If you are working on academic papers in psychology, education, or social sciences, then you will most probably need to have the piece formatted according to the APA specs. It is the official writing style of the American Psychological Association that defines how to format academic papers and citations for publication in scientific journals, periodicals, and bulletins. Need to make sure that your document is fully compliant with the latest edition of APA format? Keep reading this APA citation guide. We will walk you through the main requirements of APA and shed the light on how to format the following components of your work:
- Running head;
- Title page;
- Main body;
- Headings and subheadings;
- In-text citations;
What is APA?
APA stands for the American Psychological Association, which is an organization that focuses on psychological aspect. They are responsible for creating this specific citation style. They are not associated with this guide, but all of the information here provides guidance to using their style and follows the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.
What is APA Citing?
APA style is used by many scholars and researchers in the behavioral and social sciences, not just psychology. There are other citation formats and styles such as MLA and Chicago citation style, but this one is most popular in the fields of science.
Following the same standard format for citations allows readers to understand the types of sources used in a project and also understand their components.
The information in this guide follows the 7th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. It outlines proper ways to organize and structure a research paper, explains grammar guidelines, and how to properly cite sources. This webpage was created solely by BibMe to help students and researchers focus on how to create APA citations.
The 7th edition of the Publication Manual was released in 2020. We address differences between the 6th and 7th editions at the end of this guide.
For more information, please consult the official Publication Manual.
What Does it Look Like?
There are two types of citations:
- In-text, also - Parenthetical citations: Those that are found in the body of a project are called in-text/parenthetical citations. They're added into a project when a direct quote or paraphrase has been added into your work. These citations only include the name(s) of the author(s), date, and page number(s), if applicable.
- References: Those that are found on the final part of a project are called references. They are found in the reference list (sometimes called APA works cited by some teachers), which is at the end of the assignment. It includes the full information of all sources used in a project. These types of references show the author's name, date published, title, publisher, URL, and other key pieces of information.
Depending on the types of sources used for your project, the structure for each citation may look different. There is a certain format or structure for books, a different one for journal articles, a different one for websites, and so on. Scroll down to find the appropriate APA format structure for your sources. Even though the structure varies across different sources, see below for a full explanation of in-text citations and reference citations.
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General Specs of APA Format
There are several things that you need to take care of before you get the APA paper at work:
- Set the paper size 8.5″ x 11″;
- Set the margin size to 1″ (2.54cm) on all document sides;
- Make the line spacing double-spaced;
- Include page numbers on every page of the document (in the top-right corner);
- Add a running head to the top-left corner of every page.
Once you are aware of the basic format specs from this APA citation guide, let’s dive deep into more narrow features of the APA citation style.
A running head is a shortened version of the paper’s full title; it should not be completely different from the paper title. A running head should be no more than 50 characters with spaces and punctuation marks (5 words maximum). Write it in capital letters and make it flush right. A running head should be present on all slides of the document; but it is only a title page where the running head should start with the words “Running head” followed by a colon and a running head text itself. For slides following the title page, one should duplicate the running head in capital letters but without the words “Running head.”
A title page is the very first page that your APA document starts with. The page should consist of the prerequisite components:
- Running head - written in CAPS in the top-left corner;
- Paper title - centered on the page, typed in 12-point Times New Roman font, and written in title case;
- The author’s name - following the paper title, centered, and typed in 12-point Times New Roman font;
- Institutional affiliation - written in a new line, centered, and typed in 12-point Times New Roman font.
There are some other things to pay attention to when formatting a title page of your APA document:
- The page title should correspond to the paper theme and reflect the running head;
- No text on the title page should be bolded, underlined, or italicized;
- Title case means that all the meaningful parts of speech should start with a capital letter.
As a rule, the second page of the APA document is dedicated to Abstract. However, it is not a golden rule to be followed in 100% cases. The main function of the abstract is to briefly summarize the paper, cover its main points and purpose, and explain some narrow or theme-related terms. If your paper is not so complex, large-scale and doesn’t contain any terms, then you do not necessarily need to prepare an abstract.
In case you decide to make the abstract part of your APA paper, then stick to the following rules from the APA citation guide:
- The recommended length of the abstract is up to 250 words;
- Abbreviations, key terms, and acronyms used in the paper as well as other keywords should be defined;
- The abstract page should be labelled with the word “Abstract” (it should be centered and typed in 12-point Times New Roman font);
- The page label should not be bolded, underlined, or italicized;
- The first line of the abstract text should be flush left.
We recommend that you write a paper abstract once the body part of your work is done. Thus, you will make sure to cover all the important points and findings from your academic work.
