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How to Write a Research Paper in APA Format

Written by Sarina Jones
Posted: April 14, 2022
Last update date: March 22, 2024
13 min read

The APA writing style format stands for American Psychological Association and represents a set of rules and conventions used in research papers. This guide will help you learn basic APA formatting guidelines and showcase the practical use.

  • You will learn the general requirements for the APA format.
  • We focus on the general structure used in the APA research paper.
  • You will master in-text citations by exploring various examples.
  • An analysis of abbreviation rules, punctuation, and numbers in APA.
  • An exploration of graphics, tables, and figures used in APA research.

Take your time to look through each part presented below. If you are new to APA style or need to check yourself before submitting your research assignment, you will find help!

Understanding APA Style

By learning to write research papers in APA and understanding the rules, you can organize your arguments and credit both primary and secondary sources. The purpose is to give due credit and avoid plagiarism issues. Understanding the APA style format well is directly related to being academically successful. The most important thing is to take your time to learn formatting rules and conventions before starting with a research paper. The complexity and time it requires often force students to seek additional help based on APA formatting rules. While there are basic templates on how to write an APA research paper, every assignment will represent subtle changes that every student must know.

APA style can be used for almost any style of research work because it is meant to represent references and is a unified style used for research purposes. Moreover, the APA style improves accessibility and allows readers to comprehend things more easily. Correct consistency, citation format, and punctuation rules allow one to focus on the paper’s content and structure by easily finding all the required bits. The most important aspect of understanding APA-style research format is knowing how to provide credit to original authors and implement various types of citing. Since there are graphics, tables, and figures that a research paper may require, one should take time to see how to format it correctly.

The APA-style guidelines are constantly updated according to feedback from researchers and educational stakeholders. Looking through the manuals, authors use the same credible and well-recognized format, which makes their research content organized, unique, and easy to read. It helps to avoid confusion as you write a research paper in APA format when searching for similar research papers or finding bibliographic data.

Currently in its 7th edition, the APA style constantly brings updates and corrections officially published by the American Psychological Association manual.

What’s New in APA 7th Edition?

If your college professor asks you to submit a research paper in APA 7th edition, yet you do not know what is APA format, have no worries! it means you should follow the latest updates and changes since the prior formatting style. The major update mostly focuses on the differences between a professional research paper and a basic student assignment regarding accessibility. You will also encounter diverse writing examples that can be followed and brief APA guidelines. We have narrowed things down to the most important changes, including the title page in APA style. Since the talk is about a research paper, its presence becomes essential.

An APA research paper format cover page must include the following elements:

  • Paper’s title.
  • Student’s name.
  • Affiliation (school, university, department, etc).
  • Course number and title
  • Your course instructor.
  • Submission date.

Recommended fonts include:

  • Times New Roman, pt. 12.
  • Calibri, Arial, Georgia, pt. 11.
  • Lucida, Sans Unicode, Computer Modern, pt. 10.

Running heads are no longer necessary when you write a paper in APA format. When dealing with a professional paper or something meant for publishing, omit the “Running Head:” part before your title’s paper.

APA 6th edition: Running Head: Video Games and Teenage Violence Cases

APA 7th edition: Video Games and Teenage Violence Cases

Some other updated APA 7th edition rules include:

  • In writing a paper in APA format, pronouns should include “They” as a gender-neutral construction.
  • Bias-free language guidelines have been added to focus on socioeconomic status, cultural norms, and intersectionality.
  • Spacing after sentences should be single.
  • Tables and figures had minor changes as well. Tables and figures should include a name and number above the element and a note underneath.
  • If you implement three or more authors for your source, you can shorten your references with the Latin “et al.” addition after the author’s first name.

APA 6th edition: (Blake, Jones, Yannick 2021)

APA 7th edition: (Blake et al., 2021)
When you cite books in APA format for a research paper, the publisher’s location is no longer required.
E-books do not need the medium part (Kindle, PDF, etc).
The use of DOIs should be formatted as a hyperlink.
URLs do not need the “Retrieved from” part.

