APA Writing Style

By | May 8, 2017

This presentation discusses foundations of APA. It provides the basics for students new to the APA writing style.

There are three learning objectives of this presentation.

First, by the end of this presentation you should understand the basics of APA formatting needed for your assignments.

Second, you should be able to identity and avoid common APA mistakes made by many students.

Finally, at the end of this presentation you will be provided additional APA resources on the Internet that will help you with APA formatting beyond the basics.

This presentation draws on information from the 6th edition Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association typically referred to as the APA writing style.

It includes APA document structure, mechanics, source citations, source references, and fair use of copyrighted materials.

For more detailed information you will need your own copy of the APA 6th edition manual.

The first topic covers document structure.

This section describes how the document is structured and laid out to include document sections, headings and sub-headings, as well as specifics of the page layout.

APA writing style

Document Layout

  • Portrait
    • 8 * 10
    • White
  • Font
    • Times New Roman
    • 12 points
    • Black
  • Margins
    • 1 inch all around
  • Double space
    • No extra double spaces

Using a word processing program, you should set up the document structure to portrait, 8×10, and white paper.

You should not use other colors for the document pages.

The font throughout the paper should be times new roman, 12 points, and black.

You should not use different fonts for emphasis or creativity.

Margins should be 1 inch all around.

Documents set to larger or smaller margins are very noticeable.

All text should be double spaced.

There should be no extra double spaces between sections, paragraphs, references, or other break points.

Page Breaks

  • Insert page break between major sections
    • Title page
    • Abstract (if included)
    • Body of paper
    • Reference page

The only exception to double spacing is page breaks.

You should insert a page break between the document title page, an abstract if it’s included, the body of the paper, and reference page.

You should not use the space bar to insert a break.

This is because if additional text is inserted the space will move.

Rather you should place your curser after the last word on the page.

Then at the top left select Insert, and then select page break.

This will allow the page break to remain in the same place.

Document Sections

  • Title Page
  • Body of Paper
  • Reference Page

The main parts to the document include the Title Page, the body of the paper, and the reference page.

A separate page for the abstract may or may not be required in your assignment.

Be sure to check your assignment’s requirements to determine if the abstract is required. You should not arbitrarily add an abstract to the paper unless the instructor requires one.

Title Page

  • Document Title
  • University Name
  • Your Name

The title page text should be in the middle of the page, double spaced, and should include:

The Document Title, Your University, and Your Name.

All of the font should be 12 points, times new roman, upper and lower case.

Page Headers

  • Title page header
    • Running head: TITLE top left corner
    • Page number top right corner
  • Document header
    • DOCUMENT TITLE top left corner
    • Page number top right corner

The APA document includes two different headers.

The title page header is different from the rest of the paper.

It should have the running head flush to the left with the abbreviated title.

The Running head is lower case, while the title is all caps.

The page number should be in the top right corner.

The header for the remainder of the paper should include the document title in all caps at the top left corner with the page number continued in the top right corner.

Again this is not typed at the top of the paper. Rather, select insert and then header.

Adjust the header as seen here.


  • 1st level
    • Centered
    • Bold
    • Upper and lower case
  • Body of paper
  • Other major sections

APA provides specific formats for major headings and sub-headings.

While there are multiple levels of headings available, here we are going to demonstrate the first three levels.

Three levels is appropriate to most papers.

However, longer papers may require additional levels of headings.

The first level of heading is Centered, Bold, and Upper Case & Lower case.

This level is considered the major heading.

It includes the document title on the first page of the body of the paper.

This can also include other major sections of the paper.


  • 2nd level
    • Left flush
    • Bold
    • Upper and lower case
  • 3rd level
    • Indented
    • Bold
    • Lower case
    • With period

Sub-headings are used in longer papers to distinguish different topics within a section.

In the previous example, APA Citations and Quotes within a Document was the major heading.

This is followed by the 2nd level heading Paraphrasing.

It is place flush to the left, Bold, Upper and Lower Case.

If you add an additional level in the document then the 3rd level heading would be indented, bold, lower case with a period. Keep in mind that sub-headings require at least two per level to be broken out into additional levels. For example, paraphrasing can be a separate sub section from direct quotes. However, if we did not break out a second sub-section then paraphrasing would not warrant a separate heading.


In addition to the document structure there are some formatting mechanics that are used throughout the document, which student commonly use incorrectly. In this section I will briefly cover the use of numbers, ellipsis points, and versus the symbol &, and incidence where no page number can be found for your source.


Always write out the numbers between one and nine. While with the numbers 10 and above, you should use the numeral.

Ellipsis Points

  • You have omitted material from the original source within the sentence
  • Indicates absent words between two sentences

Use three spaced ellipsis points, with spaces in between, (. . .) within a sentence to indicate you have omitted material from the original source.