The page following the abstract or the title page should start with the title of the document. Center it on the page and type the paper title in 12-point Times New Roman font. Just like on the title page of the APA document, a paper title should not be bolded, underlined, or italicized.
Headings and Subheadings
There may be different levels of headings and subheadings in your APA document. So not to confuse the reader, it is recommended to follow a particular formatting pattern for a particular category of headers:
- 1st-level - centered, bolded, title case;
- 2nd-level - left-aligned, bolded, title case;
- 3rd-level - indented, bolded, title case;
- 4th-level - indented, italicized, bolded, title case;
- 5th-level - indented, italicized, title case.
Sticking to proper header formatting in APA, you will make sure that the reader follows your paper contents without feeling confused.
Just like Harvard formatting style, APA format comes with a bunch of in-text citation formatting rules:
- The author-date method of in-text citation formatting should be followed in APA;
- Indicate the author's last name and the year of source publication (in parenthesis) every time you refer to it in the text of your paper, for example, (James, 2014);
- Include a complete reference to a source in the reference page;
- In case of direct quotes, make a page number a part of your in-text citation (James, 2014, p. 150);
- Put in-text citations at the end of the paraphrased message from your research;
- If you mention the name of the author in the text of your document, there is no need to duplicate in brackets;
- If the source author or date is unknown, use the “n.d.” abbreviation;
- When you cite more than one author, put an ampersand between their names;
- In case of more than five writers, mention one of them and write “et al.” in the in-text citation brackets.
The last page of your APA document should list the sources that you have used/ referred to your paper. It should be labelled “References” and be a separate page of your document. Make sure to cover all the source entries in the list. Some other formatting speecs to be aware of:
- All lines after the first line of every entry in the list should be indented;
- All entries should be double-spaced;
- Authors' names are inverted;
- If the source used has more than seven authors, the first six of them should be listed, with the ellipses used after the sixth name;
- References should be arranged in the alphabetical order;
- The following sequence should be followed for every source entry in the list: author’s name (year of publication). Title of work. Location: Publisher;
- When referring to a web source, the URL of the source page should be included in the reference description;
- When formatting a reference to an article, both the article title and the name of the periodical should be covered.
How to Structure Publication Dates
General structure is:
- Year, Month Day
- Example: 1998, March 22
Place the date that the source was published in parentheses after the name of the author. In APA format for periodicals, include the month and day as well. If no date is available, place n.d. in parentheses, which stands for no date. For more details, see Section 9.14 of the Publication Manual.
How to Structure the Title
For book titles
Only capitalize the first letter of the first word in the title and the same for the subtitle. Capitalize the first letter for any proper nouns as well. Place this information in italics. End it with a period.
Gone with the wind.
For articles and chapter titles
Only capitalize the first letter of the first word in the title and the same for the subtitle. Capitalize the first letter for any proper nouns as well. Do not italicize the title or place it in quotation marks. End it with a period.
The correlation between school libraries and test scores: A complete overview.
For web pages on websites
Same as above. The web page title is italicized.
Simmons, B. (2015, January 9). The tale of two Flaccos. Grantland. http://grantland.com/the-triangle/the-tale-of-two-flaccos/
For magazine/journal/newspaper titles
Each important word should start with a capital letter.
The Boston Globe
If you believe that it will help the reader to understand the type of source, such as a brochure, lecture notes, or an audio podcast, place a description in brackets directly after the title. Only capitalize the first letter.
New World Punx. (2014, February 15). A state of trance 650 [Audio file]. https://soundcloud.com/newworldpunx/asot650utrecht
How to Structure Publication Information
In previous editions of the publication manual, books and sources that were not periodicals indicated the city and state of publication. However, in the 7th edition, the location of publication is no longer given except “for works associated with specific locations, such as conference presentations” (p. 297).
For conference presentations, give the city, state/province/territory, and country. If in the US, abbreviate the state name using the two-letter abbreviation. Place a colon after the location.
- Philadelphia, PA:
- Rotterdam, Netherlands:
Periodical Volume and Number
For journals, magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals, place the volume number after the title. Italicize this information. Place the issue number in parentheses and do not italicize it. Afterwards, include page numbers.
Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 57(1), 79-82.
If you're citing a newspaper article, include p. or pp. before the page numbers.
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Why to Fine-Tune Paper Formatting?
Many of you may wonder why you should waste your time on paper formatting and adjustments. Everything is easy. With proper paper formatting, you will not only demonstrate your proficiency but also avoid a lot of problems associated with unintentional plagiarism. That’s why it is so important to make sure that everything is fine from the formatting perspective.