General Requirements for APA Format

The main requirements for APA format include attention to the paper’s length, margins, basic page layout, and structural elements.

  • Recommended introduction and conclusion should be 15% of the total word count.
  • The margin requirements should be 8.5 x 11 inches, double-spaced.
  • When writing an APA research paper, the recommended font size is Times New Roman, 12-point.

Title Page Components

The latest APA edition requires a research paper’s updated APA title page. One must include the paper’s title, the author’s name, your institutional affiliation, course name, instructor’s credentials, and the assignment’s due date. The rest of the rules when writing in APA format for a title page in APA are:

  • The title should be centered and typed in a bold font.
  • Your paper should have a title one or two lines long.
  • The title may contain both uppercase and lowercase letters.
  • Do not make your title irrelevant, and avoid abbreviations.
  • The title’s formatting should be double-spaced.

When it’s not an APA format for college paper, the rules will change. If you are dealing with a professional paper, your title should be followed by your research’s location and affiliation. Such papers will include special notes from the author in three paragraphs. The first paragraph should include the author’s name and a special ORCID ID. If the author is deceased at publication, such information goes to the second paragraph. The third professional title paragraph must include various paper acknowledgments and disclosures as per APA paper requirements.

Running Heads

Running heads are no longer necessary when you are a student. Professional papers still require it by omitting the “Running head” element. The rules in APA 7th edition state the following:

  • A running head is flushed to the left paper’s left.
  • Your running head should be no longer than 50 characters with spacing and punctuation.
  • The standard APA format running head must be all uppercase.
  • The header includes the page number aligned to the right in both research paper types.

Table of Contents

While it’s not obligatory for an APA research paper, it may still be required to provide a roadmap for the readers. Still, if your paper is lengthy, APA paper formatting recommends including it. The rules for the table of contents state the following:

  • The same font size and font must be double-spaced as in the rest of your paper.
  • The table of contents begins with a centered “Table of Contents” heading.
  • Place your table of contents in boldface at the top of the page after your APA research paper cover page.
  • All the main headings must be aligned to the left.
  • Subheadings are indented by five spaces.
  • Lower-level headings may be included if necessary, yet they require additional indents.
  • All headings for your table of contents must be in the title case and have dotted lines between the headings.
  • Writing an APA style paper, use corresponding page numbers to increase the readability.
  • Supplementary and preliminary elements must be numbered.

Formatting Main Parts of Research Paper


While there may be additional paragraphs and elements, a typical APA research paper will include an introduction with a thesis statement, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion. You must also include an abstract for certain cases and a reference page, an obligatory part of APA style requirements.


Regardless of whether you have been asked to provide an outline, the APA outline for research paper still requires the presence of an abstract. As a rule, it comes after the title page, becoming a brief outline or a paper summary. While an outline for APA research paper will include a list of bullet points, an abstract speaks of research objectives and methods. The purpose is to help readers understand what a research paper will be about. Do not include citations or any information irrelevant to the main assignment’s idea. When writing a research paper in APA format, one should provide a summary and represent content similar to the brief book’s description.

An abstract starts on a separate page with the word “Abstract”, which must be centered. The volume of an abstract should be between 150 and 250 words. The content of the abstract should reflect the paper’s structure and main idea or an argument presented in a thesis. APA format rules state that the list of keywords may also be required, especially for planning purposes. Separating them by commas and using up to 7-10 relevant terms is recommended.


A typical research paper will include an APA introduction paragraph, at least five body parts, and a conclusion. All the paragraphs come with an indent. An introduction comes after the paper’s title and an abstract. The main purpose of an introduction is to provide readers with background information and a critical analysis of empirical knowledge. One should explain as to why certain research has been conducted. The beginning of an introduction or an APA style intro page should contain a hook sentence and remain thought-provoking, which is why the APA 7th edition manual recommends using your thoughts and avoiding citations. If necessary, limit yourself to 1-2 citations in an introduction.

