APA Documentation

APA Documentation

What does APA stand for?

APA is the abbreviation for American Psychological Association, which is a professional organization whose members are comprised of teachers and scholars in the field of psychology. Other similar organizations in different disciplines are the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the Council of Biology Educators (CBE). All such organizations publish journals with articles about topics of interest in the discipline. All created a style guide governing how articles submitted for publication are formatted and how they give credit to the sources. Many disciplines in the behavioral and social sciences such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, and some sciences require APA style for publication in their journals.

The term APA is used to refer both to the association and to the rules in the APA style guide which is called the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. This tutorial uses the 7th edition.

What is the purpose for developing a set of rules for style and citations?

In order to have uniformity of presentation and give proper credit to the sources used in the articles, each organization has a different set of rules called a style guide. They include rules on how to give credit to sources in the body of the paper and how to list the sources at the end in a bibliography (a list of sources). Proper credit must be given to the sources used in the paper in order to avoid plagiarism. These style rules also include instructions for page setup such as margins, font, line spacing, and headers along with mechanics of writing such as punctuation. APA also includes rules for organization of a paper including title page, abstract, main body (introduction, method, results, discussion), and references. Appendices, if any, follow the references. Papers which report the results of studies or experiments typically use this organization.

Typically, students are asked to do a research paper which requires doing research to find an answer to a question and then writing a paper. The paper can either be a review of existing studies or can also be an analysis of a new study or experiment done by the student. The APA format for a literature review (which is essentially summary and evaluation of research data) consists of a title page, possibly an abstract if the instructors requests one, the main body (which is a survey of the literature), and a list of references. There should be an introductory paragraph (the word introduction is not used) with a thesis statement which answers the research question at the end, body paragraphs which prove or perhaps disprove the thesis, and a concluding paragraph which sums up the proof and restates the thesis.

Why is APA called an author-date method of citation?

Generally, APA style uses the author and the year of publication to give credit to the particular study or source in sentences that contain a quote, a paraphrase, or a summary with information from the source.

Why do schools require using APA style?

Academic institutions such as high schools, colleges, and universities have courses which require training in a style system such as APA in order to avoid plagiarism and to train students in preparing research papers suitable for publication in scholarly journals.

APA Page Format

APA Page Format

APA Page Format


  1. 1” margins
  2. Acceptable fonts and sizes: Size 12-point Times New Roman;11-point Arial, Calibri, and Georgia; or 10-point Lucida.
  3. Body of paper is aligned left
  4. Running head (by instructor preference) in header, left aligned
  5. Page number in header right aligned
  6. Line Spacing – double throughout
  7. Tab in the first line of a paragraph ½” or .5
  8. Title is bolded, centered with proper capitalization
  9. Level 1 heading on 2nd page of paper, centered and bolded and is usually the title of the paper, never the word Introduction.
  10. References is the last page of the paper


  1. 1” margins – top, bottom, left, right.
  2. Word margins are set in Layout or in File/Page Setup/Margins.


  1. Acceptable fonts and sizes: Size 12-point Times New Roman; 11-point Arial, Calibri, and Georgia;10-point Lucida; or other legible font as approved by instructor.
  2. Font and font size are important for readability.
  3. Do not use bold except for section headings if section headings are used.
  4. Do not use all caps except for the title of the paper in the Header or an acronym (NATO, AIDS).
  5. Do not use italics or underlining unless there is a rule that says to use them.


  1. Left align – this is the usual default setting.
  2. Do not block or justify where the right margin is uneven.
  3. Alignment can be set in the Paragraph box if the icon is not visible.

Line Spacing

  1. Double space –throughout the entire document.
  2. Check default settings in the Paragraph box and reset per instructions under Paragraph setting (see below).

Paragraph Settings

Some programs such as Word 2007 and later have defaults in the Paragraph box which interferes with proper double spacing. The settings in the Paragraph dialogue box should be as follows to have proper double spacing.

  1. Indentation (on top) should be set at 0 left and 0 right.
  2. Spacing (on the lower left) should be set to 0 Before and 0 After.
  3. Line Spacing (on the lower right) should be set to double.
  4. Check the box that says “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style.”
  5. Click Default (at the bottom) and select Yes to change defaults.

In Google docs, you can change Paragraph settings under Spacing to 0 next to Before and 0 next to After by going into the double spacing tool and clicking Custom Settings.  You will have to select (highlight) the entire paper including the heading in the upper left before making the change once the paper is typed.

In Pages, you can change the Paragraph settings by clicking on Format on the top navigation bar and then Paragraph. Remember that you have to highlight (select) the entire paper including the heading in the upper left before making change in Paragraph once the paper is typed.

First Line of a Paragraph

  1. Indent the first word of a paragraph 1/2” or .5 from the left margin.
  2. The Tab default is usually at this setting.  If not, reset defaults.

Spacing after a Period or Other End Punctuation

In the 7th edition of APA, only one space is used after the end of a sentence.

