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APA Citation & Formatting : Formatting Assignments

Attention Students!

This guide is a starting point only. For full details on correctly citing resources and creating references, please consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed. (2020).

It is important to remember that Library staff do not teach APA, and will not evaluate or correct work. If you need help with APA Style, contact your instructor, or contact the Student Success Hub to request a meeting with a peer tutor or the Writing Clinic.

Formatting Your Assignment

Students should follow the guidelines provided by their instructor regarding the format of their paper or other assignments. These directions follow the guidelines laid out in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed. (2020).

Why is formatting important? (2.16)
A poorly prepared paper can lead instructors to misunderstand or misinterpret the content, or to question a student's knowledge or attention to detail. Students may receive lower grades because of poor organization or formatting errors. A well-prepared paper is easier to understand and mark. More information on the principles of organization can be found in section 2.26 of the Publication Manual.   

APA Style recommends that the pages of a student paper should be organized in the following order (2.17):

  1. Title page (page 1)
  2. Text (starting on a new page after the title page)
  3. References (starting on a new page after the end of the text)

There are additional sections that might be requested by the instructor:

Footnotes (2.17)
Footnotes can appear either in the footer of the page where they are first mentioned (2.13), or starting on a new page after the references.

Tables and Figures (2.17)
Tables and figures can either be within the text after they have been mentioned, or each table and figure can be displayed on a separate page starting on a new page after the footnotes.

Appendices (2.17)
Appendices begin on a new page after any tables and figures.

Students should follow the guidelines provided by their instructor for creating their title page. This example follows the guidelines laid out in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed. (2020).

 

Formatting
Each piece of information on the title page appears on its own line, and the lines are double-spaced (2.21). No additional information appears on the title page, unless specified by the instructor. One inch (2.54 cm) margins are used on all sides (2.22); this is the default for most word-processing programs.

The following elements are included on all student title pages, unless specified by the instructor (2.3):

  • The Title of the Paper (2.4)
    The title summarizes the main idea of the paper in a clear way, and it should be engaging and interesting to the reader. The title appears in title case, meaning that major words are capitalized (6.17). The title appears in bold font, centered, and placed on the upper half of the title page, three to four lines down from the top margin. Note that the title also appears at the top of the first page of text (2.11).
     
  • The Name(s) of the Author(s) (2.5)
    If the paper has one author, write the author name in standard font, and center it. If a paper has more than one author, authors are listed in order according to their contributions (2.5). All names are written on the same line, and can carry over to additional lines if needed. If there are two authors, their names are separated by "and". If there are three or more authors, names are separated by commas, with "and" before the final author's name.
     
  • The Affiliation of the Author(s) (2.6)
    The affiliation tells the reader where the author(s) work or study, or where the research has been conducted.For student papers, this includes the name of the department and the institution, separated by a comma. The affiliation appears on a new line after the name(s) of the author(s). It is centered and appears in standard font.
     
  • Course Name and Number (2.3)
    This is the course name and number for which the paper is being submitted. It should follow the format shown on institutional materials, such as a course outline or syllabus. The course name and number appears on a new line after the affiliation of the author(s). It is centered and appears in standard font.
     
  • Instructor's Name(s) (2.3)
    Students are advised to check with the instructor to ensure that they follow the preferred form, e.g.: Dr. Jane Doe, Professor John Doe, Jane Smith, PhD, etc. The instructor's name appears on a new line after the course name and number. It is centered and appears in standard font.
     
  • Assignment Due Date (2.3)
    The due date of the assignment appears in the standard format required by the institution or in the country of study, e.g.: March 26, 2019, or 26 March, 2019. Students should check with their instructor to ensure that they are using the correct format. The date is centered and appears in standard font.
     
  • Page Number (2.18)
    All papers require page numbers, justified right, starting with the title page. APA Style recommends using the automatic page numbering function available in most word processing programs, and recommends against typing the page numbers in manually.

Please Note!
New in the 7th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2020), student papers do not have a running head, unless specifically required by the instructor or institution (2.2). Students should check with their instructor and review their assignment rubrics to ensure that they are meeting the requirements of all assignments. If an instructor requires a running head, students should follow the instructions below. 

 

What is a running head? (2.8)
A running head is a shortened version of the title of the paper, and it appears at the top of every page of the paper. 

How is a running head formatted? (2.8)
A running contains no more than 50 characters, including letters, punctuation, and the spaces between letters. Abbreviations should not be used in a running head. However, APA Style does allow for the use of the ampersand symbol (&) in place of the word "and" if desired. The running head appears in the page header, aligned left, in all-capital letters. Previous versions of APA Style required that the label "Running Head" appear on all pages to identify the running head. However, the 7th edition of the Publication Manual states that this label should not be included (2.8).

How do I create a running head in my assignment?
The process for creating a running head will depend on the kind of word processing software the writer is using.

