APA Format Tips, Guidelines, and Examples

APA format is the official style used by the American Psychological Association and is commonly used in the fields of psychology, education, and other social sciences.

The seventh edition of the "Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association" is the official guidebook for formatting your APA papers. It's the latest edition published in 2020. Of course, if you have further questions about how to format your paper, check with your professor or instructor on what they prefer.

General APA Format Guidelines

There are some basic rules of APA format that apply to any type of APA paper. These include:

  • Type on standard-size (8.5-inch by 11-inch) paper.
  • Have a 1-inch margin on all sides.
  • Have a title page, a reference list, and a byline.
  • Use an easy-to-read font such as Calibri or Times New Roman.
  • Double-space the whole paper.
  • Align text to the left-hand side.
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph by 0.5 inch.

The APA format emphasizes accessibility for all readers. Be sure to review their official information on how to make your paper accessible.

Title Page

There are two different versions of an APA title page: the student version and the professional version. The student version should include:

  • Title of paper
  • Name of each author of the paper (the byline)
  • Affiliation for each author (the university attended including the name of the department)
  • Course number and name
  • Instructor name (check with the instructor for their preferred format)
  • Assignment due date (i.e., November 4, 2020)
  • Page number

For a professional APA paper, include:

  • Title of paper
  • Name of each author of the paper (byline)
  • Affiliation for each author
  • Author note
  • Running head (an abbreviated version of the paper title)
  • Page number

For both student and professional papers, the paper title is in title case, bold, and centered. It should be about three to four lines down from the top margin of the page.

Be concise. Your title should be a short statement of what the reader will find in the paper. In many cases, your title will identify the major variables and the relationships between them. For example, "Effect of Sleep Deprivation on Math Performance" is an example of a succinct title that clearly describes what the paper is about.

Avoid any extraneous words that do not add meaning to your title. The APA style guide advises writers to avoid phrases such as "An Experimental Investigation of..." or "A Study of...".

Write the byline below the paper title. There should be one blank double-spaced line between the title and the byline. Place the affiliation below the byline. For professional papers, the author's note goes beneath the affiliation. (For students, the course name, instructor name, and due date will each get separate lines beneath the byline.)

An author note gives more information about the authors of the paper, study registration, data sharing, disclaimers on any conflicts of interest, and a point of contact. An author note would also mention any individuals or organizations that gave funding to support the research.

For professional papers, put a running head at the top left of the page in all upper-case letters.

For both the student and professional versions of an APA paper, be sure the page number is on the top right of the page.

Abstract

Think of an abstract as a summary of your paper. If you are a student, your instructor may or may not require an abstract; be sure to check.

Follow these tips for writing your abstract:

  • The abstract will have its own page right after the title page.
  • Centered at the top of the page in bold, write "Abstract."
  • In the next line, briefly summarize the main points of the paper.
  • While the content will vary, an abstract typically includes the research topic, research questions, information on participants and methods, the data analysis used, and main conclusions. 
  • An abstract should be a single paragraph, double-spaced, and usually no more than 250 words.

The "Publication Manual" states that a good abstract is accurate, coherent, and concise. Be sure not to include any information in the abstract that isn't in the paper itself.

Tables

Tables are an efficient way to display a great deal of information in a concise, clear, and easy-to-read format. In APA format papers, tables are generally used to describe the results of statistical analysis and other pertinent quantitative data.

However, it is important to note that not all data should be presented in a table. If you have little numeric information to present, it should be described in the text of your paper.

The "Publication Manual" recommends designing your table with the reader in mind. Strive to communicate data in a way that is clear and easy to understand.

Basic Rules for Tables

Keep these tips in mind when using a table in your publication:

  • Add an individual title on each table. It should be italicized and capitalized in APA style.
  • Begin each table after the reference list on a page of its own.
  • Number all tables (i.e., Table 1, Table 2, Table 3).
  • Reference all tables in the text of the paper.

Remember that your table is there to supplement rather than replicate the text of your paper. Do not feel the need to discuss every element of your table in your text. Extraneous information can overwhelm and confuse the reader. Stick to reporting the most important data.

