APA format for academic papers and essays

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

The 7th edition of the APA Publication Manual provides guidelines for clear communication, citing sources, and formatting documents. This article focuses on paper formatting.

Throughout your paper, you need to apply the following APA format guidelines:

  • Set page margins to 1 inch on all sides.
  • Double-space all text, including headings.
  • Indent the first line of every paragraph 0.5 inches.
  • Use an accessible font (e.g., Times New Roman 12pt., Arial 11pt., or Georgia 11pt.).
  • Include a page number on every page.

APA format (7th edition)

How to set up APA format (with template)

APA alphabetization guidelines

References are ordered alphabetically by the first author’s last name. If the author is unknown, order the reference entry by the first meaningful word of the title (ignoring articles: “the”, “a”, or “an”).

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APA format template [Free download]

Why set up APA format from scratch if you can download Scribbr’s template for free?

Student papers and professional papers have slightly different guidelines regarding the title page, abstract, and running head. Our template is available in Word and Google Docs format for both versions.

In an APA Style paper, every page has a page header. For student papers, the page header usually consists of just a page number in the page’s top-right corner. For professional papers intended for publication, it also includes a running head.

A running head is simply the paper’s title in all capital letters. It is left-aligned and can be up to 50 characters in length. Longer titles are abbreviated.

APA running head (7th edition)

Headings and subheadings

APA headings have five possible levels. Heading level 1 is used for main sections such as “Methods” or “Results”. Heading levels 2 to 5 are used for subheadings. Each heading level is formatted differently.

Want to know how many heading levels you should use, when to use which heading level, and how to set up heading styles in Word or Google Docs? Then check out our in-depth article on APA headings.

APA headings (7th edition)

Title page

The title page is the first page of an APA Style paper. There are different guidelines for student and professional papers.

Both versions include the paper title and author’s name and affiliation. The student version includes the course number and name, instructor name, and due date of the assignment. The professional version includes an author note and running head.

For more information on writing a striking title, crediting multiple authors (with different affiliations), and writing the author note, check out our in-depth article on the APA title page.

APA title page - student version (7th edition)APA title page - professional version (7th edition)

Abstract

The abstract is a 150–250 word summary of your paper. An abstract is usually required in professional papers, but it’s rare to include one in student papers (except for longer texts like theses and dissertations).

The abstract is placed on a separate page after the title page. At the top of the page, write the section label “Abstract” (bold and centered). The contents of the abstract appear directly under the label. Unlike regular paragraphs, the first line is not indented. Abstracts are usually written as a single paragraph without headings or blank lines.

Directly below the abstract, you may list three to five relevant keywords. On a new line, write the label “Keywords:” (italicized and indented), followed by the keywords in lowercase letters, separated by commas.

APA abstract (7th edition)

Table of contents

APA Style does not provide guidelines for formatting the table of contents. It’s also not a required paper element in either professional or student papers. If your instructor wants you to include a table of contents, it’s best to follow the general guidelines.

Place the table of contents on a separate page between the abstract and introduction. Write the section label “Contents” at the top (bold and centered), press “Enter” once, and list the important headings with corresponding page numbers.

Reference page

The APA reference page is placed after the main body of your paper but before any appendices. Here you list all sources that you’ve cited in your paper (through in-text citations). APA provides guidelines for formatting the references as well as the page itself.

Creating APA Style references

Play around with the Scribbr Citation Example Generator below to learn about the
APA reference format of the most common source types or generate APA citations for free with Scribbr’s APA Citation Generator.


Formatting the reference page

Write the section label “References” at the top of a new page (bold and centered). Place the reference entries directly under the label in alphabetical order.

Finally, apply a hanging indent, meaning the first line of each reference is left-aligned, and all subsequent lines are indented 0.5 inches.

APA reference page (7th edition)

Tables and figures

Tables and figures are presented in a similar format. They’re preceded by a number and title and followed by explanatory notes (if necessary).

Use bold styling for the number, and place the title on a separate line directly below it (in italics and title case). Try to keep tables clean; don’t use any vertical lines, use as few horizontal lines as possible, and keep row and column labels concise.