In APA Style, there are five possible levels for headings (2.27)

  • Level 1 headings are used for top-level or main sections.
  • Level 2 headings are subsections of level 1 headings.
  • Level 3 headings are subsections of level 2 headings.
  • Level 4 headings are subsections of level 3 headings.
  • Level 5 headings are subsections of level 4 headings.

APA Style makes the following recommendations for headings:

  • Each section starts with the highest level of heading.
  • The paper title at the top of the first page of text acts as a Level 1 heading.
  • The number of subheadings a student will use varies depending on the kind of paper and the information in the paper. APA Style recommends using only the number of headings required to differentiate the different sections of the paper. If only one level of heading is needed, use Level 1. If two levels of heading are needed, use Level 1 and Level 2, and so on. 
  • Headings are not be labeled with letters or numbers.
  • APA Style states that the heading "Introduction" is not needed, because the first paragraph of a paper is understood to be introductory. 

This table, from section 2.27 of the Publication Manualshows how to correctly format each level of heading: 

Level Format
1

                                                                         Centered, Bold, Title Case Heading

     Text begins as a new paragraph.

2

Flush Left, Bold, Title Case Heading

     Text begins as a new paragraph.

3

Flush Left, Bold Italic, Title Case Heading

     Text begins as a new paragraph.

4      Indented, Bold, Title Case Heading, Ending With a Period. Text begins on the same line and continues as a regular paragraph.
5      Indented, Bold Italic, Title Case Heading, Ending With a Period. Text begins on the same line and continues as a regular paragraph.

Students should follow the guidelines provided by their instructor for formatting their text. This example follows the guidelines laid out in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed. (2020). 

What is the text or body of a paper? (2.11)
The text, or the body, is the largest part of a paper, and it contains the main ideas, information, and research.

How is the text formatted? (2.11)
The body starts on a new page after the title page. In addition to appearing ion the title page, the title of the paper is included at the top of the page, in title case, centered and in bold font (2.4, 2.11).

How should the text be organized? (2.11)
According to APA Style, the body of a paper can be organized in different ways, depending on the type of paper and the requirements of the assignment. Students should check with their instructor and review their assignment and marking rubric to ensure that they are meeting all of the criteria of the assignment.

A reference list appears at the end of a paper or other assignment, and it provides the information necessary to identify and retrieve each work cited in the text (9.0). More information on citing specific kinds of resources in the text and on the reference list can be found under the How Do I Cite . . .? tab, or in chapters eight, nine, and ten of the Publication Manual.   

  • The reference list starts on a new page after the text, and before any tables, figures, or appendices.
  • The page is labeled "References", capitalized, bolded, and centered.
  • All reference list entries are double-spaced.
  • A hanging indent is use for all reference list entries. This means that the first line of each reference list entry is flush left, and the remaining lines are indented 0.5 inches. Many word processing programs have paragraph formatting tools to help with this.

Please Note!
New in the 7th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2020), "APA Style papers should be written in a font that is accessible to all users" (p. 44). This may mean using a font other than Times New Roman, which has, historically, been the standard. APA Style now permits a variety of fonts that are more effective with screen reader software, or for authors or readers with print disabilities. The Publication Manual makes the following recommendations for fonts:

  • Font Size and Style (2.19)
    The same size and style of font should be used throughout the paper or assignment, including on the title page. Exceptions include image descriptions and footnotes, which are described below. 
     
  • Recommended Fonts (2.19)
    Recommended fonts include a sans serif font such as 11-point Calibri, 11-point Ariel, or 10-point Lucida Sans Unicode, or a serif font such as 12-point Times New Roman, 11-point Georgia, or 10-point Computer Modern.
     
  • Fonts for Image Descriptions (2.19)
    Image descriptions appear in a sans serif font in a size between 8 and 14-point.
     
  • Fonts for Computer Code (2.19)
    Computer code appears in a monospace font, such as 10-point Lucida Console or 10-point Courier New.
     
  • Fonts for Footnotes (2.19)
    Footnotes appears in page footers. Most word processing programs have a default font for footnotes, which is acceptable under APA Style guidelines. Typically, it is a 10-point font.
     
  • Special Characters (2.20)
    Special characters include accented letters, Greek letters, mathematical signs, and other symbols. APA Style recommends using the special character function in the word processing program.

Spacing (2.21)
All papers are double-spaced, including the title page, the body or text, headings, block quotations, reference lists, tables and figure notes, and appendices (2.21). According to APA Style, there are exceptions to this:

  • Title Page (2.21) 
    The title page is double spaced, with the text centered, and placed on the upper half of the title page, three to four lines down from the top margin. At least one additional double-spaced blank line appears between the title and the author(s) name(s). For an example of this, look at the sample title page under the Title Page tab.
     
  • Text with Tables and Images (2.21) 
    Text with tables or images is single spaced.
     
  • Footnotes (2.21) 
    Footnotes are single spaced.

