Guide to Help You Format Your Essay According to the Rules of APA

What do we mean by APA formatting? Well, the American Psychological Association (APA) is typically used for scientific based research papers. Its standards and required guidelines are used in several social and behavioral science courses.

Behavioral sciences are those which touch on both animals as well as human behavior. Good examples include neuroscience and cognitive science courses. Social sciences, on the other hand, concentrate on specific aspects of our cultural and social lives. Here’s where you will find the following branches of study:

  • Political science and economics

  • Linguistics

  • Economics

  • Human Geography and Anthropology

This format is also used in citations. When writing any paper, remember to cite all your sources to acknowledge and give credibility to your different angles of research. If you fail to do so, your essay will be flagged out as a plagiarized document, leading to a poor grade in the end.

Now, in our detailed guide, we have taken enough time and collected helpful tips to assist you in arranging your paper according to the standards prescribed by the American Psychological Association. Just have a look!

Formatting and Learning How to Organize Your Essay Effectively

Here, we will concentrate on details like the length of your essay, spacing requirements, and adding headings to your document. However, before we dive into these critical concepts, let us first understand the kind of pieces that you should expect to write.

The Various Types of APA Structured Essays

  • Literature reviews - These essay review the works of other individuals or even groups of people to get answers to their current communication, social, and economic challenges of today

  • Methodological Papers - These essays explain any new modifications or advances of existing practices in some scientific procedures. As the writer, you should present accurate data proving that these innovations are valid. Documents of this kind will require a lot of research.

  • Theoretical Papers - may be similar to the literature reviews papers; here, you should examine and collect information on contemporary events or problems affecting society using credible research. However, unlike literature reviews, it tries to find answers to a growing societal issue by developing a new or better theory using reliable evidence.

  • Empirical Studies - These essays use information drawn from various experiments to come up with relevant research documents. Unlike other papers, it uses actual research data as its basis of reference and not theories.

  • A Case Study - When writing such an essay, you’re expected to present helpful information touching on specific groups in our society. For instance, ‘Female Genital Mutilation.’ Here, make valid suggestions for other future studies, come up with highly probable theories, or develop solutions to defeating the issue being discussed.

How Long Should Your Structure Your Paper?

When writing any APA based essay, remember that writing less is always better than filling your paper with too many unnecessary words. These are scientifically based topics, so keep your document, short, precise, and straight to the point. Be professional in how you present your ideas to make it even more concise.

The Size of the Margins

Keep your margins consistent throughout the page. We recommend that you use 1-inch margins across each side. Of course, you can still choose larger margins in your essay. The king thing is to keep them above 1-inch.

Creating Page Titles

This is usually the first part of your essay. It appears on the cover/title page and simply mentions the subject under discussion. While some instructors require their students to have this title page added to their documents, others are okay with or without it. Even so, as a dedicated student and passionate writer, remember to include this section in your essay at all times.

Now, for your APA format title page, add these key components:

  • The page title together with the continuous or running head

  • Your name

  • Institutional Affiliations

Simple Tips for Creating an APA based Title Page

While certain publications or learning institutions may need a note from the author, it’s not a crucial requirement. However, when asked to include one, write it below your institutional affiliation. Other guidelines for you to adhere to are as follows:

  • Your paper’s title should immediately communicate the main objective of the document

  • Place your claim at the center of the page. Keep it under the Times New Roman font with a 12-point level. Don’t add any other forms of formatting.

  • Keep your text double spaced

  • Don’t add any name titles, like Ms, Mr or even Dr.

  • The location where you conducted research should represent your institution.

The Running Heads of Your Paper

A running head or page contains two parts, the page number, and the paper’s title. For your page number, place it on the right side of your writing. On the left-hand side, write the phrase ‘Running Head,’ then your title in uppercase or capital letters.

Preparing Your Outlines

This is the most critical process when writing an APA essay. It assists students to not only plan but also determines their study methodology. In fact, they are the only way for them to develop compelling subheadings. Therefore, although there’s no clear or prescribed outline for APA based essays, as the writer, you should learn how to frame your thoughts. Take a look at our preferred framework;

  • Title Page

  • Abstract - this is merely a basic summary of all your main points, research methodologies, and findings

  • Introduction - Here provide your audience with a more detailed explanation of what you hope to achieve from your essay.

  • The Main Body - Present all your ideas in separate paragraphs. Each section should provide facts supporting your point of view. Feel free to use graphs, and charts to further prove your claim.

