APA includes a set of rules and guidelines for formatting your paper, citing your sources, or for achieving a specific writing style. For an overview of basic APA paper and citation formatting, visit our Introduction to APA page. For information about achieving an APA writing style, see below.

Headings can be placed anywhere in your paper as a way to classify or organize your paper into sections. There are five levels of headings; the first three levels are the most commonly used in course assignments. Levels four and five are typically used in longer papers (e.g., a master’s thesis or dissertation). Using level headings helps your reader understand the organization of your paper. Short papers may not need to use any level headings.Follow these current APA level heading guidelines:

Level 1: Centered, Bold, Title Case Capitalization    New paragraph begins on next line.  Level 2: Flush left, Bold, Title Case Capitalization  New paragraph begins on next line.   Level 3: Flush left, Bold, Italic, Title Case Capitalization  New paragraph begins on next line.   Level 4: Indented, Bold, Title Case Capitalization, Ends with a Period. Paragraph begins on same line as heading title.   Level 5:      Indented, Bold, Italic, Title Case Capitalization, Ends with a Period. Paragraph begins on same line as heading tile.

To see how level headings can be applied in an essay, see this example.

In general, use words to express numbers up to nine (i.e., one, two, etc.), and use numerals for numbers 10 and above (i.e., 11, 12, etc.). However, there are some other specifics to keep in mind:

  • Numerals (or numbers) should be used when they precede a unit of measurement.
    • Each desk was 3 ft. apart.
  • Numerals (or numbers) should be used when they represent time, scores, ages, dates, and points on a scale:
    • The meeting was at 3:00 p.m.
  • Numerals (or numbers) should be used when they represent points on a scale or scores:
    • The participant chose 3 on a 5-point Likert scale measure of satisfaction.
  • Use numerals (or numbers) when they suggest a place in a series:
    • More information is provided in Table 8.
  • Use numerals (or numbers) when they are used in an abstract.
  • Avoid beginning a sentence with a number, but when you cannot reword the sentence, use words to express a number that begins a sentence:
    • Fifty students attended the presentation.

Lists, sometimes called seriation, refers to organizing and sharing items in a series.

 

When a sentence lists 3 or more simple items, use a serial comma to separate each item:

Researchers partnered participants according to location, age, and health.

For complex lists where items listed are lengthy, use a semicolon to separate each item:

Researchers paired participants according to their location at the beginning of the trial; the age they first developed symptoms; and their overall health scores at the beginning of the trial.

 

You can use a lettered list to improve the readability of the sentence when you have three or more complex items in a list. In APA style, separate the items using lowercase letters in parentheses:

The researchers examined relationships between (a) employee satisfaction, (b) personality types, (c) levels of anxiety, and (d) workplace policies.

 

Use a numbered list to show a series of ordered steps in a process or a list of questions given to research participants:

Interviewees were given the following questions:

1. Question 1

2. Question 2

 

Use a bulleted list to improve the readability of a list when the order is not important or relevant.

If the list includes items that are complete sentences, begin each sentence with a capital letter and end it with a period:

Several theories were examined:

  • Behavioral theory was used to study conditioning of the participants.
  • Cognitive theories helped to better understand the mental processes of each participant.
  • Social theories were used when examining group behaviors.

If the list includes items of phrases only, do not begin with a capital letter and do not end with any punctuation:

Several theories were examined:

  • behavioral
  • cognitive
  • social

  1.  

Use italics for the following:

  • Titles of books, journals, reports, web pages, and any other stand-alone works
    • Journal of Online Learning
    • Citizen Kan
    • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
  • Introducing a key term
    • Jones (2020) described user experience as building visually appealing materials that are user friendly.
  • Genera, Species, and Varieties
    • homo sapiens
  • Volume number of a periodical in the references list
    • Journal of Applied Psychology, 50(3), 3-27
  • Anchors of scales
    • Scores ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
  • Gene symbols
    • FoxP3
  • Letters in statistical symbols
    • n =150

Because all authors you would be citing wrote their work at some point in the past, when you quote or paraphrase others, use past tense:

  • Jones and Fraenza(2016) found that giving attendees coffee increased engagement.
  • Sloan (2017) identified key areas where students need support in higher education.
  • Lekkerkerk (2019) argued that video tutorials were an effective tool for learning.

Active voice is a style of writing that follows the logical order of the action, from the subject (or doer) to the object (or receiver) of the action. Using active voice will make your writing clear and easy to follow. In active voice, your sentence should be in this order: subject, verb, and object.

Active voice

  • Sally drove the car off the road.

Passive voice

  • The car was driven off the road by Sally.

For more information on understanding active vs. passive voice, please visit our Active vs Passive page.

Anthropomorphism refers to giving human characteristics to a nonliving object or animal. In academic writing, avoid anthropomorphism as it can make sentences unclear and confusing.

  • Incorrect: The study concluded that sugar is correlated with being hyper.

In this example, the study cannot conclude anything, but people can.

  • Correct: The researchers concluded that sugar is correlated with being hyper.

For more information, visit our Anthropomorphism page.

Using tables, figures, and appendices can add useful information for your readers, while keeping your document easy to read. For detailed help with this, view our guide on Formatting Tables, Figures, and Appendices.