How to Write an APA Style Paper
American Psychological Association Format (APA) is one of the most important paper writing styles in the world.
Chances are especially high that your professor will demand you to write the paper in APA style if you are taking a psychology class.
You must be wondering what is an APA style or an APA paper. As a matter of fact, it is just a simple paper which requires you to use the official format of the American Psychological Association that is the APA format.
The APA style’s formatting and writing rules and regulation can look quite difficult and intimidating in the beginning, especially if you have never used this style to write a paper before.
Mostly students are familiar with other formatting styles, the most important of which are the Chicago Style or Modern Language Association (MLA) Style.
If you are one such student, you might need some time to get used to writing in APA format.
You need to keep in mind that APA format entails hundreds of formatting and writing rules.
You live in a fool’s paradise if you think you can learn and master all of them.
Similarly, every instructor has different requirements for you to follow.
Some may ask you to use only Times New Roman font and keep the font size to 12, which is a standard for APA format.
On the other hand, some of them may allow you to use the font of your choice.
However, there are some general rules and guidelines you need to abide by every time you start writing a paper in APA format.
GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR APA FORMAT
First and foremost, it is important for you to observe some general rules and regulations before learning advanced formatting rules.
- The standard paper size in APA format is 8.5 inches by 11 inches.
- You must always use a 1-inch margin on all four sides of the paper.
- As mentioned above, the standard font for the APA style is Times New Roman. However, you can also use other, but similar looking fonts.
- It is recommended that you use only serif fonts such as Courier, Georgia, Century and Baskerville for text.
- As far as figures are concerned, it is recommended to use sans serif fonts such as Futura, Arial, and Helvetica.
- The font size should always be 12.
- It is mandatory for you to type your paper. Handwritten papers are not accepted in any case.
- The paper should always be double spaced.
- The top left of every page should also feature a page header.
- On the other hand, the top right of the page should contain a page number.
- The header containing the title and the page number is normally referred to as “running header.” You can also easily add these headers automatically on each page of your paper.
- It is recommended to use the shortened version of your title if it is too long and does not fit in the running header.
- You should indent the first line of the first paragraph of each section in the paper.
COMPONENTS OF AN APA PAPER
There are four main components of an APA paper that are the Title Page, the Abstract, Main Body and References.
Before we explain all these components, it is pertinent to mention that the structure of the page varies according to the requirements you have to meet.
Following paragraphs explain how you can format each of these components one by one.
For example, you will structure a case study differently than a lab report or a critique paper.
In the case of the lab report, it will contain some extra sections explaining everything about discussion, experiments and their results and methods used to carry on the research.
But, the standard case study only has three key sections that are the problem to be discussed, the solution options and the final result.
You must include all of the four components of in APA paper no matter what the type of paper is.
Formatting the Title Page
The title page in APA style is further divided into four different sections.
These sections are the running head, the title itself, the name of the author, and author’s note and institutional affiliation. We have already described how to create the running header above.
The point to be noted here is that you should include the words Running Head before the page header only on the title page. Similarly, the actual title should all be in the capital letters.
Other pages in the paper will not contain the “Running Head” words before the title.
Other things you need to take care of in the title page are as follows.
- APA discourages the use of meaningless words or abbreviations in the title. Keep the title straightforward and simple. Most importantly, it should convey the main idea and essence of the essay.
- Put the title in the center of the page. Write it in the 12-point Times New Roman font. You are also not allowed to underline, italicize or bold the title.
- The title cannot be more than 12 words in length, but it can take up to two lines.
- The text of your essay should be doubled spaced and same is the case with the title.
- Author names on the title page should not include any titles such as Dr. or Ms.
- It is necessary to include the institution (institutional affiliation) where the author conducted his research.
Formatting the Abstract
Everyone knows what an abstract is. It is a very short summary of your essay and it must be a part of every APA paper.
The abstract page comes immediately after the title page.
The following are some of the rules you have to observe while creating an abstract page for your paper.
- First of all, you need to keep your abstract as short as possible. You have to capture the essence of your essay in 250 words or less. However, it is advisable to check the instructions provided by your instructor. Sometimes, they set specific requirements regarding the content and the length of the abstract.
- Do not indent your abstract in the APA style essay.
- Write the word Abstract without quotation marks right in the center of the page.
- Include the summary of the main points of your research on the next line. As you may already know, the purpose of the abstract or summary is to introduce your topic and research to the readers.
