Using apa style writing a Successful Paper: Using apa style

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Writing a Successful Paper: Using APA Style

Sparky T. Sundevil
Arizona State University

The second page usually contains your abstract, which is a summary of your paper. The abstract should include your topic, purpose/thesis, sources, and conclusions. Some instructors may tell you not to include an abstract for a short paper. Unless the instructor tells you to omit this section, go ahead and include it. The abstract generally ranges from 150 to 250 words, based on instructor or journal requirements (make sure you do not exceed abstract word limits). The abstract is one paragraph, left justified, with no indentation (i.e., “block” style). Note that the title “Abstract” is on the first line of this page and is not bolded or italicized or underlined. See APA manual section 2.04 to read about the abstract. Also note that the running head is at the top of the page along with the page number – noting how the running head changes from page 1 to the rest of the paper. See APA manual section 8.03 (Order of manuscript pages > title page) to read a bit about the running head.

Writing a Successful Paper: Using APA Style

This is where you start the text of your paper. Notice that the title is on the first line of this page. See APA manual section 2.01 for more information on the title. You can also learn about the parts of an APA paper in sections 2.01 – 2.13. Note that everything in this paper is evenly spaced (double spaced). There is no extra line or space between the title and the first paragraph (or between following paragraphs). Also note that the title is not bolded, italicized or underlined. It is in the same font as the rest of the text.

Let’s start off by talking about levels of heading. See APA manual section 3.03 for more details. APA 6 has five levels of heading that you should use in order. You should start with level 1 heading format. Here are the heading levels.

Level One is a Centered, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading

Level Two is a Flush Left, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading

Level 3 is an indented, boldface, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period.

Level four is an indented, boldface, italicized, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period.

Level five is an indented, italicized, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period.

You will notice that the abstract, introduction, AND the references page do not start with a typical Level One heading (the titles of these sections are NOT bolded) – this is proper APA 6 formatting. Let’s practice using these headings in this paper as we talk about some different issues in using APA style – see if you can follow along with the different heading levels.

Paper Formatting

[This is a level 2 heading – the title of our paper is considered our main, level 1 heading for the introduction section.]

You can read about APA formatting in detail in section 8.03 under “format.” An APA paper should be double spaced with no extra spaces between your text and titles (see how Paper Formatting is just above this paragraph?). Margins should be set at 1 inch all around. The preferred typeface is Times Roman 12 point font. Also, paragraphs should start with a ½ inch indent.

About the Running Head

See APA manual section 8.03 (Order of manuscript pages > title page) to read a bit about the running head. The “Running head” is designed to tell the editor what you would like to see on the top of the journal (magazine) pages of your article. Open up a journal and you will see the authors’ names at the top of the page on one side of the journal; on the other side (at the top) is the running head. This makes it easy to find articles as you flip through a journal or magazine. The running head is simply an abbreviated title. If the title of your paper is short, the running head may be exactly the same as the title.

Note that the “h” in “Running head” is not capitalized. The Running head and page number should be within your page header (1/2 inch from the top) so that it appears on each page of your paper. Make sure you use your MS Word autoformat and click “header.” It automatically places the running head and page number on all the pages and has the correct number on your pages when you click the # sign and insert it in the header. How do you use this?? Simply click “View,” in your top toolbar. Then click “Header and Footer.” You will automatically be placed in the header. Use the pop-up toolbar to insert your page number. If you use this paper as a template, you can simply keep the formatting and update the title.

About Citing Articles

See APA manual chapter 6 (Crediting Sources) to learn more about proper citations. Finally, let me say a few words about citing articles within your paper. Many students plagiarize without know it. Students believe that if they cite the author’s name, they have not plagiarized. However, often they are wrong, and they have plagiarized! What’s up with that?!

Using quotations. [this is a level 3 heading – it is a topic within “About Citing Articles”] Okay…let’s see if I can help you avoid this problem. First, you may use direct quotes in your paper. If you use a direct quote, make sure you put quotation marks around it. For example: According to Bodman (2000), “students believe that if they cite the author’s name, they have not plagiarized. However, often they are wrong, and they have plagiarized!” (p. 3-4). When using a direct quote, make sure you use page numbers.

Do not plop quotes. [This is a level 4 heading – it is a topic within the sub-topic of Using Quotations]. Avoid simply plopping a quote in the middle of a paper without introducing it. For example: “Students believe that if they cite the author’s name, they have not plagiarized. However, often they are wrong, and they have plagiarized!” (Bodman, 2000, p. 3-4). This is not good form.

