How to APA Format Anything: The Ultimate APA Style Guide

Figuring out how to APA format your assignment is by far one of the most tedious and stressful aspects of writing any essay, paper, or dissertation. No matter what citation style you’re using, paper formatting is very specific – down to the very last punctuation mark.

While it may seem tedious and annoying, formatting your paper properly is essential in any course, class, or field. In fact, if you take a look at your rubric, you’ll see that there is usually an entire section of grading based on your ability to properly format your paper and follow the style guidelines. Following these guidelines ensures you avoid any potential plagiarism; getting caught for plagiarism, even if it’s accidental, could get you kicked out of school and derail your academic career.

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APA format for student academic papers tends to be a little more complex than MLA or Chicago Style. There are a few extra steps you’ll need to take, and your citations are going to be a little longer than what you might be used to if you’ve never written an APA style paper before.

This guide will show you how to APA format all of the sources you’ll need to use in your assignments, essays, academic papers, and references list.

Female student in the library looking for essay references
APA Style: The Basics

Let’s start with the basics: What is APA style? APA stands for the American Psychological Association, who sets out the rules and guidelines for this particular format. It was originally created in 1929 for people working in the sciences and humanities in order to establish some type of cohesion and standard for publications within various disciplines such as psychology, anthropology, or business.

Since then, APA style has become more widely used in a range of disciplines and areas of study. Some of the courses and disciplines in which you will likely need to use it include:

● Psychology

● Nursing

● Engineering

● Natural sciences

● Behavioural sciences

● Social sciences

● Business

● Communications

One of the tricky things about paper formatting is the fact that style guidelines change periodically. This happens to just about every style manual, and APA is no different. APA style recently added an update to the 7th edition last year in 2020, and this is the guideline we’re going to show you in this article.

We’re going to break down each type of source you might need to use and show you how to APA format all of those sources so you’re well prepared no matter what type of assignment you have to complete.

University students learning a new writing style in class
The Structure of an APA Paper

A small, but key, element to learning how to APA format your assignment is knowing what order each of the pages needs to go in. This will tell you how you should structure your paper.

Typically, an APA style paper will follow this structure:

1. Title page

2. Abstract

3. Text of your essay

4. References page

5. Footnotes

6. Tables

7. Figures

8. Appendices

The pages in this list show everything you would possibly ever need to include in your paper, but chances are you likely won’t use some of those elements. Most student APA style papers will include the title page, essay text, and references page.
Setting up an APA Style Paper: Quick Notes on APA Paper Formatting

Like any academic style guide, an APA style paper must follow specific guidelines and rules, down to the very small details. Here are some of the formatting guidelines you’ll need to know before you even get into the citations and referencing.

● Spacing: All papers should be double-spaced. Do not add an extra space between paragraphs in the main body of your paper.

● Font size: Fonts should be 12-point.

● Page numbers: All page numbers go in the top right corner of every page, starting on the title page, and include only the number (no headers or titles).

● Margin sizes: Use one-inch margin sizes on each side of each page.

● Page headers: These aren’t required for student papers and only need to be included in professional papers, which you likely aren’t writing while in an undergraduate program.
How to APA Format Your Title Page

The first thing anyone is going to read is your title page. A title page serves many practical purposes, including telling your professor whose paper they’re marking and what topic your paper is about. That’s very important if you want to get full marks!

Some styles, like MLA style, don’t require the use of a title page unless there are certain circumstances applied. However, with APA style, the title page is mandatory for all of your academic papers or essays. For more information on the differences between MLA and APA style papers, check out Episode 54 of the Homework Help Show where we go over each one.

An APA style title page includes the following information:

● The paper’s title

● Your first and last name

● The name of your school (institution)

● The course name

● Your instructor’s name

● The due date

● Page number

As for the structure of your title page, there are a few specific placement rules you need to follow. Your page number goes in the top right corner and consists of just the number (1). This is important to know because if you’ve learned how to APA format a paper in the past, you were likely taught to include a “running head” on the title page, followed by the essay title with each page number throughout the rest of the essay. The current edition of APA style, updated in 2020, no longer requires this for student papers unless your professor specifically asks for it.

