What is APA Style?

The American Psychological Association (APA) formatting style is common when citing sources in the social sciences, education, and psychology. This style came into effect in 1929 in an article published in the Psychology Bulletin stating the basic guidelines. The guidelines were later expanded to create the APA Publication Manual. When the APA style is used in psychology and other social sciences, students and researchers can communicate their experiments and ideas consistently. Writing in a consistent style enables readers to know what they should expect in a journal article and other types of psychological writing.

Why Use APA?

Apart from making things easier for editors when everyone uses the same format, using APA citation style makes it easy for readers to comprehend text as it is provided in a familiar structure. As a writer, following the APA referencing style will enable you to:

  • Give readers useful cues to enable them to follow your ideas better and locate information that interests them.
  • Let readers focus better on your ideas without distractions brought about by unfamiliar formatting.
  • Establish your ethos or credibility in the field by illustrating an understanding of your audience and their wishes as fellow researchers

Who Should Use APA?

The APA formatting style provides guidelines for academic paper writing regardless of discipline or subject. However, customarily, the APA citation guide is frequently used by students and writers in:

  • Business
  • Nursing
  • Social Sciences, such as criminology, economics, sociology, linguistics, and psychology

APA Writing and Formatting Style

General Guidelines as provided by the APA Citation Guide 7th Edition

  • It would help if you typed your essay on a standard-sized paper double-spaced with a 1” margin at the top, bottom, right, and left sides of the page.
  • Include a running head, also known as a page header, at the top of each page. When writing a professional paper, the running head should include the paper title and page number, but it should only include the page number for a student paper. To craft a running head, go to your menu and insert page numbers flush right. Follow by typing the title of your paper in the header flush left in capital letters. The running head is a shorter version of your title and should not exceed 50 characters, including punctuation and spacing.


The APA Publication Manual 7th Edition requires that the font used be accessible, legible, and used consistently in the entire paper. The publication manual acknowledges that there are many legitimate fonts but advises writers to check with their institutions, instructors, or publishers for guidance when in a dilemma.  

Although the APA Manual has no preferred font for professional writing, it recommends several fonts that are easy to access. They include:

  • 10-point Computer Modern
  • 11-point Georgia
  • 12-point Times New Roman
  • 10-point Lucida Sans Unicode
  • 11-point Arial
  • 11-point Calibri

Main Paper Sections

Your essay should contain four main sections, that is, Title Page, Abstract, Body, and References.

Title Page

Please note that the APA Publication Manual 7th Edition has slightly different guidelines for formatting a professional paper’s title page, for example, student papers and those anticipated for scholarly publication.

The title page must include the paper’s title, author’s name, and institutional affiliation. When writing a professional paper, include the author’s note. A student paper contains the course name and number, instructor name, and assignment due date.

Write your title in upper and lowercase letters in boldface and center it at the upper half of your page. 

APA recommends that the title should be brief and focused without words and abbreviations that have no purpose. The title should not take more than two lines. The text on the title page and the entire paper should be double-spaced. Under the title, write the author’s name in the format: first name, middle name, initial and last name with no titles such as Dr. The author’s name should be followed the institutional affiliation beneath it to indicate the location where the research was conducted.


Start a new page. The abstract page should also have the page header as described above. On the page’s first line, type the word “Abstract” at the center and bold it, do not underline; use italics or quotation marks.

Go to the next line and write a summary of the primary points of your research; do not indent the text. The abstract should contain your research topic, research questions, participants, methodology, results, data analysis, and conclusion. Your abstract should be in one paragraph and double-spaced; it should not exceed 250 words.

APA Format Use of headings and subheadings 

In APA writing format, headings are written in five levels, each different from the other.

