How to Format an Essay in APA Style

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 12016

Whether you are a professional yet or not, a consistent, professional look is necessary in your writing, and often required by schools and businesses. One of the popular standards is the APA style!



English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

  • If you are writing a paper in APA style, what font do you use?
  • Is that all you need to know?

APA (American Psychological Association) style requires that papers follow a standardized format.

This way, it is easy for a reader to navigate an essay and know where to look for certain material.

In summary, an APA-style essay requires that the paper have a cover page, essay body, and reference page (only if sources are cited). Times New Roman 12pt. font must be used for all sections of the essay. Use margins of one inch on all sides of the paper.

All pages of an APA-style essay require a header, which is the inch of space above the text of the page. It is also known as the top margin.

  • The header is placed at the top (head) of the page.
  • The header includes the paper's title (up to fifty characters, which includes all letters, numbers, punctuation, and spaces) and the page number.
  • The title is written in all upper case.
  • The title is left-justified to the left-hand margin and the page number is right-justified to the right-hand margin.
  • The header appears on every page of the paper.
  • On the cover page, the title in the header is prefaced with the words, "Running head:" with only the first letter upper-cased and followed by a colon. This term only appears on the cover page's header.
  • If you have trouble with formatting, you can visit Microsoft's help page to learn how to Add headers and footers in a Word document.

All APA-style essays must have a cover page. The cover page material is double-spaced and centered on the middle of the essay's page. The cover page includes the following information in the specified order:

  • paper's title
  • writer's name
  • institutional affiliation (name of school, organization, business, etc.) if there is one

Schools or colleges may also require the name of the course, the instructor or professor's name, and the date of the assignment.

The next page of the paper may include an abstract, which is a 100- to 200-word overview of the paper's content. Not all APA papers require an abstract, but if one is required, it is placed on the first full page after the cover page. The title, "Abstract" is placed at the top of the page and is centered.

The text of the essay will then begin the next full page after the cover page or the abstract page if there is one. The title of the essay is typed in Times New Roman 12pt. font and centered above the start of the introductory paragraph, in addition to the title being used in the header. The essay indents the start of every paragraph by one tab, and there are no additional spaces added between paragraphs. The entire essay is double-spaced.

If you are writing a longer essay, you may need to use headings within the text of the essay. Headings are used to indicate that a new section of the essay is beginning.

  • The first heading is known as a Level One heading.
  • A Level One heading is centered before the start of the section and written in bold font.
  • If there is a subheading within the section, this is called a Level Two heading.
  • A Level Two heading is written flush to the left-hand margin above the start of the subsection and is bolded. You can see examples of these headings in the APA sample paper link provided below.*

If the paper cited outside sources, then a reference page must be placed at the end of the essay. It starts on the first full page after the end of the essay. To see how to format a reference page, visit the Elephango lesson found under Additional Resources in the right-hand sidebar.

To see a sample paper formatted in APA style with explanations for each part of the APA formatting, view the *APA Sample Paper, courtesy of the Online Writing Lab and Purdue University. This file is a PDF file. Print out the sample paper to use as a guideline for future papers when you need to use APA-style formatting. The sample contains a brief description of each part of APA formatting next to the appropriate section.

Now that you know how to format an essay in APA style, why do think it is useful to have a standardized format for an essay? Briefly discuss your thoughts with your parent or teacher.

To learn how to format an APA-style paper in MS Word, move on to the Got It? section. You will also have a chance to test your formatting knowledge.

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