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APA Toolkit: APA Style

APA Style - Introduction

APA Style
What is APA Style?

APA Style stands for the American Psychological Association Style - which is fully detailed in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA Style).

Who Uses APA?

This style of documentation/citation is used in the social sciences and in some sciences. Specifically, writers in these professions will use APA Style: Psychology, Linguistics, Education, Library Science, Economics, Criminology, Nursing, and sometimes Business. Citation styles similar to APA are used in the Biological and Earth sciences.

Does it matter which edition I use?

Yes. You should always use the most recent edition unless told otherwise.  The latest is the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th edition, second printing (2016).

What’s the general approach to citation?

The social sciences place emphasis on the date a work was created, so most APA citation involves recording the date of a particular work in the physical text. The date is usually placed immediately after the author's name in the "References" page at the end of the research paper.

Types of Academic Papers:

Research is paramount in the sciences, so the paper you write for a course or publication using APA style will be based on research. You will need to plan your research carefully before setting out to writing your paper. You should consider that your paper will report your research findings, or the research findings of others. APA style is used for term papers, research reports, empirical studies, literature reviews, theoretical articles, methodological articles, and case studies.

APA Resources

APA Style: General Guidelines/Formatting

| Paper Format | Writing Style |

Paper Format

Your paper should be typed on spaced on standard-sized paper (8.5" x 11") with 1" margins on all sides and using double spacing. Use a clear font that is highly readable. APA recommends using 12 point Times New Roman font. If you are going to be turning your paper in online, follow these same guidelines. No fancy fonts or backgrounds; aim for a professional looking paper.

Include a page header (also known as the "running head") at the top of every page. To create a page header/running head, insert page numbers flush right. Then type "TITLE OF YOUR PAPER" in the header flush left using all capital letters. The running head is a shortened version of your paper's title and cannot exceed 50 characters including spacing and punctuation.

Your paper should include four major sections: the Title Page, Abstract, Main Body, and References.

Title Page: The title page of your paper should contain the title of the paper, your name, and the name of your college (i.e., your institutional affiliation). Include the page header (described above) flush left with the page number flush right at the top of the page. Please note that on the title page, your page header/running head should look like this:


Pages after the title page should have a running head that looks like this:


Abstract: Your abstract should start on a new page (page 2) and should already have the page header at the top. Center the word “Abstract" on the first line of the page -- don't use bold formatting, italics, underlining, or quotation marks.

Your abstract will begin on the next line and will be a concise summary of the key points of your research. (Don't indent the paragraph.) Your summary should include the following: your research topic, research questions, participants, methods, results, data analysis, and conclusions. You can also include possible implications of your research and possible future work that could be connected with your findings. The abstract should be a single paragraph double-spaced and be between 150 and 250 words.

You may also want to list keywords from your abstract after the paragraph. To do this, indent as you would if you were starting a new paragraph, type Keywords: (italicized), and then list your keywords. Listing your keywords will help researchers find your work in databases.

Headings: Headings are encouraged in APA style; one level of headings is usually enough for an undergraduate paper. If you need more, it's good to refer to the handbook for more information on formatting. In general, major headings should be centered and put in bold. Capitalize the first letter of each word, except for articles, short prepositions and coordinating conjunctions.

Visuals: This would include tables and figures. Figures include graphs, charts, drawings, and photographs. See the APA guidelines for more information here.

Place a label and a caption under each figure, flush left, and double spaced. Labels and captions for figures don't need to be on separate lines.

You should discuss the most important feature of each figure in the text of your paper; be sure to place the visual as close to its discussion as possible.

Sections of a typical APA paper include the Title Page, Abstract, Introduction, Method, Results, Discussions, References, and Appendices. See the APA's Student Paper tutorial for details here.

Check out this Sample Paper from the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).

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Writing Style

Point of View and Voice:

When writing in APA style, your instructor may allow you to use first person point of view when you are discussing your research steps ("I studied...") and when referring to yourself and co-authors ("We examined the literature..."). Check with your instructor to be sure that this is acceptable. If so, be sure to use first person rather than anthropomorphizing the work. A study can't control or interpret; however you or your co-authors can. Also, in general, say, "The results indicate..." rather than "Researchers indicate..." Avoid the editorial "we" -- if you do use "we" in your writing, you should be actually referring to you and your fellow researchers.

Avoid passive voice (for example: "experiments have been conducted . . . "). Instead, use an active voice ("we conducted experiments..."). Active voice is particularly important in experimental reports where the subject performing the action needs to be clearly identified (for example: "We interviewed...," compared to, "The participants responded...").

Clarity and Conciseness:

Clarity and conciseness are important in research writing. You don't want to misrepresent the details of a study or confuse your readers; so avoid being overly wordy and avoid unnecessarily long or complex sentences.

Be specific rather than vague in your descriptions and explanations. Offer accurate details so your reader has enough information to follow the development of your study.

Word Choice:

Be careful with your word choice. In the social sciences, commonly-used words can take on different meanings and can have a significant effect on the interpretation your readers make of your reported findings and claims. Aim to increase clarity, avoid bias, and control how your readers perceive your information. You should make the following substitutions:

  • Use terms such as "participants" or "respondents," instead of "subjects" to explain how individuals were involved in your research.
  • Provide more detail about who was participating in the study by using terms such as "children" or "community members."
  • Rather than referring to "proof" or "proves," use phrases such as "The evidence suggests . . . " or "Our study indicates . . .." Remember, a single study can not prove a theory or hypothesis.

It's a good idea to study the language of your field to learn what terminology is used most often.

Avoiding Poetic Language:

Writing an APA style paper is very different from writing a creative or more literary paper. In general, in an APA paper, you'll want to avoid figurative language and poetic expressions. These can get in the way of what you are trying to explain to your reader.

You should aim to minimize the use of metaphors and analogies unless they are helpful in conveying a complex idea. Furthermore, avoid rhyming schemes, alliteration, and other poetic devices that are usually found in verse. Use simple, descriptive adjectives and plain language that will avoid confusing your meaning.

A Few More Tips:

APA style requires the use of past tense or present perfect tense when using signal phrases to describe earlier research. For example: Smith (2001) found, or Smith (2001) has found . . . .

Titles of books, journals, magazines, newspapers, and reports should be put in italics; titles of articles, chapters, and web pages should be put in quotations.

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