Use quotes sparingly. [This is another level 4 heading –a topic within the sub-topic of Using Quotations]. If a professor allows you to use direct quotes, a good rule of thumb is limit the number of direct quotes to only one per page; everything else should be paraphrased or your own writing. Also, only use quotes that are so eloquent and well-written or unique that you must quote it directly. Avoid quoting something like: According to Doe (1992), “275,000,000 people live in the United States of America.” You can provide the same information in your own words and cite Doe. His statement was not particularly eloquent or unique!

You must cite other people’s ideas. [Now we’re back to a level 3 heading – it is not within the sub-topic of Using Quotations, but within the broader topic of “About Citing Authors”] Next…any idea that you get from an article must be cited. You might say to yourself, “Hey, self! I know that there are three types of parenting styles…authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive. I’ve known this for a long time because I learned it in lots of classes.” If you decide to talk about any of these parenting styles in your paper, you MUST cite a good source. You can only discuss them without citing if YOU YOURSELF MADE UP THE TERMS/IDEAS! If you are discussing something you did not invent or make up, go to the source or at the very least go to one of your old textbooks that discussed it and cite that.

Any information that you learned from an article and are including in your paper must be cited. Some students say, “If I did that, I would be citing every line!” In truth, sometimes that is what you have to do. When citing an author, try to remember “framing” and cite with the first sentence that contains information from the article (i.e., don’t wait until the end of the paragraph to cite the author). For example…

Smith and Wesson (1995) state that parents who read to their children are preparing their children to be excellent readers in the future. According to their research, children of parents who read to them in infancy score higher on reading achievement tests in the 3rd grade. Furthermore, they found these children to do better in all language arts classes (Smith & Wesson, 1995).

Do you see how I framed the paragraph? I immediately told the reader where the following information was going to come from and then cited at the end of the information from the same fictional article. The reader then assumes that everything between those citations is from that article (and you don’t have to put in those stupid parentheses after every sentence!).

Suppose the information in the last sentence of the example above actually came from someone else? Then, you’d cite as follows…

Smith and Wesson (1995) state that parents who read to their children are preparing their children to be excellent readers in the future. According to their research, children of parents who read to them in infancy score higher on reading achievement tests in the 3rd grade. In another study, Johnson and Johnson (1999) found that children of reading parents to do better in all language arts classes. Thus, it appears that reading to children is important for intellectual growth.

Plagiarism is bad. It’s really important that you do not plagiarize. Use your own words to state what the author says. Sometimes it helps to read the information, then look up and explain what you read in your own words. Do not make the mistake of taking the author’s words and simply changing a few words. For example, suppose your read in Berger (1998): “Even in today’s changing world, mothers and fathers together are more likely to meet all their infant’s needs – biological, cognitive, and social – than either one alone.” Do NOT do the following:

Even in today’s world, parents together are more likely to meet all their infant’s needs than one parent alone (Berger, 1998).

This is still plagiarism! You have changed a few words, but most of the words are still Berger’s! It is your job to tell the reader what Berger’s ideas are, but do so in your own words, such as: It is difficult for one parent alone to meet the myriad of needs children have (Berger, 1998).

Check out the links related to plagiarism, as well as the FAS/CDE Student Handbook. You will find some excellent examples. At first, learning to restate others’ ideas will seem difficult; after awhile, however, it will become second nature.

Page numbers are required for quotes but handy for paraphrasing. One final thought. According to APA 6, all direct quotes MUST have page numbers. However, when you cite an author without using a direct quote, you MAY include the page number where you found the idea. A lot of readers appreciate knowing exactly where to look up the information.

Numbers in APA Format

See APA Manual section 4.31-4.38 to learn more about formatting numbers. Generally, you can use numerals for values of 10 and greater, but you should write out the numbers using words for values below 10. However, there are some exceptions.

When to use numerals. Numbers 10 and above, numbers in the abstract, numbers before a unit of measurement (ex. 4 cm), numbers that are part of mathematical functions (ex. divided by 2), numbers that represent percentages/ratios/percentiles (ex. 3%), numbers that are part of dates, ages, time, points, money (ex. 1-year-olds).

When to use words. Numbers that begin a sentence (avoid starting a sentence with a number), common fractions (ex. one third), to approximate time (ex. about twelve months ago), in some cases, when numbers would be used back to back (as in 4 two-way intersections or twelve 7-point scales).

More about numbers. Use commas between groups of three digits (ex. 2,000), except for page numbers, serial numbers, temperature. Pluralize numbers by adding an s and not using an apostrophe (ex. the 1930s were great).


See APA Manual sections 4.01-4.11 for a review of punctuation. Use one space after commas, colons, semicolons, periods in a reference citation, and periods in initials for names. Do not enter any spaces after periods for abbreviations (such as e.g., a.m.). Insert two spaces after punctuation at the end of a sentence.

