Guide to apa formatting

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Guide to APA Formatting and Style

NU Psychology Department

National University

Table of Contents


List of Tables 7

Abstract 8

Formatting 9

Setting Up MS Word for Effective APA Formatting 9

Interpreting icons 9

Show/Hide icon 10

Setting default font 10

Setting default line spacing to double space 10

Eliminating space before and after paragraphs 11

Show Ruler 11

General Formatting Rules 12

Margins and alignment 12

Spacing 12

Typeface 12

Running head and page numbers 13

Headings 15

Formats of Different Manuscript Sections 16

Title page 16

Author note 16

Other title page information 16

Table of contents 17


Abstract 18

Keywords 18

Title on first page of text 18

Introduction 18

Other sections of the manuscript 19

References 19

Tables and figures 20

Appendices and supplemental materials 20

Citations 21

General Citation Rules 21

Citation Formats 23

One author 23

Two authors 23

Three to five authors 24

Six or more authors 24

Group or organizational authors 25

Citing two or more sources together 25

Material with no author identified 26

Citing an author within a secondary source 26

Citing the same reference more than once in a paragraph 27

Quotations 27

Short quotations 28


Long quotations (block quotations) 29

Quotations within quotations (nested quotations) 30

Inserting material into a quotation 30

Omitting material from a quotation 31

Adding emphasis within a quotation 31

Documenting References 31

Journal Articles 33

One author 35

Two through seven authors 35

More than seven authors 35

Journal article obtained from an online database 35

What is a digital object identifier (DOI)? 36

Journal article with a DOI 36

Journal article from an internet-only journal without a DOI 37

Article from an annual publication 38

Books 38

Book with no author identified 39

Book with one author 39

Book with two or more authors 39

Book by a group or organization 40

Book indicating “with” author(s) 41

Article or chapter in an edited book 41


Entire edited book 41

Magazine Articles 42

Authored magazine article 42

Magazine article with no author identified 42

Newspaper Articles 43

Online Articles 43

Online journal, magazine, newspaper, or newsletter article 43

Online article from a sponsored or titled website 44

Website article/information with no author identified 44

Undated articles 45

Plagiarism 45

An Example of Inadvertent Plagiarism 46

What is wrong with this citation? 46

Correct citation using a quotation 47

Correct citation using paraphrasing 47

Deliberate Plagiarism 48

Self-Plagiarism 48

Important Additional Information on Organizing a Manuscript 48

Heading Levels and Formats 48

Useful Websites for APA Style 49

Major Style Changes From the Publication Manual 5th Edition to the 6th Edition 51

References 53


Index 55

List of Tables


Table 1. Instructions for Creating a Running Head and Page Numbers 14

Table 2. APA Heading Levels and Formats 49


This guide is intended to aid students studying psychology and other social and behavioral sciences in learning and applying American Psychological Association (APA) style. It is based on the 6th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association, 2010). This guide covers the most important style and formatting elements of the APA manual, including manuscript layout, citations, quotations, references, and plagiarism. The guide is not a complete description of the information in the APA manual, but does provide enough detail to assist students in mastering the fundamentals of APA formatting and style. Most psychology journals request abstracts of between 150 and 250 words, but if you are submitting a manuscript for publication, check with the journal, because requirements vary. In addition, most psychology journals now request that authors provide a list of approximately 6 keywords that indicate the major topics covered by the manuscript, formatted as shown below.

Keywords: APA style, formatting, citations, quotations, references, plagiarism

Guide to APA Formatting and Style

This document, referred to hereafter as the guide, provides an explanation of basic formatting and style elements of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association [APA], 2010), referred to hereafter as the publication manual or APA manual. For more complete guidance, purchase the publication manual from the American Psychological Association or an online service such as, or locate a copy through the NU Library or many public or academic library systems. The complete title in reference format is as follows:

American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.


This Guide is written and formatted in APA style, which allows the user to see what APA style should look like even without referring to the written content of the guide. Therefore, if the style and formatting of your document look different from this one, refer either to this guide or to the publication manual to revise those elements that are incorrect. An index has been provided at the end of this guide to aid you in finding the formatting elements you wish to investigate.

Setting Up MS Word for Effective APA Formatting

In starting, there are a few general recommendations for enabling Microsoft Word to function effectively in writing and formatting APA manuscripts. These recommendations allow you do view the effects of your formatting on the computer screen.

Interpreting icons. When navigating around the menus, if you are having trouble finding an icon or determining what function a particular icon has, all you have to do is rest the cursor over a particular icon for a second or two, and a small window will appear to tell you the name, and in some cases, the purpose of the icon.