Spacing After Punctuation (6.1)
New in the 7th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2020), only one space is used following a period or other punctuation at the end of sentence. A single space is also used following commas, colons, semicolons, and periods following initials in names (J. Doe). Spaces are not used after periods in abbreviations (e.g.: i.e., U.S.), after periods in labels for study participants (J.D.), or between colons used in ratios (1:5). Additional information on punctuation marks and their correct uses can be found starting in section 6.2 of the Publication Manual.

Margins (2.22)
There are 1-inch (2.54 cm) margins on all sides of the title page and the body of the paper. This is the default in most word processing programs. 

Paragraph Alignment (2.23)
Text is aligned to the left, and the right margin is left uneven, or "ragged". Full justification should not be used. Words should not be manually divided at the end of a line, and words should not be hyphenated at the end of line; if the word is too long to appear on that line, simply let it carry over to the next line. Do not manually add line breaks in DOIs or in URLs. Line breaks created automatically by the word processing program are permitted. 

Paragraph Indentation (2.24)
The first line of every paragraph is indented 0.5 inches. The remaining lines in the paragraph are left-aligned. According to APA Style, there are exceptions to this:

  • On the title page (2.3), the title, in bold, the author(s) name(s), affiliation, course code, instructor name, and date are centered.
  • When adding a block quotation, the whole quotation is indented from the left margin 0.5 inches (8.27).
  • Level one headings appear in bold and centered. Level two and three headings are left-aligned and in either bold or bold-italic (2.27).
  • Reference list entries have a hanging indent of 0.5 inches (2.12).

These are the most common exceptions that students can expect to see when writing papers or other assignments. For additional exceptions, see section 2.24 in the Publication Manual.

The required length of a paper is determined by the instructor. Students should check assignment instructions and marking rubrics, or check with instructors to ensure that they are meeting the assignment criteria. Instructors may specify either a word count or a page count. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2020) recommends using word count, because different fonts may result in papers of different lengths (2.25).

Please Note!
The type of paper or essay that a student writes is based on the requirements of the assignment. Students should always follow the instructions and the marking rubric provided by their instructor.

Annotated Bibliographies (1.10)
An annotated bibliography is made up of reference list entries which include a short summary of each work. These short descriptions are called annotations. In the case of student work, the instructor may have additional requirements. Writers often confuse a literature review and an annotated bibliography,  but they are different types of papers. Deborah Knott, from the New College Writing Centre at the University of Toronto, has created a useful guide on writing an annotated bibliography.

Cause and Effect Essay (1.10)
A cause and effect essay reports on how specific events lead to specific results. This type of essay requires a strong thesis. Paragraphs in cause and effect essays are usually structured by describing each cause and its corresponding effect, with logical transitions between the paragraphs and their ideas.

Comparative Essay (1.10)
Comparative essays compare and contrast two or more ideas or items, with the goal of linking different or dissimilar items under a central thesis. A comparative essay can focus on Topic One and then on Topic Two, or the two topics can be interwoven throughout the essay.

Expository Essay (1.10)
Expository essays explain or provide information on a specific topic using a multi-paragraph structure with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Evidence is provided to support the written claims in the paper.

Literature Review (1.6)
A literature review is a critical summary of what the existing published literature says about a specific topic or question. Dena Taylor, from the Health Sciences Writing Centre at the University of Toronto, writes that a literature review should tell the reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and that it should also tell the reader what the strengths and weaknesses of those ideas are. A literature review is based on a specific topic or thesis, or on a specific problem or issue. It is not just a description of the material available, or a summary.  Writers often confuse a literature review and an annotated bibliography,  but they are different types of papers. A literature review helps the writer to do several things:

  • to improve their knowledge on a topic
  • to learn to scan and evaluate the existing literature effectively
  • to learn to apply principles of analysis to to identify useful resources

Taylor has also developed a useful list of tips for conducting a good literature review.

Narrative Essay (1.10)
A narrative essay tells a story from a clear point of view, and it includes a clear beginning, middle, and end. Narrative essays have a clearly defined purpose and focus, and the language use is concise.

Persuasive Essay (1.10)
Persuasive essays are meant to convince, or persuade readers to adopt a particular viewpoint. This type of essay presents a clear argument with logical transitions, and is similar to an expository essay.  

Response or Reaction Essay (1.10)
A response or reaction essay summarizes one or more works, and they describe the writer's reaction or response to those works. This includes how the work impacted the writer and how it is relevant to their life. This kind of essay is usually written in the first person.

There are other types of articles and papers which are not usually expected from students. These include quantitative articles, qualitative articles, mixed methods articles, replication articles, quantitative and qualitative meta-analyses, theoretical articles, methodological articles, and more. More information about these kinds of articles can be found starting in section 1.1 of the Publication Manual

Please Note!

This guide is based on the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed. (2020). Library staff have reviewed the information in this guide, and to the best of our knowledge, it is accurate. However, mistakes do occur. Students bear sole responsibility for ensuring that their citations are correct, and that their assignments meet the criteria laid out by their instructor. Students are encouraged to contact Peer Tutoring or the Writing Clinic for assistance.