APA Series Part Two: APA Paper Format

Our editors break down how to write an APA paper

An attractive young woman wearing a bright blue sweater sits behind, and rests her hands on, a stack of books containing information on APA style formatting.
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In the first article of our American Psychological Association (APA) series, we talked about APA style and formatting basics. This article will discuss how to write an APA-styled paper, tackling essay components like the title page, abstract, and body.

Title page

The title page of an APA paper should include a concise title, the author's name and institutional affiliation, an author’s note, and a running head for publication. A running head is an abbreviated title of no more than 50 characters, starting with the words "Running head," followed by a colon, one space, and an abbreviated title—all in capital letters. Part Four of our APA series provides an APA title page example for your reference.

Header

All pages in an APA paper should include a header. In the header, include the running head title, followed by the page number, which should be right-justified. When page numbering is properly set up using the Headers and Footers function in Microsoft Word, the computer will automatically handle the consecutive numbering.

Abstract

The Abstract, typically a crucial component of an APA paper, should summarize the topic and must accurately state the rationale and fundamental nature of the paper by including the main ideas and major points. We advise students to mention only the most important findings or implications. The word count limit of an abstract varies from journal to journal, and can range from 150 to 250 words. The Abstract should follow the title page, on a separate page titled with the centered word "Abstract."

Body

This section is not labeled. It contains the text of the APA paper divided into Introduction, Method, Results, and Discussion. Each of these sections should naturally follow the other, which means they do not necessarily begin on a new page. Each section requires a title centered on the page. And remember, you must follow APA reference guidelines to ensure all of your citations are accurate and properly formatted.

Introduction

The Introduction of an APA paper should begin on a new page, following the Abstract. Because its position in the paper makes it easily identifiable, the Introduction does not require a heading. Instead, include the title of the paper at the top of the page, in upper and lower case, followed by the text. Our editors typically look for the following items in an APA Introduction:

  • Background information on the topic
  • An explanation of why the topic is significant
  • An overview of relevant literature
  • A discussion of the hypothesis
  • How the author intends to address the problem
  • Information on the paper's organization

The Introduction must be well organized and may contain headings to make the APA paper more understandable. Try to avoid jargon as it will only confuse your reader.

Method

This section describes the research and how it was conducted. The method is very important because it concerns the reproducibility of the research. Reproducibility, one of the main principles of the Scientific Method, refers to the ability of a test or experiment to be replicated by independent researchers.

We look for the following subsections in the Method section of an APA paper: participants (or subjects), measures, and procedures (the latter two are often combined in one subsection). These subheadings should be left-justified. The “participants” subsection should describe the subjects (including total number and their basic demographic information) and how they were selected and categorized. It should also explain why some subjects were not included.

The subsection for measures and procedures should specify the equipment and materials used in the experiment, including any questionnaires or surveys. This section must also describe in detail how the research was conducted.

Results

The results section of an APA paper presents the findings. This section should summarize the data collected and the statistical or analytical treatments used. Tables, figures, graphs, charts, drawings, and photographs may be included, but it is important to keep them as simple as possible. Clearly label each visual with an Arabic numeral (e.g., Table 1, Table 2, etc.) and a title. The label and the title should appear flush left on separate lines above the table. Remember to include any source details below the table.

Discussion

The Discussion section is an interpretation and evaluation of the findings. In this section, based on the findings discussed in the Results section, the author should address the issues raised in the Introduction. This is not simply a reiteration of the results or points previously made. The Discussion section of your APA paper should be organized into the following parts:

  • A review of the hypothesis and results
  • A discussion of the findings in the context of relevant literature, addressing the limitations of the study
  • A summary of the study's contribution to the literature and suggestions for future research

Final thoughts

Remember, you must always cite your sources, so review our example APA Reference page to ensure your citations are correct. So there you have it: our in-depth discussion of APA paper format. If you're not sure if your document follows APA guidelines, send your research paper to our essay proofreaders for revision and a style check. Scribendi.com has written an e-book outlining five easy steps for writing an essay. Check out How to Write an Essay in Five Easy Steps to learn more.

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