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What Is the Format for an APA Essay?

By Whitney Leigh White
Updated May 23, 2024
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APA stands for American Psychological Association. Many times, a student will be asked to format an essay in accordance to APA standards. When this occurs, there is no reason for the student to fret or become overwhelmed. Formatting a paper in accordance to these standards gives a paper structure and makes it easy to read and follow. Many people become confused with this type of format, thinking that quotes and references are of the main concern; however, there are several guidelines that must be followed to produce a correct APA essay, including margin settings, required page types and formats, proper quotations and references, as well as general formatting.

The first step a person should take when writing an APA essay is to check his or her margin settings. Computer writing programs will have default margins set in place, but this does not always mean they will meet APA guidelines. An APA essay has 1 inch (2.54 centimeters) margins all around, which means top, bottom, right, and left margins should be set to 1 inch (2.54 centimeters). Most computer writing programs will allow the user to change margin settings through the FILE and PAGE SET UP tabs.

An APA essay includes a title page, an abstract page, a content page(s), and a reference page. Both the title page and the first content page include the title of the paper. The title page of the paper includes the title of the paper, the name of the author(s) who wrote the paper, and most times, the name of the school or college in which the student is enrolled. All of this information should be centered within the middle of the page, both horizontally and vertically. The abstract page begins with the word "Abstract," in caps, which is right-aligned to the paper, and the abstract should never be longer than 250 words.

Anytime an author of an APA essay quotes or paraphrases content within his or her paper, in-text citations and a reference page must be included. In-text citations are placed after the content being quoted or paraphrased in the following format including the parentheses: (last name of the author being quoted or paraphrased, year of his or her publication). If at any time the name of the author is not available, the student should write the name of the article being quoted or paraphrased followed by a comma and then "n.a.", all within parentheses. If the date of the article is not available, then the name of the author should still be written followed by a comma and then "n.d.", all within parentheses.

The last page of an APA essay is always the reference page, which is titled by the word "Reference" in all caps and left-aligned on the page. All authors and articles quoted and/or paraphrased throughout the article must appear on the reference page. This allows for the paper to be fully creditable.

There are several other formatting concerns for an APA paper. All pages are doubled-spaced, using size 12 Times New Roman or size 12 Arial font, and should also include a running header, which is typed in all caps, as well as a page number in the top left-hand corner of each page. The beginning of each paragraph found within the content page(s) should be indented by no more and no less than five spaces. It is always important for a student to remember to check his or her paper for any grammatical errors, as none should appear in an APA essay. It is also important for a student to remember that the paper should almost always be written in third person.

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