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APA Format - Basic Rules & Sample Paper

APA Format - Basic Rules & Sample Paper

APA stands for American Psychological Associations and it is used to cite various sources in education, psychology and social science. The APA format is first originated in a 1929 article that was published in Psychological Bulletin and first laid out all the basic rules and guidelines. Eventually, these are the rules that got expanded and became the official publication manual for APA.

So why the APA format is important especially in social sciences and in psychology? By utilizing the APA style paper format, students and researchers writing about psychology are able to easily communicate the ideas and relevant information in a format that is consistent throughout the document. Consistency in style will let the users to know what to look for while reading the psychological writing and some other journal articles.

If you are a student of social science class or psychology class, then you are probably intended to use a styling guide that is different from APA format such as Chicago Style or MLA. It is often observed that college students are surprised that after spending a number of years now there is another format that is drilled into their heads.

Many classes at the university level require APA format. It might be a painful transition for you if you have to go back and forth between these styles. So, learning about this new format, you need to get a strong grip of the basic rules and bookmarking some important resources as this eventually help you to learn this format in a lot easier way.

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APA Format: A Brief History

APA stands for American Psychological Associations.It is the scientific organization that assembles the APA format manual. The APA style format originated in 1929 by a group of scientists to make some standards for scientific writing.

The idea behind this was to provide a structured and professional writing manner to cite sources in the social and behavioral sciences field.

The first APA format manual was published in pursuit of a neat and efficient formatting style. But it was mainly for editorial purposes.

The APA format has since become one of the most popular referencing styles.

Today the style is adopted in term papers, literature reviews, research reports, case studies, theoretical articles etc.

What is APA Format?

The official style of American Style Association, APA is commonly used to cite sources in psychology and social science field.

While writing a paper, it is important to give credit and cite all the sources.

The purpose of this is to acknowledge ideas and research of other people that you have used in your paper. No doing so will be considered plagiarism.

If you have never taken a psychology or social science class before. Then you are probably accustomed to use a different style format such as MLA.

If this is the case, you can explore our complete guide on MLA format for more information.

How to Write a Paper in APA Format?

There are some basic and important rules that you need to follow while writing an APA format paper, inducing the content structuring, margins, spacing, reference list and in-text citation.

Have a look at some basic rules that you need to follow in an APA format paper, but before that it is important to ask the instructor about any specific requirements.

  • First type the essay on a paper of standard sized (8.5 X 11) and on all sides make one-inch margin.
  • Papers need to be double spaced.
  • Use a font that is readable 12p serif. Times New Roman is recommended by the APA Manual.
  • At the top of the page add a Running Head. It is basically a short version of the title all in capital letters flushed to left.

Note: The page header should not be exceed 50 characters and it includes spacing and punctuation as well.

  • Add the number of each page flush right.
  • There is no official recommendation about the outline of the essay so you can outline it the way you want.
  • Keep the paper concise and clear. Try to avoid unnecessary details and fluff.
  • When you are discussing the research papers, use the first person such as “I examined…”.
  • Use active voice sentences.
  • Use simple and plain language and try to avoid figurative language and poetic expressions like metaphors, smiles, analogues unless they are helpful in communicating complex ideas.

It is very important to use headings properly that are followed by subheadings while organizing the information in the essays and papers. Also, you are required to organize the information in different sections as well.

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Components of APA Format Paper

Mostly, the paper is required to include 4 sections:

Title or Cover Page

You title page is the initial page of the essay. Some instructors and teachers do not want title page but there are some who do. So, you will need to ask your instructor first whether to add the title page or not.

The APA format title page includes:

  1. Title of the essay or paper
  2. Running head

Include a header page which is known as Running head. Add this at the top of the page. It includes two pieces of information

  • Title of the page
  • Page numbers

For example: At the top of the page add this

  • Title author (name)
  • School affiliation

Title Page: Key Guidelines to Follow

  • The page title should incorporate the idea of the essay or paper.
  • The title is to be placed at the center of the page. It should be typed in New Times Roman 12-points. DO NOT italicize, underline or even bold the title.
  • You can take up to two lines while crafting the title. But it should not be more than 12 words.
  • Title should be double spaced.
  • Do not add the title in the area where the author's name is written.
  • The institute affiliation is the school name that is attended by the author or it can be the location precisely where the research in talk has been conducted.


Are you wondering how to create an abstract for your paper? Then there is no need to. Some instructors and teachers require it and some do not. So, you need to ask your instructor first.

The abstract is basically a small and brief summary that follows the tiles page immediately. According to the rules of the APA paper format, the abstract section need not be more than 250 words. It needs to be in between 150 to 250 words. Although, it depends on the paper type and the requirements by the instructor.