After your page number, write your essay title. The title should be centred, bolded, and placed three or four lines below the top of the page. All of the major words should be capitalized. If you have a subtitle, you can place it on the next line below the main title following the same bolded, centred, and capitalized format.

Leave one full double-spaced line underneath your title or subtitle and place your full name. Your name should be centred, but not bolded – only your title is bolded. On the next line directly below your name, write your institution or affiliation (department) name, centred, followed by your course name centred on the next line. Your instructor or professor’s name goes centred on the next line below your course, and then the due date is centred on the next line after that.

If you ever get stuck on your APA style title page and aren’t sure if you’re doing it right, you can consult the official APA Style Student Title Page Guide.
Writing an Abstract

Occasionally you may be required to write an abstract for your essay. This isn’t always part of your rubric, but in some disciplines (such as the sciences) you may be asked to provide one. Since APA format is often used within the sciences, it’s likely you will need to know the basics at some point.

An abstract is a very brief, short summary of the key points or findings of your research. It should include your topic, research questions, and any conclusions you’ve made. For a scientific paper, which is the most common paper you’ll need to write an abstract for, include the details of your study or experiment: your participants, research method, hypothesis, and results.

An APA style abstract begins with the title “Abstract” on its own line, centred and bolded. On the next line, write your abstract in a single paragraph. The abstract should not be indented, but if you choose to include keywords on the next line, indent those.

Happy female student learning format for APA style papers
Adding Extras: Headings, Tables and Figures

Sometimes you might be required to include tables and figures in your essay or assignment. Tables and figures have a few of their own rules and guidelines you need to follow. In academic papers, tables are a set of columns and rows that display data, usually in the form of words or numbers. Figures, on the other hand, are visual displays of data that aren’t in rows or columns, like bar graphs or pie charts.

When using tables, use the table number (for example, Table 1) first, bolded, in the order you mentioned it in your paper. The first table you mentioned is Table 1, the second is Table 2, and so on. On the next line below the table number, write the table title in italics. Your table title should be a brief description of what the table shows. Next comes the table, and in the main body of the table include headings for each column. You can single-space the text in the table if you prefer.

For figures, use a sans serif font such as Calibri, Arial, or Lucida Sans Unicode. The font size should be between 8 and 14. However, it’s recommended that you stick to size 11 as an average. Figures follow the same setup as tables: start with the bolded figure number (Figure 1, etc.), then the italicized title, then add your figure. Make sure you include a legend or key.

In APA style, there are 5 levels of headings you might use. Most academic papers and essays don’t use headings within the main body, but scientific reports do. When using headings in an APA style paper, you do not leave any extra spaces before or after the heading, and all major words should be capitalized. A level 1 heading is a main heading, and each level after that is a subheading of the level above it. In other words, if you use a level 1 heading, the next one in that section should be a level 2 heading, and this pattern continues. You do not need to use an introduction heading for your introduction.

Here is how each APA style heading should be structured based on which of the 5 types of headings you use:

● Level 1: Centred, bolded, and on its own line

● Level 2: Flush left, bolded, and on its own line

● Level 3: Flush left, bolded, italicized, and on its own line

● Level 4: Indented, bolded, ending with a period, and on the same line as the paragraph text

● Level 5: Indented, bolded, italicized, ending with a period, and on the same line as the paragraph text

Female college student taking notes to record APA style guidelines
APA Style Guidelines: In-Text Citations

When you’re learning how to APA format your paper, the first thing you’ll need to know in terms of the writing process is how to format your in-text citations. In-text citations go within your paragraphs after you’ve used or quoted any information that isn’t your original thought or idea. In an APA style paper, your citations will follow the author-date system.

In-text citations for one author include the author’s last name, the year of publication, and the page number only if you directly quoted that author. If you paraphrased some information and didn’t directly quote anything, you only need to include the author’s last name and year of publication. If you’re citing poems or plays, use line numbers instead of page numbers.

Here are some examples:
The most effective solutions for homelessness could have some impact, but would take a significant amount of time to implement (Smith, 2002).
While some consider homelessness to be “America’s silent epidemic,” the most pertinent solutions take some time to implement (Smith, 2002, p. 45).