Include commas before the and/or when listing a series of items. For example: I like tacos, burritos, and churros. The following would be INCORRECT: I like tacos, burritos and churros.

Use quotation marks around the title of an article, periodical chapter, or book chapter when mentioning that title within your text (p. 91). However, use italics (not quotation marks) for the title of the books, periodicals, films, videos, and TV shows. Use quotation marks “to introduce a word or phrase used as an ironic comment, as slang, or as an invented or coined expression. Use quotation marks the first time the word or phrase is used; thereafter, do not use quotation marks” (APA 6 manual, p. 91). Instead of quotation marks, italicize technical or key terms.


It is best to use an active voice (Adams conducted an experiment at ASU) rather than a passive voice (An experiment was conducted at ASU). In some instances, when you want the focus to be on the object (not the actor), then you might use passive voice.


No, we’re not talking pregnancy! We’re talking apostrophes. The style of this example paper has been very informal, so you will notice that I used a number of contractions; however, in academic writing, it is best to avoid the use of contractions (e.g., don’t, isn’t, won’t, etc.).


In many areas of this paper, I had paragraphs as with as few as one or two sentences; however, that is typically not good practice in academic writing. In most academic papers you will write, paragraphs should include at least three sentences (and probably more than that). Of course, the specific length of paragraphs depends upon a number of factors, including the purpose of the paper, the information you are conveying, the writing style, and your audience.


If this paper had a Method section, I would start that section with a Level One heading, and the section would follow directly after my literature review. The Method, Result, and Discussion sections do not start on a new page, unless you are given specific instructions to do otherwise.

Participants and Procedures

I could also include Level Two headings to help make my Method section easier to follow.


This is another common sub-section you might see in the Method portion of a research paper.


This is another common sub-section!


My results section would also start with a Level One heading! This is where you would report your numbers. This is one of the drier portions of your paper – it does not typically include commentary or many (if any) citations. This section is very to-the-point.


Unlike the results section, the discussion section is where you get to dig into what your numbers mean! How do they compare to past research? Was your hypothesis supported? Did your study have any limitations? What should be fixed in future studies? What should future research look at? What should we do next?


Berger, K. S. (1998). The developing person through the life span (4th ed.). New York, NY: Worth. doi:xxxxxx

Bodman, D. A., Van Vleet, B. L., & Van Vleet, N. T. (2000). Writing term papers. Important Journal, 123, 2-10. Retrieved from

Doe, J. (1992). Population statistics. Another Important Journal, 25, 321-329.

Group of People Research Institute. (2002). A paper on an interesting topic that our group wrote. Retrieved from

Johnson, A. R. & Johnson, J. (1998). Predictors of success in language arts classes. Some Education Journal, 38, 722-726.

Smith, A. B. & Wesson, C. D. (1999). Teaching Johnny to read. In A. B. James & C. R. Robbins (Eds.), Handbook of reading education (pp.12-34). Place, AZ: Publisher.

Important information on References

  • ONLY SOURCES THAT YOU ACTUALLY READ SHOULD BE IN THIS LIST. If you do not look it up, do not put it in your References. If you read an article by Smith, who cites Jones, you CANNOT include Jones as a reference because you did not look up the original Jones article. If you want to mention the Jones information, you can either:
    (1) use a secondary citation format ( that allows you to mention Jones “as cited in Smith” (then you include SMITH in your reference list, since that is what you actually looked up), or
    (2) look up the original Jones information, cite Jones, and include Jones in the reference list. This is the best of the two options - it is always best to look up the original information when possible!!

  • See APA Manual section 6.27 – Chapter 7 for more information on references.

  • Note that the References title is not bolded or italicized or underlined.

  • Note that the References page starts on its own page. Every other section can simply follow the one that precedes it and will NOT begin on their own page (Introduction, Literature Review, Method, Results, Discussion); however, the References section must always begin on its own page.

  • For periodicals, only use issue numbers (which should appear in parentheses after the volume number) if each issue starts with page 1. If the issue starts with some other number (for example, 350), then you don’t need the issue number. Researchers can find the issue number simply by page number.

  • If DOIs are assigned to print materials, APA 6 recommends providing those in your references.

  • If you find a journal article online (even if it is a print article), you must provide either the doi number (preferred) OR the JOURNAL HOMEPAGE url (not the link to the search result for the journal article).

  • For books and reports, APA 6 now indicates that you should “Give the location (city and state…)” (p. 186).

  • For books and reports, APA 6 indicates that you should drop words such as “Publishers, Co., and Inc., which are not required to identify the publisher,” although you should “retain the words Books and Press” (p. 187).

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