- Furthermore, it will also throw some light on the course of action you took to answer the questions related to your study. Finally, it also highlights the main research findings and results.
- Experts also recommend adding keywords relevant to your study or research under the summary at the bottom of the abstract page. These keywords enable other researchers and instructors to easily find you in the database. Always type keywords in italics and do not forget to indent them. Only list the most important keywords of your research.
Formatting the Main Body
The exact structure of the body varies depending on the requirements of the instructor and the type of paper you are writing.
Going back to our example, the lab report will always contain an introduction section, a method section, and a result section.
Moreover, you will also include a discussion section in a lab report.
Again, you should check with your instructor to determine whether or not you need to include more sections or content in the paper.
Abide by the following rules when it comes to formatting the body of an APA essay.
- Start with the Running title.
- The next line should contain the main title, which should not be bold, italicized or underlined.
- The next step is to write the introduction. Unlike the abstract, you have to indent the introduction in the main body.
The introduction is perhaps the most important part of the entire paper.
It elaborates the main problem under discussion and the scope of the research.
The Introduction will also particularize how and where you conducted the research, including things like your institution, city, methods used, and the questions asked and so on.
The introduction expounds on the problem in greater detail than the abstract.
The Method section will immediately follow the Introduction section.
Remember that each section of the paper will have a bold and centered subtitle as well. It is in the method section that you provide the full detail about how you conducted the study.
It is imperative to mention all the methods you resorted to collect and process the necessary data.
Results should be the third section of your paper’s body.
Again, it should have a bold and centered subtitle just like the Methods section.
As the title suggests, you will summarize your results and findings in the Results section.
You can employ many different techniques such as using graphs to display data more clearly and also aesthetically.
Immediately following the Result section, Discussions will be the last section of your paper’s body. The subtitle should be centered and bold once again.
You will interpret and analyze your research and its findings in the Discussions section.
- It is not enough to only draw conclusions in this section. Present all the evidence which support your data and how it leads to those conclusions.
- Discuss in detail whether or not your results and findings confirmed or support your hypothesis.
- List and explain all the possible future steps which can support or improve future research and studies.
- You can also highlight some of the major limitations of your research to make it more authentic and reliable.
Writers widely use “in-text citations” throughout the body in APA style paper.
These citations normally include the year of the publication as well as the name of the author or authors.
However, in-text citations cannot contain page numbers in the American Psychological Association style of formatting a paper. (Martin, 2009) is a typical example of in-text citation used in this very style.
Formatting the References
No academic paper is complete if it does not have any reference and the APA papers are no exception.
You have to use a lot of references, scattered across the body of the paper to make it more authentic.
All these references go to the last section of the Body that is the References Section.
Unlike other sections, the Reference section will have its own separate page. Other requirements concerning the Reference Section are as under.
- Write the word “References” at the top and center of the new page. The subtitle should not have any quotation marks neither should it be bold, italicized or underlined.
- You will begin with the running title.
- All entries should be double spaced and alphabetized.
- Everything you cite in the body should also have its own entry in the References section.
ORGANIZING YOUR PAPER EFFECTIVELY
In order to format your paper properly and effectively, you have to take special care of things like paper length, headings, and wording. Here is everything you need to know about them.
The experts believe in the notion of “less is more” as far as APA papers are concerned because they mostly deal with scientific topics.
Try your best to keep the paper brief but not on the cost of clarity. You have to deliver your message in a clear and concise manner.
Do not waste precious space by beating about the bush.
Come to your point directly and elaborate it professionally.
The paper should also be devoid of unnecessary details and fluff.
This way, your paper will not only be concise but short in length as well.
How to Use Headings?
The best method to effectively organize your APA paper is to use headings.
They make your paper look neat and clean.
In addition, they help readers easily locate different sections of the paper and pieces of information.
Similarly, readers will have a glimpse of the main idea of your essay in a jiffy if you divide it into various headings and subheadings.
There are actually five levels of headings in an APA style essay.
Each of these headings has a different size and thus, purpose.
Level 1 is the largest heading in the APA paper.
- It is also the main title of your paper.
- The level 1 heading that is the title should be centered in the middle of the page
- It should be bold.
- Properly capitalize the title using the upper and lower case letters.
Level 2 Heading:
- Level 2 heading is slightly smaller than the level 1 heading or the title of the paper.
- Level 2 heading is placed against the left margin of the paper.
- Always use bold letters for level 2 heading.
- Properly capitalize the level 2 heading using the upper and lower case letters where necessary.
