How to Write APA format Essays

Grasping the APA essay format can be challenging and mostly if you are used to other formatting styles. In fact, the concept becomes more complicated if you are using different styles to write various papers. But the format is common in college and university. Understanding its fundamentals is critical.

The APA style is typical for students studying social sciences such as psychology, art, and sociology. However, it's is applicable in various professional circles. That means that the skill can benefit you beyond your university or college years.

The basic structure of an essay consists of an introduction, body, and conclusion. However, formatting gives the paper a unique layout depending on the style used.

Therefore, if your instructor requires you to use the APA format, it means adopting the APA guidelines.

The guidelines determine your paper's page margins, font size and style, paragraph style, and other formatting aspects discussed in detail in this APA format essay writing guide.

What is an Essay Format?

An essay format comprises guidelines that dictate the layout of your paper. It gives directions about how to handle the title page, and essay structure, citations, and so forth.

Generally, a correctly formatted essay will have an attention-grabbing essay hook, a title page, and an appropriate essay structure. It also has proper citations, text capitalization, in-text citation, and an organized works cited or reference page.

General Essay Formatting Guidelines

  1. a) Creating the title page is the first step of essay formatting. Commonly referred to as the cover page, it is common in MLA, Chicago, and the APA format. This front page of an essay helps a reader to identify your work at a glance. It also gives your paper a professional look.

When formatting the title page, ensure you observe the following:

  • Use double space.

  • Use times New Roman, font size 12.

  • Write the name of your school.

  • Write the title.

  • Towards the bottom of the page, write your name, course name and number, tutor's name, and the submission date.

  1. b) Before you embark on writing your paper, you need to structure the first page.

The first page comprises:

  • The header, positioned on the paper's right edge, half an inch from the top margin. Note that once you add the header, it appears on all your essay pages. Remove it on the works cited or reference page.

  • The heading; which appears on the left side corner of the upper part of the paper.

  • Your essay title - centered and written an inch below the top edge of the paper.

  • Next comes the first paragraph of your paper title.

APA essay format

            Sample of a formatted first page

  1. c) You will then format the introduction, body, and conclusion sections. Regardless of the paper size, all dissertations and essays will have the three mentioned sections. The only difference will be the size and number of paragraphs.

For example, a five-paragraph paper should have two paragraphs making up the introduction and the conclusion. The body should comprise the remaining three.

The general formatting rules are as outlined below:

  • Use Times New Roman font size 12.

  • The introduction should have a compelling essay hook, followed by a catchy introduction. It should be brief while clearly stating your main idea.

  • Use your ideas to build the body in a concise, logical, and coherent way.

  • Smoothly transition from one paragraph to the other.

  • Remember to cite all your evidence.

  • In the conclusion, bring your main ideas together. Alternatively, you can summarize by giving the solution for your research problem or outline your arguments' implications.

  • Never introduce a new problem or idea in your conclusion.

  1. d) In-text citation is applicable in APA format and also in other essay formatting styles. Without citation, you are liable to plagiarism, which is unethical according to academic writing guidelines.

In-text citation helps to reveal the author of the information presented in your paper. Use it whenever referring to, paraphrasing, summarizing, or quoting from an academic source.

Be sure to add a corresponding entry in the reference list for each of your in-text citations.

The structure assumed during in-text citation depends on whether it is a paragraph, a web page with an author, or without a date and so forth.  

Here are examples of in-text citation:


According to Dr. Smith Robert Mephistopheles is best defined as a "redeemable, honorable, antagonist with a strong sense of justice" (14). ⇐  Place any words directly cited from the text inside quotation marks. Indicate the page number of your information source inside the parenthesis. Place the brackets after the last quotations, then add a period.

Mephistopheles is best expressed as a "redeemable, honorable, antagonist with a strong sense of justice" (Robert 14).⇐When the author's name is not included in the sentence, place it before the page number inside the parentheses.

  1. e) Lastly, you need to format your work cited page. The section includes a list of all your sources.

Note that formatting the works cited or the reference page in APA format differs from other writing styles.

However, below are the general guidelines:

  • Sources appear in alphabetical order.

  • In case a specific reference takes up more than two lines, indent the second one to the right by one inch. Do the same for all other lines for the same reference.

  • Formatting your work cited page is determined by the type of media. Print, web, lecture, and other sources assume various formatting structures.

What Is APA Format?

The APA style was founded in 1929 by a group of anthropologists, psychologists, and business managers who wanted to simply scientific publications for easier readability and comprehension. The final seven-page article was published in the psychological bulletin, forming the first American Psychological Association (APA) style guidelines.

Later, the guidelines were expanded and became the APA publication manual.

Also, there have been modifications to the manual in response to researchers', educators', and students' needs.

The OWL at Pardue noticed errors in the 6th edition sample papers and alerted the APA publication specialists. The discovery prompted the publication of the 7th edition.

The said sample papers have incorrect examples of running heads on the paper pages after the title page. A list of the errors is available on this link.

