1. Identify the major components of a research paper written using American Psychological Association (APA) style.
  2. Apply general APA style and formatting conventions in a research paper.

In this chapter, you will learn how to use APA style. the documentation and formatting style followed by the American Psychological Association, as well as MLA style. from the Modern Language Association. There are a few major formatting styles used in academic texts, including AMA, Chicago, and Turabian:

  • AMA (American Medical Association) for medicine, health, and biological sciences
  • APA (American Psychological Association) for education, psychology, and the social sciences
  • Chicago—a common style used in everyday publications like magazines, newspapers, and books
  • MLA (Modern Language Association) for English, literature, arts, and humanities
  • Turabian—another common style designed for its universal application across all subjects and disciplines

While all the formatting and citation styles have their own use and applications, in this chapter we concentrate our attention on the two styles you are most likely to use in your academic studies: APA and MLA.

If you find that the rules of decent source documentation are difficult to keep straight, you are not alone. Writing a good research paper is, in and of itself, a major intellectual challenge. Having to go after detailed citation and formatting guidelines as well may seem like just one more task to add to an already-too-long list of requirements.

Following these guidelines, however, serves several significant purposes. Very first, it signals to your readers that your paper should be taken gravely as a student’s contribution to a given academic or professional field; it is the literary equivalent of wearing a tailored suit to a job interview. 2nd, it shows that you respect other people’s work enough to give them decent credit for it. Ultimately, it helps your reader find extra materials if he or she wishes to learn more about your topic.

Furthermore, producing a letter-perfect APA-style paper need not be burdensome. Yes, it requires careful attention to detail. However, you can simplify the process if you keep these broad guidelines in mind:

  • Work ahead whenever you can. Chapter 11 «Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?» includes tips for keeping track of your sources early in the research process, which will save time later on.
  • Get it right the very first time. Apply APA guidelines as you write, so you will not have much to correct during the editing stage. Again, putting in a little extra time early on can save time later.
  • Use the resources available to you. In addition to the guidelines provided in this chapter, you may wish to consult the APA website at http://www.apa.org or the Purdue University Online Writing lab at http://owl.english.purdue.edu. which regularly updates its online style guidelines.
  • General Formatting Guidelines

    This chapter provides detailed guidelines for using the citation and formatting conventions developed by the American Psychological Association, or APA. Writers in disciplines as diverse as astrophysics, biology, psychology, and education go after APA style. The major components of a paper written in APA style are listed in the following box.

    These are the major components of an APA-style paper:

    Figure, which includes the following:

  • Headings and, if necessary, subheadings to organize the content
  • In-text citations of research sources
  • References page
  • All these components must be saved in one document, not as separate documents.

    Title Page

    The title page of your paper includes the following information:

  • Title of the paper
  • Author’s name
  • Name of the institution with which the author is affiliated
  • Header at the top of the page with the paper title (in capital letters) and the page number (If the title is lengthy, you may use a shortened form of it in the header.)
  • List the very first three elements in the order given in the previous list, centered about one third of the way down from the top of the page. Use the headers and footers implement of your word-processing program to add the header, with the title text at the left and the page number in the upper-right corner. Your title page should look like the following example.


    The next page of your paper provides an abstract. or brief summary of your findings. An abstract does not need to be provided in every paper, but an abstract should be used in papers that include a hypothesis. A good abstract is concise—about one hundred to one hundred fifty words—and is written in an objective, impersonal style. Your writing voice will not be as apparent here as in the bod of your paper. When writing the abstract, take a just-the-facts treatment, and summarize your research question and your findings in a few sentences.

    In Chapter 12 «Writing a Research Paper». you read a paper written by a student named Jorge, who researched the effectiveness of low-carbohydrate diets. Read Jorge’s abstract. Note how it sums up the major ideas in his paper without going into excessive detail.

    Exercise 1

    Write an abstract summarizing your paper. Shortly introduce the topic, state your findings, and sum up what conclusions you can draw from your research. Use the word count feature of your word-processing program to make sure your abstract does not exceed one hundred fifty words.


    Depending on your field of explore, you may sometimes write research papers that present extensive primary research, such as your own experiment or survey. In your abstract, summarize your research question and your findings, and shortly indicate how your explore relates to prior research in the field.

    Margins, Pagination, and Headings

    APA style requirements also address specific formatting concerns, such as margins, pagination, and heading styles, within the bod of the paper. Review the following APA guidelines.

    Use these general guidelines to format the paper:

    1. Set the top, bottom, and side margins of your paper at 1 inch.
    2. Use double-spaced text across your paper.
    3. Use a standard font, such as Times Fresh Roman or Arial, in a legible size (10- to 12-point).
    4. Use continuous pagination via the paper, including the title page and the references section. Page numbers show up flush right within your header.
    5. Section headings and subsection headings within the bod of your paper use different types of formatting depending on the level of information you are presenting. Extra details from Jorge’s paper are provided.
    6. Exercise Two

      Begin formatting the final draft of your paper according to APA guidelines. You may work with an existing document or set up a fresh document if you choose. Include the following:

    7. Your title page
    8. The abstract you created in Note 13.8 «Exercise 1»
    9. Correct headers and page numbers for your title page and abstract
    10. Headings

      APA style uses section headings to organize information, making it effortless for the reader to go after the writer’s train of thought and to know instantaneously what major topics are covered. Depending on the length and complexity of the paper, its major sections may also be divided into subsections, sub-subsections, and so on. These smaller sections, in turn, use different heading styles to indicate different levels of information. In essence, you are using headings to create a hierarchy of information.