Keep the design of figures as simple as possible. Include labels and a legend if needed, and only use color when necessary (not to make it look more appealing).

Check out our in-depth article about table and figure notes to learn when to use notes and how to format them.

APA table (7th edition)APA figure (7th edition)

Frequently asked questions about APA format

How do I set up APA format in Word?

The easiest way to set up APA format in Word is to download Scribbr’s free APA format template for student papers or professional papers.

Alternatively, you can watch Scribbr’s 5-minute step-by-step tutorial or check out our APA format guide with examples.

What font and font size is used in APA format?

APA Style papers should be written in a font that is legible and widely accessible. For example:

  • Times New Roman (12pt.)
  • Arial (11pt.)
  • Calibri (11pt.)
  • Georgia (11pt.)

The same font and font size is used throughout the document, including the running head, page numbers, headings, and the reference page. Text in footnotes and figure images may be smaller and use single line spacing.

How do I cite in APA format?

APA citations consist of an in-text citation and reference entry. Each source type has its own format; for example, a webpage citation is different from a book citation.

Use Scribbr’s free APA Citation Generator to generate flawless citations in seconds or take a look at our APA citation examples.

Should I include page numbers on every page?

Yes, page numbers are included on all pages, including the title page, table of contents, and reference page. Page numbers should be right-aligned in the page header.

To insert page numbers in Microsoft Word or Google Docs, click ‘Insert’ and then ‘Page number’.

Who uses APA style?

APA format is widely used by professionals, researchers, and students in the social and behavioral sciences, including fields like education, psychology, and business.

Be sure to check the guidelines of your university or the journal you want to be published in to double-check which style you should be using.

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.

7 comments

Christi
February 11, 2021 at 8:55 AM

Hello!

I have to write three short essays as part of the application process for a psychology program. Two of the three essays are personal. I have been looking for guidelines for this situation but have not found anything so far.

I have written many academic papers using the APA format and citation style but never an "about me" essay. Do you have any advice? Can you point me to the right resource? (I have ordered the latest APA guidebook but it has not yet arrived.)

Thank you so much for your time and any help you may give.

Respectfully,
Christi

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
February 17, 2021 at 4:37 PM

Hi Christi,

You may find our article on writing a personal statement helpful, as well as our article on statements of purpose.

APA guidelines are more about writing research papers than personal statements. You should of course follow general APA formatting guidelines if you've been asked to, but feel free to include more personal details and opinions and to disregard guidelines related to the reporting of research results.

Good luck with your application!

Reply

Dorothy
January 31, 2021 at 11:20 PM

Hi there!
I am writing my doctoral dissertation on APA 7th and need to know if the first page of the dissertation (i.e. where the title is indicated) starts with 1 or does the page start being numbered later (like for example from page 2 onwards)? Also, I have to put the Contents and Table of Contents and Table of Figures...do these are regularly numbered with 2,3,4 etc. or do they have to be numbered in Roman numbers ii, iii, iv etc.? Thanks :D!

Dorothy

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
February 1, 2021 at 3:00 PM

Hi Dorothy,

Page numbering begins on the title page in APA Style, so the title page is page 1.

Standard numerals (1, 2, 3...) should be used for page numbers throughout the paper, including in your table of contents and list of figures.

Reply

Dorothy
February 1, 2021 at 11:26 PM

Thanks a lot for your help, Jack :D!

Reply

Bettie Elizabeth Clay
December 12, 2020 at 7:41 PM

Thank you for the above information - it is very helpful. However, I am still not clear on this requirement from my professor - Include page numbers in the citation. Does that mean to put the page number in the body of the paper, i.e.

Cindy used the circle chart (pg. 52) to provide...; or do I put the page number at the end of the sentence or end of the paragraph???

Reply

Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr Team)
December 16, 2020 at 7:04 PM

Hi Bettie,

Page numbers should appear after the author and year in your in-text citation, which is placed directly after the relevant information. For example: "Cindy used the circle chart (Smith, 2020, p. 52) to provide..."

Our full guide to APA in-text citations includes various examples of citations with page numbers.

Hope that helps!

Reply

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