The body paragraphs may contain three to five paragraphs with the centered heading’s alignment. When dealing with a scientific research paper, one should format APA paper correctly and start with the following parts:

  • Methods. This part must be precise and comprehensive to help researchers replicate the method that you have used. It should be done in an explanatory tone. The method paragraph can be divided into Participants, Materials, and Procedure or Proc?es sections. These sections must be present in bold font and aligned to the left.
  • Results. The results in APA format for writing a paper must speak of the analysis data and explain the results obtained. It is where you usually implement graphs, tables, and any visual information to boost one’s comprehension.
  • Discussion. It is where you must interpret and compare your data with existing literature on the topic. The discussion section must be organized oppositely to your introduction. Exploring APA for science paper, you shall see that you start with specific information by making things broader. Any limitations must be included here.

The final paragraph of your research paper must talk about the importance of your study and explain what has been added to research on the topic.

Reference Page

The APA format reference is the heart of your research paper. It provides a detailed list of sources that you have used throughout the APA formatted research paper that must be submitted.

  • You must start on a new page by naming it “References” and keeping it centered and on top.
  • The first line of the reference page must be aligned to the left and have all the following lines with an indent.
  • The references in APA must be arranged alphabetically and double-spaced.
  • Books and journal titles must be placed in italics when citing.
  • The punctuation and capitalization present in the source are retained even if they go against the writing standards. It is especially relevant when you write a Psychology research paper or deal with social sciences.

The reference page must be done clearly and contain all the necessary information for a source. If the source has insufficient data, it is recommended to avoid it as such an APA research paper loses credibility and is prone to plagiarism risks.

If you are struggling with citing sources and do not know if your findings are reliable, consult your academic advisor. Seeing a sample of APA research paper under an expert’s guidance may be helpful.

In-text Citations

Once you include a citation in your research paper paragraphs, you must add the author’s name with a year of publication in parenthesis. It is one of the possible ways to do that for your APA format introduction paper or elsewhere. The thing is that the APA style provides two ways to implement in-text citations.

  • Parenthetical citations: they are more common in academic writing. These require both reference elements (author and the year of publication) at the end of the sentence in parentheses. See this APA research paper format example:

Most rock musicians during the 1970s went after social and political activism (Bradley, 2023).

  • Narrative citations: these make it possible to present your obligatory citation elements inside the sentence. It means you do not have to keep things repetitive or overly complex.

According to Bradley (2023), most rock musicians during the 1970s went after social and political activism.

  • If you have two authors in your paper in APA format that are mentioned in the source entry, a parenthetical reference must mention them both:

(Lake & Emerson, 2009)

  • If your source has three or more authors listed, a parenthetical reference adds a Latin “et al.” addition, which means “and others”.

(Lake et al., 2008)

  • The authors’ names must be structured differently as long as you have more than one author. Things will change if there is no author listed.

Sometimes, you have to cite a web page or an organization where you won’t have such information available. In such a case, APA format requirements ask to list the institution’s name or a web page. Alternatively, you list the page’s name or an article you plan to cite.

Rock concert helps to raise thousands for domestic abuse victims. (2006). The Herald Review. URL.

  • A journal article published in APA 7 research paper format will look this way:

Mills, C. (2013). The benefits of green tea for college students. Primary Health Care, 29(4), 34-39. https://doi.org/xx.xxxx

Rules for Abbreviations

When an abbreviation is planned for use less than three times, it is recommended to provide a complete description in your research paper APA format style. The rest of the rules:

  • If you use abbreviations, periods are not required between each alphabet.
  • When abbreviations are unfamiliar to your target audience, spell them the first time they are used.
  • If abbreviations are present in the dictionary, spelling them may not be required.
  • Speaking of units of measurement, an abbreviation may be used when placed next to a number in your APA format science paper. When it’s alone, it must be spelled out.
  • Abbreviations should be used judiciously for an APA-style research assignment to guarantee that every bit is understood clearly.
  • Double-check abbreviations for journals by checking relevant databases.

