The American Psychological Association (APA) style is one of the most widely used methods for scientific communication today. Aside from facilitating scholarly communication, the APA style also provides rules that guide scholars in proper scientific writing. As such, the APA style is popular among scholars in the health sciences, behavioral sciences, and social sciences.
According to the American Psychological Association (2010), the APA style helps scholars write more clearly and concisely and provide proper attribution to their sources. By mastering the APA style, scholars can also become more effective at sharing their work with the scientific community and beyond.
This article discusses how to properly format and structure academic papers using the APA style. It delves deep into the specific elements of APA-formatted papers as well as provides useful tips and sample papers for better guidance on this scholarly writing style.
Learning the APA style can be difficult since some writers lack the interest in understanding the elaborate details of the writing style. Others find it challenging because they are intimidated by all the elements involved in learning the APA rules and guidelines. Nonetheless, precise knowledge of the APA style is a valuable skill for academic writers, researchers, reviewers, and others who need to understand scholarly text (McDonald, 2011).
Reporting standards offer a level of breadth to information that usually come in the form of empirical research articles and reports. The reason for developing reporting standards originated from various disciplines, especially medical, educational, social, and behavioral sciences.
Similar reporting standards allow for easy generalization across different fields, to enable meta-analytical procedures to advance more effectively and to better comprehend the implications of individual research projects. In addition, policy and practice decision-makers have stressed the importance of recognizing how the research was performed and what were the findings. To allow for this recognition, a set of comprehensive reporting standards is necessary.
Reporting standards are based on how the study being reported was conducted and the research design. It is not based on the specific journal that may publish the article or the thematic focus of the research. Further, reporting standards are still developing and not something fully developed for all kinds of research.
These standards have been designed to help enhance the reporting of particular research designs. If properly observed by academic writers, reporting standards allow readers to figure out the design, implementation, and analysis of a study, to critically evaluate the outcomes, and to make sense of the conclusions accordingly (Cash, 2009).
|Student City||Accomodation Charges|
|Boston and Miami||$1,500 – $3,000 per month|
|Los Angeles||$1,500 – $2,500 per month|
|San Francisco||$2,200 – $4,000 per month|
|New Orleans||$1,100 – $2,000 per month|
|Seattle||$1,500 – $2,500 per month|
|Chicago||$1,300 – $2,500 per month|
This style guide is based on the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th Edition (APA, 2014).
A title should be a brief statement of the main topic and should simply sum up the main concept of the article. It should identify the theoretical issues or variables being examined and the relationship between them. If possible, try to frame the title to quickly elicit interest, such as “Impact of Social Media Behavior on Depression.”
By itself, a title should be fully explanatory. While it is primarily used to inform readers about the research, a title also functions as a statement of article content for referencing and abstracting purposes. A good title can be readily compressed for use as the article’s running head.
Because titles are typically indexed and compiled in numerous reference works, refrain from including words that have no useful purpose. Titles with useless words only expand their length and can misinform indexers. For instance, the words “method” and “results” do not usually appear in a title. Likewise, never use such terms as “A Research about” or “An Experimental Study of.”
At times, terms like “meta-analysis,” “fMRI study of,” or “a research synthesis of” express vital information for the potential reader and is included in the title. Do not use abbreviations in a title and spell out every term to facilitate precise, thorough indexing of the article.
The recommended length for a title is 12 words or below and should be formatted in uppercase and lowercase letters. It should be centered between the right and left margins and positioned in the upper half of the page.
Each manuscript contains the name of the author/s and the institutional affiliation/s of the author/s when the research was done.
Author’s name. The preferred format for the byline is first name, middle initial(s), and last name of the author. This style decreases the probability of mistaken identity. It is best practice to use the same format for your entire career. For instance, if you use your full name (i.e., first name, middle initial, and last name) in one article, use the same format in all your published works.
Establishing whether Agnes P. Cruise is the same person as A. P. Cruise, A. Cruise, or A. Cruise can be challenging, especially when citations extend over several years and several changes in institutional affiliations. Never use any degree (Ed.D., PsyD, Ph.D.) or title (e.g., Prof., Dr.).
Institutional affiliation. The affiliation establishes the author’s location when the study was conducted, which is often an institution. Do not include two institutions unless both have contributed considerably to support the research. Authors can include up to two affiliations each.
