APA Style

The style of science scholars and technical writers

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association guides authors and scholars writing in the sciences, business, and technical fields. APA style dominates the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines. In particular, technical writers should be familiar with APA bibliographic formats.

The Council of Science Editors also publishes a style manual, Scientific Style and Format, that differs slightly from APA style. If you master APA style, the CSE modifications are minor. There are dozens of other scientific and technical writing style guides; the APA Publication Manual and CSE Style and Format are the foundations for the style guides adopted by many disciplines.

The American Psychological Association has established a style that it uses in all of the books and journals that it publishes. Many others working in the social and behavioral sciences have adopted this style as their standard as well.

APA’s style rules and guidelines are set out in a reference book called The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

Please note that when researchers talk about APA style, they may be referring to APA’s system of citations in text and reference format. If you are unsure, you should clarify with your instructor or editor how they define “APA style.”
http://www.apastyle.org/ (May 2004)

The complete APA style guide can be located online at http://www.apastyle.org/, though there is a charge for some services. The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section of the APA website offers basic tips for students (see http://www.apastyle.org/faqs.html). Other resources for students, scholars, and technical writers include:

We also have modified several popular Word templates for APA papers based on feedback from students. If you download and use the templates, confirm formatting by consulting an up-to-date guide.

General Philosophy

APA, CSE, and other style guides concerned with science and technology reflect trends in the philosophy and rhetoric of their disciplines.

  • Emphasizing dates (years) of publication reflects the belief that current research has greater value, reflecting current knowledge and theories, than does past scholarship.

Grammar and Mechanics

Use the past or present perfect tenses when citing a source or referring to completed research. In APA, the past is the past… unlike MLA, in which dead authors still “write” a text.

Write in the active voice, with subjects engaged in action.

Use personal pronouns and names when appropriate. “The researchers found…” should be “We found…” because you, the author, are not an outside observer.

Avoid contractions, except when quoting outside sources or interview subjects.

Avoid slang, idioms, colloquialisms, and dialect (vernacular) unless quoting another source.

idioms - Sayings that are culturally distinct.

slang - Non-standard language, often distinct to a community.

colloquialism - Language considered informal, lacking refinement.

dialect - Non-standard spellings used to convey speech patterns distinct to a community.

It is colloquial to welcome friends with “What’s happening?” Equivalent slang might be “What up?” A dialectic version would be “Wassup?”

Limit discipline-specific jargon, except when the jargon best conveys a disciplinary concept.

Use gender-neurtral words and phrasing that eliminates the awkward “his or her” constructions.

Avoid rhetorical questions when direct statements suffice.

Spaces and Punctuation

The Publications Manual calls for two spaces following punctuation, though some editors prefer one space after terminal punctuation except when a monospaced font is used, such as Courier. Verify the current edition of APA style, because the use of spaces might change.

Use the “Oxford comma” in lists, placing a comma before any conjunction.

Underlining, Italics, and Quotes

Use italics in place of underlining for the titles of works. The following types of works are underlined in MLA, italicized in APA: books, newspapers, magazines, plays, films, television shows, paintings, sculptures, and complete music albums.

As part of works, the following items are placed within quotation marks in MLA and APA: chapters, articles, essays, short stories, poems, television episodes, and song titles.


Spell out any number starting a sentence.

Spell out zero through nine, but use Arabic numerals for 10 and greater.

Spell out “percent” in most instances, such as the percentage of people in a group. Use the % symbol in precise scientific measurements, such as chemical concentrations. This rule is fading, however, as publications accept the % symbol for all specific quantities.


Set primary margins to one inch around the page for a “U.S. Letter” document (8.5-inch by 11-inch page). For a metric A4 page, use 2.5-centimeter margins. These margins apply to all pages in the document.

Set the header margin to a half inch. For a metric page, either 1.25 centimeter or 1 centimeter might be accepted.

Use a readable 12-point Times or Courier family typeface. Do not use uncommon typefaces for any reason, and do not use a sans-serif face such as Arial or Helvetica. Resist the temptation to “improve” the title page or section headings with bold, italics, or larger fonts.

Double space all paragraphs, with no extra blank lines between sections of the main text.

Align paragraphs and subheadings flush-left (“right-edge ragged”) throughout the body. Some major headings and the title page lines are centered. Only use full-justification (left and right “smooth”) if a publication or institution specifically requests that formatting.