Use four ellipsis points to indicate absent words between two sentences.

The first point indicates the period at the end of the first sentence quoted, and the three spaced ellipsis points follow. Do not use ellipsis points at the beginning or end of any quotation, unless it is to prevent misunderstanding or to emphasize that the quotation begins or ends in midsentence (Gasque, et al., 2009).

And versus &

  • In-text
  • And
  • Debose and Perez (2011)
  • Debose and Perez said “direct quote using the in-text citation” (2011, p. X).
  • Parenthetical
  • &
  • (Debose & Perez, 2011)
  • “a direct quote using the parenthetical citation” (Debose & Perez, 2011, p. X)

When citing in-text with two or more authors, always use the written and.

Here are two examples.

When using a parenthetical citation you should always use the symbol & when citing two or more authors. Here are two more examples.

In the reference section always use symbol &.

No Page Number

  • Use para.
  • (Hall, 2001, para. 5)
  • Add headings
  • (Smith, 1997, Mind over Matter section, para. 6).

When an electronic source lacks page numbers, you should try to include information that will help readers find the passage being cited.

When an electronic document has numbered paragraphs, use the abbreviation “para.” followed by the paragraph number (Hall, 2001, para. 5).

Here is an example.

If the paragraphs are not numbered and the document includes headings, provide the appropriate that heading and specify the paragraph under that heading.

Here is another example.


Citations are notations in the body of the document that signal the information provided is not the ideas of the author. The citation also directs the reader to the appropriate reference in the reference page. Citations are needed if you are copying information from another source or you are summarizing this information. The bottom line is that the underlying information was not your original idea.

Let’s take a closer look at the two types of borrowing, direct quotes and paraphrasing.

Acknowledging Sources

  • Direct quote is copying word for word
  • Paraphrasing is summarizing the idea

A direct quote is when you copy the words from another person.

A paraphrase is summarizing another person’s idea.

When you fail to give credit to the source of information you are plagiarizing their ideas. This means that you are claiming someone else’s ideas as your own. Plagiarizing is also turning in your own work for credit when you have previously received credit for this work. For example, completing discussion questions in the conferences and then submitting these ideas in your assignment without acknowledging their source is plagiarizing.

In essence, you are getting credit for the discussion and again seeking credit for the same work in the assignment you submit.

Be sure to acknowledge the source of information whether you are quoting or paraphrasing the ideas of another person or yourself.

In-Text Citations

  • Direct quote
  • 39 words or less
  • According to Gasque, et al. “to avoid charges of plagiarism, take careful notes as you research to keep track of your sources” (2009, p. 170).
  • Paraphrase
  • According to Gasque, et al. (2009), correctly citing resource material is important to avoid legal issues.

An in-text citation is a citation that precedes the direct quote or paraphrase. Lets look at direct quote first.

If the quotation is 39 words or less, the direct quote requires both quotation marks and a page number. The citation follows directly after the quotation marks.

The punctuation is at the end of the sentence or citation if it is at the end of the sentence.

When paraphrasing, the authors name precedes the paraphrase, followed by the year.

Punctuation is at the end of the sentence.

Unlike a direct quote, paraphrasing does not have a stipulated length.

You script a summary of another person’s ideas or your own idea from another document as they fit the needs of the paper you are writing.

Then you use the same citation format as the direct quote within a sentence.

However, the paraphrase does not include quote marks or a page number.

The punctuation for an in text citation is a commonly missed APA formatting issue for students.

If the direct quotation is 40 words or more, it is a block quote and the entire quote is indented.

In this case you should use a parenthetical citation.

Parenthetical Citations

  • To avoid charges of plagiarism, take careful notes as you research to keep track of your sources” ( Gasque, et al., 2009, p. 170).
  • Correctly citing resource material is important to avoid legal issues (Gasque, et al., 2009).

A parenthetical citation is a citation that follows the direct quote or paraphrase.

The citation for a direct quote includes the author or authors, the year, and the page number.

While the citation for the paraphrase is the same, but does not include the page number.

Again, the punctuation is after the citation.

Multiple Authors

  • (Doe, 2007; Miller, 2009; Smith, 2008)
  • (Debose & Perez, 2011)
  • (Gasque, Jackson, & VandenBos, 2009)
  • (Gasque, et al., 2009)

If more than one author is attributed to an idea, then all of the authors are given credit for the idea.

The citation for each author is provided in alphabetical order, not by date, and within the same parentheses. When your source has only two authors, you should include both names every time you cite the author’s ideas. When your source has three or more authors, cite all of the authors the first time.

After the first citation, the citation should only include the first author, and et al with a period, then the year.


