APA Format Overview

Proper formatting is an essential part of any manuscript. This article will show you a detailed approach in formatting a manuscript using the American Psychological Association (APA) system. It will cover the general rules and specific guidelines for the APA body format.

 What is the APA style?

This formatting style, developed in 1929 by the American Psychological Association (APA), is most widely used in writing academic papers in different fields, especially the social sciences. If you are already accustomed to other formatting and referencing styles such as Chicago or MLA, that’s great. However, it is strongly recommended that you also get a good grip of APA formatting rules for some professors will surely require you to use these.

If you’re preparing to enter the university or getting ready for a social science subject and want to know more about APA formatting, you can read on for more substantial information that might come in handy.


General Rules


In writing an academic paper in APA format, you have to use an 8.5 x 11 inch paper and make sure that it has a 1 inch margin on all sides. Also, the contents of your paper must be typed using Times New Roman with a font size of 12 and should always be double-spaced.

In every page, the title of your paper must be included in the left part of the header and the page number in Arabic numeral on the right. If your title has more than 50 characters, make a shorter version of it and use that shorter title for your header.

Margins and Font

  • Use one inch margin on all sides of every page, and Times New Roman with 12-point font size.


  • All parts of the paper should be double spaced. Leave one space after a comma, colon, or semi-colon and two spaces after a period.

Alignment and Indention

  • Align the text to the left and indent the first line of every paragraph by 5-7 spaces.

Running head and pagination

  • The running head or the short version of the title appears on the first line of every page, flushed left and written in uppercase letters. It should be less than 50 characters in length including punctuations and spacing.
  • In line with the running head is page number, which is located one inch from the right edge of the paper.
  • The title page, abstract, body, references, footnotes, and appendices begin on a new page.


  • The heading for each part (e.g. Title Page, Abstract, References, Footnotes, Appendix or Appendices) is aligned at the center in the first line below the running head.


  • The paper starts with the title page followed by the abstract, body of the paper, references, footnotes, and appendices (abstract, footnotes, and appendices are not always required in a document).



Sections of the APA Format Paper

Sections required for every APA paper: title page, abstract, body, reference list, footnotes and appendices

Title page

The first part of your paper is obviously the title page. On this page, you must type the title of your paper, your name, ID number, course title, school, and name of the professor. Don’t forget to have them centered on the page. For a detail explanation visit our guide on the APA title page.

As previously mentioned, every page must have a shorter version of the title and a page number. The only difference with the other pages is that for the title page, you would need to type “Running head: ” before the short title.

Elements: Running head, Title, Author byline, Institutional affiliation, Author note

  • The title page begins at page one.
  • Ideally, the title should not exceed 12 words.
  • All elements are written in lowercase and uppercase letters, and are aligned at the center of the page.
  • The title comes first and next lines contain the author byline, institutional affiliation and author note.




After making the title page, the next page should contain the Abstract. Simply put, this is a summary of your whole paper and must only be composed of 150-250 words. Have the word “Abstract” centered on the page and the write-up itself should not be indented.

Content: One paragraph summary of the paper with 150 to 250 words

  • The body of the abstract is in block format (no indention).
  • Numbers are generally written in digits except those at the beginning of a sentence.




The body of a paper is usually composed of an Introduction, Review of Related Literature, Method, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion and Recommendations. However, these may vary depending on the requirement of your professor. For example, some professors won’t require a separate chapter for the Review of Related Literature and would instead ask you to incorporate that into the Introduction and Discussion.

Just remember that all headings must be in bold and the first letter of each word should be capitalized except for the articles, conjunctions and prepositions. Also, you should have all first-level headings centered on the page and all second-level headings aligned to the left.

Content: Main part of the paper

  • The heading of each subsection (e.g. Method, Results, Discussion) of the body is written in bold, aligned at the center, and with uppercase and lowercase letters.
  • Subsequent headings and subheadings follow specific formatting rules for each level.


Reference List

Proper referencing is one of the most important parts of the APA paper format. As you write the main content of your paper, you will notice the need for citing sources. You can’t just make a statement and then tell people that it’s based on your common sense. No matter how simple it is the right way to do it is either to get some data from your results that might explain your claim or just support your statement with previous findings of experts.

There are several citation guidelines that need to be followed but normally, you just have to type the last name of the author, insert a comma, type the year of publication, and then enclose these in a parenthesis. This should be located at the end of the sentence before the period.

Whenever you write an in-text citation as mentioned above, make sure that you take note of these citations and include them in the reference list. So for instance, if you have 10 different in-text citations in the body of your paper, your reference list must have 10 entries as well.

Again, certain rules must be followed for each type of reference. In general, the sources listed in the reference list are composed of the last name of the author/s with the first letter of their first name, year of publication, title that is italicized, and place of publication. They should be alphabetized and presented with the first line of the reference aligned to the left and the next lines indented.

Content: Reference list
Elements: The main elements and specific format depend on the nature of the reference (e.g. books, non-print materials, online sources)

  • All entries are listed in alphabetical order based on the last name of the author or title of the reference
  • After the first line, indent the next lines by 5-7 spaces (hanging indention)




Content: Additional information to support the some parts of the manuscript.


  • Each footnote is identified by a number in superscript that appears in the text.
  • The first line of each footnote is indented by 5-7 spaces.



Content: Complex data or information that is too cumbersome to include in the body of the paper.

  • For more than one appendix, the heading “Appendix” should be accompanied by capital letters A, B, C and so forth (e.g. Appendix A, Appendix B, Appendix C).
  • Indent the first line by 5-7 spaces.


Additional Insights

Aside from the fact that APA formatting can standardize the presentation of academic papers, APA paper format can also prevent you from being accused of plagiarism. Institutions consider plagiarism as a major offense and you could get penalized because of this. In order to avoid this, make sure that you give proper credit to the authors by strictly following the citation rules.

There are some cases wherein some students do not intentionally plagiarize but because of their negligence, they get into this kind of trouble. You probably have heard this a thousand times from your mom, but please try to be responsible and organized.

Another good thing about APA formatting is that it can add credibility to your study by presenting findings of experts that support your ideas and allow you to present the key points in a comprehensible manner.

Although Wikipedia is the most convenient way to get some information, it is really not a great idea to cite this in your paper. Exert some effort and make use of your school library to get scholarly books or peer-reviewed journals. Another winning tip, there are also online databases where you can get access to valid sources from the comfort of your own home. Using APA as a formatting style may be confusing at first but with constant practice and exposure, you will surely be able to master this in no time.