      The following heading styles used in APA formatting are listed in order of greatest to least importance:

    11. Section headings use centered, boldface type. Headings use title case, with significant words in the heading capitalized.
    12. Subsection headings use left-aligned, boldface type. Headings use title case.
    13. The third level uses left-aligned, indented, boldface type. Headings use a capital letter only for the very first word, and they end in a period.
    14. The fourth level goes after the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are boldfaced and italicized.
    15. The fifth level goes after the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are italicized and not boldfaced.
    16. Visually, the hierarchy of information is organized as indicated in Table 13.1 «Section Headings» .

      Table 13.1 Section Headings

      Level of Information

      A college research paper may not use all the heading levels shown in Table 13.1 «Section Headings». but you are likely to encounter them in academic journal articles that use APA style. For a brief paper, you may find that level 1 headings suffice. Longer or more complicated papers may need level Two headings or other lower-level headings to organize information clearly. Use your outline to craft your major section headings and determine whether any subtopics are substantial enough to require extra levels of headings.

      Exercise Three

      Working with the document you developed in Note 13.11 «Exercise 2». begin setting up the heading structure of the final draft of your research paper according to APA guidelines. Include your title and at least two to three major section headings, and go after the formatting guidelines provided above. If your major sections should be violated into subsections, add those headings as well. Use your outline to help you.

      Because Jorge used only level 1 headings, his Exercise Three would look like the following:

      Citation Guidelines

      In-Text Citations

      Across the bod of your paper, include a citation whenever you quote or paraphrase material from your research sources. As you learned in Chapter 11 «Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?». the purpose of citations is twofold: to give credit to others for their ideas and to permit your reader to go after up and learn more about the topic if desired. Your in-text citations provide basic information about your source; each source you cite will have a longer entry in the references section that provides more detailed information.

      In-text citations must provide the name of the author or authors and the year the source was published. (When a given source does not list an individual author, you may provide the source title or the name of the organization that published the material instead.) When directly quoting a source, it is also required that you include the page number where the quote emerges in your citation.

      This information may be included within the sentence or in a parenthetical reference at the end of the sentence, as in these examples.

      Epstein (2010) points out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

      Here, the writer names the source author when introducing the quote and provides the publication date in parentheses after the author’s name. The page number emerges in parentheses after the closing quotation marks and before the period that completes the sentence.

      Addiction researchers caution that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (Epstein, 2010, p. 137).

      Here, the writer provides a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence that includes the author’s name, the year of publication, and the page number separated by commas. Again, the parenthetical citation is placed after the closing quotation marks and before the period at the end of the sentence.

      As noted in the book Junk Food, Junk Science (Epstein, 2010, p. 137), “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive.”

      Here, the writer chose to mention the source title in the sentence (an optional lump of information to include) and followed the title with a parenthetical citation. Note that the parenthetical citation is placed before the comma that signals the end of the introductory phrase.

      David Epstein’s book Junk Food, Junk Science (2010) pointed out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

      Another variation is to introduce the author and the source title in your sentence and include the publication date and page number in parentheses within the sentence or at the end of the sentence. As long as you have included the essential information, you can choose the option that works best for that particular sentence and source.

      Citing a book with a single author is usually a straightforward task. Of course, your research may require that you cite many other types of sources, such as books or articles with more than one author or sources with no individual author listed. You may also need to cite sources available in both print and online and nonprint sources, such as websites and individual interviews. Chapter 13 «APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting». Section 13.Two «Citing and Referencing Techniques» and Section 13.Trio «Creating a References Section» provide extensive guidelines for citing a diversity of source types.

      Writing at Work

      APA is just one of several different styles with its own guidelines for documentation, formatting, and language usage. Depending on your field of interest, you may be exposed to extra styles, such as the following:

    17. MLA style. Determined by the Modern Languages Association and used for papers in literature, languages, and other disciplines in the humanities.
    18. Chicago style. Outlined in the Chicago Manual of Style and sometimes used for papers in the humanities and the sciences; many professional organizations use this style for publications as well.
    19. Associated Press (AP) style. Used by professional journalists.
    20. References List

      The brief citations included in the bod of your paper correspond to the more detailed citations provided at the end of the paper in the references section. In-text citations provide basic information—the author’s name, the publication date, and the page number if necessary—while the references section provides more extensive bibliographical information. Again, this information permits your reader to go after up on the sources you cited and do extra reading about the topic if desired.

      The specific format of entries in the list of references varies slightly for different source types, but the entries generally include the following information:

    21. The name(s) of the author(s) or institution that wrote the source
    22. The year of publication and, where applicable, the exact date of publication
    23. The total title of the source
    24. For books, the city of publication
    25. For articles or persuasive essay topics, the name of the periodical or book in which the article or essay shows up
    26. For magazine and journal articles, the volume number, issue number, and pages where the article shows up
    27. For sources on the web, the URL where the source is located
    28. The references page is dual spaced and lists entries in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If an entry proceeds for more than one line, the 2nd line and each subsequent line are indented five spaces. Review the following example. (Chapter 13 «APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting». Section 13.Trio «Creating a References Section» provides extensive guidelines for formatting reference entries for different types of sources.)

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