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Format apa style research paper

Apr 19, 2018

Psych./Neuro. 201

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An APA-style paper includes the following sections: title page, abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, and references. Your paper may also include one or more tables and/or figures. Different types of information about your study are addressed in each of the sections, as described below. 

General formatting rules are as follows:

Title page 

(see sample on p. 41 of APA manual)


(labeled, centered, not bold)


(Do not label as “Introduction.” Title of paper goes at the top of the page—not bold)

The introduction of an APA-style paper is the most difficult to write. A good introduction will summarize, integrate, and critically evaluate the empirical knowledge in the relevant area(s) in a way that sets the stage for your study and why you conducted it. The introduction starts out broad (but not too broad!) and gets more focused toward the end. Here are some guidelines for constructing a good introduction:


(labeled, centered,  bold)

The Method section of an APA-style paper is the most straightforward to write, but requires precision. Your goal is to describe the details of your study in such a way that another researcher could duplicate your methods exactly. The Method section typically includes Participants, Materials and/or Apparatus, and Procedure sections. If the design is particularly complicated (multiple IVs in a factorial experiment, for example), you might also include a separate Design subsection or have a “Design and Procedure” section. Note that in some studies (e.g., questionnaire studies in which there are many measures to describe but the procedure is brief), it may be more useful to present the Procedure section prior to the
Materials section rather than after it.


(labeled, flush left, bold)


(labeled, flush left, bold)

Carefully describe any stimuli, questionnaires, and so forth. It is unnecessary to mention things such as the paper and pencil used to record the responses, the data recording sheet, the computer that ran the data analysis, the color of the computer, and so forth. If you included a questionnaire, you should describe it in detail. For instance, note how many items were on the questionnaire, what the response format was (e.g., a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree)), how many items were reverse-scored, whether the measure had subscales, and so forth. Provide a sample item or two for your reader. If you have created a new instrument, you should attach it as an Appendix. If you presented participants with various word lists to remember or stimuli to judge, you should describe those in detail here. Use subheadings to separate different types of stimuli if needed. If you are only describing questionnaires, you may call this section “Measures.”


(labeled, flush left, bold)

Include an apparatus section if you used specialized equipment for your study (e.g., the eyetracking machine) and need to describe it in detail.


(labeled, flush left, bold)

What did participants do, and in what order? When you list a control variable (e.g., “Participants all sat two feet from the experimenter.”), explain WHY you did what you did. In other words, what nuisance variable were you controlling for? Your procedure should be as brief and concise as possible. Read through it. Did you repeat yourself anywhere? If so, how can you rearrange things to avoid redundancy? You may either write the instructions to the participants verbatim or paraphrase, whichever you deem more appropriate. Don’t forget to include brief statements about informed consent and debriefing.


(labeled, centered, bold)

In this section, describe how you analyzed the data and what you found. If your data analyses were complex, feel free to break this section down into labeled subsections, perhaps one section for each hypothesis.


(labeled, centered, bold)

The goal of the discussion section is to interpret your findings and place them in the broader context of the literature in the area. A discussion section is like the reverse of the introduction, in that you begin with the specifics and work toward the more general (funnel out). Some points to consider:


(labeled, centered, not bold)

Provide an alphabetical listing of the references (alphabetize by last name of first author). Double-space all, with no extra spaces between references. The second line of each reference should be indented (this is called a hanging indent and is easily accomplished using the ruler in Microsoft Word). See the APA manual for how to format references correctly. Examples of references to journal articles start on p. 198 of the manual, and examples of references to books and book chapters start on pp. 202. Digital object identifiers (DOIs) are now included for electronic sources (see pp. 187-192 of APA manual to learn more).

Journal article example:

[Note that only the first letter of the first word of the article title is capitalized; the journal name and volume are italicized. If the journal name had multiple words, each of the major words would be capitalized.]

Ebner-Priemer, U. W., & Trull, T. J. (2009). Ecological momentary assessment of mood disorders and mood dysregulation. Psychological Assessment, 21, 463-475. doi:10.1037/a0017075

Book chapter example:

[Note that only the first letter of the first word of both the chapter title and book title are capitalized.]

Stephan, W. G. (1985). Intergroup relations. In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (3rd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 599-658). New York: Random House.

Book example:

Gray, P. (2010). Psychology (6th ed.). New York: Worth


There are various formats for tables, depending upon the information you wish to include. See the APA manual. Be sure to provide a table number and table title (the latter is italicized). Tables can be single or double-spaced.


If you have more than one figure, each one gets its own page. Use a sans serif font, such as Helvetica, for any text within your figure. Be sure to label your x- and y-axes clearly, and make sure you’ve noted the units of measurement of the DV. Underneath the figure provide a label and brief caption (e.g., ―Figure 1. Mean evaluation of job applicant qualifications as
a function of applicant attractiveness level‖). The figure caption typically includes the IVs/predictor variables and the DV. Include error bars in your bar graphs, and note what the bars represent in the figure caption: Error bars represent one standard error above and below the mean.