Show/Hide icon. Click on the Show/Hide icon (the paragraph symbol in the upper right-hand corner of the Home, Paragraph area) so that all formatting symbols can be seen. This will allow you to see paragraph marks, spaces between words, tab symbols, and other marks, so that you are not formatting “in the blind.” Without the ability to see these symbols, you will be unable to format your paper effectively and see the results of your formatting.

Setting default font. Setting the default font to Times New Roman makes it easier to work with your file. To do this, click on Home. Then click on the small icon in the lower right-hand corner of the Font area. In the Font window, select (a) Times New Roman as the font, (b) Regular as the Font Style, and (c) 12 as the Size. Then, at the bottom of the window, click on Set as Default, then click OK. This should make Times New Roman the default for the entire file. When working with your file, selecting another option such as italic for specific words will change only those words without changing the default.

Setting default line spacing to double space. All manuscripts must be double spaced to conform to APA style. In Home, click on small icon in the lower right-hand corner of the Paragraph section. In the Indents and Spacing window, Under Indentation, ensure that the Left and Right values are 0, then under Special, click on the down arrow to bring down the menu, and select First Line. Under Spacing, ensure that the values for Before and After are 0 pt., then under Line Spacing, click on the down arrow to bring down the menu and click on Double. This should ensure that your manuscript is double spaced without extra space above or below the paragraphs.

When you set the default option for indented paragraphs, you will need to remember to remove the indent before centering title-page information and headings. You can do this by placing the cursor to the left of the paragraph mark in the selected paragraph and hitting backspace before centering. If you do not do this, centered paragraphs will be offset ¼ inch to the right. You can check proper centering by making sure that paragraphs are centered at 3¼ inch on the ruler. (See Show ruler below.)

Eliminating space before and after paragraphs. In Word 2007 and later versions of Word, Microsoft instituted a default format that automatically adds an 8-point or 10-point space after each paragraph, which is contrary to APA style. If you did not set default line spacing using the instructions above, you can manually reformat your manuscript to eliminate these spaces, but you will often find that if you make subsequent changes to your manuscript, the extra space will reappear in the edited areas. You can make this change manually in one of two ways. In either case, first highlight the areas in which you need to eliminate extra space after paragraphs. The first option is to click on Home, and in the Paragraph section, click on Line and Paragraph Spacing (the icon in the bottom row with the up-and-down arrows; called simply Line Spacing in some earlier versions of Word). Then, if the options at the bottom of the menu say Remove Space Before/After Paragraph, click on these options to remove the space. The second way to do this is to click on Page Layout, and in the Paragraph section, ensure that the values are 0 in both the Before and After boxes.

Show Ruler. A third helpful action is to show the ruler just below the menu section above the document shown on the screen. If you do not see a ruler above your document, go to View, Show/Hide (or Show in Word 2013), and click on the box to the left of Ruler. If you have Word 2010 or earlier, you can go to the upper right-hand corner of the working area and click on the ruler icon, just above the “up” arrow. By showing the ruler, you will be able to set indentation settings and see whether centered headings and titles are centered correctly.

General Formatting Rules

Margins and alignment. Use 1-inch margins at the top, bottom, and both sides of the paper. To set the margins, click on Page Layout, and in the Page Setup section, click on Margins and select Normal. The margins you see used in this guide are 1-inch margins. The running head and page numbers at the top of each page are placed inside what MS Word calls a header, which lies outside the margin at the top of the page. To create the running head and page numbers, refer to the section titled “Running head and page numbers” that begins on the next page, and Table 1 on p. 14.

Text should be left aligned (not blocked, or left-right justified), leaving what is often referred to as a “ragged right” margin. To create left alignment, highlight the affected paragraphs and click on Home. In the Paragraph section, click on the Align Left icon (the far left icon on the bottom. This results in a flush left margin, but no flush right margin. Words at the end of a line that do not fit on that line are automatically dropped down to the next line by the MS Word program. Do not hyphenate or split words at the end of a line.

Spacing. Double space between lines throughout the manuscript, including (a) after every line on the title page, (b) before and after headings (and between lines if you have a heading that is more than one line long), (c) block quotations, and (d) references. Regarding spacing in text, use one space after punctuation marks in most cases. Exceptions to space after periods are common abbreviations such as U.S., a.m., p.m., i.e., and e.g. When ending a sentence, APA recommends using two (spacebar) spaces, but a single space is acceptable.

