APA Format Essay Elements and Basics

When teachers ask you to write a good APA format essay, it may seem a daunting task at first, especially if you get used to other formatting styles, such as Chicago or MLA. Before getting started, get familiar with important basics and use effective tips that can help you prepare for writing a great paper and format it correctly.

The Definition of This Academic Format

What are APA format papers? Whether students take a graduate-level or introductory psychological classes, chances are high that they need to write them during a semester. In most cases, they need to complete assignments in APA format, which is the official publication style designed by the American Psychological Association. It’s used in a number of academic disciplines, such as psychology and other social sciences. This format dictates different presentation elements of a standard essay, including margins, spaces, and how the whole content is structured.

Don’t take it lightly because most professors have quite strict requirements when checking how you format your academic writing. Basically, adhering to APA format allows readers to understand what to expect from your essay, and it also means that it won’t lose any critical points over small formatting mistakes. Use basic tips on how to write a winning paper in this format and check with teachers if you need more specific instructions.

The Basics of APA Format Papers

  1. Uniform margins should be at least 1 inch at each side of your paper.
  2. APA essays should be double-spaced.
  3. Each page must include a special running head at the top, which serves as a shorter version of the title (a few words are enough), and it should contain about fifty characters with spaces.
  4. Each page also needs to include a number in the right corner at the top.
  5. The title of your essay has to be concise while clearly describing the main theme.
  6. This title can extend to 2 lines, but make sure that it’s no longer than twelve words.
  7. APA papers should have the title pages that include a title, a school affiliation, and your name. In some cases, teachers may require extra information from their students, including a date, a course title, and an instructor name.
  8. Your APA format essay should have a special reference list at the end. This section contains all the sources cited in the text where all references are listed alphabetically and double-spaced.
  9. It’s necessary to use Time New Roman (12 font size).
  10. The first word of every essay paragraph must be 1-half inch.
  11. Although formatting requirements may vary slightly based on personalized directions, APA papers must include such important elements as the main body, a title page, an introduction, an abstract, a reference section, and a conclusion.

Helpful Tips for Writing Essays in This Academic Format

Ensure that you cite all sources correctly while presenting information based on APA style rules. There are many things that can be done to make the whole writing process easier.

  1. Choose a good topic to discuss or describe in your paper. Ideally, students should pick a subject specific enough to let them fully explore and research it. It shouldn’t be too specific, or they may find it quite hard to find the necessary sources, and it shouldn’t be too broad, or writers will be overwhelmed with available information.
  2. Do your research as soon as you can. Look at specific books and articles on the chosen topic. Once you become more familiar with it, make a preliminary list of essays, articles, books, and studies that you will use in essays.
  3. As you write your APA paper, keep a track of all the sources that you cite in it. That’s because any source used in the text must be included in a special reference section. Furthermore, any source in listed in references must be cited in your paper.
  4. When a rough draft is ready, you should review and revise it to create a final copy. Check whether your piece of writing is cohesive and supported by reliable source. Be careful and watch for grammar mistakes, typos, and other possible APA format problems.

Important APA Format Elements

When it comes to a general page setup, there are some small formatting details that all students need to take care of to earn good marks.

  • Set margins to one inch in each part of APA papers;
  • Pick a readable and clear font;
  • The entire essay, from its cover page to a reference list, must be double-spaced.

Page Numbers and Running Heads

One of the main distinguishing features of any APA format essay is a running head, which is a shorter title version. It must appear in the header of this paper and come justified with a left margin. One the first essay page, a running head is followed by a colon, while it’s just a title on subsequent pages. Ensure that it’s descriptive enough to provide readers with some idea of the main essay content. In APA format, students must include page number of the headers of all pages. They also need to be right-justified opposite to a running head.

Cover Pages

It’s another important element of any APA paper, but its use isn’t unique to this format. However, there is a specified layout that includes not only a running head, but also such basic elements as:

  • Your name;
  • A full essay title;
  • The name of your academic institution.

All of these elements must be roughly centered on the top of the page and come double-spaced.


APA papers often have an abstract, and it’s all about a brief summary of their themes, including the short descriptions of specific topics, methods, purposes, findings, etc. The key point of any abstract is informing future readers of the chosen subject and its purpose to help them determine whether the rest of the paper is useful and relevant to their research. The necessity to include this basic element depends on specific instructions given by instructors.

Center the word Abstract with no italicized, bold, or quotes at the top. Abstracts must be double-spaced with the first line that comes justified with left margins. They are single paragraphs, so it’s not required to indent. If you teachers don’t require this APA format element, including keywords beneath is not a bad idea.

The Main Body

After formatting an abstract successfully, mover to a new page to start writing the main body of your APA format essay.

  • Restate its title because it serves as an effective label to signify the beginning of your paper.
  • Set up the introduction, but don’t label it because it’s one of the most common mistakes of many students.

Headings and Block Quotations

After writing the essay introduction, there is a high chance that you want to use headings for each section of your paper, so learn how to do it correctly. In all APA papers, there are 5 heading levels, and each one has its unique format.

At times, students find quite meaty quotes that they can’t resist using in their essays. If they are longer than 40 words, it’s required to create special block quotations. In APA format, writers need to start a quotation on a new line and indent it by ½ inch without including any quotation marks. Closing punctuation should go right after the quote text with not periods after a parenthetical citation.

Creating a Reference List

There are some formatting details that should be noted when writing your APA essays:

  • Center the word References at the top without any italics, bold, or quotes. Ensure this word isn’t followed by a colon;
  • List all entries in their alphabetical order based on the last names of authors;
  • Double space the whole list without leaving ant extra spaces between all entries (there must be a full empty line between each text line due to double-spacing);
  • Use a hanging indent to align the first line of evert entry with left margins and indent all subsequent lines ½ inch.

Final Thoughts

For newcomers, writing their first APA format papers seems to be an intimidating task. After learning and mastering the basic rules of this popular formatting style, everything becomes much easier. All students always need to check the directions given by their professors before starting any fresh assignment because they may differ.

If this formatting style still seems confusing to you, count on professional help. Many expert essayists offer their services online, and they help students cope with their academic stress and difficult APA requirements. Hire one of them and use custom papers as your future guidelines. This solution is affordable and it allows you to save time while offering the guide necessary to learn to write APA papers on your own. Do the right choice and invest money and time in your future academic success