Last week, you wrote a paper for English class. This week, your psychology instructor assigned a research paper. The content will be different, of course, but you can save yourself some work by using your English paper and its works cited page as a template for this assignment, right?
Wrong. Your English paper is in MLA format. Your psychology paper needs to be in APA format. Using the right format (and using it correctly) matters. APA has some similarities to MLA, but it also has a few key differences. Read on to find out what those differences are and everything else you need to know about using APA format.
What is APA format?
APA format, also known as APA Style, is one of the style guides used in academic writing. Specifically, it’s used in psychology, engineering, nursing, and the social sciences.
APA Style was developed by the American Psychological Association in 1929. The team of academics from the psychology, anthropology, and business fields who developed APA Style sought to create standardized style guidelines for scientific writing that would make academic papers in their fields easier for people to read and comprehend. Today, The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association is in its seventh edition.
Citations are an important component of any academic style guide. In APA format, references need to be acknowledged where they appear in the text (known as in-text citations) and listed on a distinct page known as the references page. Because it was developed primarily for the social sciences, APA format has straightforward, logical citation guidelines for referencing sources, such as Wikipedia articles, videos, photos, PDFs, and even lectures.
When to use the APA format and citations
Use APA format for every piece of academic writing you do for your social sciences, engineering, and nursing courses. This includes research papers, essays, lab reports, and other kinds of reports. If you’re ever unsure if an assignment needs to be in APA format, just ask your instructor.
There’s no need to use APA format in your outline or first draft unless you’re required to hand it in for your instructor’s feedback or approval. Basically, any part of your assignment that you hand in needs to be in APA format. This includes the final draft of your paper as well as your literature review, abstract, and, if applicable, research proposal.
Comparing APA format to other citation formats
As we mentioned above, there are a few key differences between APA format and MLA format. MLA is one of the other formats used in academic writing, and it’s the other one most undergraduate students are likely to have experience using. Other formats include:
- Associated Press Stylebook (AP Stylebook): This format is used in journalism and magazine writing.
- Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS): Like MLA format, CMOS is used in literature and the humanities.
- The Economist Style Guide: This format is used in economic and financial writing.
- American Chemical Society (ACS): Chemistry students and researchers typically format their work according to this guide.
- The Manual of Scientific Style: This style guide is primarily used in the physical and biological science fields.
8 key points about APA format
1 Your paper should be printed on 8.5 x 11 inch paper.
2 There should be a one-inch margin along all sides of the paper.
3 Each page of your paper should have a header, also known as the running head. For student papers, the running head contains simply the page number, flush right. For a professional paper, it’s the paper’s title (shortened to fifty characters or fewer) flush left, then the page number flush right.
4 Every page in an APA work is numbered. This number is flush right in the page’s header.
5 While APA format does not require that writers use specific fonts, it recommends Times New Roman. Other acceptable fonts include Lucida, Calibri, and Arial.
6 A title page is required.
7 The sources page is titled “References.”
8 The paper should be double-spaced.
How to write in APA format
Following APA format, your work should be divided into four main sections:
- Title page
- Body content
APA title page
Your title page should include the running head and the page number, which is “1.” About halfway down the page, centered, it should also include the following:
- Your paper’s title
- Your name
- Your institutional affiliation (this means your department and your university)
- Your course number and name
- Your instructor’s name
- The paper’s due date
If you are publishing as a professional rather than a student, your title page will look a bit different. In the same format as above, it should include:
- Your paper’s title
- Your name
- Your institutional affiliation
- An author note
An author note is a brief note that makes any relevant disclosures about the paper, such as an author’s change in institutional affiliation since writing the paper, an author’s death, grants used to fund the research discussed in the paper, and any potential conflicts of interest.
Your paper’s abstract is the next page after the title page. It too should contain the running head and a page number. After these, this page’s first line should simply state the word “Abstract,” center-aligned on the page.
Beneath the word “Abstract,” include a concise summary of your work. This summary, which should not be indented, should cover your research topic, the questions you sought to answer, the methods you used to conduct your research, the participants who worked with you, the data you collected, your results, and your conclusions from the results. Basically, your abstract is a very condensed version of your paper.
After the abstract comes your actual paper—this is your original writing, in-text citations, and all. Continue to number each page and include the running head. APA format doesn’t require essays or other works to be any specific length or adhere to any specific structure beyond its style and formatting guidelines.