Level 1

  • Your paper title
  • Centre the title in the middle of your page
  • Bold the title
  • Use title capitalization

Level 2

  • Left-align the heading
  • Bold the letters
  • Use title capitalization where necessary

Level 3

  • Left-align the heading
  • Bold the letters
  • Use title capitalization where necessary
  • Use a period to end the heading

Level 4

  • Indent the text from the left margin
  • Bold the text
  • Use title capitalization where necessary
  • Use a period to end the heading

Level 5

  • Indent
  • Bold italicize
  • Title capitalization
  • Use a period to end the heading

The APA general formatting rules require all headings to be double-spaced with no extra spaces or lines between sections.

APA In-text Citations and Reference List

APA In-text Citation Basics

  • When using APA citation, use the author-date method of placing in-text citations. This is where the author’s last name and the publication year of the source appear in the text, for example (Brown, 2017). Remember to include a complete reference for every source on the reference page at the end of your paper.
  • When referring to information from another work without directly quoting the material or referencing an entire article or book, only reference the author and publication year. You do not have to reference the page number in the APA in-text citation.
  • However, if directly borrowing or quoting from another work, include the page number in the in-text citation. Use “p” for one page and “pp” for multiple pages before writing the page number(s). For page ranges, use an en dash, for example, (Brown, 2017, p. 98) or (Brown, 2017, pp. 98-103). 
  • When there are two authors in the source entry, list them (Brown & Bradshaw, 2017). If they are three or more, place the citation with “et al,” meaning “and others” in Latin. For example, Brown et al., 2017). Regardless of how you reference your sources, all sources included in in-text citation should appear in a reference list, using APA referencing style, at the end of the paper.  


  • Capitalize proper nouns, such as author names and initials, for example, F. Brown.
  • If you reference the title of a source in your paper, all words with more than four letters in the source title should be capitalized, for example, Change and Performance. There are exceptions for short words that are adverbs, adjectives, pronouns, nouns, and verbs. For example, Writing New Media, Nothing Left to Lose. Please note that when listing the title on the reference page, you will only capitalize the first word of the title, that is, Writing new media.
  • When capitalizing titles, the hyphenated compound word should have both words capitalized, for example, Thorough-Bred Horse.
  • When you use a colon or a dash, capitalize the first word after each, for example, “The Second World War: The Implications.” 
  • If the working title is italicized in the reference list, use title case capitalization and italicize the text.

Short Quotations

When directly quoting a source, include the author’s name, publication year, and the page number. Precede the page number by “p” for one page and “pp” for several pages and separate the page numbers by an en dash.

You can start the quotation with a phrase that has the last name of the author followed by the publication date in parentheses.

APA Citation Example

According to Brown (2017), “students using APA style for the first had difficulty” (p. 98).

Brown (2017) found “students had difficulty using APA style” (p. 98); how does this impact teachers?

If you do not place the author’s name within the text of a sentence, place the author’s last name, publication year, and page number after the quotation.


He stated, “Students had difficulty using APA style” (Brown, 2017, p. 98), but he did not give the reason.

Long Quotations

Place direct quotation with 40 words or more in a single block of typed lines without quotation marks. Begin the quotation on a new line at a ½ inch indentation from the left margin, that is, just as you would start a new paragraph. Write the whole quotation on the new margin. Every first line of a subsequent paragraph in the quotation should be indented at a ½ inch margin. Ensure that you double-space the text and do not add blank line in-between. The citation should appear after the closing punctuation mark.

Quotations from Sources with no Pages

Direct quotations from a source that does not contain pages should not have a page number reference. In its place, reference another reasonable identifying element, such as a table number, a section number, a chapter number, or a paragraph. Older works, such as religious texts, can have special location identifiers like chapter and verse numbers. In other words, reference your source using a substitute that makes sense. 


Brown (2017) found several reasons for students’ dissatisfaction with APA citation (paras. 2-3).

A meta-analysis of accessible literature (Brown, 2017) revealed irregularities across large-scale studies (Table 4).

Paraphrase or Summary

If you are using another work to paraphrase an idea, you only have to reference the author and publication year within your in-text reference and leave the page numbers. However, APA guidelines encourage using a page range for a paraphrase or summary if it will assist the reader in locating the information in a broader text.


