Basic Heading Format for an Essay in APA

American Psychological Association, or APA, style refers to a set of guidelines for writing and formatting papers in the social sciences. The sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual lists the specific format required for the headings of your paper, including the running head at the top of every page, the headers for the main sections of the paper, and the subsection levels within main sections.

Running Head

The running head refers to a shortened title placed in the top margin of every page of your paper. Your running head should be 50 characters or fewer, including spaces, and should be in all-caps and left-justified. Place the page number on the same line and right-justify it. On your title page, the running head includes the words "Running Head," followed by a colon and the running head.

Major Section Headers

APA papers are divided into four sections: the title page, abstract, main body and references. Of these sections, only the abstract and references are labeled. These pages should be titled "Abstract" or "References" in plain text at the top center of the page. Do not put these headers in bold, italics or quotation marks. In addition, don't use a heading for the introduction of the paper.

Subsection Levels

APA style includes five levels of headings to use for paper subsections. However, you probably won't need all five levels unless you're writing a long assignment, such as a dissertation. The first level of heading, such as the "Methods" section, is centered, bold and in title case. The next level, such a subsection for "Methods," is left-justified, bold and in title case. The third level of headings are indented, bold, in sentence case and followed by a period. In the fourth level, headings are indented, bold, italicized, in sentence case and followed by a period. The fifth and final level of headings in APA style is indented, italicized, in sentence case and followed by a period.

About the Author

Rebekah Richards is a professional writer with work published in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Brandeis University Law Journal" and online at She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University with bachelor's degrees in creative writing, English/American literature and international studies. Richards earned a master's degree at Carnegie Mellon University.

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