Level 3 Heading:
- Level 3 heading is slightly smaller than the level 2 heading.
- You indent level 3 heading in from the left side of the margin.
- Use bold letters.
- You only capitalize the first word in the level 3 heading. All other words should be lowercased. The exception is for pronouns as they should begin with a capital letter.
Level 4 Heading:
- Level 4 heading is slightly smaller than the level 3 heading.
- You will indent the level 4 heading in from the left margin.
- Bold and italicize the level 4 heading.
- You only capitalize the first word in the level 4 heading as well. All other words should be lowercased. The exception is for pronouns as they should begin with a capital letter.
Level 5 Heading:
- Level 5 heading is the smallest heading in an APA paper.
- You will always indent the level 5 heading in from the left margin in addition to italicizing it.
- You only capitalize the first word in the level 5 heading. All other words should be lowercased. The exception is for pronouns as they should begin with a capital letter.
Word Usage in APA Style
Writing a paper in APA style is different from other formats which mostly cover topics like literature, language, and other composition subjects.
A scientific paper should always be concise, clear and direct.
Therefore, you should take extra care when it comes to word and verb usage in an APA essay.
Creation and analysis of data to test hypotheses form the basis of scientific research.
All the observations and research experiments rely on them for their success.
Remember that researchers use different types of verbs to explain and share the methods and results of their research.
The rule of thumb is that you must use verbs in the same tense throughout a section.
Here’s an example:
“We tested the solution to identify the possible pollutants.”
Note that we have used the second form of the verb “test” in the above sentence.
Therefore, it would not make any sense to use the first form of this particular verb in the same section or paragraph, as shown in the following sentence.
“Scientists often test solutions with the help of a microscope.”
The APA manual recommends using verbs in the following format.
Past tense or present perfect tense for the explanation of the methods.
Past tense for the explanation of the results and findings.
Present tense for the explanation of the conclusion and future implications.
The Tone of the Paper
Despite the fact that the APA paper should be free of fluff and unnecessary details, it should not bore readers to death as well.
In this regard, it is essential to carry out some research about who will be reading your paper.
Subsequently, write your essay in a way which not only educates the reader, but keep them engaged as well.
Spelling, Abbreviations, and Spacing
Needless to mention you should write in perfect English.
The essay should be well researched and highly informative for the readers.
It should provide viable solutions to a problem faced by a large number of people or a faction of a community.
The paper should also be free of plagiarism as well as spelling and grammatical mistakes.
Some other rules and regulations regarding words and numbers are as follows.
- Unless it is not at the end of the sentence, you must use one space after each punctuation mark.
- You will use two spaces after the punctuation mark if it is at the end of the sentence.
- You need not use periods between the letters of an Acronym such as APA or MLA if you decide to use one in your paper.
- You should not use abbreviations excessively. Use them sparingly as too many abbreviations make it difficult for the reader to comprehend a sentence or a paragraph.
- The case of unfamiliar abbreviations is a little different. If you want to use one, write the full text of the abbreviation and then write the abbreviation, enclosed in parenthesis, immediately after it. For example, you will write STM as Short Term memory Lose (STM).
- However, it is not necessary to write the text of the abbreviation if it is listed in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as is. AIDS is the typical example.
- Use the Oxford comma in a sentence with a series of three items. For instance, medication causes fatigue, upset stomach, and drowsiness.
- You can reference Webster’s Third New International Dictionary if the Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary does not have the word you are trying to use.
- You will consult the American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology for spellings of the words if you are writing the paper in the psychology field.
- Put the apostrophe before the “s” if you are using a possessive singular noun. On the other hand, put the apostrophe after the “s” in the case of writing possessive plural nouns.
- There should be no space before or after the hyphens in an APA style paper.
- Type the number if it is less than 10 such as five. You should use numbers for all the figures greater than 10 such as 15.
Using Graphics in an APA Paper
- Use Arabic numerals to number all the charts, images, drawings or tables in your paper.
- The first table mentioned in the text should also be numbered as table number 1. Similarly, number tables as per order of their appearance in the text.
- Do not fall in the trap of using too many graphics. Only use them when it is absolutely necessary or they supplement your point of view. Do not reinstate what you have already said in the text.
- An average reader will only understand the table if you use enough supportive words. However, the use of extra wording in the table or graph can backfire rather badly as well.
Above are some basic but important rules and regulations you have to observe while writing in the APA style.
Although, it seems a daunting task to master this particular style of paper formatting yet you will come to terms with everything with the passage of time.
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