Page Number and Running Head

  1. In Word, click on the Insert tab and then click on Page Number in the menu bar. It will give you the option of where to insert the page number.
  2. Choose to insert the page number at the top of the page, right aligned.
  3. The page number appears on every page of the document, including the title page.
  4. Place the cursor left of the number and type in the running head.
  5. Total length of the running head is 50 characters and spaces.
  6. The running head is in all caps.
  7. After you typed click tab until the running head is left aligned in the header.
  8. Use a plain header format.
  9. Do not use bold, underlining, quotation marks, or a different font or color for the title.
  10. Do not use the word page or any abbreviation of the word page such as pg. or p. between the running head and the actual page number.

Heading Levels

There are five possible heading levels in APA style.

  • Level 1 headings are used for top-level or main sections – they are bolded and in the center of the page.
  • Level 2 and Level 3 headings are subsections of Level 1 – they are also bolded, but they are left aligned.
  • Levels 4 and 5 headings are bolded, italicized, indented, and followed by a period.

APA does not use the word Introduction. The Level 1 heading at the beginning of an APA paper is the bolded and centered title of the paper, typed on the first page of the paper after the title page.

See pages 47 - 49 in the APA Publication Manual for more detailed information.

Title Page

The student paper must include a title page. The following items are included on the student title page unless otherwise indicated by the instructor:

  1. The running head is an abbreviation of the title, written in all-caps, left aligned in the header up to 50 character and spaces long (if less than 50 character and spaces long then the entire title can be in the header)
  2. Page number is right aligned in the header
  3. The running head and page numbers appear on every page of the paper.
  4. All the text on the title page is centered and double spaced with proper capitalization (except for the header)
  5. Title is a maximum of three to four spaces below the header
  6. Directly below the title is the student author’s first and last name
  7. On the next line is the college/institution’s name, fully spelled out with proper capitalization
  8. Below the institution name is the course number and course name, ex:  COU 1234: Introduction to APA Usage
  9. On the next line is the instructor name, ex: Prof. I. Knowalot
  10. On the last line is the assignment due date, ex: February 29, 2028


If you are asked to prepare an abstract for your research paper, click Insert/Page Break to get to the top of a new page, and center the word Abstract in bold on the first line. Abstracts are typically no more than 250 words. They are usually a single paragraph with no indentation at the start of the paragraph. Otherwise, they follow the same formatting rules including double spacing.

Reference Page

  1. After the last section of your paper insert a page break.
  2. Type the word References, bolded, centered with proper capitalization
  3. The References page is double spaced.
  4. Each reference entry is left-aligned and formatted with a hanging indent.
  5. To create the hanging indent, highlight the reference entries and go into the Paragraph box.
  6. Under Special, select Hanging from the drop down menu. Once selected, the default under By should be .5’.
  7. Remember that your list has to be alphabetized by author. If there is no author or group author, use the title.
  8. There are no extra spaces in between entries.

APA In-Text Citations

APA In-Text Citations

How to cite when a person is named as an author

In APA, the general rule is to use the last name of the author, the year of publication and the page numbers to give credit to the source. APA is called an author-date documentation system because of the use of author and date. Here’s a sample quotation:

“While tattoos may be popular today, few realize that tattooing was also popular in some ancient societies” (Anderson, 2002, p. 112).

Anderson is the name of the author of the source. The source was published in 2002. The information is on page 112.

Here’s the information from the source paraphrased instead of quoted. Note there is no page number when paraphrasing.

Tattoos are popular today and were common even in old civilizations (Anderson, 2002).

Here’s a combination of a quote and a paraphrase. See how the parentheses goes at the end of the sentence, not the end of the quote. Note that the page number goes only after the quoted information

“While tattoos may be popular today (p. 342),” they were common in some old civilizations (Anderson, 2002).

Note also that it is only the last name of the author, not the first name or any title. The end quotation mark goes after the words quoted, not the parentheses. The documentation is part of the sentence, but it is not part of the quote. There is no punctuation before the parentheses except for the end quotation mark: no comma or period goes before the parentheses.

You can tell the reader the name of the author in the sentence. If you do, you should not put the name in the parentheses.

Signal tags with quotes

According to Anderson (2002), “While tattoos may be popular today, few realize that tattooing was also popular in some ancient societies” (p. 344). 

Use of the word that before a quote

The addition of the word that changes a signal phrase to just the beginning of a sentence so that what is in the quotation marks is a continuation of the sentence and is not considered a separate sentence.

Anderson’s (2002) research that “[w]hile tattoos may be popular today, few realize that tattooing was also popular in some ancient societies” (p.344).

Now the quoted words are part of a sentence which begins outside the quote. I put the letter w in brackets since I changed something in a quote. Changing a quote is allowed as long as you show the reader by putting brackets around the change and the change does not alter the meaning of the quote.

If there is more than one study by the author on that point, list the year of the other studies.

Anderson (2002, 2000) shows that …. (p. 32).

To cite more than one study that shows the point, list the other authors and years of study.

The incidence of spontaneous combustion in the external layers is insignificant (Anderson, 2002, p. 33; Xiu, 1998, p. 56). Note: this list should be alphabetical.

