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APA Citation Style, Seventh Edition: Formatting Guidelines

APA dictates more than just the reference list. Your instructor may want you to format your entire paper using APA format. This page outlines those general guidelines for how to format your title page, abstract, the fonts and spacing to use, and how to deal with numbered and bulleted lists.

General APA Guidelines: Student Papers*

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 font consistently throughout the paper. APA recommends using either a sans serif font such as 11-point Calibri, 11-point Arial, or 10-point Lucida Sans Unicode, or a serif font such as 12-point Times New Roman, 11-point Georgia, or 10-point Computer Modern.

Include a page header (also known as the “running head”) at the top of every page. For a student paper, this only includes the page number. To create a page header/running head, insert page numbers flush right.
 

Major Paper Sections

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

Title Page

Note: APA 7 provides slightly different directions for formatting the title pages of professional papers (e.g., those intended for scholarly publication) and student papers (e.g., those turned in for credit in a high school or college course).

The title page should contain the title of the paper, the author's name, and the institutional affiliation. A student paper should also include the course number and name, instructor name, and assignment due date. Include the page header (described above) flush left with the page number flush right at the top of the page.

Type your title in upper and lowercase letters centered in the upper half of the page. The title should be centered and written in boldface. APA recommends that your title be focused and succinct 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.

Student APA title page

This image shows the title page for a student APA seventh edition paper.

Title page for a student paper in APA 7 style.

Abstract

Begin a new page. Your abstract page should already include the page header (described above). On the first line of the abstract page, center and bold the word “Abstract” (no 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 typically be no more than 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.

APA Abstract Page

This image shows the title page for a student APA seventh edition paper.

Abstract page for a student paper in APA 7 style.

Please see the OWL's Sample APA Paper resource to see an example of an APA paper. You may also visit their Additional Resources page for more examples of APA papers.

Source:
Myers, M., Paiz, J., Angeli, E., Wagner, J., Lawrick, E., Moore, K., Anderson, M.,…Keck, R. (2019, December 20). General format. Purdue Online Writing Lab. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/general_format.html
 

Main Body Considerations

Headings

APA Style uses a unique headings system to separate and classify paper sections. Headings are used to help guide the reader through a document. The levels are organized by levels of subordination, and each section of the paper should start with the highest level of heading. There are 5 heading levels in APA. Regardless of the number of levels, always use the headings in order, beginning with level 1. The format of each level is illustrated below:

APA Headings

Level

Format

1

Centered, Boldface, Title Case Heading

     Text starts a new paragraph.

2

Flush left, Boldface, Title Case Heading

     Text starts a new paragraph.

3

Flush Left, Boldface Italic, Title Case Heading

     Text starts a new paragraph.

4

     Indented, Boldface Title Case Heading Ending With a Period. Paragraph text continues on the same line as the same paragraph.

5

     Indented, Boldface Italic, Title Case Heading Ending With a Period. Paragraph text continues on the same line as the same paragraph.

Thus, if the article has four sections, some of which have subsections and some of which don’t, use headings depending on the level of subordination. Section headings receive level one format. Subsections receive level two format. Subsections of subsections receive level three format. For example:

Method (Level 1)

Site of Study (Level 2)

Participant Population (Level 2)

Teachers (Level 3)

Students (Level 3)

Results (Level 1)

Spatial Ability (Level 2)

Test One (Level 3)

     Teachers With Experience. (Level 4)

     Teachers in Training. (Level 4)

     Teaching Assistants(Level 5)

Test Two (Level 3)

Kinesthetic Ability (Level 2)

In APA Style, the Introduction section never gets a heading and headings are not indicated by letters or numbers. For subsections in the beginning of a paper (introduction section), the first level of subsection will use Level 2 headings — the title of the paper counts as the Level 1 heading. Levels of headings will depend upon the length and organization of your paper. Regardless, always begin with level one headings and proceed to level two, etc.

Special headings called section labels are used for certain sections of a paper which always start on a new page.

  • Abstract
  • Paper title
  • References
  • Footnotes
  • Appendix A (and so on for subsequent appendices)

These labels should be positioned on their own line at the top of the page where the section starts, in bold and centered. 
 

