The pre-eminent format used for college compositions was designed by the American Psychological Association (APA). It was created because a standard format was needed by which academic papers could be written and it is now widely accepted and used by many course areas. This particular format is designed to assist people with formal writing assignments. It provides academics a uniform way to present papers to peer-reviewed journals and instructors with a standardized tool to see if students can follow directions. The format is easy, but specific.
Following are the requirements for writing in APA style formatting.
The header contains a short description of the title and a sequential the page number. Using the example title
“The Red School Bus,”
a partial title and page number could look like: School Bus 1
There are several key components to note. First, the title is right justified instead of the normal left or center. There is only a partial title expressing the main idea in the essay. Between the partial title and the number are exactly five spaces. Always use the space bar and use just five spaces. To access the header in MS WORD, go to the top of any page in the document and double click. A blue dotted line will appear with a small box on the lower left-hand corner that reads “header” and above this will be your cursor. A box will drop down simultaneously. Click the “Page Number” box and follow these directions. Click on the first option- “top of the page.” Then click the one that reads “Plain Number 3.” A number corresponding to the page you are on will appear on the right-hand side of the header. The cursor is now on the left side of the number. Type your partial title and then press the space bar five times. Now double click anywhere in the body of the main document and the page number header is set.
The cover page for APA style papers is basic and has only three essential components. However, as with any paper make sure and follow any additional directions the instructor may provide. He or she may require more information than is required by the APA.
The basics requirements of an APA cover page include a full title, student’s name and school name in that respective order. It should look like this:
The Red School Bus
University of Michigan
Sometimes the professor will want you to add below the school name something like:
In partial completion of
This section will explain the reference page(s) of the paper after addressing plagiarism and in-text citations. References are used to guard against plagiarism. Plagiarism is a crime that can result in a bad grade, expulsion from a class or in the worst scenario dismissal from the college or university. There have also been court cases when the plagiarism has been especially egregious. In-text citations tell the reader who is responsible for the ideas presented, and either when the original piece was written, its page number or both.
For APA there are two styles that can be used. One style is for periodicals (scientific journals, magazines and web sites); the other for books.
Periodicals and Web Sites
The style used for periodicals looks like this:
To summarize, after you have either quoted the person or presented an idea that that person is responsible for, give them credit as indicated above. If the in-text citation is at the end of a sentence, place the punctuation mark after the parenthesis. The above example can be written generically as:
(Last Name, Date of Publication)
For the second type of citation (books) use this form:
(Smith, 1998, 34)
This gives the person’s name and date of publication, as above, but also adds the page number of the book containing the information cited. Written generically a book citation looks like this:
(Last Name, Date of Publication, Page Number)
That summarizes in-text citations.
For every in-text citation there must be a reference listed and vice versa. This reference is a complete acknowledgement of the author(s) and information on how the audience can find the referenced material.
The reference page, similar to the title page, is completely separate from the rest of the paper. After you have finished writing the last period in the actual body of your paper, hit enter to add an extra space, then press the “Insert” button in the tool bar. From that drop down menu select “Page Break” and you will get a completely separate page on which to place your reference list.
Unlike in-text citations, there are as many different ways to write a reference in APA format as there are types of materials that can be referenced. Following are the three most common types used by individuals.
Here is the correct format for this reference type:
Last Name, Initials. (Date of Publication). Title of the Book. Place of Publication:
NOTE: Every reference must use a hanging indent like the above example.
A real example follows:
Roberts, J. V. & Stalans, L. J. (1997). Public Opinion, Crime and Criminal Justice.
Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
There are many differences between a book reference and a periodical. Following is the reference for a journal:
Last Name, Initials. (Year of Publication). Title of the paper. Title of the Journal, Volume (number), pages.
Note that the title of the journal is capitalized, except for words like “the” and “of,” and that the journal title and volume are italicized. In real form it looks like this:
Sellevold, Martin. “A Look at American Exceptionalism.” Australian Rationalist,
For a magazine the only change is that the entire year, month and day is placed in parenthesis like this:
(1998, September 7)
A web site is done in a similar format to a book or a periodical up through the title of the piece. Subsequent to that the web site information is added as follows:
Last Name, Initials. (Year). Title of the work. Date information Retrieved; from Web site url.
Using a real example, it looks like this:
Allpsych. (2009). Nervous system. Retrieved October 1, 2009 from
We have completed the review the most common types of references.
A few final notes
There is only one space after punctuation marks.
- The entire paper is double spaced, has one inch margins and uses a readable font.
- The font is always in 12 pt. type.
- All references need to have a hanging indent as indicate above.
- After the title page, the first page needs to have the Title centered at the top with the paper beginning the line below with no extra space between.