  • Conclusion - The last paragraphs in your paper should summarize all the concepts explained in the document. Also, propose possible solutions to problems and include a call-to-action. Ensure that you have a definite ending in every APA essay.

  • References

How to Craft a Highly-Engaging Abstract

It’s normal for any student to question the essence of writing an abstract with an introduction already in place. Well, abstracts give readers the option of choosing to read or not to read the whole document. This is one of the reasons why they are so crucial to all APA papers.

You’ve probably come across abstracts in your other academic research projects. A lot of databases today have chosen to display them in their web search results. They produce some of the best-written abstracts, accurately communicating the goals and purpose of their paper.

Simple suggestions for creating an abstract;

  • Have your abstract its separate page, after the title page

  • Your essay’s running head should always appear first on the page

  • Enter the heading ‘Abstract’ at the center of the page.

  • Summarize the fundamental ideas of your essay as you continue introducing people to the reasons behind your research. Show them the process you had to go through to come up with facts, and findings. Use informative and direct language.

  • Double space, don’t intent and keep it within 250 words

  • You could also choose to guide researchers in finding your final document by listing keywords once you close your summary.

  • Only use active voice

Your APA Essay’s Main Body

Once you are through writing the abstract, next is your paper’s main body. Like, we’ve previously mentioned, every page should start with the continuous page header. Don’t bold the opening title or add italics. Indent your introduction’s first line as you present the premise as well as the problem behind your research.

The next section in your main body is called the method, and it merely shows that you’re through with your research. Center the word ‘Method’ below it, explain how you gathered your data during your study. You could even come up with a list of various methods.

There’s also another section known as Results. Your title here should be centered then bolded. Use this paragraph to summarize all the data. Use bar graphs as well as charts to support your findings.

The last part of your body is known as ‘the discussion’ section. Its primary purpose is to show how the data you collected has driven you to arrive at your conclusion. Close by stating the measures you wish to implement to improve your future research studies.

Use Your Headings and Subheadings Wisely

There’s no arguing that titles play a crucial part in all APA essays. They not only help in structuring your paper but also make it simpler to read. Furthermore, they shed light and offer your audience a glimpse of all your main ideas. The APA paper structure has five heading levels, and all play separate roles;

  • Level 1 – It’s the title of your essay. Place it at the center of your page. Bold it and capitalize letters where required.

  • 2nd Level heading - it’s smaller than your essay’s main title and is placed just beside the left-hand-side margin. Use bold small and capital letters.

  • 3rd Level heading - it’s shorter than the 2nd Level, kept in bright and indented from your left-hand side margin. Any uppercase letter should appear on the first word or phrase in your headline. Other corresponding words need to be small letters. The only exceptions are pronouns, which should always start with an uppercase letter.

  • Level 4 - these are shorter than those in the 3rd Level. Like those in Level three, you should only capitalize the first letter of your heading

  • 5th Level heading - this is the shortest in any APA essay. Indent and italicize placing an uppercase letter only on the first word.

Adding Graphics in APA Structural Papers

It’s good to spice up your paper using some tables, charts, and images. However, to do so, you will have to adhere to a few APA basic rules. First, remember that you are using these graphics to assist the readers in understanding the different ideas from your document. It’s certainly better than typing everything down on the text.

Are you tackling a project filled with tons of numerical data or facts? Simply put, are you dealing with a lot of numbers? Well, just use a chart or table to arrange such data. These visual images will help you to present your numerical data in a manner which any reader can understand.

Below are other essential concepts that should always be in your mind:

  • Number all your graphics

  • Graphics should only supplement the ideas drawn from your research

  • Add enough wordings in your graphics to assist all those reading your paper in understanding its purpose.

Creating Amazing Tables to Supplement Your Research

Even though adding tables will improve the quality of an essay, when it comes to APA formatting, there are some things that you will need to follow carefully:

  • Information on tables should not appear again in-text

  • Once you decide to add your table, remember to mention it somewhere within your text briefly. For instance, you could say, “Table 3.3 shows the rate of water wastage in Harbin.”

  • All tables should start with two critical things, the number and a short but descriptive title.

  • Structure your table with lines running horizontally

  • Use either a single or double spaced 12pt font. The spacing used should remain the same in all tables.

