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Complete description of APA Essay Format

To start with, let’s define what APA means. This abbreviation means the American Psychological Association and according to its rules, you have to format APA citation in your essay or paper. In this article, we will disclose and explain rules from the APA handbook and also provide additional relevant info and examples.

You will likely have to deal with APA formatting when receiving an assignment to write a paper on a scientific topic. This format is often used in social and behavioral science researches and similar disciplines. The behavior field might include Psychology, Neuroscience, and Cognitive Science. Social sciences might refer to Anthropology, Archaeology, Economics, Human Geography, Linguistics, Political Science, Sociology, etc.

However, other science fields might have different requirements so there are many other formatting styles like MLA, Chicago, and so on. Before writing your essay or paper, make sure you have a clear vision of what format should be implemented in your work. It is fundamental to present citations correctly in order not to be accused of plagiarism. So, pay attention to our instructions in this article below in order to know exactly how to format your paper in general and citations and quotes in particular.

General Recommendations for Paper Writing

In this part of our article, we will take a closer look at the requirements and recommendations considering the volume of the paper, heading formatting, spacing and so on.

General volume of the paper

Considering APA formatting, which is often used in the science fields, there is a statement that “less is more”. The general volume is determined by the topic and the number of points you work on. But you have to express your thoughts and findings clearly and briefly. Make sure your text looks and sounds professional. Exclude all unnecessary parts. Check whether your paper is concise.

Margin requirements

The main rule here is to have the same-size margins in all page directions: left, rights, top, and bottom. The distance should be measured from the page’s edges. The best way to keep them of a size no less than 1 inch from all sides. You can have bigger margins, but the no-less-than-inch rule is obligatory.

Title page requirements

The title or cover page is the first page of your work. There are some cases when it is not obligatory, but still, it is better to know all the formatting specifications. Before delivering your assignment, ask your teacher about this aspect. Also, there might be some personal requests from professors and teachers.

But here are the required elements of the title page for the essay or paper in APA format:

  • the topic of your work;
  • all authors’ names;
  • institutional department;
  • the number and the title of the course;
  • name of your instructor;
  • due date.

For the higher academic levels, there also should be running head, but for student works, it is not obligatory. But always define the formatting requirements and recommendations beforehand.

Main title page formatting guidelines

  • The paper title should present the topic and the main idea of your work, but without any unnecessary words and abbreviations.
  • Place title in the center of a line and in about 3-4 lines from the sheet top.
  • Write the title in bold font, the same you use in your essay. No other bolded texts should be on the page. Also do not write text here in an italic or underlined way. Other text info on the cover page should be plain.
  • Use double spacing.
  • Do not any titles to your (author’s) name. But make sure that you write the name of your instructor in the way they prefer.
  • Info about the institution should include the name of your school or the location of your research.

Running heads

Running head means the header of each page that indicates the title of your work and the chapter and the page number. It is easy to manage it with automated word tools. According to the recent edition of the APA, Manual students are not obliged to add running heads in their papers unless their instructor pointed this out. Only professional papers should have this element in any case. However, each page of the students’ works should have a number placed in the right top corner.

In papers in APA format running heads should contain the title of your work in CAPITAL letters, justified to the left. In case the paper title has more than 50 characters, use the shortened title version.

Paper outlining

When you work on an essay or paper, it is important to create an outline. It is significant for organizing and arranging your thoughts and materials. Also on this stage, you can come up with a number of paragraphs and its headings.

There are no special outline requirements for essays and papers for APA format. It is up to the writer how to arrange the work and how to structure the paper. But, despite the fact that outlining is not obligatory for APA essays, we strongly recommend our readers to use this approach. It is especially useful when your paper contains a lot of aspects, examples and other raw materials.

Working on an outline, you arrange and keep your thoughts and ideas in order. And it keeps your further work on paper organized and consistent.

Creating an abstract

According to APA, an abstract is a summary of the research. Due to the fact that most academic works are lengthy, creating an abstract is significant for getting the main aspects of the paper before spending time on studying the work.

You can find examples of the abstracts when you research your own topic. In most online databases readers can get access first to the abstracts of the required study before reaching the full text of the work. The quality of the abstract is important as it is the first element of your work the reader sees. It should provide the basic info about your paper and help in choosing whether it worth further reading.

Students may wonder whether they need to write an abstract too. Well, in most cases it is not part of the assignments. In schools, this element usually is not required. You might need it only if your paper is going to be published. So if you did not receive any special requests considering abstract, you probably do not need it at all for completing your assignment. But if you plan to publish your work, you need to know how to create an abstract according to APA requirements.