One purpose of a citation is to help readers locate the source in the reference list. The reference is intended to help the reader locate the original document. Therefore, references are formatted with this goal in mind.

Formatting References

  • Last page
  • Title
    • Center
    • Upper and lower case
    • Double spaced
  • Reference
    • Left justified
    • Indent subsequent lines
    • Remove hyperlinks

References are placed on the last page. The title reference is centered. References are double-spaced.

Each reference begins flush and is left justified. As the reference wraps around to the second sentence, the remainder of the reference is indented.

You need to press enter and move everything over to indent it.

When listing an online reference, be sure to remove the hyperlink from the web address.

Common References

  • Author, A.A. (year). Title the work. Location: Publisher.
  • Author, A.A. (year). Title of article. Title of Periodical, x(x), pp-pp. Retrieved from http://www.xxxxxxxxxxx
  • Author, A.A. (year). Title of article. Title of Periodical, x(x), pp-pp. doi:xx.xxxxxxxxxx
  • Author, A.A. (year). Title of document. (Report No. xxx). Location: Publisher. Retrieved from http://www.xxxxxx

Here are some examples of the most common references that you may use. A book, such as your text book for assignments.

An online journal article, again for assignments.

NOTE: that you either provide a doi or the journal’s URL.

Webpages for support information.

The online classroom or other internet discussion boards.

Common Issues

  • Authors
    • Smith, A., & Miller, B.
  • Date
    • (year)
  • First title
    • Title of work
  • Second title
    • Title of Publisher
  • Retrieved from
    • http://www.publisher.com
    • http://www.webpage.com
    • http://www.exacturl.com

Here are some common issues that students have with references.

Authors are listed Last Name, First initial.

This is very different from other writing styles that include the author’s full names.

When including multiple authors, the initial is followed by a comma.

The date is typically limited to the year. Usually the date is only expanded if a more narrow date is required to find the original source such as discussion posts, online communities, and electronic messages.

The first title of a work is typically lower case.

For example, the text book title, title of a chapter, the title of an article, the title of a discussion are all listed as first title and lower case.

The second title which may represent the publisher is upper and lower case and italicized.

This would typically include the title of the periodical for a journal article.

More examples would include other types of articles such as online articles, magazine articles, or newspaper articles.

Retrieved from is required for all online sources expect those with a doi. The retrieved from is the publisher’s website for journal articles, the main web page for a website, or the exact url for other locations.

In all cases the hyperlink to the url is removed.

As you can see, the rules can be a bit complicated.

For more guidance on references beyond the four references discussed here, you should use the APA reference manual.

Fair Use

Before concluding this presentation it is important to discuss the concept of Fair Use in the educational environment.

The concept of Fair Use allows for the use of copyrighted materials in the classroom.

However, there are restrictions on the fair use of copyrighted materials.

Copyrighted works can be used in the classroom, but it “is limited to the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, and/or research” (Instructional Technology Services, 2011, para 2).


  • Right to “reproduce the work”
  • Right to “prepare derivative works”
  • Right to “distribute copies”
  • Right to “perform the work”

Fundamentally, copyright is a law that gives you ownership over the things you create.

Be it a painting, a photograph, a poem or a novel, if you created it, you own it and it’s the copyright law itself that assures that ownership.

The ownership that copyright law grants comes with several rights that you, as the owner, have exclusively.

Those rights include: the right to reproduce work, the right to prepare derivative works, the right to distribute copies, the right to perform the work, and the right to display your work publicly. (Bailey, 2011, para. 1)

Fair Use

  • Text quotations
    • 1000 words
    • 10% of the work
  • Videos and media
    • 3 minutes
    • 10% of work
  • Photos
    • 1 whole photo
    • 5 from any one artist

Here are some guidelines to consider when applying the Fair Use Statute to your work.

Text quotations should be limited to 1000 words or 10% of the text; videos and motion media should be limited to three minutes or 10% of the work; and an entire photo can be used, but only five from any one artist or photographer.


This presentation provided an overview of the basics of APA 6th edition including document structure, mechanics, citations, references, and fair use. However, this is not an all-inclusive reference, but rather a quick start help for students who are new to APA.

Additional Resources

A final note. Keep in mind that APA is periodically updated as new formats of information are made available. There are two excellent websites to use when writing your paper in APA. One is APA exposed supported by Harvard University and the other is OWL APA by Purdue University.

Check out these resources on the web.

Here are the references for information both quoted and paraphrased in this presentation.

Citations were located at the bottom right corner of each page.

Thank you for watching this presentation. I hope that you feel a bit more comfortable with the APA writing style and confident that you can ask appropriate questions.

Don’t forget that additional that additional resources were provided to help ensure you are able to meet

the APA writing style requirements in your assignments.

Please let me know if you have any questions about topics covered in this presentation.

Category: APA