Seriation

APA also allows for seriation in the body text to help authors organize and present key ideas. For lists where a specific order or numbered procedure is necessary, use an Arabic numeral directly followed by a period, such as:

On the basis of four generations of usability testing on the Purdue OWL, the Purdue OWL Usability Team recommended the following:

  1. Move the navigation bar from the right to the left side of the OWL pages.
  2. Integrate branded graphics (the Writing Lab and OWL logos) into the text on the OWL homepage.
  3. Add a search box to every page of the OWL.
  4. Develop an OWL site map.
  5. Develop a three-tiered navigation system.

Numbered lists should contain full sentences or paragraphs rather than phrases. The first word after each number should be capitalized, as well as the first word in any following sentence; each sentence should end with a period or other punctuation.

For lists that do not communicate hierarchical order or chronology, use bullets:

In general, participants found the user-centered OWL mock up to be easier to use. What follows are samples of participants' responses:

  • "This version is easier to use."
  • "Version two seems better organized."
  • "It took me a few minutes to learn how to use this version, but after that, I felt more comfortable with it."

Authors may also use seriation for paragraph length text.

For seriation within sentences, authors may use letters:

On the basis of research conducted by the usability team, OWL staff have completed (a) the OWL site map; (b) integrating graphics with text on the OWL homepage; (c) search boxes on all OWL pages except the orange OWL resources (that is pending; we do have a search page); (d) moving the navigation bar to the left side of pages on all OWL resources except in the orange area (that is pending); (e) piloting the first phase of the three-tiered navigation system, as illustrated in the new Engagement section.

Authors may also separate points with bullet lists:

On the basis of the research conducted by the usability team, OWL staff have completed

  • the OWL site map;
  • integrating graphics with text on the OWL homepage;
  • search boxes on all OWL pages except the orange OWL resources (that is pending; we do have a search page);
  • moving the navigation bar to the left side of pages on all OWL resources except in the orange area (that is pending);
  • piloting the first phase of the three-tiered navigation system, as illustrated in the new Engagement section.

If your bulleted list is part of the sentence and is not preceded by a colon, treat the bullets like a part of the sentence, adhering to standard capitalization and punctuation. This option is helpful for complex or longer bulleted sentences that may be more difficult to read without the aid of punctuation. For items in a bulleted list that are phrases rather than sentences, no punctuation is necessary.

Source:
Purdue Online Writing Lab. (n.d.). APA Headings and Seriation. Purdue Online Writing Lab. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/apa_headings_and_seriation.html

*Note: these guidelines are specifically for STUDENT papers. For Professional papers (those being submitted for scholarly publication), additional instructions apply - please consult https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/general_format.html

Tables and Figures - General guidelines

Necessity

The purpose of tables (any graphic that uses a row and column structure to organize information) and figures (any illustration or image other than a table) in documents is to enhance your readers' understanding of the information in the document; usually, large amounts of information can be communicated more efficiently in tables or figures. However, visuals must be used to assist communication, not to use up space, or disguise marginally significant results behind a screen of complicated statistics. Ask yourself if the table or figure is necessary. For example, it is better to present simple descriptive statistics in the text, not in a table.

Relation of Tables or Figures and Text

Because tables and figures supplement the text, refer in the text to all tables and figures used and explain what the reader should look for when using the table or figure. Focus only on the important point the reader should draw from them, and leave the details for the reader to examine on their own.

Documentation

If you are using figures, tables and/or data from other sources, be sure to gather all the information you will need to properly document your sources.

Integrity and Independence

Each table and figure must be intelligible without reference to the text, so be sure to include an explanation of every abbreviation (except the standard statistical symbols and abbreviations).

Organization, Consistency, and Coherence

Number all tables sequentially as you refer to them in the text (Table 1, Table 2, etc.), likewise for figures (Figure 1, Figure 2, etc.). Abbreviations, terminology, and probability level values must be consistent across tables and figures in the same article. Likewise, formats, titles, and headings must be consistent. Do not repeat the same data in different tables.

Tables

Data in a table that would require only two or fewer columns and rows should be presented in the text. More complex data is better presented in tabular format. In order for quantitative data to be presented clearly and efficiently, it must be arranged logically, e.g. data to be compared must be presented next to one another (before/after, young/old, male/female, etc.), and statistical information (means, standard deviations, N values) must be presented in separate parts of the table. If possible, use canonical forms (such as ANOVA, regression, or correlation) to communicate your data effectively.