Parts of an Standard APA paper


Title Page


  1. Place a header a half inch from the top of the page.
    1. In the top-left corner, include the label “Running head:” followed by a short title in all uppercase letters.
      Note: The “running head” or “slug” should be less than 50 characters. Use all-caps, not “small caps” (which are different).
    2. In the top-right corner, number the page as “1.”
  2. Vertically center the title page contents, approximately three to four inches from the top of the page.
  3. Center the title, in “title case” format without special font formatting, wrapping lines if necessary.
  4. Center your full name under the title, separated by an additional “carriage return.”
    Note: The title page is double spaced, so there will be an extra blank line between the title and author’s name. Also, omit any formal titles from the author’s name.
  5. For class assignments add the following after the author's name, on separate double-spaced lines:
    1. Course catalog number
    2. Course name
    3. Instructor or advisor
      Note: Most institutions use the formal titles “Prof.” or “Dr.” before the name, but do not include academic credentials after the name.
  6. Center the full name of your institution or organization below the author’s name, separated by an additional “carriage return.”
  7. Center the submission date directly under the institution name.
    Note: Some publications ask for a “date type” lable, such as “Draft:” or “Submitted:” to clarify the date’s meaning.


If included, an abstract should appear alone on the second page of the paper. The abstract should be no more than 250 words.

  1. Place a header a half inch from the top of the page.
    1. In the top-left corner, include the short title without the “Running head:” label.
    2. In the top-right corner, number the page as “2.”
  2. Center the heading “Abstract” one inch from the top of the page, in plain 12-point type.
  3. Do not indent the first line of the abstract paragraph.
    Note: It is rare to have a multiple-paragraph abstract. However, indent any subsequent paragraphs a half inch.
  4. Place the label “Keywords” on the line immediately below the abstract.
    1. Indent the keyword list a half inch, as you would most paragraphs.
    2. Italicize the label, but not the individual keywords.
    3. Include at least three and no more than six keywords, ideally on a single line
  5. Use a “Page Break” to advance to the main text.
    Note: Do not use carriage returns to advance to a new page!

Body of Paper


  1. Place a header a half inch from the top of the page.
    1. In the top-left corner, include the short title without the “Running head:” label.
    2. In the top-right corner, number the page as “2” or “3” depending on the presence of an abstract.
  2. Center the full title at the top margin, one inch from the top of the page.
    Note: Some instructors and publications place the title on the first page at 1.5 to 2 inches from the top, so it is more obvious.
  3. Use carriage returns, not soft returns or other means, to create parapgraphs.
  4. Set the default paragraph style to include a 0.5-inch first-line indent.
    Note: Avoid using tabs to indent paragraphs.
  5. Do not use carriage returns to advance to new pages!
Headings within Papers

There are five common heading levels within APA papers.

Heading Styles, APA 6e

Heading Level Format Example and Explanation
Heading 1

Heading One is Title Case and Centered

The paragraph after the main heading is indented.

Heading 2

Heading Two is Left-justified in Title Case

The paragraph after the second-level heading is indented.

Heading 3

Heading three is bold, indented, mixed-case, inline, and ends with a period. The paragraph text flows after the heading.

Heading 4

Heading four adds italics to the heading three style. The paragraph text flows after the heading.

Heading 5

Heading five removes the bold weight, but otherwise matches heading four. The paragraph text flows after the heading.

The outline of an APA paper depends on its purpose. A paper might present any of the following:

  • New Research - Presents new findings in the discipline, placing the research in context and offering suggestions for further study.
  • Meta-analysis of Existing Research - Studies existing studies, using the “superset” of data to test new theories of correlation, causation, et cetera.
  • Theoretical Proposition - Offers a new model for understanding aspects of a discipline.
  • Historical Analysis - Studies of historical events or a history of scholarship and theory in a discipline.
  • Literature Review - Study of what is known, theorized, disproved, and unknown in a discipline.
Research Papers

The bodies of research papers might include the following sections:

  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology and Model Techniques
  • Data Collected or Experiment Results
  • Findgins with Discussion or Analysis of Data
  • Conclusions
  • Suggestions for Further Study



Tables and Figures




Shorter Papers for Courses

These papers resemble the MLA short form.

Some instructors might ask students to submit short papers that lack some standard APA features. Generally, the short paper lacks separate title and abstract pages. The first page includes your identification information and the paper’s title. There are two approaches commonly adopted for “short paper” style titles:

  1. MLA-like identification block in the upper-left of the first page with the paper title centered below; and
  2. Condensed APA-format title and identification, appearing centered at the top of the first page.


