APA Paper Format Guidelines Every Student Should Know

Categories : Writing Resources

The American Psychological Association (APA format) is the standard style used in social sciences, education and psychology. 

General APA Paper Format Guidelines

Type essay on a standard-sized word document (8.5″ x 11″) and observe the following:

Margins:  1 on all sides

Spacing: double spaced 

Cover Page:  Title of your paper, name and institution of affiliation

Header: all APA formatted papers should include a “running head” on the header of each page. The running head should not exceed 50 characters and is usually a shorter version of your Title. Also make sure you insert page numbers on the top right corner of each page.

Font: APA format requires that all papers be written in legible and accessible font- more importantly, use a single font consistently throughout your paper.

 While there are most of the fonts available on Microsoft word are considered legitimate in the APA 6th and 7th manuals, most institutions recommend 12-point Times New Roman as the standard font. 

APA Paper Format 7th Edition

NB: Only APA 7 the edition will be considered henceforth, click here to access the APA 6th edition full guide. 

APA formatted papers should contain at least four sections i.e. Cover page, Abstract, Main Body, and reference page.   

APA Cover Page / Title Page

The 7th edition of APA provides slightly different instructions for formatting the cover page of professional essays.

As a rule of thumb, the title page of your paper should contain your name, the title of your paper, and the institution of affiliation.

All student papers should also include the assignment due date, the name of your instructor, course name, and number.  A professional paper (e.g. those intended for publication purposes) must contain an author note. 

The title should appear on the upper half your cover page- type the title in boldface with no caps lock)

While it is acceptable to use a title that it is more than one line long, remember to keep it short and succinct. Also, avoid using abbreviations and unnecessary words.

Here is a quick recap of the elements to include in the title page of an APA formatted paper:  

  • A succinct paper title 
  • The author(s)’ name
  • The institution of affiliation
  • A running head
  • Page numbers on each page.

NB: APA 7th edition comes with slightly different formatting rules for student papers.For example, student papers no longer contain a running head. Here is what else you need to include in the title page of your paper: Here is what you need to include in the title page of your paper if you are student: 

  • A short title that summarizes the contents of your paper. 
  • Student name 
  • Institution of affiliation 
  • The course and number, for example, ENGL 105. 
  • The name and title of the course instructor (use formats such as Ms, Dr., Mr.
  • The date the paper is due (you can use either of these two recommended formats  September 3, 2020, or 3 September 2020
  • A page number at the top right corner  

APA Abstract

Also referred to as the executive summary, an abstract is a short and concise summary of your paper. Typically, an abstract should be 150- 250 words in length.

In scientific research papers, an abstract is used to introduce the problem statement and objectives of the paper. 

An abstract should also include information about the methods and participants, study findings, and conclusions. 

APA Abstract format

The following elements should be addressed in the abstract: 

  • A short review of the current literature.
  • The research question or problem under research.
  • The paper hypothesis
  • Methodology: sample size, participants and study design
  • Findings

Example of APA Abstract page (and Cover page) 

APA paper format abstract page

APA Font Style

Here is what the American Psychological Association states in relation to font selection: 

“We recommend these fonts because they are legible and widely available and because they include special characters such as math symbols and Greek letters. Historically, sans serif fonts have been preferred for online works and serif fonts for print works; however, modern screen resolutions can typically accommodate either type of font, and people who use assistive technologies can adjust font settings to their preferences. For more on how font relates to accessibility, visit the page on the accessibility of APA Style (APA.org).”

Remember to be consistent and use the same font throughout your paper. 

The Abstract is placed as the second page i.e. after the cover page. The label “Abstract” should be bolded and centred.

APA Format for Headings Headings for APA Paper

First off, you might be wondering,  what are APA headings?  Here is the dictionary definition: A heading is a form of a title or caption, a short and succinct line of text that briefly explains a broader topic. 

APA headings are used at the top of new sections and/ or subsections to guide readers through long the text. 

Generally, all distinct sections of your paper should contain a level 1 heading – the content contained in each section is then organized into the following subsequent levels of subordination Level 2, level 3, Level 4, and Level 5.

NB: In the 7th edition of APA style all the headings are formatted in boldface and title case (this means that you are expected to capitalize important words); use periods, indentation, and italics to distinguish the different header levels. 

Heading levels in APA 

There are five heading levels in both the 6th and 7th APA manuals. 

Level 1:  This is the main heading of each distinct section

Level 2: is a subheading of Level 1.

 Level 3 is a subheading of Level 2.

Level 4 is a subheading of Level 3.

And Level 5 is a subheading of Level 4.

It is important to note that the use of all the 5 APA heading levels is not mandatory. In other words, you should use only the heading levels that fit the complexity and depth of your paper. 

Remember that APA heading levels should not be labelled with letters or numbers. Also, maintain consistent spacing in all APA heading levels (double-spaced) – and there should be no extra spaces between headings. 

In-text citations 

The use of citations is essential in all forms of scholarly and academic writing.

Typically you should use in-text citations anytime you want to acknowledge the sources that inform your APA paper. 

According to the American Psychological Association, the use of citations helps “readers understand the writer’s contribution in the context of the existing literature—how they are building on, critically examining, or otherwise engaging the work that has come before” 

Both APA 6th and 7th paper format use the author-year citation format (e.g Brian, 2019) for all in-text citations within the body of the paper. 

Each in-text citation should have a corresponding reference in the reference list.