This image shows a table with multiple notes formatted in APA 7 style.

A generic example of a table with multiple notes formatted in APA 7 style.

Elements of Tables

Numbers

Number all tables with Arabic numerals sequentially. Do not use suffix letters (e.g. Table 3a, 3b, 3c); instead, combine the related tables. If the manuscript includes an appendix with tables, identify them with capital letters and Arabic numerals (e.g. Table A1, Table B2).

Titles

Like the title of the paper itself, each table must have a clear and concise title. Titles should be written in italicized title case below the table number, with a blank line between the number and the title. When appropriate, you may use the title to explain an abbreviation parenthetically.

Comparison of Median Income of Adopted Children (AC) v. Foster Children (FC)

Headings

Keep headings clear and brief. The heading should not be much wider than the widest entry in the column. Use of standard abbreviations can aid in achieving that goal. There are several types of headings:

  • Stub headings describe the left hand column, or stub column, which usually lists major independent variables.
  • Column headings describe entries below them, applying to just one column.
  • Column spanners are headings that describe entries below them, applying to two or more columns which each have their own column heading. Column spanners are often stacked on top of column headings and together are called decked heads.
  • Table Spanners cover the entire width of the table, allowing for more divisions or combining tables with identical column headings. They are the only type of heading that may be plural.

All columns must have headings, written in sentence case and using singular language (Item rather than Items) unless referring to a group (Men, Women). Each column’s items should be parallel (i.e., every item in a column labeled “%” should be a percentage and does not require the % symbol, since it’s already indicated in the heading). Subsections within the stub column can be shown by indenting headings rather than creating new columns:

Chemical Bonds

     Ionic

     Covalent

     Metallic

Body

The body is the main part of the table, which includes all the reported information organized in cells (intersections of rows and columns). Entries should be centred unless left aligning them would make them easier to read (longer entries, usually). Word entries in the body should use sentence case. Leave cells blank if the element is not applicable or if data were not obtained; use a dash in cells and a general note if it is necessary to explain why cells are blank. In reporting the data, consistency is key: Numerals should be expressed to a consistent number of decimal places that is determined by the precision of measurement. Never change the unit of measurement or the number of decimal places in the same column.

Notes

There are three types of notes for tables: general, specific, and probability notes. All of them must be placed below the table in that order.

General notes explain, qualify or provide information about the table as a whole. Put explanations of abbreviations, symbols, etc. here.

Example: Note. The racial categories used by the US Census (African-American, Asian American, Latinos/-as, Native-American, and Pacific Islander) have been collapsed into the category “non-White.” E = excludes respondents who self-identified as “White” and at least one other “non-White” race.

Specific notes explain, qualify or provide information about a particular column, row, or individual entry. To indicate specific notes, use superscript lowercase letters (e.g. abc), and order the superscripts from left to right, top to bottom. Each table’s first footnote must be the superscript a.

a n = 823. b One participant in this group was diagnosed with schizophrenia during the survey.

Probability notes provide the reader with the results of the tests for statistical significance. Asterisks indicate the values for which the null hypothesis is rejected, with the probability (p value) specified in the probability note. Such notes are required only when relevant to the data in the table. Consistently use the same number of asterisks for a given alpha level throughout your paper.

*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001

If you need to distinguish between two-tailed and one-tailed tests in the same table, use asterisks for two-tailed p values and an alternate symbol (such as daggers) for one-tailed p values.

*p < .05, two-tailed. **p < .01, two-tailed. †p <.05, one-tailed. ††p < .01, one-tailed.

Borders 

Tables should only include borders and lines that are needed for clarity (i.e., between elements of a decked head, above column spanners, separating total rows, etc.). Do not use vertical borders, and do not use borders around each cell. Spacing and strict alignment is typically enough to clarify relationships between elements.

This image shows an example of a table presented in the text of an APA 7 paper.

Example of a table in the text of an APA 7 paper. Note the lack of vertical borders.

Tables from Other Sources

If using tables from an external source, copy the structure of the original exactly, and cite the source in accordance with APA style.