How to Add Figures

These are objects used to represent data in an improved visual way. They are more attractive than tables, and in an APA document, you are free to use things such as:

  • Maps

  • Drawings and pictures

  • Pie and Hierarchy Charts

Some of the basic pointers when adding figures to your document are:

  1. Only add them if they add value to the essay

  2. Information found in figures should not appear anywhere else within your text

  3. Come up with a catchy caption and place it under your picture. It’s meant to explain the information on the figure.

Essential Writing Techniques for All APA Essays

Today, writing scientific papers is not the same as working on literature or historical pieces. These essays require concise language based on credible research data. Below, we’re going to take you through other suggestions into writing a perfectly ‘blended’ paper and other hidden facts when formulating your document.

  1. The Verb Usage

Almost all research observations and experiments use analysis and creation of data to test various hypotheses. It’s only through this can they draw a proper conclusion. Verbs are an excellent way of explaining these research methodologies. Use them in every same tense sentence in the course of your writing. For instance:

  • Use them both in their present perfect tense or past tense as you explain the procedure

  • As you describe results, use their past tense

  • Your conclusion should be in the present tense

  1. Use the Right Tone

Although scientific papers don’t carry the same Level of ‘excitement’ as in other academic projects, they should never be boring. The simplest way to do this is to have a clear picture of the person or people you are writing for and dedicate yourself towards producing a captivating document which informs and educates them.

  1. Avoid Using Labels and Bias Statements

The APA is an active enemy of remarks made towards discrediting the rights of people in different genders, age, and racial groups as well as political affiliations. To ensure that your essay is free from such statements, have a trusted friend or individual review your work. For additional assistance, keep these facts in mind:

  • Details about a person’s orientations should only be mentioned if they’re essential to your research.

  • Details on specific individuals should be written in a manner that respects the person in question. For instance, don’t say, ‘alcoholic patients’ but, ‘patients suffering from the drastic effects of alcohol.’

  • Use broader phrases like ‘subjects’ rather than narrow phrases like ‘teenagers’ or ‘adolescents.’

  • Be careful before using words ending with ‘man’ especially if they touch on people of the female gender. For instance, instead of writing ‘policeman’ write ‘police officer.’

  • When talking about people of various ethnic and racial identities, start with a capital letter

  • Lastly, as you describe different people in your essay remember to keep terms like ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ strictly to kids who are below 12 years. The phrases ‘young woman’ or ‘male adolescent’ can be used for people of around 13 to seventeen years. ‘Man’ or ‘woman’ for all those who are above 18.

  1. APA Essays Spelling Requirements

It’s always good to avoid spelling mistakes when writing an academic essay or research paper. Such errors make any document look unreliable, weak, and even unattractive to any audience. Luckily, here are some of the resources you could use for APA.

  • The 3rd New International Dictionary by Webster

  • The Dictionary of Psychology from the American Psychological Association

  • The American English Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary

There are also efficient web tools aimed at helping you solve your spelling problems. Good examples include Spell Checker and the Grammarly website. However, even with such resources now at your disposal, you should never get too comfortable. Remember that language keeps on changing and improving. Hence, as a writer, you need to keep yourself fully informed.

  1. What to Do When Creating Abbreviations

Although they may appear pretty simple, abbreviations have proven to be a problematic part in APA structural essays. Students have a hard time trying to add periods between letters or finding which letters to capitalize. If you struggle from this and more, we have come up with a simple breakdown of the abbreviation APA requirements.

First, use them sparingly. By exaggerating and ‘splashing’ them everywhere in your essay, you will only have an article filled with several unnecessary capital letters. Furthermore, they hardly smoothen or make the document more comfortable to read. People will often have to pause just to understand the abbreviations they are reading. This is quite tedious and time-consuming.

Other guidelines include:

  • Adding periods in between letters is not always necessary

  • Type all unfamiliar abbreviations.

  • Abbreviations like AIDS don’t require spelling out

  • On unit measurement, write the acronym if it comes with a value, for example, 5 Ibs. However, if it’s on its own, then write it in full.

  1. Spacing Requirements

Space words after almost all punctuation marks except for those appearing at the end of sentences. However, it’s good to consult your instructor or lecturer on his spacing requirements. Although the APA structural book was introduced to help students submit their essays, institutions have adopted individual sections of it and modified others to suit their academic tastes.

