American Psychological Association (APA) formatting underwent some changes in 2009, but the basic objectives remain. According to APA, its guidelines attempt to standardize scientific writing. Purdue University's Online Writing Lab (OWL) explains that writers and students in psychology, sociology, economics, nursing, criminology and business generally use this format for literature reviews and experimental reports. To achieve APA objectives, papers should reflect conventions in paper structure, citation use, design and style.
One objective, a standard structure, allows readers to anticipate the direction of an APA paper. A formal APA paper designed for publication includes a title page, an abstract (summary), an introduction, a methods section, a results section, a discussion section, a references page and appendices, such as tables. Within the body of formal APA papers, five levels of headings further classify the information. The most important headings, such as "Methods," "Results" and "Discussion," appear in bold, centered in upper/lower case. Headings of lesser importance differ in location, font and alignment. For undergraduate students, Purdue's OWL simplifies the basics into a four-part structure: title page, abstract, body of the paper and references.
APA form, using an author-date citation format, emphasizes honest acknowledgment of sources used and the date of publication. On the references page, the writer lists all outside sources (except personal interviews and e-mails) in alphabetical order. Hanging indentation draws attention to the author(s) and date; this indentation requires left-aligning the first line of each citation and indenting subsequent lines. Purdue's OWL explains that all authors (up to seven) appear, last name first, first and middle names initialized. In-text citations within a paper also appear in author-date form, such as (Smith, 2010).
Spacing, Margins and Font
By specifying conventions of spacing, margins and font, APA format standardizes papers and meets readers' expectations. APA requires double spacing throughout the paper (including references), one-inch margins and left alignment. All pages need a header: a shortened version of the title in all caps on the left with the page number on the right. On the title page only, the words "Running head" appear before the shortened title. The text needs a serif typeface, such as Times New Roman, but figure labels require a sans serif style, such as Arial. Each paragraph requires a one-half-inch first-line indentation, according to APA.
APA writing should appear objective, free of bias and sensitive to cultural differences. To achieve this objective, writers should omit unnecessary references to a person's disability, sex, race, ethnic identity and marital status; when referring to a certain age range (such as young people), writers should specify the age range to which they are referring. For details related to APA style, writers can refer to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, sixth edition.