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Guide To Writing An Apa Essay

General Format


APA (American Psychological Association) style is most commonly used to cite sources within the social sciences. This resource, revised according to the 6th edition, second printing of the APA manual, offers examples for the general format of APA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the reference page. For more information, please consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (6th ed., 2nd printing).

Contributors: Joshua M. Paiz, Elizabeth Angeli, Jodi Wagner, Elena Lawrick, Kristen Moore, Michael Anderson, Lars Soderlund, Allen Brizee, Russell Keck
Last Edited: 2018-02-21 02:26:13

Please use the example at the bottom of this page to cite the Purdue OWL in APA.

To see a side-by-side comparison of the three most widely used citation styles, including a chart of all APA citation guidelines, see the Citation Style Chart.

You can also watch our APA vidcast series on the Purdue OWL YouTube Channel.

General APA Guidelines

Your essay should be typed and double-spaced on standard-sized paper (8.5" x 11"), with 1" margins on all sides. You should use a clear font that is highly readable. APA recommends using 12 pt. Times New Roman font.

Include a page header  (also known as the "running head") at the top of every page. To create a page header/running head, insert page numbers flush right. Then type "TITLE OF YOUR PAPER" in the header flush left using all capital letters. The running head is a shortened version of your paper's title and cannot exceed 50 characters including spacing and punctuation.

Major Paper Sections

Your essay should include four major sections: the Title Page, Abstract, Main Body, and References.

Title Page

The title page should contain the title of the paper, the author's name, and the institutional affiliation. Include the page header (described above) flush left with the page number flush right at the top of the page. Please note that on the title page, your page header/running head should look like this:


Pages after the title page should have a running head that looks like this:


After consulting with publication specialists at the APA, OWL staff learned that the APA 6th edition, first printing sample papers have incorrect examples of running heads on pages after the title page. This link will take you to the APA site where you can find a complete list of all the errors in the APA's 6th edition style guide.

Type your title in upper and lowercase letters centered in the upper half of the page. APA recommends that your title be no more than 12 words in length and that it should not contain abbreviations or words that serve no purpose. Your title may take up one or two lines. All text on the title page, and throughout your paper, should be double-spaced.

Beneath the title, type the author's name: first name, middle initial(s), and last name. Do not use titles (Dr.) or degrees (PhD).

Beneath the author's name, type the institutional affiliation, which should indicate the location where the author(s) conducted the research.

Image Caption: APA Title Page


Begin a new page. Your abstract page should already include the page header (described above). On the first line of the abstract page, center the word “Abstract” (no bold, formatting, italics, underlining, or quotation marks).

Beginning with the next line, write a concise summary of the key points of your research. (Do not indent.) Your abstract should contain at least your research topic, research questions, participants, methods, results, data analysis, and conclusions. You may also include possible implications of your research and future work you see connected with your findings. Your abstract should be a single paragraph, double-spaced. Your abstract should be between 150 and 250 words.

You may also want to list keywords from your paper in your abstract. To do this, indent as you would if you were starting a new paragraph, type Keywords: (italicized), and then list your keywords. Listing your keywords will help researchers find your work in databases.

Image Caption: APA Abstract Page

Please see our Sample APA Paper resource to see an example of an APA paper. You may also visit our Additional Resources page for more examples of APA papers.

How to Cite the Purdue OWL in APA

Individual Resources

Contributors' names and the last edited date can be found in the orange boxes at the top of every page on the OWL.

Contributors' names (Last edited date). Title of resource. Retrieved from http://Web address for OWL resource


Angeli, E., Wagner, J., Lawrick, E., Moore, K., Anderson, M., Soderlund, L., & Brizee, A. (2010, May 5). General format. Retrieved from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/

You’re just about to get started writing an amazing term paper, and as you are reading the requirements, you freeze. APA Style? What’s APA?

A quick Google search reveals that “APA” stands for the American Psychological Association, which just makes the whole endeavor even more confusing. Why is a psychological association writing a style guide? Why do you need this for your paper?