In case an author has no institutional affiliation, place the state or city of residence under the author’s name. In case there are changes in institutional affiliation, the current affiliation should be provided in the author note.
For multiple authors, their names should appear based on the order of their contributions. Their names are centered between the side margins. For authors’ names with suffixes, e.g., II and Jr., use a single blank space (rather than a comma) to separate the suffix from the rest of the name.
Finally, the institutional affiliation should be centered under the name/s of the author/s, on the next line, for example:
Agnes P. Cruise and Rohanna O. Smith
Technology Research Center, Harvard, Massachusetts
Every published manuscript provides an author note to identify the organizational affiliation of each author. It is also the designated section to allow the author/s to acknowledge the support given by individuals and organizations, to declare any perceived conflict of interest or disclaimers, and to offer contact information. Student theses and dissertations are usually without an author note.
Author notes should be organized as follows:
Departmental affiliation. Provides the complete departmental affiliations of all authors when the research was being conducted. It is formatted as follows: name of author (same appearance as the byline), name of department, name of university; (details of other authors, same format). Within an author’s affiliation, the entries are separated by commas, while authors are separated by semicolons.
In case the author has no institutional affiliation, provide residential details. For authors within the United States, provide the city and state. For authors in Australia or Canada, provide the province. For other locations, provide the author’s city and country. State names should be given in full, not abbreviated. Author’s degrees are not provided.
Changes in affiliation (if any). In case an author’s affiliation has changed during the conduct of the research, it should be mentioned in this section. The suggested wording for this is: [author’s name] is now at [department and institution].
Acknowledgments. Research grants and other financial support should be recognized. Grant numbers should be cited by themselves without a # sign or No. Colleagues who provided assistance in the conduct of the study, such as by sharing insights or critique, should also be acknowledged.
Individuals who are employed by the journal that will publish the manuscript—editors or peer reviewers, etc.—should never be recognized. However, in case a particular concept was suggested by a reviewer that substantially improved the manuscript, the author can acknowledge it within the text where the concept is discussed.
If the research involved some special agreements regarding authorship, like on how authors contributed to the study, such arrangements can also be discussed here. Finally, this paragraph can be concluded by appreciating any personal help received by the authors, such as in gathering survey instruments.
Special circumstances. Disclose any special circumstances involved in the study in this paragraph. For instance, if the article is derived from a master’s thesis or is based on data used in another previously published article, mention it here. Likewise, explain if there are any relationships that could be seen as a conflict of interest, such as if you work in a company that owns the patent of the procedure used in your study.
If an institution that funded your study requested for a disclaimer that states, for instance, that the research reported does not reflect that institution’s opinions, that should be included in this paragraph.
Person to contact. To facilitate communication with readers, provide a complete mailing address. In the last line, put an email address (without any period).
Agnes P. Cruise, Technology Research Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Rohanna O. Smith, Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Rohanna O. Smith is now at Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley.
This research was supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health and from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Agnes P. Cruise, Technology Research Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138.
E-mail: [email protected]
The author note is placed on the title page, under the title, byline, and institutional affiliation. Center the “Author Note” text. Begin every paragraph (i.e., author names/s, affiliations, etc.) with an indent. This section is not numbered or cited in the text.
An abstract is a concise, inclusive summary of an article’s contents. It enables readers to quickly check an article’s contents. Similar to a title, it allows readers interested in the manuscript to access it online or in a physical library. Most online and print scholarly publications require authors to submit abstracts.
A well-written abstract can be an article’s most essential section. Most readers experience their first contact with a manuscript by simply viewing the abstract, often when comparing other abstracts, as they search for related literature. Likewise, people typically decide whether they will read the whole article or not based on the abstract. The abstract must be packed with information. You can improve the likelihood that your article will be found when you embed keywords in your abstract. A good abstract is:
Always observe the publisher’s word limit for abstracts when submitting an article. Word limits differ from one publication to another but often range from 150 to 250 words. Refer to the Record Structure for APA Databases for guidance on how abstracts are used to retrieve articles (Sick, 2009).
In your manuscript, start the abstract on the second page and mark it with the abbreviated title or running head and page # 2. At the top of that page, put the label Abstract at the center in uppercase and lowercase letters. Prepare the abstract as one, unindented paragraph.