Key Guidelines to form an Abstract

  • Create abstract on a seperate page right after the title page.
  • Add the section of running head right at the top of the page.
  • On the first line, write an abstract and center it. Avoid using quotation marks
  • After that, write down a summary of all the important points of the research paper. A summary is a way to introduce the topic of the research, questions that it will answer, process, possible finding and conclusion. You will be required to incorporate the entire document in a few numbers of sentences.
  • The summary is required to be double spaced and it should not exceed 250 words.
  • List your keywords after your summary.
  • Use active voice sentences not passive voice.
  • Do not evaluate the project in the abstract instead report what the paper contains.

The Main Body

After the section of abstract, paper's main body begins. .

Let suppose you are writing an essay, then the main body will be the essay itself. If it is a lab report, the main body will be going to break down into different sections.

Such the lab report will contain 4 main sections: introduction, method, possible results and section for discussions.

Key Guidelines for the body of most scientific papers

  • Start with running head
  • The abstract should be page 2.
  • Write the title on line next to it. DO NOT bold italicize, or underline.
  • Start with the introduction and present the problems on which the paper is based on.
  • Start a new section and named as Method. It shows how the study was conducted.
  • Start another section with the name Results. You can use this section to summarize the data. Use graphs and charts to display the data.
  • Start another section Discussion. It is the point where you need to analyze the data and interpret the results.
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This section will include the list of sources that you have used in your paper. Keep in mind that if you cite your sources then you need to add full reference in this section of the paper. One key rule to keep in mind that, any source that is cited in the paper is required to be added in the section of references.

One more thing to keep in mind is the hanging indent. It means that while formatting the APA reference page, the first line of your reference will need to line up with the left side margin and line after that are required to intent one-half inch from the left margin.

It is very easy to display from where your information came from. Next to the information or quote place the name of author followed by year.

Have a look at an example of references in APA format:

Wynne-Jones, T. (2015). The emperor of any place. Somerville: MA, Candlewick Press.

Remember APA citation styles is an APA format in text citation. You can find these within your paper. A time when a paraphrase or quote in added within your paper. It usually add the name of the author and the date when it was published.

5. In-Text Citations in APA Format

Did you get the perfect information or quote to add in your paper? It's always nice when you find the magical words or information to include in you writing. You might need to just copy and paste the information in your writing and just provide the credit of the original author.

When writing the paper, it is very essential to add text citations that specifically identify from where the information was found. These terms are known as citations, and when citing the sources in the APA format, use the name of author after that publication date is followed.

APA format citations consist of parenthetical citation in the text and the entire reference reference in the reference list. For each web page, book, journal or any other source specific citation guidelines apply.

To know more about APA citation format for your full citations. Read the APA format example below:

For Example:

  • If you have to cite the book The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud's, you will be following the format: (Freud, 1900).

The additional information needs to appear in the section of reference.

  • If there is an idea that you are referring from another source but you are nor completely quoting it, then you can skip the number of page.

According to Brown (1997), Paris was full of artists and musicians in the early 1930s.


Paris was full of artists and musicians in the early 1930s (Brown, 1997).

If you are including a quote from a source directly, then you will have to add the name of author, page number (starts with p), and publication date.

According to Rebecca (1995), “Students often experience issues with using APA style” (p.20).

The name of the author is structured in different ways, especially if there are multiple authors. Things might appear different as there is not an author at all and this happens in case of a web page of a website.

Note: APA style requires volume number for the references of journal article. Because journals are published at regular intervals. So additional information is required that indicated where and when the article was published.

6. APA Format Reference Pages Tips

Your references need to start from a separate new page. You are required to name the new page “References” and center the title text right at the top.

All entries are required to follow an alphabetical order.

The first reference line is required to flush left margin. After that each further lines needs to be intended and that is accomplished by pressing the Tab key.

Although earlier versions are required one space only after the sentence. But as per the new 6th edition of the style that is recommending two spaces.

All cited sources should appear in text and on the page of reference.

Book titles, magazines, journal articles, and newspaper are required to appear in italics.

For Example:

APA and MLA are the two most important and popular formats, and are commonly used in scientific papers. The difference between APA and MLA is how the citation is going to organized. Citation format in APA style is quite clear about the in-text citations. As we have mentioned above that all the citation and the sources need to be listed in the list of references on a new page.

Citation in APA begins with the name of the author and followed by the publication year and the title of the source.

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APA Format Sample

Here is a sample explaining how to write a paper in APA format.

pdf icon
APA format paper

Get Professional Help

Although APA format may appear complex at first but it will turn out much easier when you get yourself familiarized with all its rules and guidelines. The structure of the format is similar for a number of papers but there may be a case that your instructor is having some specific requirements for you and it also depends whether you are writing a research paper or an essay.

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Citation Style Guide for High School & College Students

Citation Styles

MLA Format


ASA Citation

Chicago Style Format

IEEE Citation

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