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Overview of APA Style Formatting

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Rebecca has been a freelancer online for 10+ years. She enjoys writing, editing and being a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful little girls.

An overview of APA format including information on your abstract, cover page, and page composition.

An overview of APA format including information on your abstract, cover page, and page composition.

What Is APA Formatting?

APA formatting and writing is a uniform style, created and used by the American Psychological Association (APA), to provide consistent formatting and writing conventions for scholarly articles.

The association began publishing journals nearly a century ago, and since then their writing guide has been adopted by hundreds of publications. Though originally established for scholarly articles, it is not exclusive and could be required by teachers and used by other less reputable publications. It provides consistency, rules, and structure for your writing that can help elevate its credibility. It looks professional, allows for cross-referencing (this is very important in scholarly work), and helps the writer avoid plagiarizing (or being accused of it!).

That said, there are many intricacies that can be hard to follow, from the size of the paper, to how to write an abstract, and grammar conventions to follow. Here is an overview of what you can expect when writing using the APA Style.

APA Paper Sections of Note

  • Title Page
  • Abstract
  • Main Body
  • References
APA Title Page Example

APA Title Page Example

APA Style Title Page

A title page is required for all APA Style papers. If you are a student, ask your teacher if they require the professional version or if the student version is sufficient.

Check List for Title Pages

  • Words should be centered in the upper half of the page.
  • The title should be in APA Style using both upper and lowercase letters*
  • Author's Name (first, middle initial, and last names)
  • Course title or institution affiliation (check with your instructor for specific requirements)
  • Double spaced
  • Running head (find an example in the photo below)
  • Page number

*The APA guide recommends that your title should be brief and precise. A good rule of thumb is no more than 12 words in length.

APA Title Page Running Head Example

APA Title Page Running Head Example

If a Running Head/Page Header Is Required

The running head (required in the official style guide but may not be depending on your instructor) is a shortened version of your paper's title and should not exceed 50 characters.

If a running head or page header is required, write it out in all capitals and on all pages of your piece. Align it with the left margin. (Do not write "Running Head" on the document; that is written out purely as an example of placement.)

APA Abstract Example

APA Abstract Example

APA Abstract Explained

Think of your abstract as a complete and comprehensive summary that informs your reader of what topics and points of interest you plan to cover. This allows your reader some brief familiarity with the ensuing terminology used, the topics covered, and the theories that will be addressed throughout the paper. You should note the hypothesis, methods used, and the study results.

Your abstract (if required by your teacher) should be on the second page of your paper, immediately following your title page.

APA Abstract Checklist

If an abstract for your assignment is required it should include the following:

  • "Abstract" should be centered and in bold and on the first line of the page.
  • Begin with the most important information (four or five strong points, ideas, and/or theories).
  • Do not repeat the title.
  • Only include information that appears in the paper.
  • Cite any previous research if applicable.
  • Do not exceed 250 words (unless specified by your teacher).
  • Keep it to one paragraph, not indented, and double-spaced.
  • Be sure you are clear and concise.
  • *Define ALL abbreviations and special terminology (excluding units of measurement).

It should also be noted that the official APA Style website recommends the following fonts: 11-point Calibri, 11-point Arial, 10-point Lucida Sans Unicode, 12-point Times New Roman, 11-point Georgia, or 10-point Computer Modern.

APA Main Body

The main body is considered the "meat" of your paper. This section of your paper should ask and answer whatever topic you are focused on.

The main body of your paper should include any points you highlighted in your abstract as well as supporting information, sources, or any other pertinent information to address your topic.

Word Count

Is there a specific word count required? If so, be sure you meet the minimum within the main body of the paper. The title page, abstract (if required), and reference page should not factor into your paper's word count.

APA Main Body Checklist

  • The topics mentioned in the abstract are thoroughly covered.
  • If no abstract is needed, are the main topics still adequately covered?
  • Make sure your document has one inch margin on all sides.
  • Make sure your document's font style and size correct are correct.
  • Make sure your piece is double spaced.
  • Make sure to run spell check for copy and grammar.
  • Sources should be referenced in-text as well.
APA In-Text Citation Example

APA In-Text Citation Example

APA In-Text Citations

It is important to not only cite your references on your reference page (see below) but inside your paper as well.

In-text citations allow the reader a quick cross-referencing guide to where your information is coming from.

Reliable Sources

It is important to keep in mind that it is mandatory to use what is known as a reliable source. Reliable sources can be found in books (or just chapters of books), magazines, journals, newspapers, or websites. Consider if the source is a primary, secondary, or tertiary source, as well as if it was peer-reviewed, if the author has any motivation for writing the piece, and how old the piece is.

This article on Scribbr has more details for helping you identify reliable sources.

APA Reference Page Example

APA Reference Page Example

APA Citation Generators

It is extremely important you have a comprehensive and correctly-composed page of references. This is where your reader can see any and all of the materials you used to do your research and come to whatever conclusion you draw within the piece. These can be very time-consuming to create; make sure you keep a list (if anything, an abbreviated one) so you are not scrambling to locate all your sources when you've finished writing the body of your paper.

Citation Generator

Citation generators are a handy tool to help you learn how to cite your sources properly. Now that we are able to research and write using the Internet and word processing programs, typing in all the specifics a citation requires feels even more time-consuming. However, the process can be mitigated by using a reliable citation program. Still, citation generators are capable of mistakes; it is important to read through them and know what to check. These are a few websites that, traditionally, do a good job of creating APA Style reference lists.

It should also be noted these sites are capable of creating citations for other writing styles like Chicago and MLA. Make sure the website is set to create for APA Style.

APA Reference Page And Citation Formatting and Checklist

  • Make sure the reference page is the last page (or pages) of your paper.
  • "References" should be centered at the top of the page.
  • The reference page should be double-spaced.
  • Make sure it has the same header as the rest of your paper.
  • Follow the same margin guidelines of one inch.
  • Sources are listed alphabetically by the author of the source’s last name. Also include their first and the pages of the work you used.
  • If the source is longer than one line of text, use a hanging indent (CTL+T).
  • Longer works like books and journals should appear in italics.

APA Formatting Final Checklist

So, there you have a broad overview of the main components of writing an APA Style paper. In terms of page formatting, here is one final list to make sure your paper is in proper APA Style format.

  • Standard size paper (8.5" x 11")
  • Margins of one inch on all sides
  • Typed (most everything is now required to be typed)
  • Correct font style and size (often depends on the teacher's preference)
  • Double spaced
  • Running heads (if required)
  • Page numbers on all pages
  • Title page
  • Abstract (if required)
  • Reference page
  • Proper citations
  • Run spell check, Grammarly, or another in-program application to check for spelling and grammar mistakes. If you have time, it is suggested to take some time away from your piece and then reread it again. You tend to notice new mistakes after some time away. Or, you can have someone else read through the work, even if they aren't familiar with the content, to look for spelling and grammar errors.

I hope this overview of APA formatting was helpful and can help you get started on your paper. Below is a list of additional resources that will help you make sure you are using APA Style correctly.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Dianna Mendez on January 01, 2013:

A+ on this article! I needed the refresher on the style. Thanks! Have a wonderful 2013.

Rfordin (author) from Florida on December 30, 2012:

Hey billybuc,

This one took me forever to write with all the holiday stuff between. A little brush up is never a bad thing :). A very Happy New Year to you and yours.

Much love,


Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 30, 2012:

It's been awhile since I reviewed that format. Thanks for the education. Wishing you a very Happy New Year! Thank you for a year of friendship.