Typeface. APA specifies the use of 12-point Times New Roman font throughout a manuscript, so that all manuscripts have a similar appearance. This font also must be used for the running head and page numbers, as you can see in the header at the top of each page. As noted below, unless you have set Times New Roman as the default font, the running head and page numbers will have to be formatted separately, because formatting the body of the text does not affect formatting in the header at the top of the page.

The only exception to use of the Times New Roman font is the APA recommendation to use a sans serif font (such as Arial) for lettering in figures. This will provide a clean, uncluttered look within the figures.

Running head and page numbers. As mentioned, the running head and page numbers appear in the header at the top of all pages of the manuscript, including the title page, abstract, references, tables, and figures. Insert a running head flush left in the header at the top of the page, with page number at the right margin. On the title page, the running head should be preceded by the words “Running head:” (with “Running” capitalized and “head” not capitalized), followed by a colon. The header should consist of the title or a descriptive shortened version of the title, in all capital letters, not to exceed 50 characters and spaces. It should be formatted so that the running head and page numbers are ½ inch from the top of the page. Do not format the header to be at 1 inch, or add multiple paragraph marks after the running head, because doing so will impinge on the top margin, pushing it down below its intended 1-inch position.

Unless you are already an expert in the use of Microsoft Word, follow the instructions in Table 1 to create the running head and page number. APA guidance is to limit the maximum length for a running head to 50 characters and spaces. If you follow the Table 1 instructions, on all pages after the title page, the words “Running head:” will be eliminated and only the title (or shortened title) and the page number will be shown. Refer to the title page and following pages of this manuscript to see how the running head should look. (Normally, tables and figures are on separate pages at the end of the manuscript, but Table 1 is placed here for ease of access.)

Table 1

Instructions for Creating a Running Head and Page Numbers

  1. In the formatting area, click on Insert.

  2. On the right-hand side of the page, click on Header, then click on the first option.

  3. The above selection had done two things: (a) it created an expanded Design section, and (b) it created a “Type here” instruction in brackets. Ignore this instruction and click on Different First Page in the Options area of the Design section. Also, if the Header from Top box (near the right side of the Design area) reads other than 0.5”, reset it to 0.5.

  4. In the expanded Design section, in the Header and Footer area at the far left, click on Page Number, click on Top of Page, then select the first option, which will temporarily place the page number at the left margin. (If the page number is indented for some reason, remove this indent by placing the cursor to the left of the page number and hit Back Space once to remove the indent.) You will also get an extra paragraph mark below the number, which you should delete to ensure that it does not impinge on the top margin by pushing the header down below 1 inch.

  5. To the left of the number, type in “Running head,” followed by a colon and a space. (Note that the word “head” is lower case.) Then, using all capital letters, type in the title or a suitably shortened title, ensuring that it contains no more than 50 total characters and spaces.

  6. With the cursor between the title and the page number, still in the Design section, in the Position area, ensure that the Header from Top value is set at 0.5” and click on Insert Alignment Tab.

  7. In the window that appears, select Right alignment and click OK. The page number should move to the right margin.

  8. If you have not selected Times New Roman 12-point as the default font, highlight this entire line and click on Home, then in the Font area, select Times New Roman and 12.

  9. If you have not yet created a second page, double click outside the header in the main body of the page and click on Insert. In the Pages area, click on Page Break (or you can select Alt+I, B, which will open a window with Page Break selected and click OK). This will create a new page.

  10. Highlight the entire running head and page number from the title page and paste this into the header on the second page. Delete the prefix “Running head” and any extra paragraph marks below the running head in the header. Now, on p. 2 and all following pages, the running head will appear with the correct page number.

On every page, including the title page, if you have followed the instructions in Table 1, the header will show the page number on the same line as the running head at the right-hand margin.

Headings. Headings are used to organize your manuscript, both for you as the author and for your readers, who depend on your headings to understand the logic and flow of your text. Within a section, all topics of equal importance should have the same level of heading. Do not label headings with numbers or letters. The format of your heading depends on the heading level. For more information on headings, see pages 62-63 of the publication manual (APA, 2010), or refer to the section outlining heading levels and formats on pages 43 and 44 of this guide. As you can see in this section, heading Level 1 (e.g., Formatting), Level 2 (e.g., General Formatting Rules), and Level 3 (e.g., Headings), have been used thus far in this guide. In some papers, you may have a need to use Level 4 or 5 headings (see pp. 48-49 for heading formatting rules).