Here are some useful recommendations for writing an effective abstract:

  1. Place your abstract right under the title page.
  2. If you work on professional paper, include a running head.
  3. In the center top line of the page write the word “Abstract”.
  4. Then start writing the summary of your work including key points of your research and findings. In this piece of text, you should introduce your paper to potential readers and inform them of what they will find in your work. The abstract should be short, no more than 250 words, so be concise and brief while writing down your thoughts.
  5. Do not indent this summary, use double-spacing.
  6. If appropriate, provide keywords for your work to help readers find your work in databases. After the main abstract text writes “Keywords:” in italic and then writes the main words that will indicate your research and help in finding your work.
  7. Use active voice and avoid passive versions of the sentences. In academic writing this rule is obligatory.
  8. Do not estimate your paper, but only describe its content and the purpose.

The body section of the paper

After the title page (or the abstract for professional papers) there is the body section of the paper. In most works students use the following formatting:

  1. Page numbers are at the top right corner of the page, counting the title page as the first.
  2. The next line is for the title. It should be in bold, but not italicized or underlined.
  3. Start with an introduction, creating an indention and writing the paragraph. Each body paragraph should start with an indention.

Headings & subheadings guidelines

It is important to use headings and subheadings in your paper as this is how you should organize the material. Moreover, that is how the reader can quickly identify what the main aspect is reflected in your work. The draft versions of the headings and subheadings you can get at the stage of outlining your paper, and then, during the writing process, you can correct and modify them.

There are five levels of the headings in the papers written in APA format. And they all have different formatting requirements:

  1. Level 1. This is the level of the title of your paper. You write it in the center in the middle of the page. The font should be bolded. Use both capital and low-case letters where necessary.
  2. Level 2. Headings of this level are written on the left and in bold. Use both capital and low-case letters where necessary.
  3. Level 3. Headings of this level are also written on the left and in bold. Use both capital and low-case letters where necessary. But these headings you should end with a period.
  4. Level 4. Place this heading on the left with indention. The font is bolded and you can use both capital and low-case letters where necessary. End this type of headings with a period too.
  5. Level 5. Indention is on the left side. Bolded and italicized font with both capital and low-case letters where necessary. End this type of headings with a period.

For all levels, there are common requirements like double spacing and no additional lines or spaces between parts of the text.

Usage of graphics (tables and figures)

Your paper might require adding some graphic information to highlight or prove some results of your research. And for this case, the APA manual has recommendations as well. The main rule here is that usage of any graphic data should be justified. The only purpose it can be added is to make your paper easier and clear for the reader to understand. It can be reasonable when showing something will be easier and better than writing and describing everything in text. When there is a lot of numeral data in your research, it might be better to organize it in the graphs or diagrams to show the correlation between the numbers. So if you are sure that the data will look better in graphic form, you can add it in your paper.

Here are general rules for using graphics in your work:

  1. All graphic elements in your work should be numbered according to the order of appearance in the paper. And arrange then according to the type. Example: Table 1, Figure 1, Table 2, Image 1...
  2. Use graphics to represent the new data. In case it only repeats what was described in the text, then leaves something one: text or graphics.
  3. Use words in the graphics to make it understandable for the reader what the numbers mean. But do not overboard it with text.
  4. Align the graphic elements to the left.

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When there are tons of information mixed with text, it does not look professional. But it is satisfying for eyes when the data is organized in a neat and understandable table. So, instead of typing pages of the text explaining the correlation between numbers, create a table and arrange all numbers in it.

Here are the requirements for adding tables:

  1. Specify the number for each table.
  2. Add the title for each table.
  3. Place a table.
  4. Add a note explaining the data.

Here is what is core for you to be aware of:

  1. Analyze the data and choose what will be more suitable for the reader a text explanation or a table? And choose one of the options. Do not copy the information from the text to the table and vice versa.
  2. If you are sure that the table is the best option, make a short description of it in the text. You can say that the table shows the correlation between some numbers, or display the progress or regress of the particular process.
  3. For school projects, it will be more convenient to place the table in the text of the paper, right after its mentioning. However, scholars in their works prefer to collect all the graphics at the back of the paper and only refer to the particular element when needed.

Recommendations for numbers and titles:

  1. Add the number of the table at the top. Arrange all tables in order according to their appearance or mention in the text. It should look like this “Table 1”, “Table 2” and so on.
  2. The title is written under the enumeration. Come up with a short but descriptive name. Use capital letters for all significant words. Write the title in italic.

Formatting requirements:

  1. Use only horizontal lines
  2. Do not use cell shading unless it is necessary
  3. Font should be of the size 12 with single or double spacing. The main thing considering spacing is to follow one style in all other tables. Make sure your content is presented consistently.
  4. Place headings in the center of the line.
  5. In the stub (which means the first column) place the heading in the center, while the information under it should be aligned to the left. If there is more than one line, made an indention 0.15 inches.
  6. Center info in other columns.

