What Is the APA Format?

The American Psychological Association, or APA, was founded in the late 19th century to advance the study of psychology. Today, the APA is best known outside the field of psychology for creating a set of conventions for scientific writing style. The association created these standards in the 1920s to ensure a unified format and language would be used in psychological writing. Today, APA style is one of the most common forms of academic writing, along with the Modern Language Association and Chicago styles.

APA Fields and Purpose

In addition to psychology, APA style is also widely used in other social sciences such as economics, sociology, and linguistics. Humanities and the arts tend to use Chicago or Modern Language Association style instead. Papers written in the business or nursing fields may also use APA style. APA style is largely intended for academics submitting scholarly articles to journals or other periodicals. Because of this, APA's formatting rules are limited to elements that are relevant to article writing. For example, APA provides no guidelines on how to format the table of contents for a book.

APA Writing Style

APA style is meant to be a scientific form of writing and to be read as objectively as possible. Because of this, APA provides guidelines for avoiding bias within your writing style. For instance, the APA style manual provides strategies for avoiding biased or problematic language in descriptions of race, sexuality or physical disabilities. In addition, the writing style discourages the use of gendered pronouns whenever possible. APA style allows papers written in the same field to use similar conventions for certain items. APA offers specific rules on how to properly write numbers, dates, titles and abbreviations within the text of a paper.

APA Manuscript Formatting

APA also offers guidelines for the structure and formatting of papers. APA papers are divided into four sections: a title page, an abstract that provides an overview of the paper's topic, the main text of the paper and a list of referenced sources. In addition to this organizational standard, APA style sets conventions for page numbers, running heads, lists, bulleting, and the inclusion of tables and figures. As with the writing style rules, these formatting guidelines simplify the work of publishers by ensuring that all papers submitted within a field already adhere to the same basic standards.

APA References

APA style has a detailed set of rules for referencing outside sources. Unlike some other reference styles, APA does not require a bibliography -- a list of all sources consulted during research -- but instead asks for a reference list that mentions all sources referenced in the paper. An APA reference generally requires the name of a source's author, the year of its publication and the publisher information. For example, a citation for a book might appear:

Zerubavel, E. (2003). Time maps: Collective memory and the social shape of the past. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

APA style also requires in-text citations, which note when a source is quoted or referenced in the body of a paper. The in-text citation includes author's name, year of publication and a page number, if applicable:

Like a piece of music, historical narratives may exhibit "staccato" or "legato" rhythms depending on their construction (Zerubavel, 2003, p. 35).

About the Author

Jon Zamboni began writing professionally in 2010. He has previously written for The Spiritual Herald, an urban health care and religious issues newspaper based in New York City, and online music magazine eBurban. Zamboni has a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Wesleyan University.

Photo Credits
  • JackF/iStock/Getty Images