For Level 1 and 2 headings, all major words and words of four or more letters are capitalized, even conjunctions such as with or from (APA, 2010, p. 101). For centered (Level 1) headings, ensure that the heading paragraph is not centered from a paragraph with an indented first line, because that will offset the heading to the right of center. To avoid this, remove the indent by placing the cursor to the left of the indented paragraph mark and hitting backspace to move the paragraph mark to the left margin.

The publication manual no longer addresses the issue of headings that appear at the very bottom of a page as it did in the 5th edition. However, allowing a heading to appear at the bottom of a page without any text beneath it runs contrary to accepted printing and publishing practices. Rather than leaving a heading by itself at the bottom of a page, you can resolve this permanently within your manuscript without having to check your draft every time you add or delete text. With the cursor in the heading paragraph, go to Home, Paragraph, click on Line and Paragraph Spacing, then click on Line Spacing Options, Click on the Line and Page Breaks tab at the top of the window, and click on Keep with Next, then click on OK. With the heading paragraph formatted in this way, it will always jump to the next page if there is no text beneath it. For this to function throughout your paper, you will need to make this formatting change individually for each heading.

Formats of Different Manuscript Sections

Title Page. The title is typed in uppercase and lowercase letters (sometimes called “title case”), centered in the top half of the page. The title page should include, centered and double spaced: (a) manuscript title, (b) author (student) name, and (c) institutional affiliation (in this case, National University). As with all centered paragraphs, ensure that you remove any indentation before centering to ensure that the paragraph is properly centered. Failure to do so will cause your title page information to be offset to the right of center. Normally, neither the title nor anything else on the title page is italicized.

Author Note. The Author Note is normally not used in papers submitted as class assignments. It is primarily intended for papers submitted for publication, and appears in the bottom half of the title page under the centered title Author Note. This area may be used to provide author contact information and other information pertinent to the manuscript. For additional information, refer to the publication manual (APA, 2010, pp. 24-25).

Other title page information. Although it is not standard APA format, some instructors request additional information on the title page, such as course number, professor name, and date the paper or assignment is due. Check with your professor to see what is required. As on all pages, the title page includes the running head and the page number.

Table of contents. Tables of contents are not specified as elements of APA style, but are typically used by academic institutions in masters’ theses, doctoral dissertations, and other publications, such as technical reports. In the National University Psychology Department, tables of contents are normally required for papers written as the primary assignment in the capstone course of the department’s programs. Different programs may have different formatting requirements. The table of contents shown on the second and following pages of this guide is one example. In this example, Level 1, 2, and 3 headings are shown. Some capstone instructors may require listing Level 4 and 5 headings if they appear in the manuscript. Other instructors may require an outline format, with, for example, upper case Roman numerals for Level 1 headings, capital letters for Level 2 headings, lower case Roman numerals or Arabic numerals for Level 3 headings, and so on. Successively lower level headings after Level 1 are typically indented an additional half inch from the left margin.

Table of Contents page numbers should have right-hand alignment at the right margin, 1 inch from the edge of the page. In order to accomplish this, go to Home/Paragraph, click on Line Spacing, Line Spacing Options, then Tabs in the bottom left-hand corner of the window. In the Tab Stop Position window, type in 6.5 and click on Right under Alignment. Depending on your program or instructor, “leader” characters extending from the heading to the page number may be optional or required. In this guide, periods have been used as leader characters. If they are required, click on the number 2 option under Leader, then click OK.

If you use subordinate level headings in the table of contents, you will also have to set tabs for these headings. For Level 2 headings, enter .5 and use click on Left under Alignment. For Level 3 headings, enter 1.0, and so on. (If you indent a lesser amount, such as .3 inch, the indentations would be .3, .6, .9, and so on.)

Abstract. An abstract is a brief one-paragraph (150-250 word) summary of the contents of the paper. Unless you have a table of contents, it is the second page of your document, directly after the title page. The word Abstract is centered at the top of the page, not in italics, not underlined, and contrary to some guidance, not in boldface font. The misinformation regarding boldface was due to errata in the first printing of the 6th edition of the publication manual (APA, 2010) that has since been corrected. Unlike most other parts of the manuscript, the first line of the abstract is not indented. This formatting is called blocked format, but use left justification, because right margin is not justified, but rather “ragged right,” as it is called. It is important for the abstract to be concise and to describe the main points of the manuscript accurately. Thus, the abstract should not be written until the manuscript is completed. For more information, refer to the publication manual (APA, 2010, pp. 25-27; 41).

Following the practice in many scholarly journals of omitting abstracts for short articles, many instructors may not require an abstract for short papers. Check with your instructor to determine whether an abstract is required.

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