If your table requires an explanation of its content, or you want to place a relevant APA citation, do it under the table.

There are three types of content appropriate here:

  1. General, when the info refers to the entire table content.
  2. Specific, when the info is aimed at explaining the particular part of the table.
  3. Explanations of the particular terms and symbols in the table.

It might be hard to arrange the material in a table. But with our help and examples, we are sure that you will handle it.


Figures are used for visualization of the data. This approach differs from the table as it has a more visually appealing form of data representing. Of course, you can create a table that will be neat and visually pleasant. But in figures, you can use bars, circles, arrows and other figures that can present data in “figures”.

Here are some of the most used types of figures that are used in academic papers, including APA format:

  • Drawings;
  • Hierarchy charts;
  • Maps;
  • Pie charts;
  • Photographs.

The general format for presenting figures is similar to tables:

  1. Specify the number for each figure.
  2. Add the title for each figure.
  3. Place a figure.
  4. Add a note explaining the data.

The same situation is with formatting requirements considering fonts size, spacing and so on.

Here are some tips for creating figures in your APA paper:

  1. Use figure for data representing only if you are completely sure it will add value to your work.
  2. Analyze the data and choose what will be more suitable for the reader a text explanation or a figure? And choose one of the options. Do not copy the information from the text to the figure and vice versa.
  3. If needed, add the note to the figure explaining the content and data. If you take the data from other sources, include the reference in your note.


Today we can easily access the photo bases of all kinds. You can find photographs in social media, stocks, google search and other online sources with image databases. Also, we all have cellphones, that, as a rule, have pretty decent cameras and the photo can be taken in seconds. Photographs are easy to find and to create so it is not shocking that they can be useful in some types of academic writings and researches. So if you also see that some photos can bring benefits to presenting your findings, study the following guidelines on how to use them in your APA paper:

  1. Add a reference to the photo. The requirements for its formatting and text are the same as for tables or figures.
  2. Use only black and white photos. Colors can be displayed differently depending on the reader’s screen capabilities. When the photo is in grey shades, there are more chances that the content of the image will be understood correctly. However, there is an exception. If the color of the objects on the photo is significant for your work, you can use color photographs. For instance, if the subject of your research is the selection of shades of the autumn leaves of the specific tree.
  3. Exclude all photos that are not important for your research and have no significant value for supporting your findings. Try to avoid adding unnecessary elements to your work in any case.
  4. If you want to add the picture of a person you know, be kind to ask permission to use the face of the person. You should understand that in some cases your work can be published online and for some people, it can be an issue that their photos are placed on side platforms and websites.

Writing tips

When you work on the project on a scientific topic, you have to take into account some writing specifications considering the style and other approaches. Comparing to papers on Literature or English, scientific works are more direct and concise. In this part of the article, you will find out how to write papers in APA formats and how you should present your thoughts and findings.

Verb usage

Your work has to be focused on the analysis of the data you received during your research and aimed at checking hypotheses and receiving a result. Make sure that every time you use a verb, it should be in the same tense throughout the paper section. Look at the example:

“We checked the formula to find the error.” And it will confuse your readers by adding after this the sentence like: “We checked the formula to find the error. Scientists often check formulas before finding a suitable one.”

At first, you use the past tense and then start using the same word in the present tense. It can confuse your audience.

Considering verbs in scientific works there are the following recommendations:

  • To explain a procedure you can use the present perfect or past tense;
  • To showcase the results use the past tense;
  • To explain something, to make a conclusion or predictions use the present tense.

Suitable tone

Despite the fact, scientific work should be concise and without unnecessary details, it is a bad sign if it is boring or dull. To avoid this, think of your target readers, and present your thought in an interesting and educating way for them.

Excluding bias and labels

APA is strongly against any prejudges to any social groups considering gender, race, age, sexual orientation and any other type of discrimination. If you cannot tell for sure whether your paper is free from such kind of thoughts, ask somebody to reread it.

Here are some guidelines from the manual that will help you to write unbiased materials:

  • Point out info about a person considering his/her orientation or other characteristics only if it is relevant to the study. Do not add labels and other info about individuals in other cases.
  • If you have to point out some characteristics of the individual, according to APA format, out person first, instead “Sick person” says “Person who is sick”.
  • Try to substitute the narrow terms like “women” or “the elderly” with broader concepts like “participants” or “subjects”.
  • Use gender-neutral pronouns like “they” or “their”.
  • Be careful with using terms that end with “man” when the story is about a female subject. If possible, substitute the word with a more neutral version. For instance, “fireman” can be replaced with a “firefighter”.
  • When you need to specify someone’s race or ethnicity, make sure to use census terms and capitalize the initial letter. Avoid using the word “minority” and say “people” or “group” instead.
  • Here are some guidelines for describing people in APA format. Use the words “boy/girl” referring to children under 12. For subjects between 13-17, it is possible to use terms like “young woman”, “young man”. For those who older than 18, the words “man” and “woman” are appropriate. For older individuals, it is possible to use an “older adults” phrase. Words like “elderly” or “senior” can be used only as an adjective.