  1. Adding Citations (In-Text)

During your study or research, you may have found an interesting quote that’s relevant to your project, right? However, you’re not allowed to write it down without crediting the original author. So, include the author’s name plus the year of publication just beside the statement or quote. Here are some helpful citation examples:

“In the 1920s, Harlem had grown in fame for its large number of musicians (Belafonte, 2008).”

If you choose to add the name of the author in your sentence, here’s a good example:

“Research findings by Belafonte (2008) show that a lot of musical artists filled the streets of Harlem towards the end of the 1920’s.”

  1. How to Add Book Citations in Your APA Essay

This is another crucial component of your essay. It’s essential for you to learn how to add citations correctly using the prescribed format for every book you wish to mention. Generally, include the author’s name, book title, and year as well as the country of publication. If you can, also state the name(s) of the publisher. Other guidelines are as follows:

  • For E-books - available on e-readers and devices like Nook or iPad

  • E-book chapter - add the chapter and book title

  • For a chapter from a print book- add the chapter title or only its number

  • Journals - write the volume number as well as the title. You’re free to italicize to highlight the two fields in these elements.

  • Bible - Use in-text citations from the Bible and other forms of classical literature. Write the verse or line you’re paraphrasing.

  1. How to Add References in Your Papers

Your reference page should always be a well-structured and organized. There are different reference requirements for journals, books, and periodicals. Even so, these are just some of the basic referencing rules in APA;

  • Start by typing last name and initials of the document’s or book’s author

  • State the date of publication and add parentheses to the actual year

  • Write the title of the resource in Italic

  • Add both the location and name of the publisher

As you can see, contrary to beliefs from most people, the reference page is probably the most straightforward section of an APA based paper.

Here are other guidelines that should be at your fingertips:

  • Open a clean and fresh page starting with your running heading

  • Bold then center your ‘References’ title

  • All entries need to be alphabetized and double-spaced

  • Times New Roman of 12pt is the most preferred font option

  • All cited quotes should also be properly referenced

  • Your reference section can take more than one page

  1. Understand that there’s a Difference between APA Citations and References

Although a majority use these two terms to mean the same thing, they are used separately when it comes to APA formatting. They also have their own styling requirements.

While references display all source information like the author’s name, title, and year of publication, citations only have the author’s name and the date of publication. Citations are found within the next, while references are located on the final page of the project.

Both of these methods are used to credit work from another individual and are vital components for preventing cases of plagiarized work. It’s essential for students to include them both in their APA essays.

  1. Rules Which Apply to Other Words

Today, using Oxford commas continues to be a massive point of debate among even the most professional writers. What you should understand is that in these types of essays, they are critical to your paper’s success. They are usually placed before words like ‘And’ and ‘Or’ let’s look at two examples of how Oxford commas appear in sentences.

  • (before the word ‘And’) “Alcoholism causes dehydration and drowsiness.”

  • (before the word ‘or’) “The inmates were free to choose to shower in warm, hot or cold water

Now, if you are writing any possessive singular noun, place the apostrophe before letter ‘s.’ However, for all possessive plural nouns, put the apostrophe just after the ‘s.’ Lastly, for all hyphens don’t space either before or after it.

  1. The Rules on Numbers

You’ll often find numbers used in various tables and charts. What you should remember is that all numbers less than ten should be written in full. It’s only those that are more than ten that should be presented in numerical figures.

Let’s look at some simple examples;

  • 83 People

  • Seven kilograms

  • 17 years old

  • Fourth grade

However, this rule has a few exceptions. For APA based essays, only use numbers in charts or graphs, on units of measurement, displaying mathematical equations, showing date, age, or even time.

Write them in full if you are writing a common word like hundreds while starting a sentence with a number and on a fraction. Other essential APA essay formatting rules of numbering that you also should adhere to are, including a zero after every decimal point, never translate Roman Numerals and do not add an apostrophe to plurals. It’s the 1990s and not 1990’s.

A Sample APA Essay: Highlighting the Key Parts of Your Outline

To guide you further into the process of APA essay writing, we have put together a few well-written samples of essential sections in your document. Our topic will be: “Consumption of Domestic Water in China Today.” We will look at how you need to craft your abstract, draw research questions, and most importantly, closing the essay with a firm conclusion.


“Water is quite essential for the sustenance of developed and developing nations. It’s a vital resource that helps in maintaining our daily lives and which aids in economic growth.

In China, the World Watch Institute reports that there’s only 8% of the fresh water in the world to meet the demands of 22% of people. Therefore, the country needs to learn how to use water, and this poses a tough challenge for the country.