Table Checklist

(Taken from the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed., Section 7.20)

  • Is the table necessary?
  • Does it belong in the print and electronic versions of the article, or can it go in an online supplemental file?
  • Are all comparable tables presented consistently?
  • Are all tables numbered with Arabic numerals in the order they are mentioned in the text? Is the table number bold and left-aligned?
  • Are all tables referred to in the text?
  • Is the title brief but explanatory? Is it presented in italicized title case and left-aligned?
  • Does every column have a column heading? Are column headings centred?
  • Are all abbreviations; special use of italics, parentheses, and dashes; and special symbols explained?
  • Are the notes organized according to the convention of general, specific, probability?
  • Are table borders correctly used (top and bottom of table, beneath column headings, above table spanners)?
  • Does the table use correct line spacing (double for the table number, title, and notes; single, one and a half, or double for the body)?
  • Are entries in the left column left-aligned beneath the centred stub heading? Are all other column headings and cell entries centred?
  • Are confidence intervals reported for all major point estimates?
  • Are all probability level values correctly identified, and are asterisks attached to the appropriate table entries? Is a probability level assigned the same number of asterisks in all the tables in the same document?
  • If the table or its data are from another source, is the source properly cited? Is permission necessary to reproduce the table?

Figures

Figures include all graphical displays of information that are not tables. Common types include graphs, charts, drawings, maps, plots, and photos. Just like tables, figures should supplement the text and should be both understandable on their own and referenced fully in the text.

Preparing Figures

In preparing figures, communication and readability must be the ultimate criteria. Simplicity is key; special effects and poor design can distract from and distort the data, and make the reader doubt your credibility.

Parts of a Figure

Numbers

All figures that are part of the main text require a number using Arabic numerals (Figure 1, Figure 2, etc.). Numbers are assigned based on the order in which figures appear in the text and are bolded and left aligned.

Title

Under the number, write the title of the figure in italicized title case. The title should be brief, clear, and explanatory, and both the title and number should be double spaced.

Image

The image of the figure is the body, and it is positioned underneath the number and title. The image should be legible in both size and resolution; fonts should be sans serif, consistently sized, and between 8-14 pt. Title case should be used for axis labels and other headings; descriptions within figures should be in sentence case. Shading and colour should be limited for clarity; use patterns along with colour and check contrast between colours with free online checkers to ensure all users (people with colour vision deficiencies or readers printing in grayscale, for instance) can access the content. Gridlines and 3-D effects should be avoided unless they are necessary for clarity or essential content information.

Legends

Legends, or keys, explain symbols, styles, patterns, shading, or colours in the image. Words in the legend should be in title case; legends should go within or underneath the image rather than to the side. Not all figures will require a legend.

Notes

Notes clarify the content of the figure; like tables, notes can be general, specific, or probability. General notes explain units of measurement, symbols, and abbreviations, or provide citation information. Specific notes identify specific elements using superscripts; probability notes explain statistical significance of certain values.

This image shows a generic example of a bar graph formatted as a figure in APA 7 style.

A generic example of a figure formatted in APA 7 style.

Figure Checklist 

(Taken from the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed., Section 7.35)

  • Is the figure necessary?
  • Does the figure belong in the print and electronic versions of the article, or is it supplemental?
  • Is the figure simple, clean, and free of extraneous detail?
  • Is the figure title descriptive of the content of the figure? Is it written in italic title case and left aligned?
  • Are all elements of the figure clearly labeled?
  • Are the magnitude, scale, and direction of grid elements clearly labeled?
  • Are parallel figures or equally important figures prepared according to the same scale?
  • Are the figures numbered consecutively with Arabic numerals? Is the figure number bold and left aligned?
  • Has the figure been formatted properly? Is the font sans serif in the image portion of the figure and between sizes 8 and 14?
  • Are all abbreviations and special symbols explained?
  • If the figure has a legend, does it appear within or below the image? Are the legend’s words written in title case?
  • Are the figure notes in general, specific, and probability order? Are they double-spaced, left aligned, and in the same font as the paper?
  • Are all figures mentioned in the text?
  • Has written permission for print and electronic reuse been obtained? Is proper credit given in the figure caption?
  • Have all substantive modifications to photographic images been disclosed?
  • Are the figures being submitted in a file format acceptable to the publisher?
  • Have the files been produced at a sufficiently high resolution to allow for accurate reproduction?

Source:
Purdue Online Writing Lab. (n.d.). APA Tables and Figures. Purdue Online Writing Lab. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/apa_tables_and_figures.html