Importance of the APA Format

Most social sciences papers have the APA style layout. Besides providing consistency and uniformity during formatting, it enables readers to focus on the presented ideas. A reader can also quickly scan APA formatted works for key points, sources, and findings.

The guidelines also help authors disclose key information and minimize reader distractions that could arise from wrong references, punctuations, capitalization, in-text citations, and data presentation.

Furthermore, authors can plan for ethical compliance and report their research details to allow fellow researchers to replicate studies and readers to evaluate research findings.

APA Format Guidelines

The APA guidelines cover various paper aspects, including paper length, margins, title page, abstract, citations, and so forth.

The below guidelines will help you craft a perfect APA format essay.

APA Format: Writing and Organizing your Paper

Present your essay using double space on an 8.5 by 11-inch paper. Use Times New Roman font size 12 and be concise.

Avoid repeating your ideas. However, ensure that your points are clear and easy to understand. Embrace professionalism as you work on your paper.

Lastly, keep in mind the professor's instructions concerning the paper length.

APA Format: Paper Margins

The recommended APA style margin size is one inch. However, you can use larger paper margins but not smaller than one inch.

Consistency is critical. Therefore, maintain the same size all round (right, left, top, and bottom edges of your paper).

APA Format: Title Pages

Whether you will have the cover page or not depends on your tutor's instructions. Although it is essential to have the title page, some tutors wouldn't mind if you skip the detail. If in doubt, please ask.

The cover page bears the following:

  • The paper title, which appears on the upper half of the page.

  • Name of the author or authors.

  • Name of the institution.

  • The course title and number.

  • Instructor's name.

  • The paper's due date.

  • A running head - strictly for professional papers.

  • Author's note bearing the ORCID iD number, disclosure, and an acknowledgment.

The author's note is not mandatory. If the instructor or the professional publication house instructs you to include it, type it below the institution's name.

  • Also, the title should be centered. Place it 3 to 4 lines from the top edge of the paper. Write it in title case, bold it but do not italicize nor underline. You should also honor other titling rules.

  • Be sure to use double space on your cover page and write your tutor's name in their preferred format, for example, Dr. Jude Brown or Professor Ian Peters or Emmy Lakes, Ph.D.

apa essay format

 Sample of a student title page

APA Format: Running Heads/Page Header

The 6th edition states that page headers are mandatory for students and professional papers. However, p. 37 of the 7th edition says that running heads are inessential in student papers. You should confirm with the instructor about whether to add or not to include the header.

Nonetheless, page numbering is critical. Have your page numbers at the top right-hand corner of your essay pages. Do not add p. or pg. in front of the numbers.

Apart from the page number, the header also bears the paper title. The title should appear on all the pages apart from the work cited page. Capitalize and justify it to the left and place it an inch from your paper's top and left margins.

Lastly, the title should be no more than 50 characters.

APA Format: Paper Outlines

Outlines are essential when writing an academic paper. They help you organize your work, research within the necessary scope, and establish your subheadings.

However, there are no APA style guidelines about outline structure. You are free to adopt any structure.

And although creating a structure is not mandatory, stay on track by ensuring you have one.

APA Format: Paper Abstract

  1. 38 of the 7th edition describes an abstract as the summary of a scientific study or scholarly article. Because scholarly articles and scientific publications are detailed, authors should create quality abstracts.

The abstract communicates your paper's goal, thereby helping readers determine whether they should or should not read your essay.

Note that abstracts are inapplicable in classroom assignments. But they are required if you plan to publish your paper in a journal. Alternatively, your tutor can instruct you to include it in your essay.

  • Write your abstract on a separate page after the cover page.

  • Confirm that the header is available as indicated earlier.

  • Write and center the word "Abstract" at the top of the page – do not use quotation.

  • Write a summary of your main ideas on the next line (introduce your research topic, research questions, methodology, findings, and conclusion. Be precise; the abstract accommodates just 150 to 250 words.

  • Use passive voice, double space, and do not indent.

  • If you have used a specific researcher's work in your essay, include the author's last name and the year they released their work.

  • You can include keywords and keyword strings to help researchers and readers find your work easily. Write the word keyword after your abstract, italicize and indent, then type the list of your keywords and keyword strings.

APA Format: Body of the Essay

Depending on previously mentioned reasons, the body appears either after the cover page or the abstract.

  • Have your page numbers (including the cover page) at the top right side of every page.

  • Write your topic on the next line. It should be in bold and centered.

  • Indent the first paragraph as well as all the other body paragraphs.

For professional essays and scientific papers:

  • Include the running heads and have the abstract on page two.

  • Capitalize the heading

  • The introduction should capture details about the research problem.

  • Create the next section using Method as your Bold and center it. Also, explain how you researched, including data collection details.

  • Bold and center the next subtitle – Using charts and graphs, summarize your research data.

  • The next subhead should be Bold and center, then use your data to explain your conclusions. You should also state whether the research findings supported or failed to support your hypothesis. Discuss the limitations of the study and provide suggestions for future research.