More than one author

If there are two authors, use both last names.  The authors should be listed in the same order as they are listed in the source.

“There is increasing evidence that birds descended from dinosaurs” (Simpson & Bernini, 2002, p. 43).

According to Simpson and Bernini (2002), “There is increasing evidence that birds descended from dinosaurs” (p. 43).

If there are three authors, use all three last names as follows:

According to Simpson, Bernini, and O’Reilly (2002), “There is increasing evidence that birds descended from dinosaurs” (p. 43).

“There is increasing evidence that chickens did not come from chicken eggs (Simpson, Bernini, & O’Reilly, 2002, p. 67).

See how the word and is used when the source is reffered to in a sentence and an & is used when parenthetical documentation is used.

After the first time mentioned for references with three or four authors, use the first name with et al.

Simpson et al (2002) also found that some chickens did not have feathers (p. 43).

If there are more than four authors named, use the first name with et al consistently except for the Referencess page which should list all authors.

How to cite sources in the paper when there is no person named as an author

Sometimes, a source has no named author. This is common when a document or study is produced by a governmental agency or corporation.

“The most accepted theory of dinosaur extinction is that a comet or asteroid hit the earth causing megatons of debris to be hurled in to the air blocking the sunlight” (US Department of Dinosaur Studies, 2004, p. 15).

The reference to the source could be in the sentence.

“Dinosaur Extinction” explains that “[t]he most accepted theory of dinosaur extinction is that a comet or asteroid hit the earth causing megatons of debris into the air blocking the sunlight” (p. 587).

How to List a Title

When referred to in the paper, titles of short published works such as articles should be in quotation marks and titles of long, published works should be in italics or underlined. All words of more than four letters and all proper nouns should have the first letter capitalized.

(Note: In the References page, quotation marks should not be used for short published works, and only the first letter of the first word and proper nouns should be capitalized.)

Quoting a Quote from a source – indirect quotes

Sometimes, an author quotes another author in his or her paper. Just the standard way to refer to those sources.

Here’s a couple of ways to cite that information:

According to Smith (2005) the results of the Maloney (2004) study showed a “significant difference in traveling time for the Norwegian geese” (p. 23).

Length of Quotations

Quotes longer than 40 words should be indented 1/2″ from the left and should not have quotation marks.

The theory that dinosaurs became extinct as a result of climate changes from a huge meteor impact has far reaching implications. There is always the possibility such an impact will happen again. There are many meteors that come close to earth’s gravitational pull. Scientists closely watch to identify potential problems. There is some discussion about an organized effort to launch a missile to either explode such meteors or defect them away from our orbit. (Jones, 1997, p. 277)

Paraphrasing and Summarizing also Requires Citation

Quoting is only one way of bringing information into a paper from a source. You can also paraphrase or summarize which is to put the source’s ideas into your own words. Quotation marks are not used, but you still have to give credit to the source the same way as with quotes. It is still plagiarism if you don’t use APA or other documentation for paraphrased information.

Use of Ellipsis to Show Omitted Words or Sentences from a Quote

You may remember seeing a series of three periods … in a quote. This is called an ellipsis and is used to represent an omission. Even though you may omit something from the beginning of a sentence you quote from, the general rule is not to use an ellipsis at the beginning of a quote. They are generally used in the middle of a quote to take out unnecessary words in a sentence or between sentences which are being quoted. You may use an ellipsis at the end of a quote if you don’t complete the sentence.

You may also use an ellipsis between quoted sentences to indicate that a sentence or sentences were omitted.

Identifying Internet Sources

Increasingly, the Internet is being used for research. Because everything looks the same on the screen, it is important to figure out what exactly you are looking at. Sometimes, a website is limited to a group of pages that are written for the site. There is no named author, and you are using the whole site even though there may be separately named pages. In that case, you are using the entire site, and if there is no person named as author of the site, then we refer to the source by the name of the website.

Sometimes, websites have many pages and you are using just one page or article, also called a document in a website. In that case, the source is the page (article) in the website, just like an article in a newspaper.  If there is a separate author, refer to the source by the author’s last name and year or publication. If there is no person named as an author, refer to the source by the title of the page in quotation marks.

There are situations where articles from various authors are posted in a specific website. If you are using one of those articles, the source is that article.

When you don’t know the actual page number

The last important point about APA citations in the paper is that sometimes we don’t know the page number the information was originally printed on. This commonly happens when we access a source through the Internet which was originally published in hard copy. There are also no page numbers for sources published only on the Internet. If you do not know a page number, APA says not to use one.

If an Internet source has paragraph numbers, you can use the paragraph number: (Jones, 2002, par. 35). However, you should not start counting paragraphs to use a paragraph number. The custom is that if you know a page number, you should not repeat the author’s name if you are using information from the same source in the same paragraph unless you use information from another source in between. However, if you don’t have a page number to use, you’ll have to repeat the author’s last name or title for all references to that particular source. Since sometimes there is no page number or paragraph number to reference, you might not have a parenthesis at all if the source is referred to as part of the sentence. The Internet has created situations where we don’t use parenthesis for citing sources.