A Table of Contents in APA Format

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APA format does not require a table of contents, but there are cases where you may need to include one. For example, your instructor may specify that your paper must be submitted with a table of contents. A table of contents can be particularly helpful in cases where your paper is lengthy or covers a lot of material, such as a thesis paper or dissertation. Research papers, in particular, may benefit from the addition of a table of contents.

APA format is the official publication style of the American Psychological Association. APA format is used in psychology courses as well as other social science classes including those in social science, behavioral sciences, and education.

General Guidelines

The table of contents serves as a basic roadmap of your paper. It should list all of the major headings and subheadings within the body of your paper. For a standard psychology paper, it might include listings for the introduction, method, results, and discussion sections of your paper.

While the APA may not specify guidelines for a table of contents, you should also use basic APA format for page formatting:

  • Use one-inch margins on all sides
  • Use 12-point Times New Roman font
  • Double-space

Since APA does not require a table of contents, you should always refer to your instructor’s guidelines when deciding whether or not to include one.

It is also important to note that the 7th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association was published in October of 2020, a decade after the release of the previous edition. The 7th edition includes updated guidelines on many topics. Ask your instructor which version of the style manual you should adhere to when writing your paper until the latest version has been fully adopted.

Also note, while the previous edition of the style manual required a running head on each page of a paper, the 7th edition has eliminated that requirement on student papers unless your instructor specifies to include it. Always ask first.

Sections

If you are using a standard APA paper format, your table of contents should include the following sections:

However, the sections of your paper may be different depending on the type of paper you are writing. While the above format may work well for a standard lab report or experimental paper, your table of contents will look much different if you are writing something such as a critique, essay, research paper, or case study.

Location

The exact order of your paper depends largely on the type of paper you are writing. In general, your paper should be presented in the following order:

  • Title Page
  • Table of Contents
  • Abstract
  • Main Body of Paper
  • References
  • Appendix

Table of Contents Format

Because there is no standard format for a table of contents in APA style, you should always defer to the provided guidelines for your assignment.

If your instructor does not have a preferred format, consider using the following:

  • Title the page “Table of Contents” and center the title at the top of the page.
  • Use an outline format for the different sections of your paper. For the main headings, use Roman numerals. Follow by using Arabic numerals to list any sub-level headings. If you have lower-level headings, list them using lower-case letters. 
  • All main headings should be flush-left.
  • Sub-headings should be indented five spaces. 
  • All entries should use title case.
  • Identity the page number where each heading and subheading begin flush-right. Include dot leaders between the headings and the page number to improve readability.

Tips

While you might not think that following APA format is important, it is one of those areas where students can lose points for making small errors. It pays to spend a little extra time and attention making sure that your paper is formatted in proper APA style.

  • If you need help, you can get assistance from your school's writing lab.
  • Getting your own copy of the latest edition of the APA publication manual can be very helpful.
  • Always refer to any instructions or guidelines that were provided by your course instructor.

For those writing a paper to submit for publication, check with the publisher for any specific formatting requirements that they may have.

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Article Sources

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  • American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington DC: The American Psychological Association; 2010.