How to Use Numbers in APA?

The latest edition of the APA writing style has certain rules for using numbers. The most important thing is to write out numbers less than 10 in text. Now, you have to leave numbers above this number “as is”, as done in the APA format for research paper example below:

12 kilograms of fruit

Seven scientists have pointed out that…

It is much better to write numbers out in your APA paper writing when you start with a sentence and include a number. The same is true when you have a fraction or add a commonly used phrase or a word.

When providing numerical data, you must maintain consistency and double-check the provided information. These APA guidelines for research paper apply to footnotes or additional auxiliary information you may decide to provide.

Rules for Punctuation

Although the APA manual has many pages dedicated to punctuation, the general writing style rules apply. Writers should consider basic grammar rules, except citations, where different conventions apply. The only change one must consider is using a single space after punctuation marks. APA formatting requirements ask for an Oxford comma that should be placed. No space is placed or applied on either side if you plan to use em dashes.

  • Use a semicolon to separate items in a list when those items contain commas (e.g., The authors included studies from Carey, 2011; Jones, 2012; and Wales, 2018).
  • Use a colon to introduce a list, explanation, or example (e.g., The research addressed the following topics: data collection, analysis, and interpretation).
  • Use parentheses to enclose supplementary information or citations (e.g., The participants completed the survey (see Appendix A) before the experiment).
  • If the entire sentence is in parentheses, place the period inside the closing parenthesis (e.g., This is an example of a complete sentence in parentheses.).
  • Use double quotation marks for direct quotations (e.g., The author stated, “The findings suggest a strong argument.”).
  • Use single quotation marks for quotations within quotations (e.g., He said, “She told me, ‘It’s essential to make an excellent APA research paper title page.'”).
  • Use an apostrophe for possessive forms (e.g., The author’s research findings).
  • Use an apostrophe to indicate omitted letters in contractions (e.g., it’s for “it is”).
  • En Dashes and Em Dashes
  • Use an en dash (–) to represent a range of values (e.g., pages 20–30).
  • Use an em dash (—) to set off a parenthetical phrase or to indicate an abrupt change in thought (e.g., The experiment—conducted over two months—yielded interesting results).
  • Use brackets [ ] to enclose editorial comments within a quotation, especially when clarifying pronoun antecedents (e.g., “He [the participant] completed the task.”).

The rest of the research paper in APA format rules that must be mentioned include the following:

  • When dealing with an in-text citation or writing an introduction in APA format, it must be placed before the final punctuation mark. See this example: The scientists have invested over 10,000 samples to help enhance the study group (Jones, 2016).
  • When unsure about punctuation or the rules for a particular citation, the essay writing service can help you avoid plagiarism risks. You will learn how to achieve better clarity and readability.

Usage of Graphics (Photos, Tables, and Figures) in APA Format

Graphics and multimedia elements have become more common in APA-style research papers. Graphics and tables in APA should be numbered exactly as they appear in your paper. Remember that your graphic should add new information instead of stating something already mentioned. Compose APA format research paper outline first to avoid repetition and confusion.

When you add tables to your research, it should include the following:

  • A table must be in 12-pt font and represent single or double-spaced content.
  • The spacing should be the same across all tables with the same font.
  • All headings in a table must be centered with information aligned to the left.
  • When using photographs, they should be presented in black and white format.
  • If any information is used that has been adapted or reproduced, you must add a citation.
  • When writing an APA paper, avoid citations in tables and provide hyperlinks to multimedia or museum elements.

APA Style Helps to Make Your Research Unique and Accurate!

The most important aspect of correctly using the APA style format is avoiding plagiarism. When you provide citations and keep up with due credit, you separate what you write as an author. Likewise, it helps college professors and your audience to see what new information has been added and what has been borrowed.

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