Cathy Aranda
Cathy Aranda

Step-by-Step Handbook to APA Format Paper

13 min read

Published on: Apr 19, 2024

Last updated on: Apr 29, 2024

APA Format Paper

If you're struggling with the complexities of APA paper format, you're not alone. Many face the challenge of understanding detailed citation rules and specific formatting guidelines.

The rules for APA formatting, especially for a paper, are like a maze, often leaving students frustrated and uncertain.

But fear not! 

This guide simplifies APA paper formatting, making it easy to understand. 

Whether you're a student aiming for top grades or a researcher seeking precision, we've got you covered. 

Master APA format for your paper with the help of this detailed guide.

Let's start reading!

APA Paper Format Overview 

The American Psychological Association (APA) paper format is a set of guidelines widely used for academic and professional writing. 

These guidelines, detailed in the APA Publication Manual (7th Edition), establish a standardized structure to ensure clarity, consistency, and professionalism in written work.

APA 7th Edition Formatting: Student vs. Professional Papers 

The 7th Edition of the APA Publication Manual outlines distinct formatting guidelines for student papers (created for course credit) and professional papers (intended for scholarly publication). 

The variations primarily apply to the title page and running head, while citation practices remain consistent for both styles.

Here is the difference between educational and professional papers in APA formatting: 


Student Style

Professional Style

Title Page

Includes title, author's name, institutional affiliation, and course details.

Incorporates title, author's name, and institutional affiliation.

Running Head

No longer required

Running head labeled "Running head: TITLE" with page number.

Here are the detailed APA paper format guidelines:


APA format for paper has its own font size and style requirements like:

Font Type:

  • Use a clear and readable font throughout the entire document.
  • The recommended font is Times New Roman.
  • Alternatively, Arial is also acceptable.

Font Size:

  • Use 12-point font size for the main text of the document.
  • This includes the body of the paper, references, and any appendices.

Title Page

The title page is a crucial element of your academic or professional paper, serving as the first impression for your reader. 

Adhering to the American Psychological Association's (APA) guidelines ensures uniformity and professionalism in presenting your work. 

Below, we provide a detailed breakdown of the general components of an APA title page, exploring variations for different types of papers as well.

General Components:

  • Title: Centered in the upper half of the page, uses title case (major words capitalized).
  • Author's Name: Below the title, centered, and double-spaced.
  • Institutional Affiliation: Beneath the author's name, the name of the author's institution is presented.
  • Page Number: The page number is placed in the top-right corner, preceded by the running head. Numbers are Arabic numerals, starting on the title page.

For Educational Papers (Student Papers):

  • Course Details: Positioned below the institutional affiliation, student papers include course information (e.g., course name and number).

For Professional Papers:

  • Institutional Affiliation: For professional papers, the institutional affiliation may include the author's professional affiliation or the organization where the work was conducted.
  • Running Head: The running head labeled "Running head: TITLE" is included in the header on each page along with page number. It's a shortened version of the paper's title (up to 50 characters) and is in uppercase letters.

Page Abstract 

The abstract serves as a concise summary of your paper, summarizing its key elements. It allows readers to quickly grasp the purpose, methods, results, and conclusions of your research.

Length and Structure:

The abstract is typically a brief paragraph, ranging between 150 to 250 words. It follows a structured format, including the research question, methods, results, and conclusions.


  • Research Question: Clearly state the primary research question or objective of your study. Be succinct but informative.
  • Methods: Briefly outline the research methods employed. Include details such as participants, materials, and procedures.
  • Results: Summarize the main findings of your study. Highlight key data or outcomes that address the research question.
  • Conclusions: Provide a concise summary of the study's implications and conclusions. Discuss the significance of your findings and their potential impact.

Language and Style:

  • Use clear and concise language. Avoid unnecessary details or jargon.
  • Write in the past tense, as the abstract summarizes completed research.
  • Include relevant keywords to assist with database searches and article retrieval.


  • The abstract is a standalone section, placed on a separate page following the title page.
  • It should have the same running head as the rest of the paper, aligned to the left.


The body of your paper is where your research takes center stage.

Commonly following the IMRAD (Introduction, Method, Results, and Discussion) structure in research papers, each section has a specific role to play.

  1. Introduction:
  • Purpose: Clearly state the research question or hypothesis.
  • Context: Provide a brief literature review, highlighting relevant studies and establishing the context for your research.
  • Objective: Clearly outline the purpose and objectives of your study.
  1. Method:
  • Design: Describe the research design and methods employed.
  • Participants: Detail characteristics of the participants, including size and any relevant demographic information.
  • Procedure: Outline the step-by-step process followed during the study.
  • Materials: Specify any tools, equipment, or instruments used in the research.
  1. Results:
  • Presentation: Display the findings in a clear and organized manner, often using tables, figures, or graphs.
  • Objective Reporting: Stick to reporting the facts without interpretation.
  • Statistics: If applicable, present statistical analyses conducted.
  1. Discussion:
  • Interpretation: Interpret the results in the context of the research question and existing literature.
  • Implications: Discuss the broader implications of your findings and any limitations of the study.
  • Future Directions: Suggest potential areas for future research.
  1. Clear and Concise Writing:
  • Strive for clarity and conciseness throughout the body of your paper.
  • Use straightforward language and avoid unnecessary jargon.
  1. Proper Citation of Sources:
  • Follow APA guidelines for in-text citations and the reference list.
  • Attribute ideas, data, or quotes to their respective sources using the author-date citation format.