Present the problem. An article’s body starts with an introduction that describes the specific problem being examined and presents the research strategy. Since it is evidently identified by its placement in the article, the introduction does not require any heading. A good introduction sums up the important arguments and related studies to provide readers with a solid understanding of what the study is and why was it conducted.
Explore the importance of the problem. Present the clear rationale of why the problem needs new research. In applied research, the importance could involve investigating a possible psychological disorder intervention or a potential solution to a social issue. In basic research, it could entail the need to further evaluate the stipulations of a proposed theoretical framework. If a study aims to resolve contentious issues, all sides in the discussion must be represented equally. Prevent any hostility and ad hominem line of reasoning in discussing the debate.
Describe relevant scholarship. Present the suitable related literature, but do not feel constrained to provide an extensive historical description. Presume that your reader knows enough about the fundamental issue and does not need an exhaustive discussion of its history. A scholarly account of previous work in the introduction offers a synopsis of the recent related work and acknowledges the precedence of other’s work. Providing credit to related previous work are indications of scholarly and scientific responsibility and are key to the advancement of collective knowledge.
Show the rational succession between prior studies and the present one. Frame the problem with clarity and enough breadth to make it broadly understood by as many scholars and readers as possible. Do not allow the need to be concise to make you write a statement that is only understood by specialists.
State hypotheses and their relation to research design. Once you have presented the problem and framed the background elements, describe your strategy to resolve the problem. For empirical research, this typically entails articulating your specific question or hypothesis and explaining how these are logically related to prior studies or were drawn from theory. Clearly frame the argument for each.
When creating your manuscript, start the introduction on a new page. Identify it with the running head and the page # 3. Place your title at the top of the page, format it in uppercase and lowercase letters and centered, and then type the text.
The succeeding sections follow each other continuously; do not put any break or force start on a new page, especially when a new heading happens. Every subsequent page of your manuscript must also have the running head and page number.
This section details the conduct of the study and provides operational and conceptual definitions of the study’s variables. Various types of research will require diverse methodologies. A full description of the study methods allows the reader to analyze the suitability of your methods and the validity and reliability of your outcomes. It also allows scholars to repeat the research.
The following is an example of such a synopsis:
We present 30-year longitudinal data from a survey of individuals aged 25 to 60. . . . The behavioral reinforcement framework was the one used in our previous study (Bande et al., 2018; Marquez, Palmejar, & Oloresisimo, 2017).
Identify subsections. It is useful and customary to separate the Method section into labeled subsections. These typically include a section with a section explaining the study procedures used and one with the participant or subject descriptions. When discussing the procedures, it usually includes a description of:
Participant characteristics. Proper identification of study participants is vital to the science and practice of any scholarly field. This is due to the specific need to generalize the outcomes, compare across replications, and use the evidence in research syntheses and secondary data evaluations. Describe the participant sample sufficiently. Detail the key demographic traits of the sample, such as gender; age; education; racial group and/or ethnicity; immigrant, generational, or socioeconomic status, etc.
Sampling procedures. Detail the process for participant selection, including:
Sample size, power, and precision. Provide the target size of the sample and the number of subjects intended to be in every condition, if diverse conditions were utilized. Mention if the attained sample is not the same from the intended population. Discuss how this target sample size was established (such as through analysis of power or precision).
Describe the methodology and outcomes if provisional analysis and stopping rules were utilized to change the intended sample size. Interpretations and conclusions must not exceed what the sample would allow.
Measures and covariates. Include in this section information that gives definitions of all primary and secondary results measures and covariates, plus measures gathered but were not incorporated in the manuscript. Present the data gathering method used, such as observations, interviews, questionnaires, etc., and techniques utilized to improve the measurement quality, such as the use of multiple observations or the reliability and experience of evaluators. Finally, discuss the instruments utilized, such as evidence of cultural validity, biometric properties, etc.
Research design. Indicate the research design in this section. Specify whether subjects were observed in a natural setting or were placed in manipulated conditions. In case various conditions were designed, detail how participants were assigned to the different conditions, i.e., via random assignment or other selection technique. Likewise, indicate if the research design is within-subject or between-subject.
Various research designs have diverse reporting needs related to them, so ensure that you select the appropriate ones and provide sufficient justification for the selection. Information should be clearly presented for all research works that feature experimental interventions or manipulations.
For studies that do not involve an intervention or experimental manipulation, such as natural history or observational studies, give enough description of the research processes to enable readers to completely understand the intricacy of the study and to facilitate their own study replication.
