APA (American Psychological Association) is most often used for writing in the social sciences, but it has been adapted by other disciplines. Therefore, if you are in one of the following classes, your instructor may also ask that you use this style: education, hard sciences, mathematics, international studies, journalism, linguistics, criminal justice, nursing, business, and technology. Often this depends on the larger structure of your college and how classes fit into that, if the discipline the class fits into has a more specialized publication style, your instructor’s preference, and the assignment type. If you are unsure, make sure you clarify what style you should be using with your instructor when you are ready to begin your project.
This page covers basic APA format–how your document should look. If you need help with citing sources, please see our page, “APA Style-Citations.”
What should my paper generally look like?
- APA requires that you have 1″ margins on all sides of your paper.
- You should use a highly readable font. APA recommends using Times New Roman.
- Your font should be 12 pt.
- You must use a header consisting of the “running head” version of your title and the page number at the top of each page. How to create your running head is addressed below.
- Your paper should be divided into four major sections: title page, abstract, main body, and references. More information about each and examples of them follow. Depending upon the assignment, some instructors may not require you to include an abstract. If your instructor hasn’t specified their expectations concerning this, be sure to ask. The OWL at Purdue also has some general guidance for what to expect depending upon if your assignment is a literature review (what most undergrads know as a research paper) or an experimental report.
How do I create the header or running head?
- Insert page numbers, choosing the “flush right” option so that your page number appears in the upper right hand corner.
- Then type the title of your paper so that it is “flush left” in all capital letters. If your title is more than 50 characters, you will need to abbreviate it in the header so that is the maximum you use.
- One the title page, you will preface your title with “Running head: ” making sure that this is on the title page only.
- Make sure you use the insert options on your word processing program to do this. Don’t just type the running head and page number on the first line of text at the one inch margin. This is incorrect. Help with using the insert and header functions are available here inserting page numbers in Word and here creating headers in Word.
What should the title page look like?
Here is an example of a title page with explanations from the Purdue OWL. Remember, the phrase “Running head:” appears only on the title page.
What does the abstract contain?
- The first page after your title page (so page 2 of your document) contains the abstract.
- Center the title of the page (Abstract) on the first line of text. Do not punctuate this title by underlining it, italicizing it, or enclosing it in quotation marks. Also, do not bold the text or make it larger than the standard 12 pt.
- At the left margin of the next line of text, you begin your summary or abstract. Do not indent. It should be between 150 and 250 words. A 250 word paragraph is only about 1/2 page. Keep this in mind when writing and revising your abstract. Your summary should be detailed enough to give your readers a preview of the scope of your project and paper, but it should be brief enough that they can quickly read through it and still grasp those. For most students, the first few drafts of their abstract are longer than 250 words. If this is the case with your abstract, make sure to focus your editing efforts on finding a way to say what you need to using less words rather than skipping topics you should be covering.
- You should discuss the following: your research topic and questions, any participants, the methods you used, the results of your study, data analysis, and your conclusions.
- Some students find it helpful to write a preliminary abstract before drafting the main body of their paper because it helps them “warm up” their writing skills. Others prefer to wait until they have drafted the main body of the paper and then work on their abstract. Either is fine, just make sure that the style, tone, and content of the abstract your instructor finally sees matches those of the rest of your draft.
What does a reference page look like?
- Start your reference page on the one immediately following the last page of your main body.
- Center the title (References) on the first line of text. Do not punctuate or bold it.
- List your resources in alphabetical order.
- Use hanging indent to format each entry so that the first line is flush with the left margin and every line after that in an entry is indented.
- Each line on the page is double spaced, just like the rest of your draft. Don’t add extra lines after the title or between individual entries. For information on how to create the entries, see our page, “APA Style-Citations.”
Here’s an example, again from the OWL at Purdue, of a reference page. (It doesn’t show the running head and page number, but you would include them just as you would on every other page.)
Now that you understand what the format of your paper looks like, be sure to check out our page that will help you with how to cite in APA style. If you have any questions about using APA, be sure to ask your instructor or contact one of the tutors in the writing center. We would be glad to clarify anything for you. The OWL at Purdue also has a sample paper you can view with annotations similar to the ones on the examples on this page. Use it to review what you should be doing and to check your own paper against it when editing.