How To Write a Paper in APA Format

The style is becoming a lot more common. Here are some basics that you should know.
October 4, 2020
8 mins read

Everyone knows that writing an essay is hard work. It involves research, analysis and careful development of ideas to sustain an argument that supports a powerful thesis. But even after you’ve mastered the hardest parts of essay writing, there is still another hurdle you need to overcome before your papers will truly be ready to submit. That final hurdle is following your instructor’s required style and formatting guidelines, especially when it comes to citations. Many students find the minute details of standard writing styles to be so challenging that they are willing to go online and pay someone for help rather than try to format a paper themselves. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at one of the most common writing styles, APA format, to examine some of the key elements that will help a student to format a paper in APA.

APA format, developed by the American Psychological Association, is one of the four most commonly used writing formats in academia. The others are MLA, Chicago and Harvard. APA is increasing in popularity because of its distinctive use of the author-date system for in-text citations, which emphasize recency in research over authorial authority as the guiding principle in choosing sources. It subtly reminds students that new research is more likely to be useful than old.


APA format has several distinctive features. One of them is its use of headings. In APA format, the introduction is not labeled. Major sections are labeled with boldface headings that are centered over the text. Subsections are labeled with boldface headings that are left aligned. There are additional rules for lower-level sections, if needed. These rules for headings help to standardize the look of APA formatted papers and keep the assignments clear and easy to follow. Headings also make it possible to distinguish APA formatted paper from others from one glance. 

Font and Spacing

APA format recommends the use of a standard font and size, in black, to help keep papers looking professional, neat and uniform. It also makes them easier to read. An APA formatted paper should never be filled with unusual display fonts or multicolored text. Papers are typically double-spaced to make them easier to read and to correct. Except for headings, the body text is left aligned. The right edges are left ragged and never justified (meaning that it pushes to the edge on the right just like it does on the left).  Spacing is what students forget the most when it comes to APA or any other formatting. The reason is simple — at first you establish the needed spacing and font, but later you copy-paste some abstracts, use proofreaders, copy-paste from there, and spacing changes, mostly just slightly. Also, if you use Google Docs, you could notice that sometimes it just keeps formatting a paper back to what it sees as “normal text.” Which should bring us to one conclusion — no matter how well you organize formatting while writing, after you are done editing, you will have to deal with formatting again. Even if you edit one or two abstracts, it can affect the whole paper. So, double checking is needed before submission.  

Running Head

One of the most unusual features of APA for students not familiar with it is the use of the running head, a header that appears at the top of each page. The running head is composed of two elements. On the left is an all-caps short form of the paper title. On the right is the page number. The APA running head is different from the page setup in most other major styles, and it is an element many students frequently forget to consider when writing a paper, or which they format incorrectly, either by placing both elements on the right or trying to write the entire title of the paper in the header box.


The most recognizable element of APA format is its citation style. In APA format, there are two key rules for citing a source in the text of the paper. First, in APA format, quotations are cited by author, year and page number. All other citations that are not quotations are cited only by author and year. When there is no page number available, the page number is omitted. When there is no author listed, a title is used instead. When there is no year of publication, the abbreviation “n.d.” for “no date” is given instead. These simple rules make it easy to provide appropriate APA citations in-text. Citations are of critical importance, as improper citations can later be understood as a form of technical plagiarism.  

An APA reference list differs from other formats because it lists the author’s last name and first initial only, followed by the year of publication in parentheses. This places the emphasis on the recency of the research rather than its publication history. APA also has unique rules for capitalization and punctuation. Article titles, for example, are capitalized like sentences rather than headlines in APA reference lists and do not take quotation marks as they do in other reference styles like MLA. These rules, however, apply only to the reference list and not the body text. Make sure that all in-text citations are included in the reference list.

Writing and Formatting Help

College and university students the world over rightly find some of these rules confusing, and it is no wonder that so many hire academic experts from an online service to help them with their papers. If you find yourself tempted to contact an essay writing company online and send your request “write my paper for me” to a team of experts, because APA formatting is too cumbersome, there are many options available — WriteMyPaperHub, a professional paper writing service, for instance, whom you can pay to have your papers written in APA citation style. Be sure to review potential services carefully to choose the one that best meets your needs and can help in accordance with your school’s policies.

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