For studies that use experimental manipulations or interventions, ensure that you provide their specific details. Include sufficient information about the manipulations or interventions designed for every condition. Discuss if control groups were used and when and how experimental manipulations were actually conducted.
Provide a clear summary of the gathered data and the corresponding analysis of such data in relation to the subsequent discussion. Present the data with adequate information to legitimize your conclusions. Discuss all relevant outcomes, both those that agree or contradict the original expectations. Include statistically non-significant findings when theory predicts statistically significant results.
Never omit any uncomfortable results to make the study appear acceptable. Likewise, refrain from including raw data or individual scores, unless for illustrative examples or single-case research designs.
APA and other professional groups promote the spirit of data sharing to achieve research transparency and ethical scholarly practices. As such, raw data can be made through supplemental online archives (discussed in more detail below).
Recruitment. Indicate dates describing the recruitment periods of study subjects, including follow-ups and the primary sources of the possible subjects, if suitable. If these periods vary by category, indicate the schedules for every group.
Statistics and data analysis. Data reporting and outcomes reporting are essential aspects of any study. Precise, unbiased, thorough, and meaningful reporting of the data analysis (whether qualitative or quantitative) should be a key element of all research articles.
Ancillary analyses. Discuss any other analyses conducted—e.g., adjusted analysis or subgroup analysis—specifying those that were exploratory or preplanned.
Participant flow. For experimental and quasi-experimental designs, provide a clear description of the flow of participants (humans, animals, or units like hospital wards or classrooms). Indicate the total number of groups that participated in the research, the number of subjects assigned to every cluster, and the number of subjects utilized in the primary investigations. Be sure to present the number of subjects who transferred to other conditions or did not complete the experience and explain why. To clearly present participant flow, APA follows the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT, Moher et al., 2001).
Intervention or manipulation fidelity. For studies that employ experimental manipulations or interventions, present the corresponding evidence if those mediations were administered as planned. For basic experimental studies, this may be the effect of how manipulations were controlled. For applied research, this may be in the form of, for instance, observations or records of subject attendance documentation or intervention delivery sessions.
Baseline data. Provide the baseline clinical and/or demographic characteristics of each group in your study.
Statistics and data analysis. In research works that discuss the outcomes of interventions or experimental manipulations, explain whether an intent-to-treat analysis was used. This is to clarify if all subjects assigned to the experimental conditions were included in the analysis no matter if they received the intervention or not. Provide adequate reasoning for the decision.
Adverse events. For studies that examined interventions, discuss all important unexpected or adverse events, i.e., those with critical consequences, including significant side effects in every intervention category.
A notable case that establishes the importance of reporting adverse events is that of sildenafil or molecule UK-92-480 (McCullough, 2002). From 1991 to 1992, its initial human trials ascertained that it does not have good potential as an antianginal drug. Nonetheless, an “adverse event” in the trials was reported, as the male subjects consistently experienced an erectogenic effect from sildenafil or Viagra (Goldstein et al., 2019).
Once you have presented the results, it is time to assess and expound on their implications, particularly with regard to your initial hypothesis. In the Discussion section, you will analyze, explain, and qualify the outcomes and deduce assumptions and conclusions from them. Underscore any practical or theoretical ramifications for the results.
Start this section with a clear manifestation of the agreement or disagreement for your original hypotheses, differentiated by main and supplemental hypotheses. In case your hypotheses were not upheld, provide post hoc elucidation.
Use any similarities and disparities between your results and others’ work to properly situate, affirm, and explain your conclusions. Do not merely redesign and repeat previously raised points. Every new statement must support your interpretation and how the readers appreciate the problem.
Your interpretation of the study outcomes must consider:
Recognize the limitations of your study and discuss the other interpretations of the study findings. Likewise, indicate the external validity or generalizability of the results.
Close this section using a logical and acceptable commentary on the value of your findings. This concluding part may either be extensive or concise, as long as it is not overstated, self-contained, and is well-reasoned. Of course, it is also crucial to pick the right writing style for your purpose.
If your article is presenting multiple research, provide a clear background, logic, and methodological aspects of each research to the reader. If necessary, include for every study a brief discussion of the findings, or integrate the discussion with the description of findings, such as a Results and Discussion section.
Make sure to provide an extensive general discussion of all the research after the previous study. Only present conceptually related works in one paper.
