How to Write a Research Proposal in the APA Style

The sixth edition of the “Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association” directs you how to format and structure your research proposal. This is the most common style used for proposal related to the social sciences. A research proposal in APA format should include a title, abstract, main body and references.

General Structure

APA format recommends that you type your proposal with a highly legible 12-point font, such as Times New Roman. It needs to be double-spaced. When you write a new paragraph, indent fives spaces or use the Tab key. Your paper should have a 1-inch margin on all sides. At the top of each page, insert a running head in the header. To format this correctly, write the title of your proposal in the upper left hand side and the page number in the upper right hand side. Your running head is limited to 50 characters, including spaces. If you must shorten your title, select the keywords.

Title Page

For your research proposal, your title page should include your paper’s title, your name and your university’s name. Other information that may appear on the title page includes submission date, budget period, total funds requested or advisor’s name, depending on your proposal’s audience. APA style recommends that your title is no more than 12 words in length. All text on this page should be double-spaced. When listing names, do not include any titles or degrees. The running head is different on the title page than the rest of your paper. Format your running head so it says “Running head” followed by a colon and your title.


In APA format, your abstract is the second page of your paper. Despite appearing at the beginning of your paper, plan to write your research proposal last. This is a brief summary of your entire paper. In a 150- to 250-word paragraph, state your problem, and propose a solution for it. To properly format this page, center the word “Abstract” without any additional formatting on the first line of the page. Following a double-space, write your paragraph. Do not indent this paragraph. After your summary, indent five spaces and write the word, “Keywords” in italics followed by a colon. Then list keywords related to your proposal.

In-Text Citations

Every sentence that references another person’s work must include an in-text citation. The APA recommends that you use the author-date method. Write the author’s name and the publication year within parentheses at the end of the referencing sentence. For example, “One study found that the most important element in comprehending non-native speech is familiarity with the topic (Gass & Varonis, 1984).”


At the end of your proposal, APA style advises that you create a references page that lists citations for all of your references. Label this page with the word “References” centered on the first line of the page. Then list all the sources used within your proposal in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. For any references that are longer than one line, indent all subsequent lines by five spaces.

When writing references, APA style recommends that you give the author’s last name and then use initials for all other names. For a single author book, write the author’s last name, a comma, first initial and a period. Next, write the publication year in parentheses. Place a period outside the last parenthesis. Then write the title of the book in italics and sentence case, a period, the city, a comma, the state, a colon, the publisher’s name and a period. A reference may look like this:

Zerby, C. (2002). Devil’s details: A history of footnotes. Montpelier, VT: Invisible Cities Press.

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