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APA Format and Citations

When it comes to writing styles, the format for APA citations can be a formidable foe. However, if you break down the APA format into the basics, it doesn’t really look so scary. Use this easy-to-follow APA format and citations guide to break down your research writing into easy steps.


What Is APA Style?

Before you can write your paper in the American Psychological Association (APA) style, you need to understand what it is and why it’s used. Many times, using APA style comes down to the type of paper you’re writing.  This style guide is used in behavioral science, social science, education, and psychology research papers. It creates a cohesive format for writing and citing your resources.

APA style description video

Why Use APA Style?

The reason to choose APA citation style vs MLA or Chicago is that it’s designed to provide credibility, by making your resources accessible and creating a focus for the reader. Since APA was created for social sciences, it focuses on making scholarly journal and book citations easier. Additionally, it includes rules for tables, figures, and appendices.

Difference Between APA 6 and APA 7 Format

With the why securely in your mind, it’s time to explore the changes APA made in their style guide when they updated from APA 6 to APA 7.  While most of the changes were small, a few major ones include:

  • Inclusive, gender-neutral, bias-free language
  • Shortening of authors for in-text citations
  • Including 20 author names on the reference list
  • Removal of [Kindle] from ebooks
  • More online source examples
  • Font flexibility

Choosing Your Thesis

The first step in the APA paper writing process is choosing your thesis. Behavioral and social sciences are big fields. So, it’s important to narrow down your focus before you begin your paper. Depending on your interests, you might look for topics in:

  • Anthropology
  • Economics
  • Law
  • Linguistics
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Nursing
  • Criminology

Once you narrow down your topic, you need to research a specific question in that field you want to answer. Use your topic and research question to clearly define your thesis. This is important because it guides your research for your APA paper.

Finding Sources for APA Format Paper

With a clear research focus, you need to find the right sources for your APA paper. It’s important to find authoritative sources for academic writing. Authoritative sources for social sciences topics include scholarly journals and books by experts in the field. Additionally, look at the year the study or research was published. Theories are constantly changing in the field; therefore, it’s important to find the most up-to-date information.

good source scholarly information

Creating an APA Format Outline

Depending on the magnitude of your phenomenal research, you can choose to create an outline of your paper before writing it. APA doesn’t have a specific format for making an outline for your essay or research paper. However, there are a few different formats you can use, like a topic or sentence outline. While not required, having an outline can be useful in keeping your paper flowing smoothly and on topic.

example outline in APA format

Formatting an APA Paper

The time has come to format your APA paper. And, it’s all about style. This isn’t “wearing white after Labor Day” kind of style. This is a writing style, which means the style guide has everything broken down for you from formatting your paper to creating your reference list.

Note: All the formatting information discussed in this section can be found in Chapter 2 of the APA Publication Manual, Seventh Edition.


APA Paper Requirements

Don’t get marked down points for not following APA paper formatting requirements. A few APA formatting style highlights include:

  • Double spacing
  • Page number header
  • 1-inch margins
  • Flush-left style
  • Indented paragraphs

Must-Have Sections in APA Format

In addition to formatting, you need to include specific sections within your APA style research paper. The basic sections include:

  • Title page: This is the first page with your title and name.
  • Abstract: This provides an overview of the paper.
  • Body: The main part of your paper includes your introduction, methods, materials, results, conclusion, and discussion.
  • References: Here, you provide a list of all the sources used in your article.

example abstract APA format

APA Five Levels of Headings

APA format uses unique headings that fall into one of five levels.

Headings are used in order. If you need two headings in your section, then you start with a level 1 heading at the beginning of the section. This heading is bold and centered. Your level 2 subsection heading is left aligned and bold. If you require three levels of headings in your section, then you start with a level 1 heading, then move to a level 2 and level 3 in order. All headings are in title case, meaning you capitalize most words.

Note: Look for more information on heading levels in section 2.26 and 2.27 of the APA manual.


