Guidelines to Writing an APA Professional Paper

APA style refers to the writing guidelines set forth by the American Psychological Association. Like other style manuals, APA outlines the format for which someone is to write a professional paper and cite resources. APA style is used most often for subjects in the social and behavioral science fields, and following the guidelines can help you write a professional paper.

Scientific Writing Style

The APA style was created about 80 years ago by social scientists as a means of establishing a uniform standard for writing and communicating information. In general, the style requires a straightforward writing approach in which economy of expression is valued. The means of formatting the paper and citing resources is also specific to the style. The 2011 APA style book, the “Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association,” outlines how you should construct your paper and even offers suggestions of how to write clearly. Overall, the writing style follows the rule of “less is more.”


The main sections of an APA-style paper are as follows: Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion, References, Appendices. The title page includes the title of the paper and the author or authors. The abstract is a kind of summary that describes the experiment and a brief statement of results. The introduction discusses previous research related to the paper’s experiment and leads up to an introduction of the experiment in the paper. The method describes very specifically how the research was conducted and includes the participants, materials and procedure. The results section provides the data that was collected during the experiment in an organized and quantified manner. The discussion explains any errors made during the experiment and how the results were different or the same as expected, and the discussion can offer ideas for future research. The reference page is an alphabetical list of all references used in the paper. The appendices may include forms used during the research. Sample papers can be found online.


APA style dictates that your paper should be double-spaced, and you must indent the start of each paragraph. The text is aligned to the left. All pages must be numbered, starting with the title page. References should be on a new page, as should each appendix. Citing references in text and in the references page should follow APA style guidelines.

Bias-Free Language

APA style mandates a bias-free language that is objective and reports information fairly. In general, write about people and things with accuracy and specificity. For instance, when writing about age groups, saying “over age 18” is often not specific enough; “age 18 to 35” is more specific and is preferred in APA style. To avoid bias, differences should be mentioned only when necessary. Be sensitive when using labels, and call people or groups of individuals by the terms they prefer. When discussing experiments, talk about the individuals who participated in the experiment using active instead of passive language.