How to Write a Paper in APA Essay Format

apa essay format
  • Published Date: October 13, 2017

APA (American Psychological Association) style is a method of formatting often used by students today.

If you are writing a research paper or a Cause & Effect essay, you’re more than likely going to use APA style.

The current APA essay format guidelines come from the 6th Edition of the APA Manual.

As always, check with the official publication in order to make sure you are following the most recent and up-to-date recommendations.

You can do that here at the APA official site.


APA essays should be type-written on standard white paper, 8.5 x 11”.

Margins should be 1” on all sides (left, right, top and bottom).

Text should be double-spaced and the font typically recommended for use is Times New Roman, 12 pt. size.

The entire paper should be double-spaced throughout. There should be no sections of the essay that are single-spaced.

The essay should have a running header that appears on the front page and includes a page number on the right-hand side of the paper in the upper margin and the essay’s title (or portion of the title if it is long) in ALL CAPS on the left-hand side. For example:

APA formatting typically requires one to include a title page and abstract as well.

The title page is formatted like this:

The running header appears at the top of the title page with the page number on the right.

The title page should be followed by the Abstract.

The Abstract provides a brief 150-200 word summary of the paper. The title “Abstract” should be centered at the top of the page.

The summary itself should be flush with the left-hand margin.

The Abstract should give a brief overview of the paper. For most research papers, it will be where the author identifies the subject of the paper, the purpose, the method used to obtain data, the method for how the data was analyzed, the findings, and any conclusions or recommendations that were made.

Immediately following the summary should come a list of keywords that best summarize the paper’s topic.

In the example provided below, you can see that the term Keywords is italicized and indented five spaces to the right. The keywords follow in lower case letters and are individually separated by a comma.

After the Abstract, the paper itself should begin on the next page.

Body of the Paper

The first paragraph of your paper will be your introduction.

It requires no heading and should provide simply some background to your topic.

It should be followed by the body of the paper, and you will want to use headings and sub-headings to differentiate these parts.

Headings in APA

Level 1 headings serve as main section headings.

Level 2 headings serve as sub-section headings, and so on.

For example, here is what the headings and sub-headings of a paper might look like:

Problems with QE (Level 1)

Asset Inflation (Level 2)

Artificially Low Interest Rates (Level 2)

Low-Yield in Bonds. (Level 3)

Fund Managers Chasing Yield. (Level 3)

Outcome (Level 1)

Market Irregularities (Level 2)

Historical Patterns. (Level 3)

Meanings of trends. (Level 4)

Meaning lost. (Level 4)

Current “Patterns”. (Level 3)

Increased Risk (Level 2)

An actual example of how headings might be used in APA can be seen here below:


In-text citations should be included anytime you are writing a research paper. (For more information on how to write a research paper, see our example).

In APA, in-text citations are very simple: include the author(s)’ last name, followed by the year of publication, and the page number on which the source material is located.

If you are using Internet sources for references, see this citation guide on how to cite websites in APA.

Here is an example of how the standard APA citation method will appear in your paper:
Just as African-American churches are making an impact in cities around the country where communities are torn by racial tension and violence, so too did African-American churches rally to the cause in the middle of the 20th century to face and address the same issues (Dagan, 2015).
Notice that no page number is given in the parenthetical citation. That is because no direct quote was used.

When no direct quote is used, the in-text citation simply requires the author’s name and the date of publication.

If the author’s name is given in the sentence, a parenthetical citation giving the year of publication is all that is needed.

For example:
Dagan (2005) notes that just as black churches are making an impact in cities around the country where communities are torn by racial tension and violence, so too did black churches rally to the cause in the middle of the 20th century to face and address the same issues.
Here is an example of when to use page numbers in the in-text citation:
Donovan (2013) states that in emergencies, it is okay for people “to use force as this is sometimes all they have” (p. 48).
If the author’s name is not given, but the quote is still used, it would look like this:
In some cases, when there is no other option, it is acceptable for individuals “to use force as this is sometimes all they have” (Donovan, 2013, p. 48).
In instances where more than one author is associated with a source, you may list all the names and couple them with an “&” symbol at the end. For example:
Beyond practicing empty rhetoric, the majority of them have no idea what they are doing or saying (Garrison, Fuller & Marle, 2017).
If the source has multiple authors, once it has been cited in the document, the citation may be abbreviated the next time it is used by inserting “et al.” for the authors’ names following the first author. For example:
As Garrison et al. (2017) have shown, the typical politician is simply clueless when it comes to the matter of efficiency.
No matter how many times it is argued, the only logical answer is always the same: career politicians are there to collect a pay check—not to make the country better in any meaningful way (Garrison et al., 2017).
For more information on how to apply APA style to citations, see Purdue OWL.


APA uses a References page to list all the sources used in a paper. They should be listed alphabetically.

Journal articles should include the author(s)’ name, publication year, title of the article, title of the journal, volume number and issue number, and page numbers. Here are some examples:

Akinsomi, O., Kola, K., Ndlovu, T. & Motloung, M. (2016). The performance of the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment compliant listed property firms in South Africa.  Journal of Property Investment & Finance34(1), pp. 3-26.


Calhoun-Brown, A. (2000). Upon this rock: The black church, nonviolence, and the Civil Rights Movement. PS: Political Science and Politics, 33(2), pp. 168-174.

Notice that titles of journals are not capitalized. Titles of journals are capitalized. Proper names are also capitalized in article titles.

Only the first words of book titles are capitalized—the rest of the title should be in lower case. However, like the title of a journal, the title of a book should be italicized. For example:

Jones, E. M. (2000). Libido dominandi: Sexual liberation and political control. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press.


Kraft, R. (2016). Welcome to the jungle: The art of navigating life’s hairiest situations. New York, NY: Ricardo Press.

For sources obtained from the Internet, the title of the article and a link to the page is typically all that’s needed.

Website sources will be referenced like this:

Blanchard, J. (2014). Did you know? Fourteen facts on sled hockey. Retrieved from


Conran, P. (2014). Busan 2014 review: Parallel means well but lacks drive. Retrieved from


APA essay format is easy to use and apply once the guidelines are understood.

The most important thing to remember when using APA style is the formatting method: title page, abstract, and body of the paper—that’s the basic set-up.

Everything should be double-spaced.

A running header should be included on every page along with the page number.

The introduction does not require a heading.

According to APA, 6th Ed., Level 1 Headings should be centered and bolded. Level 2 should be flush left and bolded. Level 3 should be indented and bolded.

In-text citations should include the author’s name and year of publication. A page number should be provided as well if the reference includes a direct quote.

The Abstract should serve as a brief overview of the paper and state the subject of the paper, the purpose, the method used to obtain data, how the data was analyzed, what the findings were, and what conclusions or recommendations were made. It should be very concise at about 150-200 words.

Good luck!

Helpful Hints and Reminders

  1. Don’t put a source on your References page unless you cite it in your document.
  2. Remember to do an Abstract
  3. Use headings and sub-headings to break up your essay and make it more readable.
  4. Always make sure you are following the latest APA guidelines: check to see if the Manual has been updated!
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Cite This Resource:

Latest APA Format (6th edition)

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How to Write a Paper in APA Essay Format. (2017, October 13). Retrieved from

Latest MLA Format (8th edition)

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"How to Write a Paper in APA Essay Format." Student Network Resources Inc, 13 October. 2017. Web. 15 June 2024.

Latest Chicago Format (16th edition)

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Student Network Resources Inc. "How to Write a Paper in APA Essay Format." (accessed June 15, 2024).