The last section of your APA paper is the references page. In APA format, this page is always titled “References.” Just like in your abstract, this title is centered on the first line following the running head and page number.
How to create APA Style citations and references, with examples
How to format citations is one of the defining characteristics of any academic style guide, not just APA. Don’t assume that simply listing each source and its author is a sufficient citation—it’s not, and citing your sources incorrectly can be considered a type of plagiarism.
There’s no need to stress over getting your citations right, though. There are tons of resources online where you can find formatting examples for just about every kind of source you may find yourself referencing in your work. There are even online citation generators you can use to make the process painless.
Here are a few examples of how APA format handles different components of citations:
Whenever you reference a source in your work, you need to cite its author. These citations are in-text citations. There are two ways to format in-text citations in APA format: within sentences and at the ends of sentences. Here are examples of each:
Within a sentence: Continuing this thread, Patel (2019) makes the case that traffic circles are the only safe way to manage traffic flow of this type.
At the end of a sentence: With this type of traffic, a circle is the only safe way to keep motorists safe (Patel, 2019).
If you’re paraphrasing the author, all you need to cite is their last name and the date their work was published. If you’re using a direct quote, you need to include the author’s last name, the date published, and the page of their work where the quote appears. For example: (Patel, 2019, p.215).
On your references page, list your sources alphabetically by the author’s last name. Different types of media cited (i.e., books, journal articles, films, websites, etc.) require slightly different formatting, but every citation starts with the author’s last name.
The citations on your references page also include information like the date the source was published, the page you referenced, the source’s publisher, and, when applicable, information like the episode of the program you referenced and the original channel that aired it. This resource discusses the correct way to cite various sources, like TV episodes, films, and songs.
In APA format, authors’ names are always formatted like this: Last name, First initial.
When a source has two or more authors, how you format their names depends on whether you’re citing them within your work’s text or at the end of a sentence.
Within a sentence: Author 1’s last name and Author 2’s last name (year)
In their pivotal work, Gaglio and Nunez (2018) state that . . .
At the end of a sentence: (Author 1’s last name & Author 2’s last name, year)
(Gaglio & Nunez, 2018)
When there are three or more authors, list each author’s name in your first reference to them. In subsequent references, list the first author’s last name and follow it with “et al.,” then the year their work was published.
Titles of long works, like books and the titles of newspapers, are italicized in APA format. Titles of shorter works are not.
When a source doesn’t have an author to list, list its title first. How to format that title depends on which type of source it is. If it’s a chapter or section within a longer work, put it in quotes; if it’s the title of a book, periodical, or another work like this, italicize it; and if it doesn’t have a title, use the first few words of the source.
Here’s an example of how to reference a source without an author:
In-text, within a sentence: This example, mentioned in Citation, 2022, demonstrates how to cite an authorless source.
In-text, at the end of a sentence: (“Citation,” 2022.)
References page: Citation, 2022.
APA format and citations FAQs
What is APA format?
APA format is the style guide used for academic writing in psychology, engineering, nursing, and the social sciences.
How is it different from other formats?
The primary difference between APA and other academic formats is that APA was developed to make it easy to cite scientific and technical papers. A few specific differences between APA and other formats include:
- In APA, the citations page is titled “References.” In MLA, it’s “Works Cited,” and in CMOS, the paper’s author has the option to use either the author-date system or the notes-bibliography system for citing references.
- APA format requires a title page. This is not the case with all other style guides.
- For quotes that are forty words or longer, block quotes are required in APA format.
- In APA format, every page must include a page number and the running head.
What are some examples of APA citations and references?
- In-text citation of a work with two authors: (Gaglio & Nunez, 2018)
- In-text citation within a sentence: Continuing this thread, Patel (2019) makes the case that traffic circles are the only safe way to manage traffic flow of this type.
- Book cited on a references page: Bell, S. & Offen, K. 1983. Women, the Family, and Freedom: 1880–1950. Redwood City: Stanford University Press.
Grammarly helps you write like a pro
APA Style takes the guesswork out of formatting your academic writing, but it can’t help you catch grammatical mistakes or ensure that your tone is appropriate and consistent throughout your paper. Grammarly can. Before you send your next report off to your instructor, have Grammarly give it a once-over to catch mistakes you might have missed during proofreading and make suggestions to strengthen and polish your writing.