How to Write an Essay to APA Guidelines

The American Psychological Association, or APA, format is the preferred writing style for the social sciences at colleges and universities. “The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association” outlines requirements for writing, typing and arranging papers. Professors notoriously reduce essay grades for incorrect APA format. To avoid this fate and write successful APA papers, you should mirror the examples set forth in the latest version of the APA style guide.

Page layout

According to APA sixth edition, papers are typed in Times New Roman 12 point font, double-spaced, with one-inch margins all around a standard-sized 8.5- by 11-inch page. No decorative flourishes or borders appear in the header or the body of your essay. Most APA essays are simply stapled in the top left corner, but ask your instructor for specific binding preferences.

Title Page

The APA essay begins with a title page. The top left header contains the phrase “Running head” followed by a colon and the title of your paper in all capital letters. The page number appears at the top right. Subsequent information includes the full title of the paper, your name and the name of your institution, all of which is centered toward the middle of the page. The submission date is optional, but often requested by individual instructors.


The second page of the paper is set up slightly differently from the first. A short version of your title appears in the header without the phrase “Running head” along with the page number to the right. The abstract immediately follows the title page. An abstract is a brief, one-paragraph summary of the main points of your research paper, not to exceed 250 words. The one-word title “Abstract” is centered at the top of the page without any formatting such as bold or italics. The first line of the paragraph is left justified, which sets it apart from regular body paragraphs. The phrase “Key words” concludes the abstract followed by a colon and three to five search terms associated with the research and is indented five spaces.


The final reference page lists all the external research sources you noted within the body of your paper in alphabetical order by author’s last name or article title. Citations are constructed according to specific APA formats for the most-commonly-used sources in essays, such as peer-reviewed journal articles, books or dissertations. You should refer to your APA guide to properly format each citation. References are double-spaced, with the second and all subsequent lines indented five spaces from the left margin.

General APA Guidelines

APA essays are written in third person academic style with no references to first or second person pronouns like “I” or “you” since the information should be empirical and objective, not based on personal opinion or observations. The body of your paper is divided into sections and includes in-text or parenthetical citations to attribute proper credit to outside reference sources. The basic format includes the author’s last name, publication date and the page number within parentheses. Direct quotations of fewer than 40 words are enclosed within quotation marks. Longer quotations require the block quote format. Titles of books, periodicals, brochures and reports are italicized, but titles of chapters, articles and web pages are set in quotation marks.