Don’t worry! You may have a lot of questions about the format, but APA style becomes easier and even intuitive once you learn the meaning behind the rules.

Here are some tips and other basic information to help you turn your APA paper into a standout piece of writing:

1. What is APA?

APA is a classic writing style that has been used for more than eight decades. It was originally established by the American Psychological Association to help ensure consistency among papers published in the psychological field. This quickly expanded to cover all social sciences. Humanities and hard sciences have their own special styles, but APA is mostly associated with psychology, sociology, business, and other similar fields. It helps both writers and readers by providing them with an easy format for their papers. Writers have a simple structure to use as the foundation of their work, and readers no longer have to puzzle over sloppily written citations and reference lists.

2. Why should you use APA?

It may seem like a waste of time to bother learning an entirely new style of writing and citation, but it is very important. Whether you are writing a college paper or one for a very specific field or industry, you have to understand and abide by the standards set by your professor or industry professionals. It shows that you are respectful of others and can adapt quickly to new situations. Simple things like using the right format make your paper look polished!

3. What makes APA special?

The best way to understand APA is to look at the fields in which it’s used. Social sciences require simple, straightforward writing. They also put a major emphasis on the date of the publication you are citing. Social sciences are always moving forward. New studies give scientists new perspectives on their own work. With another format, no one may notice if you are using a scientific paper published in 1901 as a reference. With APA, the dates are near the front of any in-text citation and reference. This forces you to seek out the timeliest sources. Writing with the APA style forces you to write a more relevant paper.

4. How do you use APA?

There are many subtleties to APA, but the four major components the style covers are structure, format, reference lists, and in-text citations.


A. Structure

APA dictates that you have four sections to your paper: a title page, an abstract, the primary content, and a list of references. By arranging your paper according to APA structure, you streamline the reading process.
For example, if John Smith is writing a paper called the “Beginner’s Guide to Writing in the APA Style,” the title page will look like this:

Beginner’s Guide to Writing in the APA Style
John Smith
Lorem Ipsum University

It should be centered on the first page of the paper.

Following the title page is the abstract for the paper. This is a quick summary of the information presented in the main section. It should be no more than 250 words. At the bottom of the abstract is a list of main keywords for the paper. For John Smith’s paper, it would look like this:

Keywords: APA style, writing, social sciences

After the abstract comes a new page and the beginning of the main section of the work. Here is your chance to shine and show readers why you believe this research is so important.
After the main section comes a list of references for the paper.

B. Format

The general format for an essay written in the APA writing style includes using 12-pt. Times New Roman font, double-spacing, and one-inch margins on all sides. A page header with the title of the paper and the page number is included at the top of each page. This is called a running head. John Smith’s running head would look like this on the first page:


The running head on all following pages would look like this:

C. References

The reference list will start at the top of a new page at the end of the paper. All references should be arranged alphabetically.

Let’s say the John Smith wants to cite a book written by Jane Doe. The book is called Everything You Need to Know about APA, and it was published in 2017 by Lorem Ipsum Publications in Los Angeles, California.

The reference would look exactly like this:

Doe, J. (2017). Everything you need to know about APA. Los Angeles, CA: Lorem Ipsum Publications.

There are several differences between this and other reference formats. The date of publication is prominently featured after the author’s last name and first initial. Aside from the first word and any proper nouns, no other word is capitalized in the title of the book.

D. Citations

When John Smith references Jane Doe’s research in his paper, his in-text citation will look like this: (Doe, 2017). If it is a direct quotation, his citation would also include the page number: (Doe, 2017, p. 3). Once again, the date of publication becomes an important aspect of the citation.


By understanding these basics of APA format, you can confidently begin your own writing. APA format isn’t meant to trip you up or make you struggle. It is genuinely meant to make your writing clear and comprehensive. As you delve deep into your particular social science, you’ll find that your knowledge of APA style will be a very useful tool. Focusing on the APA style can improve your writing skills!




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