Headings and Subheadings

In APA format, headings and subheadings play a crucial role in organizing and structuring the content of your paper. 

It utilizes five levels of headings, each outlining a specific formatting system to signify their relative importance.




Level 1

Centered, Bold, Title Case


Level 2

Flush Left, Bold, Title Case   

Literature Review

Level 3

   Indented, Bold, Italicized, Title Case

Theoretical Framework

Level 4

   Indented, Bold, Title Case, Ends With a Period.

Conceptual Definitions.

Level 5

   Indented, Bold, Italicized, Title Case, Ends With a Period.

Operational Definitions.

Expert Tip

There's more to creating headings on an APA style page, so check out our blog on 'APA format headings and subheadings' for detailed insights. 

Reference List 

The reference list follows specific formatting rules for various types of sources, ensuring consistency and clarity. 

Here's a breakdown of key considerations for creating an effective APA reference list:

  1. Alphabetical Order:
  • Arrange entries alphabetically by the author's last name. If there is no author, use the first significant word of the title. Learn more about the APA order of references for accurate formatting. 
  • Ignore articles like "A," "An," or "The" at the beginning of a title when alphabetizing.
  1. Hanging Indentation:
  • Use a hanging indentation for the second and subsequent lines of each entry in the reference list.
  1. Online Sources:
  • Include the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) for online journal articles when available.
  • If no DOI is available, provide the URL. Avoid using "Retrieved from" for online sources.
  1. Retrieval Dates:
  • Include a retrieval date for online sources when the content is likely to change or is not archived.

Figures and Tables 

Incorporating figures and tables in your APA-formatted paper enhances the presentation of complex data, providing visual clarity for your readers. 

Here's how to effectively include and format figures and tables:

  1. Numbering and Title:


  • Number figures consecutively throughout the paper, using Arabic numerals (e.g., Figure 1, Figure 2).
  • Provide a brief, descriptive title below each figure.


  • Number tables consecutively using Arabic numerals (e.g., Table 1, Table 2).
  • Place the title above the table.
  1. Clear Labels and Captions:

Include clear labels and captions to ensure that readers understand the content without referring to the main text.

  1. Source Information:

Include source information below the figure or table if it is not original. This includes citing the source of the data or adapting a previously published figure or table.

  1. Notes:

If necessary, include notes to explain specific elements in the figure or table. Use superscript lowercase letters (e.g., a, b) to match notes to specific elements.

  1. Placement:
  • Figures and tables are typically placed after the paragraph in which they are first referenced.
  • If they are too large, they can be placed on a separate page after the reference page.


For Figures:

Figure 1. Distribution of Writing Styles.

Source: Adapted from Smith, J. (2018). *The Art of Writing*. Academic Press.

For Tables:

Table 2. Comparison of Writing Techniques.

Note. *p < .05.


In APA format, appendices provide an opportunity to include additional information that complements the main text without disrupting its flow.

Here's a guide on how to effectively use and format appendices:

  1. Labeling and Titling:
  • Each appendix is labeled alphabetically (Appendix A, Appendix B, etc.) and titled descriptively.
  1. In-Text References:
  • In the main text, refer to the appendices by their labels. For example, "See Appendix A for the complete survey questionnaire.
  1. Placement:
  • Appendices are placed after the reference list.
  • If there is more than one appendix, label them as Appendix A, Appendix B, etc.
  1. Supplementary Material:
  • Appendices should include material that supports your paper's content but is not essential to the main narrative.
  • Ensure that each appendix is clearly organized and labeled for easy reference.
  1. Page Numbering:
  • Page numbers for appendices continue from the main text. If your paper ends on page 12, the first page of the appendix is page 13.

Appendix A: Survey Questionnaire

[Insert the content of the survey questionnaire here.]

Appendix B: Detailed Methodology

[Provide additional details on the research methodology here.]

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Cathy Aranda


Cathy Aranda (Marketing)

Cathy is a highly dedicated author who has been writing for the platform for over five years. With a Master's degree in Mass Communication, she is well-versed in various forms of writing such as articles, press releases, blog posts, and whitepapers. As an essay writing guide author at, she has been helping students and professionals improve their writing skills by offering practical tips on research, citation, sentence structure, and style.

Cathy is a highly dedicated author who has been writing for the platform for over five years. With a Master's degree in Mass Communication, she is well-versed in various forms of writing such as articles, press releases, blog posts, and whitepapers. As an essay writing guide author at, she has been helping students and professionals improve their writing skills by offering practical tips on research, citation, sentence structure, and style.

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