What Is APA Style Writing?

APA (American Psychological Association) is a style of writing that social and behavioral scientists use to present scholarly written materials in their professional fields. It was developed to establish a standard writing style that would make communication of scientific ideas easier and more consistent. Since the style is recommended for the social sciences, instructors of psychology, sociology and other similar classes may require their students to use APA formatting for all papers.


Similar to other writing styles, APA Style encourages simplicity and straightforwardness, but for a different audience with different demands. Specifically, it focuses on more technical, rather than artistic, needs, and compiles necessary guidelines for writers focused on the presentation of scientific research. In 1929, a group of social scientists and business managers met to establish style rules for scientific writing, and the first Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association came into existence.


The two types of papers that commonly require APA Style are the literature review and the experimental report. A good example of a literature review is a research paper that compiles the opinions and research of experts to shed light on a specific topic. Literature reviews usually contain a title page, an introduction, and a list of references. The other type of paper that focuses on the writer's research findings is the experimental report. This paper is usually more complex and includes everything found in a literature review, as well as an abstract, sections on the method, the results, and the discussion of the results, and appendixes or tables and figures, if necessary.

Key Characteristics

There are several key guidelines to keep in mind when writing. APA Style mandates a running head, which is a short title that appears at the top of every page, including the title page. An example of a running head is: "OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE PERSONALITY DISORDER." Another feature of APA Style is the abstract, which is featured in the second page of the paper, after the title page. The abstract is a concise summary of the elements of the paper, usually including information from the conclusion, and should be no more than 250 words. APA Style also frequently makes use of headings, which are bold and centered, and subheads, which are bold and left aligned. Because APA Style is especially for scholarly writing, the writer should always use the third person point of view and take care to avoid the use of figurative or poetic language, such as metaphors or hyperbole.

In-Text Citations

This format uses the author-date method to properly cite outside knowledge. There are several ways to properly cite the author in the text, but two of the best ways are to use a signal phrase or to put the reference information in parentheses after the quote. A signal phrase, for example, divides up the citation material: "Interpreting these results, Shebek (2005), said 'It is clear that obsessive compulsive personality disorder has to do with the social environment surrounding the individual in question' (p. 115)."

If the writer does not use a signal phrase, the citation can be included in the following way, making sure to include the author's name, date, and page number: "Obsessive compulsive personality disorder is a complex mental state," (Shebek, 2005, p. 115).

Reference List

Reference list entries should list the author's last name first, then the initials of the first and middle name, and be alphabetized by last name. A simple book reference would appear as: "Shebek, S. E. (2005). An in-depth examination of obsessive compulsive disorder. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20, 110-120." Citations for electronic sources are similar, but also include the phrase "Retrieved from" to notify readers where the page is located.

About the Author

Sarah Shebek Emlund has written for Still Magazine, the official magazine of A.T. Still University. She has experience writing in a variety of different formats, including for newsletters, press releases, websites, and blogs, as well as writing research-style papers and translating technical material.

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