The most significant amounts of water being consumed go into residential use. This increase in demand for water has eventually led to severe environmental challenges like over exploiting the country’s water resources. It has also caused a lack of balance within the ecosystem.

However, China can improve its residential water consumption rate, by encouraging sustainable use of water. It could also use various technological innovations to make sure that homeowners use water sparingly.“

Drawing Your Research Questions

“A considerable number of research projects only highlight the current water shortage, and its increasing use in the residential sectors. To get facts and findings on the increased wastage of water in domestic places, a lot of research tends to focus mostly on the capital city. You will find very few studies with data from medium and small towns.

Furthermore, household water consumption is presented using figures or is found in data containing existing problems. There’s simply no clear information on water consumption based on human behavior, water use patterns or use of water appliances.”

Ending With a Powerful Conclusion

“Understanding the importance of efficient management of water at home will help in reducing tones of wastage and promote sustainable living. However, to achieve this, you’ll have to understand the standards of residential use of water, the patterns of water consumption in our households, and the management as well as improvement of household water appliances.

Despite all these findings, we still feel that there’s a lot we need to do to convince people about the benefits of home water conservation. A majority of them will again leave leaking pipes unrepaired, flowing tap water, and very few are willing to repurpose the water they use for other meaningful applications.”

Go Through This Final APA Formatting Checklist before Submitting Your Paper

Ensure you have included every requirement before handing it out. Here’s a final checklist of the critical things that should always appear in your paper:

  • Have you credited all the resources mentioned in the document?

  • Does your essay have a continuous running head?

  • Is your title or cover page in its correct format?

  • Have you included your abstract just after the title page?

  • Have you followed the five levels of formatting headings?

  • Are your tables aligned correctly?

Also, ensure that you have used your abbreviations sparingly. Remove all unnecessary content to keep your essay as direct and as clear as possible. This kind of proofreading goes a long way in creating an attractive APA formatted document. That being said, here are the essential factors to keep in mind before submitting your essay.

  1. Originality

Even though you are writing a scientific APA paper, don’t just copy facts or data from a specific research project. This will not only discredit your work but also lead to a poor score. So, if you find a useful source online, always credit its source and when you’re through writing, take your paper through a plagiarism checking website. Today, there are a lot of reliable web tools to help you keep your content authentic.

  1. Relevance

One of the best ways of coming up with an entirely written and formatted APA paper is ensuring that you base your subject around a new unsolved issue. This will show the readers the importance of your document. After all, they will be reading something new. So, ‘get your hands’ on the most recent problems affecting society and educate your audience!

  1. Creativity!

Now, being creative does not only apply in critical thinking or societal based papers. In APA papers, lecturers also want to test their student’s Level of creativity. Therefore, your essay should show that you have taken every measure to venture out of your boundaries. This will assist you in finding a favorite topic or when viewing different angles of research.

  1. Is Your Essay Interesting?

If you write your APA format paper poorly, you’re sure to lose your audience’s attention. Keep them ‘glued’ to your writing by reaching out to their emotions through your writing. If you’ve not been assigned a topic, pick the one which is of interest to you. However, if your instructor has already identified an issue that needs discussion, present your ideas in a compelling and engaging way. For instance, you could use questions and attention-grabbing hooks.

  1. Have You Done Enough Research?

Since APA essays are mostly on scientific courses, finding and collecting facts and figures to support your ideas is crucial to the success of your paper. Don’t just settle on resources found on the internet, but instead, go through books, journals and other literal works from famous writers. Take your time because an adequately researched document is not only quite appealing but also easy to read. Your readers will appreciate the time and effort put into coming up with the piece plus your professor will surely give you a high score!


This guide will help you to come up with an engaging, and informative paper in any academic discipline. We have made sure that you have all the necessary tips required to make your essay relevant, original, and within the APA academic writing requirements.

However, also remember that it’s a process that requires patience as you master its strict formatting rules. Avoid rushing through such papers because even the slightest error on a subheading can end up being quite costly. Finally, keep your writing straight and direct to the point. You don’t want to bore your readers with irrelevant information that will just amount to fluff – make your points in brief!

Now, with all that in mind, can you freely write an APA format essay? Are there specific areas which you feel need more precise explanations? Feel free to reach out to us; we have professional essay writers and editors who are available to offer much-needed help!

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