How to Write an Essay in APA Format

Student typing on a laptop
ML Harris / Getty Images

If your instructor has asked you to write an APA format essay, it might at first seem like a daunting task, especially if you are accustomed to using another style such as MLA or Chicago. But you can master these rules too.

An essay is one type of paper that can be written in APA format; others include lab reports, experimental reports, and case studies. Before you begin, familiarize yourself with some of the basic guidelines of writing a paper in APA format. Of course, it will also be important to follow any other formatting instructions that are part of your assignment.

What Is APA Format?

Whether you’re taking an introductory or graduate-level psychology class, chances are strong that you will have to write at least one paper during the course of the semester. In almost every case, you will need to write your paper in APA format, the official publication style of the American Psychological Association. It is also used for academic journals.

APA format is used in a range of disciplines including psychology, education, and other social sciences. The format dictates presentation elements of your paper including spacing, margins, and how the content is structured.

Most instructors and publication editors have strict guidelines when it comes to how your format your writing. Not only does adhering to APA format allow readers to know what to expect from your paper, but it also means that your work will not lose critical points over minor formatting errors. 

APA Essay Format Basics

While the formatting requirements for your paper might vary depending upon your instructor's directions, your essay will most likely need to include a title page, abstract, introduction, body, conclusion, and reference sections.

Title Page

Your essay should have a title page in APA format. This title page should include the title of your paper, your name, and school affiliation. In some instances, your teacher might require additional information such as the course title, instructor name, and the date.

  • The title of your paper should be concise and clearly describe what your paper is about.
  • Your title can extend to two lines, but it should be no longer than 12 words.

Abstract

An abstract is a brief summary of your paper that immediately follows the title page. It is not required for student papers, according to APA style. However, your instructor may request one.

If you include an abstract, it should be no more than 100 to 200 words, although this may vary depending upon the instructor requirements.

References

Your essay should also include a reference list with all of the sources that were cited in your essay,

  • The reference section is located at the end of your paper.
  • References should be listed alphabetically by the last name of the author.
  • References should be double-spaced.

Text

For an APA-style essay, the text will include the actual essay itself: The introduction, body, and conclusion.

  • There should be uniform margins of at least one inch at the top, bottom, left, and right sides of your essay.
  • The text should be in Times New Roman size 12 font.
  • Your paper should be double-spaced.
  • Every page should include a page number in the top right corner.
  • The first word of each paragraph in your paper should be indented one-half inch.

For professional papers (usually not student papers), every page of the essay also includes a running head at the top left. The running head is a shortened form of the title, often the first few words, and should be no more than 50 characters (including spaces).

Steps to a Successful Essay

In addition to ensuring that you cite your sources properly and present information according to the rules of APA style, there are a number of things you can do to make the writing process a little bit easier.

Choose a Topic

Start by choosing a good topic to write about. Ideally, you want to select a subject that is specific enough to let you fully research and explore the topic, but not so specific that you have a hard time finding sources of information.

If you choose something too specific, you may find yourself with not enough to write about. If you choose something too general, you might find yourself overwhelmed with information.

Research Your Topic

Start doing research as early as possible. Begin by looking at some basic books and articles on your topic to help develop it further. What is the question you are going to answer with your essay? What approach will you take to the topic?

Once you are more familiar with the subject, create a preliminary source list of potential books, articles, essays, and studies that you may end up using in your essay.

Remember, any source used in your essay must be included in your reference section. Conversely, any source listed in your references must be cited somewhere in the body of your paper.

Write Your Rough Draft

With research in hand, you are ready to begin. Some people like to create an outline to organize their argument prior to drafting. You may want to start with a very rough outline, and then add details.

Once you have a detailed outline, the next step is to translate it from notes to complete sentences and paragraphs. Remember, this is a first draft. It doesn't have to be perfect.

As you write your essay, be sure to keep careful track of the sources that you cite.

Review and Revise

After you have prepared a rough draft of your essay, it's time to revise, review, and prepare your final draft. In addition to making sure that your writing is cohesive and supported by your sources, you should also check carefully for typos, grammar errors, and possible formatting mistakes.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you write an interview essay in APA format?

When citing information or quotations taken from an interview, APA format requires that you cite the source, how the information was collected, and the date of the interview. They should not be included in the reference section, however, because they are not something that can be located by a reader in any published source or searchable database.

Instead, the information should be cited parenthetically in the main body of the text. For example: “There was an increase in the number of college students who screened positive for depression/anxiety” (R. Heathfield, personal communication, May 9, 2021).

How do you cite an essay in APA format?

If the essay is in a chapter of a book, edited collection, or anthology, APA format states that you should cite the last name, first name, title of essay, title of collection, publisher, year, and page range. For example: Smith, John, "The Light House," A Book of Poems, editing by Peter Roberts, Allworth Press, 2005, pp. 20-25.

How do I write a two-part essay in APA format?

According to APA format, a two-part essay is formatted the same as an essay, however, you'll need to create two title pages.

How do I include a direct quote in an APA format essay?

If you're including a short direct quote in your APA-format essay, you will need to cite the author, year of publication, and page number (p.) or page number span (pp.). Quotations longer than 40 words should omit the quotation marks and be put in the text using block quotation formatting, on its own line and indented 1/2 inch from the left margin.

How do I make a cover page for an essay in APA format?

The cover page or "title page" for an essay in APA format should always include the title of your paper, your name, and school affiliation as well as the course title, instructor name, and date, if requested by your teacher.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nagda S. How to write a scientific abstract. J Indian Prosthodont Soc. 2013;13(3):382-383. doi:10.1007/s13191-013-0299-x

Additional Reading
  • American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). Washington DC: The American Psychological Association; 2019.