According to Brown (2017), the APA citation format is challenging to first-time learners.

APA citation format is challenging to first-time learners (Brown, 2017, p. 98).

Referencing a Book

A basic reference for a book should include:

Author or authors using the surname followed by first initials

 Publication year (in round brackets)

Title of the book (in italics)

Edition number (in round brackets) if it’s not the first edition


DOI even if referencing a print book

Left align the first line of every citation and indent each subsequent line at 5-7 spaces.


Brown, F.T. (2017). The unspoken words (3rd ed.). Cengage Learning. 

Referencing Academic Journals

  • The journal title should be in full.
  • Italicize the title of the journal
  • Preserve any nonstandard capitalization and punctuation used in the journal title, e.g., use HomoPhobia instead of Homophobia or Past & Future instead of Past and Future.
  • Capitalize all key words in the journal-title. Note that this is different from other common sources such as reports and books. 
  • Capitalize the first words of subtitles and titles of journal articles, including the first word after a dash or a colon in the title. 

Referencing Electronic Sources

Some electronic citations require the use of brackets. The APA style recommends that the content be surrounded by brackets without spaces, for example, (bracketed content). When you can, include the date, month, and year in references. If the date and month are unavailable, use the publication year. Furthermore, with APA 7th edition, you no longer have to use “Retrieved from” before DOIs or URLs, but there are special exceptions for unarchived sources. 

Citing Figures and Tables

  • Figures include photographs, drawings, maps, charts, and graphs
  • Tables are numerical text or values displayed in columns and rows

Including tables or figures in your work

Note the following when you include tables or figures in your work:

  • You must refer to all figures and tables in the main body of the paper.
  • Number all tables and figures in the sequence they first appear in the paper.
  • When referring to them in the text, refer them by their number. For example, as illustrated in Table 2 or as shown in Figure 1

Accompany each figure with a brief title that gives a concise but clear indication of its contents. Present this directly above the figure and below the figure number. Write the title in italics and Title Case.

Figure 2

Table or Figure Title

  • When reproducing a table or a figure from another source, include an attribution, which is the copyright or Creative Commons. Present it directly below the table/figure. The attribution will come after any explanatory notes necessary for the figure. 
  • When including attribution for a figure obtained from an Open Access journal article, which has a Creative Commons license, it should include:
  • “Adapted from” when adapting or “From” when reprinting.
  • Article title, in the double quotation “ ” marks and Title Case
  • By Author, with the first initial followed by their surname.
  • Publication year
  • Journal title, in italics and Title Case
  • Volume, in italics and issue number, in round brackets ( )
  • Original figure’s page number. In the absence of page numbers, use paragraph numbers and section headings.
  • URL or DOI (in round brackets)
  • Creative Commons or a Copyright license

Formatting Tables

  • Use only horizontal lines.
  • Minimize the use of cell shading
  • Use 12-point font size with either single or double spacing. Be consistent in your spacing, and if you use double spacing in one table, all the others should also have double spaces.
  • Center all headings
  • In the stub (first column), center the heading and left-align the information below it. If the information cannot fit one line, indent it at 0.15 inches).
  • Centre all the information in the other columns

References Page

The actual format for a reference depends on what you are referencing, an electronic source, a journal article, a book, or an author or authors. Be observant of specific requirements for each reference type before formatting your sources. The following are useful tips when placing a reference page(s) in your paper.

  • The references should be on a new page
  • Title the page “References”
  • The title should be centered at the top of the page
  • All entries should be in alphabetical order
  • The first line of a reference should be aligned to the left margin
  • Indent any other line, using the TAB key once
  • Double-space the reference section
  • When referencing newspapers, magazines, journals, and book titles, write the titles in italics
  • Include all sources cited in-text and on the references page

Note: Any reference appearing in your text must be included on the references page. Any item that appears on your reference page should also be included somewhere in your text body.

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