How to Format an APA Paper

James C. Guy

Course Name and/or Number

My University

[Date as applicable]

Author Note

James C.Guy, Psychology Department, My University; Co-Author Name, Department of Behavioral Sciences, Other University.

This research was funded by the XYZ Foundation, Timbuktoo, USA.

© 2011-2013 James C. Guy
Abstract (if needed)

Your abstract is often optional in short academic papers, unless the assignment requirements specify that you should include one. One is often required for most research articles submitted for publication, many research proposals, and other larger works. An abstract is normally 150-250 words that summarize the content of your paper. It is left-justified without indentation, and the heading is not bold. Normally, it does not include any references or citations unless absolutely necessary. See chapter two of the APA manual for more information.

How to Format an APA Paper

This paper provides a sample of how to properly write and format an APA style paper. Note that the when the first paragraph of your paper is an introduction, you do not label it as such. Instead, it simply contains the title of your paper or nothing at all. The first paragraphs of your paper are assumed to be the introduction unless there is a heading indicating something different. Your paper should be double-spaced all the way through, should contain the running head and page numbers as shown here, and should have 1-inch margins throughout the paper. Be sure the phrase
Running head appears only on the first page as shown, and that the shortened title portion of it is in ALL CAPS.

Setting Up Your Paper

You can use a template such as this one to set up your paper. However, please be aware that many templates are incorrect, including some that come with Word. In fact, Word 2007 can be very problematic if you use it to set up your paper. One of the primary issues with it is that it automatically adds additional space at the end of paragraphs. Your entire paper should be double-spaced (except certain specially formatted elements). You can change this under the line-spacing options. Change the numeric value shown under
after paragraph setting (usually 10 pt.) to zero.

Remember that just because you use a template, regardless of the source, you are responsible to see that your paper is formatted correctly. It is not only important to be able to understand information, but also to be able to share it in a professional manner. Do not get creative or flashy in your paper format. Instead, strive to follow the currently established rules and format your paper correctly. Notice also that there should be two spaces after each sentence punctuation rather than the one as specified in earlier versions of APA formatting.

Writing Style

Headings should not hang by themselves. When necessary, add additional space above a heading at the bottom of a page to force it to reside with the first lines of text.

You should not use first person language for any academic paper unless specified in the instructions, or allowed by your professor. You should also not write in casual or dramatic language. Remember, you are writing an academic paper, not a novel. For example, to write, “In this paper I will discuss the psychology of children” is both first-person and somewhat casual. Instead, try, “In this paper, research concerning the psychology of children is discussed.” An example of casual language would be as follows: “Children are the apple of God’s eye. They are like seeds lying in the ground just waiting to burst open. That is why studying the mind of a child is so important.” Remember to write professionally and academically. This previous sentence does not meet either of those requirements.

Sources and Citations

It is important to properly cite your work. Any information you get from another source, meaning it is not original with you, you must cite. Any quotes should be in quotation marks to note it is a quote, and properly cited with page or paragraph number if available. Refer to chapter six of the APA Manual for help with citations, and to chapter seven for help with properly formatting references on the Reference Page (American Psychological Association, 2010).

Your writing should always be in your own words. Do not simply change a word or two from a source and present it as though it were your own writing. For example, consider the following fictitious sentence from a source:
Driving while intoxicated is correlated with higher incidences of traffic accidents, often leading to death. If you re-write the sentence to say,
Driving drunk is correlated with higher incidences of traffic accidents that are often fatal, you have plagiarized. Instead, write it in your own words and still cite the source where you got that information. Or, note clearly that the information is from a source and cite that source in text. For example, the above sentence would not be plagiarism if written in the following manner:
As the author notes, driving drunk is correlated with higher incidences of traffic accidents that are often fatal (Smith, 2011). This makes it clear that the information as written is from the source, and the source is clearly cited.

The preferred means of writing is to summarize and further discuss information from a source. Quotations and repeated information from a source does not make for a clear and professional paper.


Though the scripture I am about to include is not relative to this paper (except that it does mention a conclusion), I am including it here to demonstrate how to cite the Bible in text. The Bible says, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13 New International Version). Note that the Bible does not appear in your reference list. It is considered a classical reference. These are cited in text with the version used the first time it is cited. The version is not used after the first time unless you change versions.

This is only a partial tutorial of proper APA style. There are many more elements of APA format that should be followed. To know these, please review your manual and follow it closely. It helps to use the sample paper in the APA manual as a format guideline, and to have the sample references open to follow. Remember to include the doi number when available. Also, be sure that you do not have the first printing of the APA manual which contained many errors and should be discarded. Formatting and citing in correct APA style can seem a great task, but by paying attention to the details, it will not be as difficult as it may seem.


American Psychological Association. (2010).
Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Smith, J. (2011). A mock article on alcoholism.
Not a Real Title of a Journal, 1(4), 1-100. doi:10.8675309.ABC/123

(Remember that references should be formatted in hanging indented style. That means if they take more than one line, the second line is indented as in the example of this sentence. Use the AUTO formatting to do this rather than manually tabbing which usually causes errors. Remember also that they should be double spaced and in the same font as the paper).

(Use your APA MANUAL for the correct way to format all sources. Different types should be formatted in different ways.)

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