10 Steps to Write a Research Paper in APA Format

APA format is the research paper style developed by the American Psychological Association. In college and graduate school, APA is the standard style for writing research papers that describe studies or experiments. Especially in psychology, sociology, and human health classes, professors often require students to write term papers in APA format.

Like other formatting styles, such as AP, MLA, and Chicago, APA has particular rules about titles, page numbers, citations, and references. (Be careful not to confuse APA with AP--Associated Press. AP style is used by journalists.)

If you need to write a research paper in APA format, this 10-step guide will show you how to do it correctly so that your paper isn't sent back for revisions.

1. Margins, Font, and Numbering

Set the left margin of your paper to one inch with left side justification and ragged right margins. Set the indent to 1/2 of an inch. Use the Times New Roman font, double-spaced. Number every page in the top right corner. At the top left corner of every page, in CAPS, use a shortened version of your title as the running header.

2. Organization

Organize the sections of your paper as follows: Title, Abstract, Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion, References, Appendices. Not all research papers will have sections on methods and results, or appendices, particularly if the paper is a summary and analysis of other works. If you are writing a summary paper in APA format, you will have a title page, abstract, introduction, discussion, and references.

3. Title Page

On a single page, write the full title of your paper using proper title case. In title case, you capitalize every word except a, an, the, and, or, but, nor, to, in, of, on, at, with, from, & for. You do capitalize these words if they are the first word in the title. Below the title, write your name and the name of your school.

4. Abstract

On a new page, write "Abstract" in bold face, centered at the top of the page with a one inch top margin. Begin your abstract on the next (double-spaced) line.

5. Introduction

On another new page, begin your introduction. Do not label this page with a heading that says "Introduction."

6. Methods, Results, and Discussion

Below the introduction, begin writing the method, results, and discussion in that order. These sections do need to begin with bold faced, centered headings, but they do not need to begin on new pages.

7. References

Begin the references section on a new page, with a centered, bold faced heading. List the works you cited in alphabetical order by the first author's last name. Indent the second line of each bibliography entry and double space the entire list.

8. Citations

According to APA style, whenever you quote, paraphrase, or borrow a key idea from another source, you must cite the author and year of the reference. Do this in the body of your paper within the same sentence where you make the reference. There are many ways to do this in APA style; pick the method that sounds the most natural. Acceptable examples:

Eighty percent of teenagers find it difficult to wake up before eight o'clock in the morning(Johnson, 2004, p.12).

In 2004, Johnson found that 62% of teenagers hit the snooze button more than twice.

According to Johnson, teenagers have more difficulty waking up when their first class is Spanish than when their first class is Art (2004).

9. Headings

There is a hierarchy to formatting headings in APA style. A main section heading is always bold faced and centered. Example:


The next level of subheading is bold faced and justified left; each important word starts with capital letter as in title case. Example:

Selecting Participants for the Stress Test

The next level of subheading is bold faced and indented left; only first word is capitalized. Example:

          Females with bi-polar disorder aged 18-45

The next level is bold faced, italicized, and indented with first word capitalized. Example:

          Verifying the subjects' ages and medical histories

The last level is indented and italicized with first word capitalized. Example:

        Subjects whose medical histories cannot be verified

10. Miscellaneous APA Formatting Rules

* Each figure or table should start on its own separate page, and be labeled so that you can refer to it by number within the paper. Place all tables and figures after the references.

* Use language and terms that are bias-free. Use neutral-sounding phrases in places where another phrase may have negative connotations or sound rude. For instance, rather than write "mentally ill participants," write instead "participants diagnosed with mental illnesses."

* Use the active voice, rather than passive voice when discussing participants in the experiments. For instance, write "The females looked at images and gave each image a rating," instead of "Images were shown to the females and ratings were given by the females."

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