Tables & Figures in APA

Adding tables and figures to your APA paper is a fabulous way for you to condense information and add visuals to your writing. When creating a table or figure make sure it’s attractive and displays the information you want in an accessible way. Per chapter 7 of the APA manual, tables have four main sections:

  • Number – include numbers for each table like (Table 1)
  • Title – appears below table number
  • Headings – like column headings
  • Body – rows and columns showing your information

example table APA format

Figures in APA, like images, also include basic important components. Following sections 7.22 to 7.36 of the APA manual, figures include:

  • Number – each figure included has a number (Figure 1)
  • Title – title double spaced under number
  • Image – the image, drawing, photo, etc.
  • Legend – key for your figure to explain symbols
  • Notes – general, specific, or probability information needed to understand figure

example figure APA format

APA Style Writing Tips

Since academic writing requires a specific tone, knowing a few APA writing style tips can really make your work shine. Your writing should be clear and concise. Use simple sentences that are straight to the point and unpack your details in a clear, easy-to-follow way. Being vague could lead to misinterpretation and nobody wants that. Additionally, follow specific punctuation, spelling, capitalization, numbers, and abbreviations rules laid out in chapter 6 of the APA manual.

Tone and Wording in APA Writing

Being clear and easy-to-follow doesn’t mean that you need to use a passive voice in your tone and wording in APA writing. Rather, an active voice is preferred for dissecting experiments.

And don’t forget about verb tense. You must present the facts as they are to avoid any bias. It’s also important to rethink the use of gender pronouns to avoid bias as well. Consider an alternative like specific names, people, or groups, rather than he or she. Additionally, APA 7 supports the use of the singular ‘they’ in their style.

APA In-Text Citations

As you’re writing your APA paper, don’t forget about the in-text citations. In-text citations ensure you avoid plagiarism in your work.

Parenthetical or in-text citations sometimes get confused with reference citations, but these two are different. In-text citations are found in the body of your paper. Reference citations are at the end of the paper in the “references” section. That’s an easy way to keep track of the two. But remember, they should correspond with one another.

How to Make an APA In-Text Citation

Congrats! You’ve moved on to Chapter 8 of the APA manual, creating in-text citations. APA in-text citations use the author-date format. In addition to having a specific format, different types of text are going to be quoted differently. Explore how to make citations for quotes.

  • Short quotes use quotation marks around the quoted text and have the author’s name (or multiple authors’ names), date, and page number.
  • Long quotes are in block quote format.
  • Summarizing or paraphrasing should include the name and date. The page number can be included but isn’t required.

example in-text citations APA format

Working With Authors

In APA, authors matter; therefore, you must be careful of how you cite authors. Whether the cited source has one author, six authors, or no author, you have to account for everything. Just a few ways the authors might be cited in the text include:

  • Unknown Author: Title of Source
  • One Author: Author’s Last Name
  • Two Authors: Last Name 1 & Last Name 2
  • Three or More Authors: Name 1 et al.

You might also come across a situation where you have multiple sources with the same author. This might take a few unique approaches including adding both work dates. You might also come across websites or technical reports with no author. In those cases, use the name of the website or company in place of the author’s name.

Footnotes in APA Format

Before you start to panic about formatting footnotes, they aren’t usually in APA papers. But if they are, footnotes are used for copyrighted material or to provide extra information in the text. Rather than use the author-date format, you create footnotes in APA style using superscript numbers in the text and a reference at the bottom of the page.

APA Citation: Reference List

After the body of your paper is done, you’ll create your reference page. This is not an APA bibliography. Rather, it’s called a reference page. Your reference list page is where your teacher or anyone reading your paper finds all the sources you cited within your paper.

Reference List in APA Format

Just like everything else in your paper, your references list needs to follow specific rules for formatting and creating your citations set forth by chapters 9 and 10 of the APA manual. In addition to being double spaced and including a running head, you need to put your references in alphabetical order.

APA reference page sample

Listing Authors in APA Format

When listing authors in APA article citations, follow the same basic format for one or two authors as you did for your in-text citations. But, when it comes to two to twenty authors, you need to write them out in full. For a resource with twenty-one or more authors, write out the first nineteen authors, then add three ellipsis points, followed by the final author.

Note: Found in section 9.8 of the Publication Manual in chapter 10.



2-20 Authors:

Alberts B., Johnson, A., Lewis, J., Raff, M., Roberts, K.,  & Walter, P.

