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.

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.

What can proofreading do for your paper?

Scribbr editors not only correct grammar and spelling mistakes, but also strengthen your writing by making sure your paper is free of vague language, redundant words and awkward phrasing.

See editing example

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.


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?



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!


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!


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!


January 11, 2021 at 8:13 PM


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


Still have questions?

Please click the checkbox on the left to verify that you are a not a bot.