For a paper with an MLA-like indentificition block:

  1. Place a header a half inch from the top on all pages.
    1. In the top-left corner, include the short title without “Running head:” on the first page.
    2. In the top-right corner, start page numbers with “1” and, unlike MLA, without your last name before the number.
  2. Place your idenfication one inch from the top and one inch from the left of the page in the following order:
    1. Your full name
    2. Course title
    3. Instructor’s name
      Note: Some institutions ask that you swap the course title and instructor’s name.
    4. Date, usually in day Month year format: 17 May 2000. Numeric-only dates are unacceptable.
  3. Double space and center the title. Do not underline, italicize, or place your title inside quotation marks.
  4. Some instructors ask for a blank line between the title and the start of the paper’s body.

Condensed APA

For a short paper with condensed APA style titles:

  1. Place a header a half inch from the top on all pages.
    1. In the top- left corner, include the short title without “Running head:” on the first page.
    2. In the top-right, start page numbers with “1.”
  2. Center the title one inch from the top of the page. Do not underline, italicize, or place your title inside quotation marks. Leave a blank line under the title, or double space the entire condensed indification section.
  3. Include identification information, on seprate lines. These lines are centered, as they would be on an APA title page, but some institutions left-justify these lines:
    1. Your full name
    2. Course number and title
    3. Instructors name (with any titles)
    4. Date. Some instrucrtors insist on day Month year format, instead of the “U.S.” form of Month day, year. Numeric-only dates are unacceptable, as they create confusion.
  4. Leave another blank line and begin your paper. If an abstract is required, place it here.

Citations within Text

Brief Paraphrasing or Quote from a Work

Place the year of a publication in parentheses, following the author’s name.

Long Paraphrase or Quote of a Book

Quoted within Another Work

Follow paraphrasing or quotation marks with: (qtd. in Lastname, YEAR, p. PG).


(C. S. Wyatt, personal communication, May 15, 2004).

Complete Web Site

The usage was verified at the Tameri Guide for Writers site (http://www.tameri.com).


Bibliographic entries should be as complete as possible to locate an external source. In most cases, publisher names and common journals can be abbreviated for space.


Citation Information Order

(1) Author, (2) Year, (3) Title, (4) Editor, (5) Collection, (6) Pages, (7) City, (8) Publisher.

Book, Simple Entry

Lastname, I. (YEAR). The Book’s Title. City: Publisher.

Book, Two Authors

Lastname, I., & Lastname, I. (YEAR). Title. City: Publisher.

Publishers are not abbreviated in APA style. Also, only initials are used for first names.

Edited Works (multiple contributors)

Lastname, I. (Ed.) (YEAR). Collection Title. City: Publisher.

Work from Collection

Lastname, I. (YEAR). Article Title. In I. Lastname (Ed.), Collection Title (pp. XXX-XXX). City: Publisher.

Do not abbreviate page ranges.

Reference Books (Encyclopedia)

Lastname, I. (YEAR). Article Title. In Reference Name. (Vol #, pp. ##-##). City: Publisher.

The Bible or Holy Texts

Generally not applicable to sciences.

Do not underline or itallicize the phrase “The Bible” or books of the Bible. Do italicize or underline the names of special editions and indicate publication information.

Magazine Article

Lastname, I. (YEAR, Month day). Article Title. Magazine Name, pp. XX-XX

Journal Article

Lastname, I. (YEAR). Title: Subtitles are lowercase. Journal Name, VOL, PG

The volume and page numbers are in Arabic numerals, separated by a comma. Do not use “Vol.” or “pp.” before the values.

Newspaper Article

Lastname, I. (YEAR, Month day). Article headline. Newsspaper Name, p. SN

The date format is: 2004, May 15. Use lowercase for the headline. Page numbers are in the format: A1, I-1, B2-4.

Organization Papers

Organization Name. (YEAR). Title of work (Xth ed.). City, ST: Author.

In this case, “Author” is a reference to the organization. Do not use a name, unless it is important.

Web Site

Author or Organization. (YEAR, Month day). In Online Publication. Retrieved Month day, YEAR, from http://www.site.com/page.html

Web Article from a Printed Professional Journal

Lastname, I. (YEAR). Title of Work [Abstract]. Title of Publication, Issue, XXX-XX. Retrieved Month day, YEAR, from http://www.site.com/page.html

Online Newspaper Article

Lastname, I. (YEAR, Month day). Article headline. Newspaper Name, Retrieved Month day, YEAR, from http://www.site.com/page.html

EMail to Author

Lastname, Firstname. “Subject.” E-mail to the author. day Month YEAR.


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Sites Linked to Here…

Writer: C. S. Wyatt
Updated: 08-Mar-2017
Editor: S. D. Schnelbach