If you use the author’s name within the sentence, you don’t need to repeat it in the in-text citation. Here’s an example:
Smith argues that “homelessness is America’s silent epidemic” (2002, p. 45).

When using in-text citations for a work by more than one author, you can write up to three names. For sources with more than three authors, use the first author’s last name followed by “et al.” Go with the first author’s name listed in the source. If the source you’re using doesn’t have a publishing date, write n.d. in place of the year.
About Your References Page

Before we get into how to add each specific type of source to your references list, we’re going to give you some more information about the references page itself. In an APA style paper, your references page (bibliography) is called your References List.

Anything you cite in the main body of your essay should have a corresponding references list entry, and vice versa. If you’re just using a source for general information and not as a reference, it doesn’t need an entry. All references should be listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name, and every line after the first one in each entry is indented.

Sometimes a source might be missing some of the key elements in a references list entry. Depending on what it is, you can leave this out. For example, if you’re citing a magazine article and it doesn’t have a volume number, you can just not include it. When your publication doesn’t have a date, write (n.d) where you would normally write the year.

All sources you access online should include the DOI. If your source doesn’t have a DOI, you can use the stable URL or the regular URL, but only use these if you can’t use a DOI. Include a retrieval date if you accessed a website that could potentially be updated or altered, like an organization’s website.

Since we already went over how to do your in-text citations, the next sections will explain how to APA format your references list entries for the most common types of sources you’ll likely be using. We’ve included an example for each type of entry so you can see them at work. Please note that while we haven’t done so in the examples below, in your references list you will need to indent every line after the first one for each entry.

Students sitting in a library looking for books for essay citations
Books

A book:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of work in lowercase with
only the first word capitalized: Capital letter in the first word of the subtitle. Publisher
Name.

Townshend, C. (2000). The Oxford history of modern war. Oxford University Press.

Books with more than one author (up to 20 authors):
Author Last Name, First Initial., & Second Author Last Name, First Initial., & Third Author Last
Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of work in lowercase with only
the first word capitalized: Capital letter in the first word of the subtitle. Publisher Name.

Pratchett, T. & Gaiman, N. (1990, May 1). Good omens: The nice and accurate prophecies of
Agnes Nutter, witch. William Morrow.

Book with an editor:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of work in lowercase with
only the first word capitalized: Capital letter in the first word of the subtitle (E. Editor,
Ed.). Publisher Name.

Jones, M. (1998, Oct. 14). The long hard road to income equality (H. Timmins, Ed.). Oxford
University Press.

A book with multiple editions or volumes:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of work in lowercase with
only the first word capitalized: Capital letter in the first word of the subtitle (# edition/vol.
#). Publisher Name.

Nickson, R. (2011). The unabridged history of early modern Europe (vol. 2). Cambridge
University Press.

Chapters, plays, or articles in books or anthologies:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of chapter in lowercase
with first word capitalized. In E. E. Editor & F. F. Editor (Eds.), Title of work in lowercase
with only the first word capitalized: Capital letter in the first word of the subtitle (pp.
pages of chapter). Publisher Name.

Gunn, S. (2010). War and the emergence of the state: Western Europe, 1350-1600. In F. Tallet
& D.J.B. Trim (Eds.), European warfare, 1350-1750 (pp. 50-74). Cambridge University
Press.

Student taking notes on APA format for academic papers
Journal Articles

Journal articles accessed in print:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of the article in lowercase
with first word capitalized. Title of Periodical, volume number(issue number), pages.

Nickelson, R. (1997, Sept. 15). The glass ceiling: Solutions to closing the income equality gap.
The Journal of Societal Issues, vol. 33(1), pp. 115-140.

Journal articles accessed online:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of the article in lowercase
with first word capitalized. Title of Periodical, volume number(issue number), pages. DOI

Blinden, M. (2015, April 22). Making the good stuff: A look at the cultural practices of farming in
China. The Journal of Agriculture, vol. 66(43), pp. 56-120. DOI: 10.1109/5.771073
Magazine and Newspaper Articles

Newspaper articles:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of the article in lowercase
with first word capitalized. Newspaper Title, Section.

Michaels, F. (2019, March 14). Toronto woman wins big ticket lottery. The Toronto Star, A4-A5.

