How to Write a Research Paper in APA Style

The American Psychological Association (APA) Style Guide was developed for use primarily in the social sciences for both research papers and journal articles. The intent is to provide accurate references and citations without hindering the readability of the text and making it easier to type up or type set a manuscript. Numbered references to footnotes or end-notes have been eliminated in favor of in-text citations that identify the author and year of publication. The reference can then be located in the References at the end of the paper. In addition to this fundamental change, the APA style mandates an overall structure for a paper.

Writing an APA Paper

Step 1

Create the format of the paper by setting up the Title Page and required formatting options. The Title Page shows a heading, the title, the author’s name and the author’s institutional affiliation. The word processor should be set up to show a header with the title of the paper all in upper case letters, flush left and on the same line the page number flush right. Margins should be set to 1 inch on all sides and all text should be typed in Times Roman or a similar font at 11 or 12 point. All paragraphs should be double spaced.

Step 2

Write the Abstract as a single paragraph of 150 to 250 words that summarizes the research. This should include the initial hypothesis, an outline of the data and its analysis, and a summary of conclusions. Further investigations and implications of the research should also be indicated. If appropriate, include a “Keyword” section at the bottom that lists keywords separated by commas.

Step 3

Produce the main body of the paper’s text. Reports of experimental results are the most frequent APA paper and they follow a standard format. The “Introduction” outlines the research problem and how the author decided to work with that problem. The “Method” outlines in detail how the experiment was run, including selecting the experimental population, the experimental treatments and the collection of data. The “Results” section reports on the before and after testing, if appropriate, and the data collected during the experiment. The “Discussion” section then considers the implications of the results, the statistical reliability of the results, and the overall conclusions that can be developed including further investigations.

Throughout this section, citations to other research should be noted by using the in-text citation methods outlined in the APA style guide. If the reference is to the work as a whole then author and year of publication is used — for example, (Murrell, 2005). A direct quote is referenced by including the page number, as in (Murrell, 2005, p.17).

Step 4

Create the References section, which records in alphabetical order by main author’s last name all of the works used or referred to in the paper. The basic format is the same for all types of references. Write the author’s last name followed by initials. Up to six authors will follow the same pattern of last name and initials. Next is the year of publication in brackets. The title of the book or article is written with only the first letter capitalized unless there are proper names.

Book titles are italicized while articles are simply written (do not put quote marks around article titles). Next, write down the city and state, followed by a colon and then the publisher for the book. An article has the title of the Journal (which is italicized) followed by the volume (if there is an issue number as well, it is in brackets) and then just the page number. All citations end with a period. For example:

Sample, M. (2010) The writer’s guide to research papers. New York, NY: Hudson Press.

Reference citations longer than one line have the second and subsequent lines indented one-half inch; set up a "hanging indent" paragraph style in your word processor to get this right.

The initial publication run of the 6th Edition of the APA Style Manual had errors, but the APA site has web pages explaining the errors.