APA format for academic papers (6th edition)

This article reflects the APA 6th edition guidelines. Click here for APA 7th edition guidelines.

In addition to guidelines for APA citations, there are format guidelines for academic papers and essays. They’re widely used by professionals, researchers and students.

The most important APA format guidelines in the 6th edition are:

  • Use 12 pt Times New Roman
  • Set 1 inch page margins
  • Apply double line spacing
  • Insert a running head on every page
  • Indent every new paragraph ½ inch

APA format

APA format template

Instead of applying the APA guidelines to your document you can simply download the APA format template for Word.

APA Format Template

Download APA Format Template (.docx)

Running head

In the header of each page you include the paper title and page number. If your paper title is longer than 50 characters you should use a shortened version as running head. The page number should be positioned in the top right-hand corner. On the title page the APA running head is preceded by the words “Running head:”.

APA running head: title page
APA running head example title page

APA running head: subsequent pages
APA Running head example subsequent pages

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Headings

Throughout your paper you use different heading levels. The levels ranging from one to five help structure the document. Major headings, or heading 1, are used for the titles of chapters such as “Methods” or “Results”. Heading levels two to five are used for subheadings. Each heading level is formatted differently. These are the APA heading guidelines:

Heading level APA format
Heading 1 Centered, Bold, Title Case Capitalization
Heading 2 Left-Aligned, Bold, Title Case Capitalization
Heading 3      Indented, bold, Sentence case capitalization, a final period. The body text begins immediately after the period.
Heading 4      Indented, bold, italics, sentence case capitalization, a final period. The body text begins immediately after the period.
Heading 5      Indented, italics, sentence case capitalization, a final period. The body text begins immediately after the point.

Title case capitalization: Capitalize the first, last, and principal words.
Sentence case capitalization: Capitalize only the first word and any proper nouns.

Note that you are not required to include a table of contents in APA style, but if you do choose to include one, all headings should be formatted as plain text, with an additional indent for each level.

Title page

The APA title page, also called cover page, is the first page of your paper. The regular formatting guidelines regarding font and margins apply. In addition, an APA formatted title page contains:

  • Running head including page number
  • Full paper title (in title case)
  • Author name(s), without titles and degrees
  • Institutional affiliation

Note: APA style has specific guidelines for including more than one author or institutional affiliation on the title page.

APA Title page

Abstract

An APA abstract is a one paragraph (± 250 words) summary of your paper. It introduces the objective or problem statement of the paper and includes information on the method, research results, and conclusions of your research. In a separate article we explain in-depth how to write an abstract.

Although most regular APA formatting guidelines apply, the abstract page also has specific requirements. The abstract starts with a centered heading “Abstract”. In contrast to regular APA headings, no styling is applied. The first line of the paragraph is, unlike regular paragraphs, not indented.

At the end of the abstract, keywords relevant to the research are included. These keywords improve the findability of your paper in databases. Indent the line with keywords and start with the italicized word “Keyword:”, followed by the keywords.

APA format abstract

Reference page

The APA reference page, also called reference list, is where all sources that are cited in the text are listed. The citations differs for each source type. Aside from the references itself the reference page as a whole also has specific APA formatting guidelines.

The APA reference page example below highlights those guidelines regarding page margins, hanging indent and the reference page title “References”. Furthermore, the reference list is sorted alphabetically. You can easily create APA references with Scribbr’s free APA Citation Generator.

APA reference page example

APA reference page format

In-text citations and references

APA format citations consist of parenthetical citation in the text (in-text citations) and the full reference in the reference list. For each webpage, journal article, book or any other source specific citation guidelines apply.

To make things easier Scribbr created the free APA Citation Generator that cites every source perfectly. Just enter the URL, journal DOI or book ISBN and both the in-text citation and full reference are generated.

In addition, Scribbr has in-depth APA citation examples for every source type ranging from journal articles and books to YouTube videos and tweets.

Setting up the APA format

This video will demonstrate how to set up the APA format in Google Docs.

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13 comments

Azeem Anjum
April 17, 2021 at 10:06 PM

Hey quick question, when do I use different headings and would I need to use anything other than a level one heading in the introduction paragraph

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
April 22, 2021 at 4:55 PM

Hi Azeem,

Different levels of heading are hierarchical; the level 1 headings are the main ones (e.g. "Discussion," "Conclusion"), the level 2 headings are subsections within those, and so on. If your paper is fairly simple and short, you might use only level 1 headings, or no headings at all.

APA recommends against using an "Introduction" heading; the first paragraphs will always be assumed to be the introduction, so it's unnecessary. If your introduction is just one paragraph, there's also definitely no need for headings within it.

Reply

Sam
April 8, 2021 at 10:19 PM

How do I cite information from an article that is a citation itself? For example, I'm reading an article and the information I want to include in my paper is a cited statement from a different article. Do I cite the article I'm reading? Or do i cite the initial reference that the author of the article cited?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
April 16, 2021 at 3:09 PM

Hi Sam,

It's best to try to locate the original source and cite that directly. But if you can't find the original article, you can use the phrase "as cited in" in your citation, as explained in this FAQ.

Reply

Adedoyin Omidiji
March 6, 2021 at 6:46 PM

What I saw in your examples of references got online, you added "retrieved from" then the link. Do I still need to write the date I access the link? if yes, where will be the appropriate position. is it after the online link, or before the retrieved link.
Thanks

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
March 8, 2021 at 4:56 PM

Hi Adedoyin,

It's recommended to include an access date with a source that is likely to change over time, especially if it doesn't have an official publication date. The access date is presented like this: "Retrieved March 8, 2021, from https://www.scribbr.com/apa-style/" Check this article for a full example in APA 6th edition style.

Reply

Missy
February 25, 2021 at 7:47 AM

Do I still need to put a running head in a 1000-word paper?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
March 1, 2021 at 3:12 PM

Hi Missy,

In 6th edition APA Style, the guidelines state that you should indeed include a running head in all papers, regardless of length.

Reply

Sam Monaghan
February 9, 2021 at 5:25 AM

Can I make reference to an audio book or podcast? Are these legitimate reference sources if they're from a respected academic?
If so, how do I reference them?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
February 9, 2021 at 3:26 PM

Hi Sam,

Podcasts and audiobooks can certainly be legitimate sources to use if they provide relevant and reliable information. You can check out our article on evaluating source credibility if you're unsure.

To cite an audiobook in APA 6th edition style, you can adapt the ebook format shown here; just write "Audiobook version" in the square brackets.

To cite a podcast, you can use the format shown here; adapt it to 6th edition style (if that's what you're following) by adding "Retrieved from" before the URL.

Reply

Amalthea
January 15, 2021 at 8:20 PM

If I'm writing a two-paragraph or 500-word paper, do I need an abstract? Should I include an abstract in a two-three page paper even if my professor didn't mention it in the assignment rubric?

Reply

Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr Team)
January 15, 2021 at 8:37 PM

Hi Amalthea,

For a short 500-word paper, you don't need an abstract. In general, an abstract is not required for student papers unless your professor asks you to include one.

Hope that helps!

Reply

Amalthea
January 15, 2021 at 8:44 PM

Thank you! That just saved me a ton of stress for this coming semester!

Reply

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