Newspaper articles accessed online:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of the article in lowercase
with first word capitalized. Newspaper Title, Section. DOI or URL

Weston, F. (2014, March 10). Holiday celebrations planned for next week. The Spectator.
http://www.thespectator.com/holiday-celebrations-planned-for-next-week

Magazine articles:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of the article in lowercase
with first word capitalized. Title of Magazine, volume number(issue number), pages.

Phillips, T. (2020, Sept. 29). The best albums of 2020. Rolling Stone, vol. 333, pp. 45-46.

Magazine articles accessed online:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of the article in lowercase
with first word capitalized. Title of Magazine, volume number(issue number), pages. DOI
or URL

Moss, G. (2018, Aug. 3). The best reads for this summer. Chatelaine.
http://chatelaine.com/best-reads-summer-2018
Websites and Web Pages

If your website was written by a company or an organization and not an individual author, use the organization in place of the author name in your entry. Additionally, any time you reference an online source from a website or page that could potentially change, add a retrieval date.

An entire website:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of website in lowercase
with first word capitalized. Website Name. Retrieved Month date, year, from URL

Amazon Inc. (1996). Kindle eBooks store. Amazon.com. Retrieved 28 May, 2021, from
https://www.amazon.ca/ebooks-kindle/b?ie=UTF8&node=2980423011

A page on a website:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of web page in lowercase with first word capitalized. Website Name. Retrieved Month date, year, from URL

Spinks, R. (2021, May 27). In the midst of chaos there is still one thing you can control. Medium.
Retrieved 28 May, 2021, from
https://rojospinks.medium.com/in-the-midst-of-chaos-there-is-still-one-thing-you-can-cont
Rol-d72d0946292b

Student sitting outside looking for ebooks to use in essays
E-books and Audiobooks

E-books:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of work in lowercase with
only the first word capitalized: Capital letter in the first word of the subtitle [eBook
edition]. Publisher Name. URL

Homework Help Global. (2020, May 5). Making the grade: A guide to essay writing like a pro
[eBook edition]. Homework Help Global.

Audiobooks:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of work in lowercase with
only the first word capitalized: Capital letter in the first word of the subtitle (First Initial.
Last Name of Narrator, Narr.) [Audiobook]. Publisher Name. URL

Homework Help Global. (2020). Making the grade: A guide to essay writing like a pro (L.
Cornelius, Narr.) [Audiobook]. Homework Help Global.
https://www.audible.ca/pd/Making-the-Grade-Audiobook/B08FBQKMRL?qid=162244091
2&sr=1-2&ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_2&pf_rd_p=b278ed0a-c3b2-4491-808c-7cb219
0a487c&pf_rd_r=CMEB637GDVBP3CT61ERP
Poems and Poetry Collections

Poems aren’t specifically covered in the APA style guide, so technically there isn’t a wrong way to cite a poem if you include the right information. Here are some guidelines to follow for poetry.

A poem in a collection, anthology, or other book:
Poet Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication). Poem title in lowercase with only the first
word capitalized. In Editor Initial Last Name (Ed.), Book title in lowercase with only the
first word capitalized (pp. xx-xx). Publisher.

Poe, E.A. (1845). The raven. In L. Markham (Ed.), 19th century poetry (pp. 33-34). Oxford
University Press.

A poem accessed online:
Poet Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication). Poem title in lowercase with only the first
word capitalized. URL

Poe, E.A. (1845). The raven. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48860/the-raven

Classroom with headphones on the table for sources for essays
Films, Music, and Online Media

A film on a DVD or other physical copy:
Director Last Name, First Initial. (Director). (Year of publication, month date). Title of film in
lowercase with only the first word capitalized [Film]. Production Company.

Whedon, J. (Director). (2012, April 11). The avengers [Film]. Marvel Studios.

Television shows:
Executive Producer Last Name, First Initial. (Executive Producer). (Date range of show). Title of
show in lowercase with only the first word capitalized [TV series]. Production Company.

Levitan, S. (Executive Producer). (2009-2020). Modern family [TV series]. 20th Century Fox.

