How to Write a Well Organized College Paper in APA Format

Writing a college paper requires more research, organization and attention to detail than writing a high school paper. College students must make sure that their papers are logical, flow well and follow the format that the professor assigns. Fortunately, the APA format, which is used for many papers in the social sciences, has clear, specific and easy-to-follow formatting rules.

Organization and Research

Write down notes as you find relevant information. As themes develop in your research, jot them down in the margins of your notes. You can also use color-coded highlighters, sticky notes or pens to differentiate between the major themes or main ideas that you find.

Write down the major themes or main ideas that you found in your research on a sheet of paper. Organize them in a logical manner, such as order of importance or chronological order.

Create an outline with the major themes that you found as section headers. Organize the main points from your notes on your outline. If you find that some of your notes don't fit into the main ideas that you've developed, don't include them in your paper.

APA Format

Double-space your paper and set the font to 10 to 12-point Times New Roman or similar. Indent each paragraph. Set the margins to one-inch all around. The paper should be left-aligned, with a "ragged right" margin.

Type your title and the page number in the header of your document. If your title is extremely long, use an abbreviated version consisting of a key phrase or the first few words of your title.

Hit "enter" until you've reached the center of your page. Type the title of your paper. Below the title, type your name. Below your name, type the name of your college.

Center the word "Abstract" on the second page. Write a paragraph of 150 to 250 words summarizing the key points of your research. This is the only paragraph in your paper that should not be indented.

Type the title of your paper on the third page. Write the main body of your paper, following the formatting guidelines in step one. When citing a source in-text, type the last names of the authors and the date that the source was published in parentheses.


Center the word "References" on your reference page.Go to the next line and indent. Type the last name, a comma, and the first initial of the source's author. If there are multiple authors, they should all be cited in this way, and the last one should be included with an ampersand rather than the word "and" (for instance, "West, D., Elba, I., & Sohn, S.") Put a period at the end of the names.

Write the year that the source was published in parentheses. Put a period after the parentheses.

Type the title of the article if the source is a journal article. Only the first letter and any proper nouns within the title should be capitalized. Do not underline or italicize the title or put it in quotation marks. Put a period at the end of the title. (If the source isn't a journal, see the first link in References for how to cite it.)

Italicize and type the title of the journal from which the article came, capitalizing the first letter of each word except for very short words like "a," "the" or "on." Type a comma and the volume number. De-italicize and put the issue number, if any, in parentheses. Type a period after the parentheses. Type the page numbers of the article and put a period at the end.

About the Author

A resident of the Baltimore area, Rachel Kolar has been writing since 2001. Her educational research was featured at the Maryland State Department of Education Professional Schools Development Conference in 2008. Kolar holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Kenyon College and a Master of Arts in teaching from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.

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