In-Text Citations

(see pp. 174-179 of APA manual)

When citing sources in your paper, you need to include the authors’ names and publication date. You should use the following formats:

When including the citation as part of the sentence, use AND: “According to Jones and Smith (2003), the…”

When the citation appears in parentheses, use “&”: “Studies have shown that priming can affect actual motor behavior (Jones & Smith, 2003; Klein, Bailey, & Hammer, 1999).” The studies appearing in parentheses should be ordered alphabetically by the first author’s last name, and should be separated by semicolons.

If you are quoting directly (which you should avoid), you also need to include the page number.

For sources with three or more authors, once you have listed all the authors’ names, you may write “et al.” on subsequent mentions. For example: “Klein et al. (1999) found that....” For sources with two authors, both authors must be included every time the source is cited. When a source has six or more authors, the first author’s last name and “et al.” are used every time the source is cited (including the first time).

Secondary Sources

“Secondary source” is the term used to describe material that is cited in another source. If in his article entitled “Behavioral Study of Obedience” (1963), Stanley Milgram makes reference to the ideas of Snow (presented above), Snow (1961) is the primary source, and Milgram (1963) is the secondary source. Try to avoid using secondary sources in your
papers; in other words, try to find the primary source and read it before citing it in your own work. If you must use a secondary source, however, you should cite it in the following way:

Snow (as cited in Milgram, 1963) argued that, historically, the cause of most criminal acts... 

The reference for the Milgram article (but not the Snow reference) should then appear in the reference list at the end of your paper.

APA Paper Formatting & Style Guidelines
Your teacher may want you to format your paper using APA guidelines. If you were told to create your citations in APA format, your paper should be formatted using the APA guidelines as well.

General guidelines:

  1. Use white 8 ½  x 11” paper.

  2. Make 1 inch margins on the top, bottom, and sides

  3. The first word in every paragraph should be indented one half inch.

  4. APA recommends using Times New Roman font, size 12.

  5. Double space the entire research paper

  6. Include a page header known as the

    “running head”

    at the top of every page. (To make this process easier, set your word processor to automatically add these components onto each page)

    1. To create the running head/page header, insert page numbers justified to the right-hand side of the paper (do not put p. or pg. in front of page numbers)

    2. Then type “TITLE OF YOUR PAPER” justified to the left using all capital letters

    3. If your title is long, this running head title should be a shortened version of the title of your entire paper

Sample running head/page header


APA Paper Components

Your essay should include these four major sections:

  1. Title Page

  2. Abstract

  3. Main Body

  4. References

Title Page

This page should contain four pieces: the title of the paper, running head, the author’s name, institutional affiliation, and an author’s note. Create the page header/running head as described above.

*Please note that only on the title page, your page header/running head should include the words “Running Head” before your title in all capitals. The rest of the pages should not include this in the page header. It should look like this on the title page:


  1. Your title may take up one or two lines, but should not be more than 12 words in length.

  2. All text on the title page should be double-spaced in the same way as the rest of your essay

  3. Do not include any titles on the author’s name such as Dr. or Ms.

  4. The institutional affiliation is the location where the author conducted the research

Sample Title page:



On the following page, begin with the Running title.

  1. On the first line of the page, center the word “Abstract” (but do not include quotation marks).

  2. On the following line, write a summary of the key points of your research. Your abstract summary is a way to introduce readers to your research topic, the questions that will be answered, the process you took, and any findings or conclusions you drew.

  3. This summary should


    be indented, but should be double-spaced and less than 250 words.

  4. If applicable, help researchers find your work in databases by listing keywords from your paper after your summary. To do this, indent and type


    : in italics.  Then list your keywords that stand out in your research.

Sample Abstract page:


The Body

On the following page, begin with the Body of the paper.

  1. Start with the Running title

  2. On the next line write the title (do not bold, underline, or italicize the title)

  3. Begin with the introduction. Indent.

  4. The introduction presents the problem and premise upon which the research was based.  It goes into more detail about this problem than the abstract.

  5. Begin a new section with the Method. Bold and center this subtitle The Method section shows how the study was run and conducted. Be sure to describe the methods through which data was collected.

  6. Begin a new section with the Results. Bold and center this subtitle.

    The Results section summarizes the data. Use graphs and graphs to display this data.

  7. Begin a new section with the Discussion. Bold and center this subtitle. This Discussion section is a chance to analyze and interpret your results.

    1. Draw conclusions and support how your data led to these conclusions.

    2. Discuss whether or not your hypothesis was confirmed or not supported by your results.

    3. Determine the limitations of the study and next steps to improve research for future studies.

** Throughout the body, in-text citations are used and include the author’s/authors’ name(s) and the publication year. In APA format page numbers are not used in in-text citations.

    Ex: (Wilkonson, 2009).

For more information about how to cite properly please see EasyBib’s guides for APA citations based on the sources you are using.

Sample Body page:



On a new page, write your references.

  1. Begin with a running title

  2. Center and bold the title “References” (do not include quotation marks, underline, or italicize this title)

  3. Alphabetize and Double-space all entries

  4. Every article/source mentioned in the paper and used in your study should be referenced and have an entry.

Sample Reference Page:


To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them. Charles de Montesquieu

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