If you are taking a psychology class, it is very likely that your instructor will ask you to write an APA paper at some point. What exactly is an APA paper? It is simply a written paper that follows APA format, the official writing format of the American Psychological Association.
If you’ve never written an APA paper before, the formatting rules and guidelines can seem daunting and difficult at first.
You might be used to writing papers in another format such as MLA or Chicago style, so it might take some time to get the hang of writing in APA format.
While your instructor may have other specific formatting requirements for you to follow, here are some general guidelines for how to write an APA paper.
General Rules for an APA Style Paper
First, start by observing some of the standard rules of APA format. Use standard-sized paper of 8.5 inches by 11 inches, and always use a 1-inch margin on all sides.
Your paper should always be typed, double-spaced and in a 12-point font. Times New Roman is one recommended font to use, but you may also use similar fonts.
Every page of your paper should also include a page header on the top left of the page as well as a page number on the top right of the page.
Sections of an APA Paper
The exact structure of your paper will vary somewhat depending upon the type of paper you have been asked to write.
For example, a lab report might be structured a bit differently that a case study or critique paper. A lab report will include extra sections details the method, results, and discussion related to your experiment or study.
No matter what type of APA paper you are writing, there should be four key sections that you should always include: a title page, an abstract, the main body of the paper and a reference section.
- The Title Page: Your title page should contain a running head, the title of the paper, your name and your school affiliation. This page provides important details for your readers, so it is important to learn how to write a title that accurately yet briefly relates what your paper is about. Learn more in this article on how to write a title page.
- The Abstract: The abstract is a very short summary of your paper. This section is placed immediately after the title page. According to the rules of APA format, your abstract should be no more than 150 to 250 words. However, your instructor may issue specific requirements about the length and content of your abstract, so always check with instructions and grading rubric provided for your APA paper. Learn more in this article on how to write an abstract.
- The Main Body of Your APA Paper: The exact format of this section can vary depending upon the type of paper you are writing. For example, if you are writing a lab report, the main body will include an introduction, a method section, a results section and a discussion section. Check with your instructor for more specific information on what to include in the main body of your APA paper.
- The Reference Section: The reference section is where you include any and all references that were used to write your APA paper. Remember, if you cited something in the main body of your paper, it must be included in the reference section. This section should begin on a new page, with the word “References” centered at the very top of the page. Learn more about what your reference page should look like in this example of a reference section.
Final Tips for Writing an APA Paper
While writing an APA paper may seem difficult or confusing, start by breaking it down into more manageable steps. As you research your topic, creating an outline and a working bibliography can help you structure your paper and keep track of all of the references you use.
Begin by doing your research and writing your paper, but be sure to keep a careful record of all your references. Next, write the abstract section of your paper only after you are completely finished writing your paper. Finally, put all of your references together and create a title page. Once you have completed these steps, spend a little time editing your paper and reviewing your finished APA paper to be sure that all of the formatting is accurate.
If you need additional help with APA format, consider purchasing a copy of the official Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.
American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Use double-spacing throughout the entire paper.To add double-spacing in Microsoft Word, highlight all the text you want double-spaced, then click on Page Layout. Next to the word Paragraph click on the arrow. Under Spacing, Line Spacing, select Double and then click OK.
Put two spaces after the period for each sentence in the body of the paper (Note, use only one space after a period in your references at the end of the paper). Microsoft Word does not have a setting to automatically put in two spaces at the end of a sentence, but you can set-up the grammar check to alert you when only one space is used. In Word 2007, click on File, then click Options. Next, click on Proofing. Under When correcting spelling and grammar in Word, click on Settings. Next to Spaces required between sentences, change the setting to 2. Click OK to exit. This setting will alert you to single spaces after a period with the green squiggle that shows when there is a grammar error in your paper.
Leave 1 in. margins from top to bottom and side to side. Microsoft Word usually is set to 1 in. margins. You can check this by clicking on Page Layout, then click on Margins. The margin you are using is highlighted, select Normal if it is not already selected.