is imperative to attribute the information to the proper source through citation.

Citing References within the text (in-text citations)
You should cite any ideas, theories, or research that has influenced your work.  Even if you paraphrase or summarize a work in your own words, you need to give credit to the original author. You should also cite any fact or figure that is not common knowledge (ex. statistics).  If  you present the work of another author as your own original thought you are plagiarizing; therefore track your sources as you write your paper and cite often.

APA Style in-text citations use an author (last name only) and date either in parenthesis (usually at the end of a sentence) or within the text of the sentence.  For example:

Smith (2014) found that students often excel at using APA Style. OR

Students often excel at using APA Style (Smith, 2014)

If you are using a direct quote from a source you must use quotation marks and provide the author, year, and page or paragraph number.  For example:

Smith (2014) indicated, “although students struggle at first they often quickly learn APA style” (para. 5).

If you directly quote a source more than 40 words you will start the quote in a freestanding block of text. The block will be indented 1/2 inch from the left margin (one tab space--same as a new paragraph). Passages more than forty words do not require quotations because they will be indented. Include the author, year of publication and page number of source at the end of the quote (Smith, 2014, p. 170).

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition covers citing references in text at length on pages 169-179.  Information in these pages include citing works with multiple authors, citing organizations as authors, and citing work with Citation Styles.

The Reference List
References consist of the information your reader would need to efficiently access your cited source. In APA you must include the full reference of works cited in your text at the end of your paper. This section is titled, “References” (bold and center justified at the top of the page) and is one page after your last page of text. All works cited in your paper must be included in your references; works that are not cited within the text of your paper should NOT be included in your reference list.

For every type of source in APA there is a specific format to properly reference. In other words you would format a journal article with three authors differently than a report found on a government website. To find these rules and examples on how to properly cite references refer to pages 198-224 in your APA manual (6th Edition).

Remember: in APA all ideas, theories, or research that has influenced your work must be cited in the text and have a corresponding full citation at the end of the work.

The DOI System
The Digital Object Identifier (DOI) is a unique alphanumeric categorization that replaces URL's in references for a particular source. If a work has been published and made available electronically it should be assigned a DOI number. The system does away with long and often cumbersome URL's in your references. If a work has a DOI number it should be clearly labeled on the database landing page of the source of reference, or on the top left of the title page of the article.

APA Manual Page Number Guide
Below you will find a list of the most frequently used information in the APA manual along with a corresponding page number.

  • Abstract: 25
  • Sample Papers: 41 - 59
  • Levels of Headings: 62
  • Proper use of Abbreviations: 106
  • Numbers Expressed in Numerals: 111
  • Numbers Expressed in Words: 112
  • How to format quotations: 170
  • How to quote online material with no page numbers: 171-172
  • Citing References in Text: 174-179
  • Works by Multiple Authors: 175
  • Groups as Authors: 176
  • Works with no Author: 176
  • Table of Basic Citation Styles: 177
  • Secondary Sources (citing work you found in another author’s text): 178
  • Personal Communication (email, conversations): 179
  • Referencing Electronic Sources: 187-192
  • Reference Examples: 198-224
    • Journal Article: 198
    • Books/Book Chapters: 202
    •  Entry in an online reference work: 205
    •  Government Report: 205
    • Paper presentation or poster session: 206
    • Informally published work (websites): 212

Free APA Style Tutorial

The American Psychological Association offers a guided presentation that reviews the basics of APA style in a number of areas. The presentation is a free resource and can be accessed here (Shockwave Flash required). For less common questions, the APA Style Blog is a repository of answers to style concerns and discussions of best practices written by the APA editors.

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