APA headings and subheadings

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

Headings and subheadings provide structure to a document. They signal what each section
is about and allow for easy navigation of the document.

APA headings have five possible levels. Each heading level is formatted differently.

APA headings (7th edition)

Note: Title case simply means that you should capitalize the first word, words with four or more letters, and all “major words” (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns).

Additional guidelines for APA headings

As well as the heading styles, there are some other guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Double-space all text, including the headings.
  • Use the same font for headings and body text (e.g., Times New Roman 12pt.).
  • Don’t label headings with numbers or letters.
  • Don’t add extra “enters” above or below headings.
Note: In longer documents, such as dissertations, you might be required to number your headings. Instructions from your supervisor or university always overrule the APA guidelines.

How many heading levels should you use?

Depending on the length and complexity of your paper, you may not use all five heading levels. In fact, shorter student papers may have no headings at all.

It’s also perfectly fine for some sections in your paper to go as deep as five levels, where others use only heading level 1.

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When to use which APA heading level

Heading level 1 is used for main sections like “Methods”, “Results”, and “Discussion”. There is no “Introduction” heading at the beginning of your paper because the first paragraphs are understood to be introductory.

Heading level 2 is used for subsections under level 1. For example, under “Methods” (level 1) you may have subsections for “Sampling Method” and “Data Analysis” (level 2). This continues all the way down to heading level 5.

Always use at least two subheadings or none at all. If there is just one subheading, the top-level heading is sufficient.

Section labels vs headings

In addition to regular headings, APA works with “section labels” for specific parts of the paper. They’re similar to headings but are formatted differently. Section labels are placed on a separate line at the top of a new page in bold and centered.

Use section labels for the following sections in an APA formatted paper:

Sample paper with APA headings

APA heading example (7th edition)

Using heading styles in Word or Google Docs

Instead of formatting every heading individually, you can use the “Styles” feature in Word or Google Docs. This allows you to save the styling and apply it with just a click.

The first time you use APA Style, you need to update the default heading styles to reflect the APA heading guidelines. Click here for the instructions for Microsoft Word and Google Docs.

An added benefit of using the “Styles” feature is that you can automatically generate a table of contents.

Is this article helpful?
Raimo Streefkerk

Raimo is an expert in explaining plagiarism and citing sources. He has been writing helpful articles since 2017 and is continuously improving Scribbr's Citation Generators.

13 comments

Lillie
July 21, 2021 at 6:58 PM

Is a title such as “Summary” or “Conclusion” used at the end of an APA formatted paper?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
July 28, 2021 at 6:27 PM

Hi Lillie,

Yes, if you use headings in your paper, it's appropriate to use the heading "Conclusion" for the final section in most cases.

Reply

Leonard
July 17, 2021 at 5:34 PM

Hi,
I have two additional questions:

1) Is it allowed to leave a blank line between the end of a paragraph and a subsequent level 2 heading? My text would simply look more structured if there was a bit more space.

2) In the methods section of my psychology paper I want to present the measures I used. "Measures" would be a level 2 heading and I would like to explain each measure in a different paragraph. Would it be allowed to give each paragraph a level 3 heading?

Greetings and Thanks for the useful content,
Leonard

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
July 20, 2021 at 4:00 PM

Hi Leonard,

APA states "Do not start a new page or add extra line breaks when a new heading occurs," so it's probably best to avoid doing this, strictly speaking.

Using level 3 headings to explain your measures sounds like a sensible approach; I don't see any problem with this, even if it means sections are only one paragraph each. It wouldn't be appropriate to use a heading for every paragraph in your paper, but there's no issue with doing so for a specific part of it if it suits your structure.

Reply

Daniela Affolter
April 7, 2021 at 11:35 PM

Hi all, does anyone know if it ok to use italic style for paper or book titles you mention in an assignment?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
April 16, 2021 at 2:57 PM

Hi Daniela,

APA has specific guidelines for which titles should be styled using italics, and which should appear without italics. You can read more about these guidelines here.

When writing a title in the text, use italics if you have used italics in the reference list, and use quotation marks if you've used plain text there. So the title of a journal article would usually be in quotation marks, the title of a book in italics.

Hope that helps!

Reply

Vanessa
March 20, 2021 at 5:22 AM

If we are starting a second Level 1 title, do we make a page break and start the next Level 1 title. Or can we just the second level one title in the middle of the page? Hope this makes sense.
Like:
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Page break???
Level 1

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
March 22, 2021 at 1:10 PM

Hi Vanessa,

There's no need to start a new page for a level 1 heading; it can just appear on the same page.

Reply

Shelley-Ann
December 24, 2020 at 1:52 PM

This is a great guide. Thank you for taking the time to put it together.

I'm curious about the phrasing for headings. Can 5th degree subheadings be complete sentences?

Regards,

Reply

Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr Team)
January 14, 2021 at 8:32 PM

Hi Shelley-Ann,

Glad you found this article useful :) APA doesn't provide specific rules about the phrasing of headings, except that they should be concise and descriptive. That said, it's unusual for headings (at any level) to be complete sentences; if possible, it's better to use a short phrase that clearly communicates the content of the section.

Hope that helps!

Reply

Alma Hodžić
December 15, 2020 at 11:10 AM

Thank you Raimo for this article! I have two additional questions:

1. If there is no heading "Introduction", what does that mean? My Introduction goes without any heading (how is it presented in TOC, it isn't?) just below Abstract or TOC?
2. Does every new paragraph in a section starts with indentation (not just the first line of the section)?

Thank you!

Reply

Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr Team)
December 23, 2020 at 9:28 PM

Hi Alma,

In APA format papers, a table of contents is not generally included; the introduction simply starts on a new page after the abstract. I'd recommend double-checking with your professor whether you should include a TOC. If so, it may be a good idea to add a heading for the introduction so that it appears in the TOC. And yes, the first line of every paragraph should be indented.

Hope that helps!

Reply

Cecilie
January 11, 2021 at 8:13 PM

Hey!

I know it might be too late for Alma's assignment now, but it might help it the future:

APA states that the "introduction" part of your paper should have the title of the paper as the heading.

Heading in the Introduction: https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/paper-format/headings

See also professional sample paper (student one doesn't have an abstract): https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/paper-format/student-annotated.pdf

Reply

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