APA format is one of three main citation styles you’re likely to encounter at some point throughout your education.
Specifically in psychology, education, and the sciences, APA format is the preferred citation guide over other popular style guides, like MLA format, which is commonly used in the humanities.
APA format definition
APA format is an academic style guide created by the American Psychological Association. It is most commonly used for scientific papers, especially research-based content.
APA format: everything you need to know
APA format is preferred among many disciplines due to its clarity and emphasis on highlighting newer source material (i.e. date-focused citations with a preference for ‘recent’ source content). Below are instructions and examples for formatting general components of an APA formatted paper, including how to write a cover page, running head (header), an in-text citation, and a Reference section.
Note: there are some components of this style guide that overlap with MLA format. Thus, you may find that part of this information is restated from the MLA guide; however, there are many components unique to APA alone and neither guide can sufficiently substitute the other.
This is a statement of transparency to eliminate confusion and the risk of self-plagiarism.
General formatting guidelines in APA
Your document should be typed in double-space, 12 pt. font. The standard font is Times New Roman, but some scholars prefer Arial.
Your document’s margins should be one inch on all sides.
You should include a cover page (aka title page) unless otherwise specified.
You must include a running head (i.e. a page header) that sits at the top of every page of your document.
To create the running head, use the “Insert Header” function on your word processor.
Each page should be numbered on the right hand side of the page inside of the auto-created Header. You will also insert the title flush left in all caps.
The title should be in title case; every word should not be capitalized.
Your first and subsequent paragraphs should be indented one half inch from the left of the document. You should use the TAB button function to indent rather than the space bar.
There should only be one space after all marks of punctuation. Because word processing software already accounts for the space after a punctuation mark, adding two spaces is antiquated and inaccurate.
How to format a running head (header) in APA
Running head formatting is specific to APA and should not be used for other citation types. To create the running head and ensure it shows up on every page of your document, use the “Insert Header” function on your word processor and then type the title of your paper flush left using all capital letters.
The running head is a shortened version of your full paper title, meaning that the running head should not exceed more than 50 characters including punctuation marks and character spacing.
General format for non-cover pages:
THIS IS THE TITLE OF MY PAPER. THIS IS MY TITLE.
The above example is 49 characters long, including spaces and marks of punctuation (for the title).
How to format a cover page in APA
Your cover page should include the following information: title of the paper, author’s name, and institutional affiliation (i.e. the university, college, or academic/professional institution for which you are writing your paper). You must also include a running head flush left with the pagination flush right at the very top of your document.
Note: On the cover page, your running head will look different than it does on all subsequent pages.
General format for cover pages ONLY:
Running head: THIS IS THE TITLE OF MY PAPER. THIS IS MY TITLE.
As you can see, you must include the words “Running head” on your title page to indicate that it is the paper’s running head; on all other pages, you need not include these words in addition to your title.
How to format an in-text citation in APA
APA in-text citations are not dependent on container (e.g. book, article). Citations should be in parentheses and placed at the end of a sentence before the period, whether paraphrasing or citing a direct quote.
APA format follows the author-date style: (Last Name, Year) and uses a comma between the two elements. If referencing a specific spot in the text, you are encouraged to use exact page numbers using a lowercase p. + the page number in the parentheses following the year.
All citations, regardless of container, are formatted the same for in-text citations in APA. There is no variance based on container as is true for MLA style.
Note: There are different formatting requirements for short vs. long quotations in APA.
General in-text citation rules:
Titles of source material should be capitalized (which is not the case on the References page); all words four letters or longer should also be capitalized (exceptions for pronouns, adjectives, nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc.)
Hyphenated compound words in a title are both capitalized, not just the first word
The first word directly after a colon or dash is capitalized
All longer container titles (e.g. books, films, TV series, music albums) should be italicized
Direct quotes (non-paraphrasing) require the author’s name, year of publication, and page number in (p. #) format. You may either use the author’s last name in the sentence preceding the parenthetical citation or include the author’s last name in the parentheses directly.
General format for short quotations:
According to King (1986), he noted that the little boy who wore “the yellow slicker was George Denbrough,” which we discovered was Bill’s younger brother (p. 3).
Alternate format for short quotations:
He noted that the little boy who wore “the yellow slicker was George Denbrough,” which we discovered was Bill’s younger brother (King, 1986, p. 3).
Long, direct quotations (40 words or more) should be written in block format without quotation marks. The quotation should begin on a new line indented another half inch inward (where a new paragraph would naturally begin. All subsequent lines should be indented as such. Long quotes should be double-spaced like the rest of your document, and the parenthetical citation begins after the final punctuation mark of the quotation.
General format for long quotations:
King (1986) noted:
A small boy in a yellow slicker and red galoshes ran cheerfully along beside the newspaper boat. The rain had not stopped, but it was finally slackening. It tapped on the yellow hood of the boy’s slicker, sounding to his ears like the rain on the shed roof. (p. 3)
How to format a Reference page in APA
Your APA-formatted Reference page is where the extended, detailed versions of all references used throughout your essay or research paper are.
For each container listed below, you will find a general formula for citing the source in your Reference page along with an example.
General Reference page rules:
Use hanging indentations for each line that follows the first line (second and subsequent lines in a single reference should be indented
Author names should be in Last Name First Initial format (for up to six authors of one given work)
All reference entries should be in alphabetical order
Any books or materials written by the same author(s) should be listen in chronological order from oldest to most recent
Use whatever capitalization and punctuation is used by an original container, even if not ‘standard’
Book titles and journal titles should be italicized
General citation formula for books with one author:
Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication). Title of work: Capital letter also for subtitle. Location: Publisher.
Example citation for books with one author:
King, S. (1986). It. New York, NY: Viking Press.
Note: Location should be formatted with city and state name (with postal abbreviation) and no period.
Books by two authors
Single books written by two authors should be listed by last names and first initials, connected via an ampersand rather than the word “and.”
General citation formula for a book with two authors:
Last Name, First Initial., & Last Name, First Initial. (Year). Title. Location: Publisher.
Example citation for a book with two authors:
King, S., & Straub, P. (1984). The Talisman. New York, NY: Viking Press.
Periodicals and electronic sources (articles, print and web)
Periodicals include articles from either web or print sources. You will use Last Name, First Initial format; publication year; sentence-case titles; volume number; and DOI for an article if given (including URL if from a website).
Note: If you are missing information like volume number, issue number, number of pages, or DOI, only include the information you have.
Rebecca Reynoso is the former Sr. Editor and Guest Post Program Manager at G2. She holds two degrees in English, a BA from the University of Illinois-Chicago and an MA from DePaul University. Prior to working in tech, Rebecca taught English composition at a few colleges and universities in Chicago. Outside of G2, Rebecca freelance edits sales blogs and writes tech content. She has been editing professionally since 2013 and is a member of the American Copy Editors Society (ACES).