APA Formatting - Quick Guide

APA Sample Paper

Downloadable version of the OWL Purdue information on APA citations

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Audio Tutorial*

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  • One-inch margins
  • Times New Roman, 12-point font throughout (including running head and page numbers)
  • Indent all paragraphs in the body of the paper ½”; the abstract should not be indented.
  • Double-space throughout, with no extra spacing before or after lines.
  • Note that MS Word's default setting adds extra spacing after each paragraph.  To correct this, highlight the entire paper, click on the Home tab, then the arrow at the bottom of the paragraph tab and set the "before" and "after" paragraph spacing to zero.


  • Use active voice, rather than passive voice.
  • Be specific and concise.
  • Avoid poetic or figurative language; scientific writing is the most appropriate for APA.
  • Use past or present perfect tense (e.g., researchers have shown) for a literature review and description.  Use past tense when referring to results and experiments previously conducted (see pp. 77-79 of your APA manual).
  • Title case = all significant words, usually those with four+ letters, must be capitalized (see section 2.01 on page 23 of your APA manual).
  • Sentence case = only the first letter of the first word, proper nouns, and the word following a colon, if any, should begin with capital letters

Title Page

  • “Running head:” (without the quotations marks) and SHORTENED TITLE (in all caps as shown) flush left, with page number flush right at top of title page
  • On subsequent pages, the phrase “Running head:” will be omitted.  The YouTube video linked at the bottom of the title page of our sample APA paper will walk you through, step-by-step, how to format all APA elements. The sections on running heads, for example, starts at about 4:16 and then skips over to 7:20.
  • The following information will be centered in the upper-half of the page (not the middle of the page; approximately 5-6 lines down, and double-spaced):

Title of Paper With no More Than 12 Words in Title Case

Your Name

Name of Institution (e.g., Liberty University)


  • The word “Abstract” should be centered on the first line, without quotation marks and not bolded.  It is a section title, not heading
  • Generally, 150-250 words, unless otherwise specified by your professor or instructions.
  • Brief, comprehensive summary of the paper
  • Do not indent the first line of the abstract.
  • The abstract is not an introduction to the paper and should not contain any citations.
  • See pp. 25-27 of the APA manual for what information to include in an abstract.
  • If required, on the line under the abstract paragraph, indent 1/2” and insert the word Keywords (italicized as shown), followed by a colon. Then, insert 3-6 of your paper’s keywords (e.g., trauma, attachment), separated by commas.  The keywords themselves should not be italicized.

Main Body

  • Before writing, center the paper’s title on the first line in title case, without bold font, exactly as it appears on the title page.
  • Your introductory paragraph/ section, if you have one, will begin on the next line.  Note that APA expressly forbids using Introduction as a heading (see section 3.03 on page 63 of the APA manual); just type that paragraph under the paper’s title without any heading.  Professors always trump APA, so if your professor requires a heading labeled Introduction, then include it.


  • APA papers use headings to separate paper sections and establish a hierarchy of information.  Short papers (five pages or less in the body of the paper, for example) may not have any headings, but longer papers benefit from the organizational aspects of headings.
  • Always begin with Level 1 headings (see p. 62 of your APA manual), and apply the appropriate heading and subheading levels from there.  Do not simply progress from Level 1 to Level 2 to Level 3.
  • For each heading, include at least two subsection headings or none at all. This follows the same principle as an outline: section one would be divided into sections A and B or more. A cannot stand alone.
  • A paper may only have Level 1 headings if it is not divided into smaller subsections --- or the content under some Level 1 headings may include two or more Level 2 headings (and some content under Level 2 headings may include two or more Level 3 headings).
    • First level: centered, boldface, in title case
    • Second level: left-aligned, boldface, in title case
    • Third level: indented, boldface, sentence case with a period, then two spaces, and begin your content on the same line
    • Fourth level: indented, boldface, italicized, sentence case with a period, then two spaces, and begin your content on the same line
    • Fifth level: indented, italicized, sentence case with a period, then two spaces, and begin your content on the same line