Similar factors that initiated proposals for manuscript reporting standards that present new data collections have caused the same efforts to create the reporting standards for the methods and results of meta-analyses.
Do not place studies used in a meta-analysis in an appendix or supplemental section. Rather, include these research works in the References section, arranged alphabetically. Differentiate those studies from the regular reference entries by putting an asterisk before each entry.
References formally recognize the prior works of scholars and offer an efficient approach to find it. They are used to validate statements done regarding the literature, similar to how data in the text uphold an author’s interpretations and conclusions.
Cited references should not be all-inclusive but must be enough to help validate the value of your study and to make sure that readers can properly situate it in the context of past theorizing and studies.
Mastering how to cite a research paper can be difficult, especially for novice scholars. The standard citation protocols ensure that references are complete, precise, and helpful to scholars and readers. Begin your list of references on a new page. Center the label References and format in uppercase and lowercase letters. All entries in the reference list must be in hanging indent (the first line is flushed left and the rest of the text is indented) and double-spaced.
Authors use footnotes to offer additional information or to cite the status of copyright permission.
Content footnotes. This type of footnotes adds or strengthens important information in the manuscript. These footnotes should not include nonessential, irrelevant, or complex information. Since they tend to distract readers, content footnotes should only be used if they truly add to the discussion.
Copyright permission. This type of footnotes recognizes the source of tables and figures, scale and test items, and long quotations that have been adapted or reproduced. Authors must obtain permission to reproduce or adapt material from copyrighted sources.
Number all footnotes in succession in the order in which they appear in the article using Arabic numerals in superscript. Footnote numbers must be placed after any punctuation mark except a dash, such as this.1 A footnote number that occurs with a dash—such as this2—always go before the dash. (A footnote number is placed before a closing parenthesis if it relates only to text inside the parentheses, such as this.3) Do not put any footnote numbers in the headings.
|Courses||Oxford University||Cambridge University|
There are situations when a material that supplements an article content tends to be inappropriate or distracting when included in the article’s body. These types of materials are commonly included in a supplemental materials section or an appendix.
Appendices. Generally, an appendix is suitable for materials that are comparatively brief and readily presented in printed form. Examples of material appropriate for an appendix include:
Label your appendix section as Appendix if it only has one item. If your manuscript has appendices (i.e., multiple items), label them as Appendix A, Appendix B, and so on, in the order as cited in the article. Every appendix must have a clear, descriptive title.
In the body of the article, cite appendices by their labels. For example:
Generated the same outcomes for both experiments (see Appendices A and B for detailed information).
Supplemental materials. Web-based, online supplemental archives tend to be more appropriate for a material that is more useful when available as a direct download as well as materials that are not easily presented in standard print format. Some examples of materials suitable for inclusion in online supplemental archives are:
These files (similar to an appendix) become part of the primary journal record and thus, cannot be deleted, modified, or augmented.
For APA journals, articles with links to online supplemental archives provide access to a landing page that includes a context statement and link for every supplemental material file, a link to the published text, and a bibliographic citation. Supplemental materials must have sufficient information to make their contents easy to interpret when accompanied by the article.
Aside from the above-detailed instructions on how to format an APA paper, here are some general guidelines when using APA style:
Scholarly publications across the world that adhere to the APA style vary in terms of field or discipline, encompassing social and behavioral sciences, nursing, medicine, law, etc. Here are some sample papers that use the APA format:
Why a rigorous standard for scientific communication? For novice scholars without prior APA style experience, this is normal to ask. Uniform style allows us to quickly select and explore the main points and findings. Rules of style in scientific writing promote the complete disclosure of key information and enable us to do away with minor distractions.
Like other scientific formats, APA style helps us to easily communicate the essential aspects of quantitative or qualitative results, choose the most suitable presentation for our analyses, share the intricate details of our research procedures, and describe individuals with precision and respect. It eliminates the time lost in determining the correct punctuation for a reference or the correct form for footnotes or appendices in text. Those elements are systematized in the rules we follow—such as the APA style—for clear communication, allowing us to focus our efforts on the essence of our study.
Ultimately, the aim of the APA style is to establish effective research communication to help scholars and readers to make ethical decisions about research findings and discoveries. By providing a shared way to communicate, the scientific community and the general public are well-informed in a timely, efficient manner.