Instead, focus on keeping your table concise. Mention key highlights and tell the reader what to look for in your table.

Table Headings

Keep these tips in mind when writing table headings:

  • Capitalize the first letter of each heading.
  • Identify each column using a descriptive heading.
  • Use abbreviations for standard terms in the table itself. Uncommon definitions should be explained in a note below the table.

Additional Notes

If an additional explanation is needed, a note can be added below the table. There are three kinds of notes: general notes, specific notes, and probability notes.

General notes refer to some aspect of the entire table; specific notes refer to a particular column, row, or cell; probability notes specify the values of symbols in your table.

Reference Pages

All sources cited in your paper should be included in the reference page. The reference page should appear at the end of your APA paper. This page makes it easy for the reader to easily look up all of the materials you cited.

Anything cited in the text must appear in the reference section and anything included in the reference section must be cited somewhere in the text.

Your references should begin on a new page with the title "References" in bold and centered at the very top. Do not underline, italicize, or place quotation marks around the title.

Basic Reference Page Rules

Don't forget these rules when putting together your reference page:

  • Alphabetize references by the last names of the first author of each source.
  • Capitalize all major words in the title of a journal (i.e., The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology).
  • Capitalize only the first letter in article titles. If a colon appears in the title, the first letter after the colon should also be capitalized. The title should not be placed in quotations, underlined, or italicized.
  • Double-space all references.
  • Italicize the titles of books and journals.
  • When the same author is cited multiple times, list references in chronological order with the oldest first, working your way up to the most recent one.
  • Use a hanging indentation for each reference; the first line of the reference should be aligned to the left, but each additional line needs to be indented.

Journals and Periodicals

Journal articles should appear in alphabetical order in your reference list. More APA format tips include:

  • Capitalize the first letter of the first word in the title, subtitle, and proper nouns.
  • Italicize the name of the publication and the volume number.

The basic format of a journal article reference is to first list authors by their last names followed by the initials of their first names. Next, the publication year is enclosed in parentheses and followed by a period.

The title of the article should then follow, with only the first letter of the first word capitalized as well as the first letter of any proper nouns.

The italicized title of the journal comes after, followed by a comma. Place the volume number next, also italicized. Follow this with the issue number in parentheses, followed by a comma.

Then, place page numbers, using a hyphen in between if it's a range of pages. Place a period after this. Finally, a hyperlink including the DOI number should be included if there is one available.

Books

This style is applicable to printed texts. The format for citing books is as follows:

  • Name of author (last name, first initial)
  • The date of the publication in parentheses
  • The italicized title of the book
  • If applicable, put the edition of the book in parentheses
  • Publisher name
  • Hyperlink with DOI number

Note: Place a period after each of these elements.

Electronic Sources

The basic format of an electronic reference is very similar to that of any other reference. However, you typically need to include the online location of the document.

Since online URLs can change, the APA recommends utilizing a digital object identifier (DOI) in your references whenever possible.

A DOI is a unique alphanumeric string that begins with a 10 as well as a prefix (usually a four-digit number assigned to organizations) and a suffix (a number assigned by the publisher).

Many publishers will include the DOI on the first page of an electronic document. If a DOI is available, simply include it as a hyperlink at the end of the reference as follows: https:/doi.org/10.0000/00000000000.

Be sure to consult the latest information from The American Psychological Association for more information on citing electronic sources.

A Word From Verywell

It's helpful to consult the latest edition of the APA "Publication Manual" when you have questions about proper formatting for your APA paper. If you're a student, it's a great idea to consult with your instructor as well. They can help establish clear guidelines and expectations for your papers before you submit them.

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  1. Nicoll LH, Oermann MH, Chinn PL, Conklin JL, Amarasekara S, Mccarty M. Guidance provided to authors on citing and formatting references in nursing journals. J Nurses Prof Dev. 2018;34(2):54-59. doi:10.1097/NND.0000000000000430

Additional Reading
  • American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). Washington DC: The American Psychological Association; 2020.