21 or More:

Jaramillo, C., Gilbert, A.N., Bulixi, T.P., Farland, N., Smith, L.J., Leland, K., Thomas, P., Luna, K., Leer, K., List, K., Like, K., Ryan, O., Leland, R., Terry, D., Deel, S., Turner, T., San, E., Tyr, K., Land, A., …Wintle, N.

APA Citations for Periodicals

When it comes to APA citations, periodicals are published at specific intervals. They include journals, magazines, newspapers, and reviews. Basically, the citation for a periodical includes the author, year, title, pages, and DOI.

Periodical Example

Author, A. B. (Year). Article title. Title of periodical, volume number (issue number), pages. https://doi.org/xx.xxx/yyyy

APA Book Citations

In a book citation, including reference books and anthologies, you write out the author’s last name and include both the first and middle initial. You italicize the title and only capitalize the first word of the title. You also need a hanging indent.

Book Example

Author, A. B. (Publication year). Work title: Capital letter also for subtitle. Location: Publisher.

Additional Print Source Citations

While books and periodicals are the main print sources you encounter, you can come across print sources like an encyclopedia or dictionary. Be wary of some of these sources simply because they are considered secondary sources. However, if you do choose to use them, the corresponding citation includes the publication, edition, and year.

Dictionary Example

Author. (Publication year). Entry title. In Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary (edition., p. 00)

APA Website Citation

Now, it’s time to explore a website citation. A website citation includes the title, publication date, and URL.

Website Example:

Author, A. B. (Publication date). Title of page. Name of site. URL

Photo and Image Citations

Did you know you need to cite images? Well, you do. It is important to give credit to anything that you use within your paper, and that includes images. Image citations can take a couple of formats depending on whether or not they have an author.

Photo Example With Author:

Author, A. B. (Year). Title of the artwork [Format]. Location. URL

PowerPoint APA Citations

Lecturers love to share their PowerPoint presentations, so if you use one, you need to know how to cite a PowerPoint correctly. That includes PowerPoint reference lists that your teacher might ask you to create. To correctly cite a PowerPoint presentation, you include the author, publication, title, and URL if one is available.

PowerPoint Example:

Author, A. B. (year of publication). Title of presentation: Subtitle of presentation [PowerPoint slides]. Format. URL

No Reference Needed

Some sources don’t need to be cited in the reference list. For example, classical works don’t need to be listed in your references. This is also true of personal communication, like interviews. However, if your teacher requests it, be sure to add it to the references.

Free APA Citation: APA Citation Generator

While knowing how to create your own citations is important, there are different free APA citation generators out there that can make your life easier. These generators create the citations for you in multiple different styles including APA. You can then copy and paste or export the citation into your document.

APA Annotated Bibliography

While your paper typically ends with your references, sometimes, you are asked to create an annotated bibliography. An annotated bibliography in APA style not only includes each APA citation, but also an overview of the source authority, information, and value it adds to your research.

example annotated bibliography APA

Citation generator

Writing Your APA Paper

Writing an APA paper can be quite a process. To make sure that every paper has a clean, uniform look, the APA created a nifty style guide. While it might seem like a lot of work your first time around, you can simplify your life by trying a bibliography generator to take the work out of creating proper citations for your research paper. You can also check out MLA format and Chicago citations.


What does APA format look like?

The look of an APA format paper is specific and includes running headers, 1-inch margins, flush-left style, double spacing, and indented paragraphs. Each APA format paper will include a title page, abstract, body, and references page.

How do you set up a paper in APA format?

To set up a paper in APA format, you need 1-inch margins and indented paragraphs. You also include running headers and double spacing throughout the entire paper. In addition to the body of your paper, you'll include a title page, abstract, and references.

What is a running head in APA format example?

In an APA format example, the running header is found at the top of each page of the paper. The APA running header includes the title of the paper in all capital letters like:

How do you do APA referencing?

When it comes to doing an APA referencing list, you include citations for all the references you used in your paper. The title should be centered and 1 inch down. The citations are listed in alphabetical order by the author's last name. Additionally, for book and journal article titles, APA uses sentence case capitalization so only the first letter of the title will be capitalized like:
Exploration of the holocaust

What is a level 1 heading APA?

A level 1 heading in APA style is the first level of header used. Level 1 headings are in title case, bold, and centered on the page. Level 1 headings are the first level of 5 levels of heading that APA dictates in their style guide.

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