  • To make sure you use the right spelling in APA format, check with Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (American English).
  • Another source of the right spelling can be Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.
  • Considering terms in the psychology field, check words in the American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology.


According to the manual you have to add one space after most of the punctuation marks, including marks at the end of the sentence. You also can check the requirements with your teacher. APA formatting recommendations mostly oriented at helping people in preparing their papers for publishing in professional scientific journals. Schools can base their requirements on the APA Manual, but there might be some minor alterations according to your school specifications.


In different scientific works might be different usage of the Oxford comma, but in this style we use it. This is the case when we place the comma before words “and”, “or” and when we enumerate more than two items.

When it comes to apostrophes, we use it in the possessive form of the noun. When the word is in a singular form, we use it between the word and a letter “s”. In the plural form, the letter “s” is added to the word and then we add apostrophes.

A few words about dashes. Long dash (em dash) is used when you need to point out or separate the thought. We do not place a space after it. A short dash (en dash) is used in compound adjectives. We do not place spaces before and after it.

Short overviews

At first, you need to know that in APA format references and citations are different things. It may be confusing as some people and teachers use these words in the same meaning, but in fact, those terms refer to different cases with different purposes.

When we talk about references, we present the entire info about the source including the title, author’s name, and other info. References are collected on the special page at the end of the paper.

Considering in-text citations in APA format, they can be found throughout the paper when you need to quote or paraphrase someone’s words. Usually, you have to specify the name of the author and the date of the publication of the source.

In both cases, we credit the works of other people, which was helpful in our research. That is how you protect your paper from being accused of plagiarism. You can use both variants in your paper and it is up to the purpose the particular part of paper might have.


Here are requirements for the APA references:

  1. The structure of each reference will depend on the type of source. The approach will be different for journals, newspapers, books or online sources.
  2. However, the formatting for the references is the same:
    Author’s Last name, Initials. (Year of publishing). The title. Link.

So, as you can see, the reference requirements in APA format can vary, so you should check up with the APA manual and search for the particular type of source you use in your work.

In-text citations

Found a perfect thought or piece of info that will suit your paper or essay? You can do so! It is great when your work has some quotes as this demonstrates that you have done some research. But, as an experienced academic writes, you probably know that you cannot simply copy the text from the source and add it to your work without any identification. Otherwise, you risk being caught as a plagiarist.

However, marking quotes is not that hard. In most cases you simply ass the info about the source and the author next to the quote. In this case, the reader will immediately see where the info is taken from. And you, in your turn, give the credit to the author of the original thought.

The quotation can be direct and indirect:

Direct: “The idea of this topic is complicated to understand” The Author

Indirect: According to The Author, the idea of this topic is complicated to understand.

Page with references

For papers written in APA format, the reference page creating will be a piece of cake. Here is the important info about working on this part of your essay or paper:

  1. Create this page in the new document in order not to mix formatting.
  2. Write the word “References” in bold in the middle of the top of the page (without any marks).
  3. Arrange all entries in the alphabetic order and make double spacing.
  4. Use the same font as in your main paper or essay parts (it can be Arial, Times New Roman, etc.).
  5. Every citation, quote or other cases where you use information from side sources should be reflected in the reference page list.
  6. Despite we call it “page”, the list of references can be longer than one page and it is fine.
  7. Add running head on this page only if this is specified by your instructor or school requirements. Professional papers should have a running head on every page in any case.
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Presenting your APA paper

We are glad that you have finally reached this stage of paper preparation. We hope that you have checked your work and made sure that you included everything you wanted in the best and suitable way. If your task is to present the work to your professor, check again his/her requirements as well as possible formatting requirements of your educational institution. For publishing a paper in relevant journals you should also add the cover letter. In most cases it includes:

  • author’s contact info;
  • verification of the paper originality;
  • notification about possible similar works.

Your task here is to check the journal or website or potential specific requirements too.

Another reminder: do some extra check of your paper before sending or publishing it. Use available digital and online tools for checking the text for grammar and spelling mistakes. Do not forget about the plagiarism check as well. Also, you can order a professional check from our experts for all the important parameters. This approach provides you with guarantees that the paper is checked and fixed, as we cannot completely rely on automated tools. At the same time, our professional editors can edit your work properly and quickly, with quality guarantees.

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