In-Text Citations

  • An in-text citation is used whenever another author’s work is directly quoted or paraphrased.
  • Citations for paraphrases use an author/date format: (Author, Publication Year), e.g. (Smith, 2007).
  • The citation for a direct quote should also include the page number: (Author, Year, p. #).
  • You can move information from the in-text citations to other parts of the sentence that the quote is part of as long as all required elements are present: e.g. Smith (2007) says, “arrows are sharp” (p. 8).  However, the date always follows the author’s/authors’ name(s), unless APA’s exception applies for subsequent citations of the same resource in a paragraph in which the first such citation was narrative/in-text (not parenthetical; see sections 6.11 and 6.12 on pages 174-175 of your APA manual).
  • The page number always follows a direct quote, even if these elements are split within your sentence.  For example, Smith and Harlow (2011) elaborated on this by suggesting that “paper planes can float” (p. 8).  Owen (2017) posited that “foxes can fly” (p. 17) in her dream analysis.
  • Any quotation longer than 39 words should be made into a freestanding block of text and have the quotation marks removed (see p. 171 of your APA manual). 
  • The entire left margin of block quotes should be indented one-half inch as a whole “block” (with no extra indent on the first line). 
  • The parenthetical citation with the page number on block quotes follows the quote and period, with no additional punctuation after it (unlike shorter quotes, where the parenthetical citation falls within the sentence itself with the period following it).
  •  If no author is given, use a shortened version of the title in the citation rather than an author’s name.  Note that this is very uncommon; you may need to sleuth around a bit to discern the author(s) of a resource, but the Internet makes this relatively easy. 
  • If the publication date is unknown, use “n.d.” in its place (include the periods, but not the quotation marks).
  • If you are using an electronic source that does not include page numbers, use paragraph numbers with the in-text citation including the author and date (Author, Year, para. #). (See pp.171-172 of your APA manual.)
  • For works with 3 to 5 authors, list all authors’ last names in the first citation: e.g. (Smith, Jones, & Brown, 2010).  In subsequent citations, list the first author’s name and “et al.”: e.g. (Smith et al., 2010).  Note that al. is an abbreviation for alli, which is why it has a period and et does not.
  • For citations that have 6 or more authors, cite the surname of the first author followed by “et al.” in text, as if you had already named the authors: e.g. (Arden et al., 2012). 
  • When citing the Bible in-text, spell out the full version the first time you use it (see pp. 171-174 of your APA manual), and then omit it in future citations, unless you change versions (e.g., 1 Cor. 13:1, Revised Standard Version).


  • Center the word “References” (without quotation marks or bold font) on the top line of a new page.  This term is also a section title; not a heading.
  • Use hanging indents (the first line of each entry should be left-justified, with lines two+ indented ½” from the left margin).  The YouTube video linked to the title of our sample APA paper will show you how to do this; that section begins at 8:40.
  • Alphabetize all entries by the first word in each (usually the first author’s last name for each).
  • If a work has more than 7 authors, list the first 6 followed by an ellipsis (…).  Include the last author’s name immediately after the ellipsis as the final author mentioned.  Do not include an ampersand (&) in references with 8 or more authors.
  • Classical works (including the Bible) and personal communications are cited in the body of the paper, but not included in the reference list.
  • Do not include a period after a URL or DOI.
  • Note that the issue number of a journal article should be connected/attached to the volume number --- e.g., 12(8).  The volume number should be italicized, but the attached parentheses and issue number should not.
  • Check Google Scholar or www.crossref.org for DOIs of all articles published since 2007, if one is not readily denoted on the article itself. 
  • Note that you must include a comma after the author’s name that precedes the ampersand in the reference list, even when there are only two authors.  This does not apply to citations in the body of the paper.
  • Only include the access date for online content that is likely to change (such as wikis).

Reference List

  • Book

    Author, A. A. (Year of publication). Title of work in sentence case: Capital letter after a colon. City, ST: Publisher.

    Alone, A. (2008). This author wrote a book by himself. New York, NY: Herald.

    Acworth, A., Broad, P., Callum, M., Drought, J., Edwards, K., Fallow, P., & Gould, P. (2011). The emphasis of the day. Melville, PA: Strouthworks.


    Article in a periodical

    Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (Year). Title of article in sentence case and not italicized. Title of Periodical in Title Case and Italicizedvolume number(issue number), pages. doi

    Allen, B., Bacon, P., & Paul, M. (2011). Pericles and the giant. The Journal of Namesakes, 12(8), 13-18. doi:001.118.13601572


    Article from an online periodical

    Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of Online Periodicalvolume number(issue number if available). Retrieved from http://www.someaddress.com/full/url/

    Carlisle, M. A. (n.d.). Erin and the perfect pitch. Journal of Music, 21(3), 16-17. Retrieved from http://make-sure-it-goes-to-the-exact-webpage-of-the-source-otherwise-don’t-include



    Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of document. Retrieved from http://web address

    Liberty University. (2015). The online writing center. Retrieved from https://www.liberty.edu/index.cfm?PID=17176

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