How to cite correctly in APA Paper format 

  • Ensure that each in-text citation is supported by the appropriate entry in the reference list.
  • The names of the author (s) in the in-text citations must match the publication details in the reference list entry.
  • Only cite sources that you have actually used in your paper. The aim of referencing is to give readers additional information about the ideas and/ or data that is incorporated in the body of the paper.
  • Do not use too many citations unless you are writing a literature review.
  • Cite sparingly figures and facts that are common knowledge.
  • Include the page number(s) whenever you use direct quotes.

APA in-text Citations No author: When you are citing a webpage that has no author, move the title of the article to the first position of the in-text citation.  

Here is an example:   (“How to cite in APA style,” 2010).

Reference list entry:  How to cite in APA format. (2019, October 16). Retrieved from http://essaypal.org/id/39625809/ns/world_news-americas/

Note: Always enclose the first entry (the title of the webpage) in quotation marks when citing websites that have no authors.  Also, do not italicize the title of the article in the reference list unless the source is an online report just like the title of a book. 

APA in-text Citations One Author

Here is the general format for citing a book with one author: 

Direct Quotation:  (Author Surname, Year, page number)

Paraphrase or summary: (Author last name, year)

Reference page entry:  Author last name, First name Initial. Second Initial. (Year). Source title: Subtitle. Name of Publisher.


Paraphrase or summary: (Peters, 2017)

Direct Quotation:  (Peters, 2017, p. 148)


      Peters, A. (2018). APA paper format guidelines: The use of in-text citations.

            McFarlane & Sons.

APA in-text citations two authors

When citing two authors use an ampersand (&) to separate the last names of the authors. Note: When citing two authors in running text, use the word ‘and’ instead of &. 


  • According to Peter and Miles (2019), college students generally struggle . . .
  • A rich body of recent research shows that. . . (Peter & Miles, 2019)

APA in-text citations 3-5 authors

Use commas to separate the last names of authors.

 For example, according to recent research . . . (Guiro, Morris, Reynoso, & Thom, 2017).

Guiro, Morris, Reynoso, and Thom (2017) assert that …

If you use the same reference again do not include all the names of the authors, instead, enter the last name of the first author then include “et al.” (Which is short for “and others”)


In a recent cohort study, the researchers found that APA paper format . . .  (Guiro et al., 2017) assert that …

Guiro et al. (2017) note that . . .

APA in-text citation six or more authors 

Use the shortened version of the authors when citing a source that has more than six authors.


Smith et al. (2017) state that …

Citing Organization as the author in APA style

If your source does not list a specific author, then APA style allows you to attribute the organization. 


New research by Statista (2019) shows that . . .

Citing multiple sources in one in-text citation 

It can sometimes be necessary to cite more than one source in a single sentence- if this is the case, combine the sources into a single set of parentheses. Each source should be separated using a semicolon.


Several studies assert that APA paper format . . . (Porters, 2007; Dockers & Vagrants, 2020; Lumia, Swain, & Carrera, 2019).

APA Reference Page

The reference page appears after the concluding paragraph of your paper. In APA paper format the reference page should contain a well-formatted reference list with the following details; Name of the author (s), the title of the source, and the URL in case you are citing a website. 

APA reference list entry example

Peter, M. (2020, July 20). APA In-text citations Format. Retrieved July 20, 2020, from https://www.essaypal.org/apa-paper-format/

As a rule of thumb, each source included in the in-text citations must be supported by a corresponding entry in the reference list. 

Every reference in the reference page begins the same but the specific format of each entry depends on the type of source you are citing.  

Specifically, each entry in the reference page begins with the author’s surname and initials followed by the year of publication, the title of the source and other publication details. 

 APA Reference Page example

The following example of an APA reference page is based on the 7th edition: 

 APA Book citations

Here is the general APA paper format for book references: 

Surname, Initials. (Year). Title (edition). City, Country/State: Publisher.

Porters, S. M. (2018). How to cite a book in APA style: The only guide you need to excel in essay writing (4th ed.). New York, NY: IT Press.

Note: Italicize book titles and ensure the source is hanging by 0.5. 

Journal articles reference list in APA style 

Surname, Initials., & Surname, Initials. (Year). Journal Article title. Name of JournalVolume (Issue number), Pages used. https://doi.org/DoiNumber

Patrick, W., & Stephen, S. P. (2020). APA citations 7th edition. Journal of APA paper writers2(3), 207–216. https://doi.org./10.1177/152700250044000303

Note: Italicize the title of the journal and the volume number.

Website citations in APA format 

Here is the general format for website entries on APA7th edition reference page:

Surname, Initials. (Year, Month Day). Title of the page. Retrieved from http://webpage

Wow, C. (2017, June 25). Examples of APA reference page format for websites. Retrieved from http://website1.comhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9hXY1xiZjo/4973256/APA-reference-page-exaample-format

APA report reference list example

Author Surname, Initials (Year). Title of your report. Retrieved from https://webpage


Essaywriters. (2020). APA 7th edition reference page guidelines 2019. Retrieved from https://essaypal.org/~/media/Files/V/EBS-IT/2019-report/APA-reference-page-2019.pdf

Note: Italicize the report title. 

How to sort APA 7th edition reference page

Arrange your references in alphabetical order based on the author’s surnames.  

In case two or more sources by the same author appear on the reference list, arrange them according to the year of publication

Summary Video 

3 comments on “APA Paper Format Guidelines Every Student Should Know

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