Headings and lists according to the APA Style

In addition to guidelines for citations and references, the APA also has rules related to formatting documents. This includes five levels of heading styles and specific requirements for lists.

Heading styles

A dissertation is usually divided into chapters (level 1), which are then further divided into sections (level 2) and subsections (levels 3 through 5). The correct heading style should be used for each of these levels, in the following order:

1Centered, bold, title case capitalization*
2Left-aligned, bold, title case capitalization*
3   Indented, bold, sentence case capitalization,** a final period. The body text begins immediately after the period.
4   Indented, bold, italics, sentence case capitalization,** a final period. The body text begins immediately after the period.
5   Indented, italics, sentence case capitalization,** a final period. The body text begins immediately after the point.

* Capitalize the first word of the title and all major words (including anything that has four letters or more). An example: The Effects of Autism on Listening Skills.
** Capitalize the first word of the title and any proper nouns (just like you would capitalize a sentence). An example: Teenagers with autism in the Netherlands.

The headlines in your paper will then look like this:

Methodology Used (level 1)

Study Participants (level 2)

Children and teenagers. Body text starts here (Level 3)

Adults. Body text starts here (Level 3)

Results (level 1)

Recognizing emotions (level 2)

Experiment 1. Body text starts here (level 3)

Children without autism. Body text starts here (level 4)

Children with autism. Body text starts here (level 4)

Asperger. Body text starts here (level 5)

PDD NOS. Body text starts here (level 5)

Experiment 2. Body text starts here (level 3)

Recognizing body language (level 2)

Using Word’s “Styles” feature will allow you to specify what level applies to each heading, which makes it easy to then automatically create a table of contents.


The APA allows authors to use bullets to organize information and present key ideas in the main body of their document. Sometimes it’s important to number a list – for instance, when a particular hierarchy or sequence needs to be conveyed. The following is an example of a numbered list.

Each workshop was run in the same manner:

  1. Welcome by the moderator
  2. Introduction to the topic
  3. Discussion in small groups
  4. Small group presentations to the larger group
  5. Wrap-up

In other circumstances, you can just use bullet points. The following is an example of a bulleted list.

The participants identified a number of possible ways to increase attendance, including:

  • Creating a website to promote the event;
  • Identifying new commercial partners;
  • Submitting a press release to local media outlets; and
  • Distributing flyers at cafes and restaurants in the area.

It is also okay to include citations for different bullet points, as shown below.

Several studies have shown that developing an app has many benefits, including:

  • The possibility to use new technology helps to attract younger clients (Yang, 2006);
  • Recurring advertising outlays can be decreased (Jabbar, Smith, Le Breton, & Shah, 1999); and
  • Customers are more likely to access their accounts more frequently (Tomassi et al., 2002; Rodriguez, 2005).

If you include a list as part of the running text, you can use lower case. For example:

The goals of this study were to identify a) the extent to which consumers buy organic apples in Croatia, b) the factors that most influence these decisions to buy organic or regular apples, and c) what Croatian organic farmers can do to improve their sales in the domestic market.

Receive feedback on language, structure and layout

Professional editors proofread and edit your paper by focusing on:

  • Academic style
  • Vague sentences
  • Grammar
  • Style consistency

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Formatting the reference list

When compiling a reference list, it’s important to take the specific requirements for each type of source into account. The list should be compiled alphabetically by author name.

More information about formatting your reference list

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Bas Swaen

Bas is co-founder of Scribbr. Bas loves to teach and is an experienced thesis writer. He tries to help students with writing clear and easy to comprehend articles about difficult topics.

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