APA Formatting: An Overview

Posted on Dec 1, 2013 in APA

All throughout your education, you will be asked by your professors to write academic papers from time to time. In writing academic papers, you need to use some sources to introduce previously established ideas related to your topic, to back up your own ideas with past findings, or to provide a point of comparison that will allow readers to track how things developed or changed throughout time. Aside from being well-supported by references, an effective academic paper must also be done and presented systematically. With this, you certainly need to familiarize yourself with formatting rules such as the APA style which will be discussed in this article.

What is 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.

APA Paper Format

As mentioned earlier, a good academic paper must be written and presented in a well-organized manner. In order to achieve this, rules were created for the whole write-up starting from the size of the paper to the content and reference list.

  1. The Basics


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.


  1. Components of Your Paper


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.


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.


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.


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.


  1. Referencing Rules


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 as shown below.


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.