APA Series Part One: APA Style and APA Formatting

Our editors explain APA style and how to use APA formatting

A female student is sitting at a desk. There is a laptop computer in front of her, as well as an APA style book.
APA style and APA formatting are easy once you
understand the basics.

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) is a style guide that is widely accepted for use in social science papers. It helps organize your paper and explains APA references. APA style is more than just following procedures for organizing citations or page layout; the APA style guide is a set of rules for both linguistic expression and the mechanics of writing, including the following:

  • Spelling, punctuation, abbreviations, and quotations
  • Construction of tables
  • Selection of headings
  • Citation of sources
  • Presentation of statistics

Correct APA usage helps to make a paper consistent and easy to follow. In this article, our editors will help define and explain the basics of APA style.

APA style basics

The following rules are from the 6th edition of the APA Manual:

  1. Use 8.5- x 11-inch paper, with one-inch margins on all sides.
  2. Number all pages consecutively on the right-hand side in the header, starting with the APA title page.
  3. Use a 12-pt serif typeface such as Times New Roman or Courier (a sans serif typeface may be used in figures for a simple, clean line).
  4. Justify the text to the left, leaving the right margin ragged.
  5. Use double spacing.
  6. Indent the first line of every paragraph and the first line of every footnote (set the tab key at five to seven spaces, or ½ inch).
  7. Put one space after all punctuation marks.
  8. Write short, precise sentences.
  9. Use the active rather than the passive voice.
  10. Avoid flowery language or wordiness.
  11. Avoid biased language.

An APA formatted paper consists of four basic sections: an APA title page, abstract, body (which includes methods, results, and discussion), and references. The sections that are used will depend on the particular type of research paper you are writing. We discuss these in detail in our article about APA paper formatting.

We hope that this article has been a helpful guide to APA style and the basics of APA formatting. Because it is not possible to include all the possible information about APA style and formatting in one article, be sure to read all the articles in our APA series, including our example APA Reference page. To learn more about the five steps to writing an essay, check out the ebook How to Write an Essay in Five Easy Steps.

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