An episode of a television show:
Writer Last Name, First Initial. (Writer), & Director’s Last Name, First Initial. (Director). (Original
air date year, month date). Title of episode in lowercase with only the first word
capitalized (season number, episode number). [TV series episode]. In Executive
Producer First Initial and Last Name (Executive Producer), Series title in lowercase with
only the first word capitalized. Production Company.

Ko, E. (Writer), & Statman, A. (Director). (2013, Oct. 9). Farm strong (season 5, episode 4). [TV
series episode]. In S. Levitan (Executive Producer), Modern family. 20th Century Fox.

A music album:
Recording Artist or Band Name. (Year of album release). Album title in lowercase with only the
first word capitalized [Album]. Record Label.

Metallica. (1984). Ride the lightning [Album]. Megaforce.

One song or track from an album:
Recording Artist or Band Name. (Year of album or song release). Song title in lowercase with
only the first word capitalized [Song]. On Album title in lowercase with only the first word
capitalized [Album]. Record Label.

Metallica. (1984). For whom the bell tolls [Song]. On Ride the lightning [Album]. Megaforce.

YouTube videos:
Creator Last Name, First Initial. [Username]. (Year of publication, month date). Title of video in
lowercase with only the first word capitalized [Video]. Streaming Service. URL

Swizzle, A. [A Swizzle]. (2017, Feb. 23). Jennifer Aniston on David Letterman most hilarious
interview [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKsDUaA4v98

A TED Talk:
Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of talk in lowercase with
only the first word capitalized [Video]. TED. URL

Gunter, J. (2021, May). Why you don’t need 8 glasses of water a day [Video]. TED.
https://www.ted.com/talks/jen_gunter_why_you_don_t_need_8_glasses_of_water_a_da
y

Podcast episodes:
Host Last Name, First Initial. (Host). (Year of publication, month date). Title of episode in
lowercase with only the first word capitalized (No. if provided) [Audio podcast episode].
In Podcast name not capitalized. Publisher Name. URL

Glass, I. (Host). (2021, Feb. 12). What lies beneath (No. 731) [Audio podcast episode]. In This
American life. This American Life.
https://www.thisamericanlife.org/731/what-lies-beneath
Class Presentations and Lecture Notes

Author Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). Title of presentation in
lowercase with only the first word capitalized [Type: Lecture notes, PowerPoint slides,
etc]. Publisher Name. URL

Finkman, J. (2021, Jan. 4). Week 12: The human genome [Lecture presentation]. The University
of California. [Course website].
Primary Sources

Making citations for primary sources in your reference list can be very tricky. There are so many different kinds of primary sources out there, and it’s impossible to know exactly which ones you’ll need at any point in your academic career. However, we’re going to show you a few of the more common types of primary sources you might need to use in an APA style paper.

Letters from a collection, archive, or repository:
Sender’s Last Name, First Initial. (Year of publication, month date). [Letter to Recipient]. Name of Archive or Collection. (Series Number, Box Number, Folder Number if applicable), City, Country where archive is located.

Ferguson, D. (1667). [Letter to R. Ferguson]. Personal Collection. Rome, Italy.

Documents or reports from an organization, government, or corporation:
Organization of Company That Produced the Report. (Year of publication, month date). Title of
Report in Capitalized Letters. Title of Collection if Applicable, Archive Location Where
Document is Located, Institution if Applicable, City, Country.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee. (2019, March 29). Annual report of the human
rights committee. UN Treaty Body Database, New York, United States.
Final APA Tips and Tricks

Here are a few final tips and tricks you can use when you’re writing your APA style paper.

● Stick to a common, widely accessible font. APA format doesn’t have a set font you’re required to use, but it’s recommended that you stick to a serif or sans serif font. Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, and Georgia are your best bet.

● Always use an academic writing style. That means formal writing with no contractions, no casual language or slang, and no profanity unless it’s in a direct quote.

● Don’t include a period after the DOI. In APA format, you’re required to use a period after every element in your reference entry (such as author, date, etc.) except the URL or DOI. If you do include a period at the end, this could impact the link’s functionality if anyone is viewing your assignment online.

● Brush up on your writing skills. Regardless of what referencing and writing style you’re using, you should always make sure you use proper punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure.

Female employee stuck while writing a professional email
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