APA Format: Headings and Subheadings

Headings help to organize an essay. Readers can also quickly scan your work.

There are five levels of headings under the APA style, and all should be double spaced. Also, there should be no spaces in-between paper sections.

Level 1

  • It is the title of your paper

  • It should be centered and typed in the middle of the page

  • It should be bolded

  • It should have proper title capitalization (use of upper and lower case)

Level 2

  • It should be typed from the left margin

  • It should be bold

  • Title capitalization should be used where applicable

Level 3

  • Similar to level 2 headings but ends with a period.

Level 4

  • It should be indented from the left margin

  • Bolded

  • Use title capitalization where necessary

  • It ends with a period

Level 5

  • Indented from the left margin

  • Bolded

  • Italicized

  • Use title capitalization where necessary

  • It ends with a period

APA Format: Use of Graphics

Instead of typing, you can use graphs, charts, tables, and images to present information.

Graphics are easier to read and understand. Therefore, most readers are attracted to essays that present data using graphics.

The 7th edition publication manual (pp. 195-250) has clear guidelines for using graphics in essay writing.

  • All graphics must be numbered just as they appear in the essay. Example: Figure 1, Figure 2, Table 1, Table 2. Figure 3.

  • Align all graphics to the left.

  • Include enough explanation to help a reader understand the graphics. Be precise. For example, Table 1 shows the amount of money used to fight Malaria.

  • Use graphics to present new ideas. They should not restate what you have already typed.

  • For classroom assignments, place the table next to related text.

  • For journal publications, place the table at the back.

  • Include notes on every table or figure (photographs, pie charts, drawings, hierarchy charts, and maps).

  • Stick to horizontal lines.

  • Use font size 12.

  • Limit cell-shading.

  • Use single or double space (do not use them simultaneously. Use either throughout the paper).

  • In the stub (first column), center your title and align the information underneath it to the left.

  • Use black and white photographs unless you are writing about color-related content and have to use colored pictures to clarify.

  • Help the reader to focus on your main idea by cropping irrelevant portions of photographs

  • Before using a person's photograph, ask them for permission.

  • Each photograph must have a reference

In the below APA formatted pie chart, the researcher used data from a journal article

APA Format: Referencing

After the conclusion, you should have the reference page.

The reference list helps a reader to retrieve information from the body paragraphs quickly.

  • Use the word "Reference" as the title of the reference list. Remember to start it on a separate page after the conclusion. The title should appear at the top, bolded and centered. Do not use quotations.

  • Use a half an inch left indent for lines appearing after the first one.

  • Invert all authors' names (start with the last name) and use initials for their first and second names.

  • For multiple authors, use commas to separate their names.

  • Use an ampersand (&) before the last author's name and ellipsis (…) instead of an ampersand after the 19th author, then write the last author's name – rule applicable when the authors exceed twenty.

  • Arrange the reference list in an alphabetical

  • Arrange the list chronologically when referencing multiple articles from the same author

  • If your reference is a webpage, reports, chapter, book, or article, capitalize the first letter of the title or subtitle, proper nouns, and the first letter after a dash or colon in the title.

  • Do not italicize short pieces such as paragraphs. However, longer works like books, names of newspapers, and edited collections must appear in italics.

  • Italicize and write journal titles in full just as it appears. Example: It should be PhiloSOPHIA and not

APA Format: Bias and labels

Pages 131-149 of the APA guidelines prohibit biased writing inclined towards ages, specific groups, gender, physical disability, race, and sexual orientation.

Below is a list of recommendations to help you reduce bias under the APA style:

  • If the information about an individual or labels is unrelated to your topic, do not use it.

  • When mentioning an individual's orientation or characteristic, put the person first. Example - It should be patients who are diabetic and not diabetic patients.

  • Instead of terms like "adolescents" and "the elderly," use broader ones such as "participants" or "subjects."

  • Use gender-neutral pronouns "they" and "their."

  • When the subjects' can be men or women, use gender-neutral terms. For example, "chairperson" instead of "chairman."

  • Use the census category terms to mention race and ethnic groups and capitalize the first letter.

  • Replace "minority" with "underrepresented groups" or "people of color."

  • Use the terms "boys" or "girls" for children below 12 years. "Young woman/man" or "female/male adolescents" for those between 13-17. For the over 18 subjects, use either "men" or "women."

  • Only use the words senior and elderly as adjectives. When referring to their noun forms, use "older adults."

Additional Resources

Before fully grasping the APA format, you could get stuck while working on your essay. Consider purchasing a copy of the 7th or the 6th APA publication manual, depending on your professor's instructions.

Alternatively, you can refer to ready samples such as tables, APA style headings and subheadings, and in-text citations. Also, you can use citation generators and even access complete APA formatted papers.

Although online tools make your work easier, always check on accuracy. Also, compare the suggestions with your tutor's instructions or the journal publication guidelines.

Lastly, if doubting anything, ask for essay writing help from the professionals








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Published on: 27, Dec 2020
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