So you've been assigned a project using APA...
APA can be confusing and overwhelming, but we've got you covered. This guide breaks down the process of an APA assignment into manageable steps using a checklist. Follow the links in the checklist to learn about each section.
Just need an example to follow for a specific source? Skip straight to the Citation Examples page.
For a more detailed, printable checklist, use APA's Student Paper Checklist.
It's important to understand the context of communication in college. When you started college, you entered the academic community. And like all communities, academia has values that hold it together. Some of the foundational values held by the academic community include:
• Generating new knowledge through constructive debate
• Acknowledging and building upon the voices of those who came before in the conversation
• Forming viewpoints out of deep research, experience, or thought rather than only opinion
• Ensuring people’s freedom to evaluate and make their own decisions about the same information
As a college student, you’re here to learn. You aren’t expected to be an expert in the field you’re studying yet. So when you’re asked to prepare a research project or enter into a discussion, you will be relying on sources and other authors’ ideas to help inform your thinking, develop an argument, and learn the nuances of the topic. It is important to distinguish between your original thoughts and opinions and those you’re basing on the ideas of other authors or thinkers. In any field you pursue, you will be acquiring and developing new understanding at each step.
There are different expectations for conversation within the academic community. Take this example between an informal conversation and an academic one - at the dinner table with your family or out with your friends, it is perfectly acceptable to simply state how much you love or hate the idea of universal healthcare and tell a story about a friend you know who was hurt or helped by the current system. In an academic paper or discussion, research into how different universal health care systems have played out in other countries, statistics on the effects of universal health care, or a scholarly discussion by political and economic scholars on the cost to benefit of implementing different policies would be more appropriate.
In the academic community, other’s voices and ideas are acknowledged through citation. Citing sources combines the academic values of intellectual freedom, constructive debate, and acknowledging the voices that have come before us. In the academic community, freedom to make your own evaluation and decisions about the same information is highly valued. Without that freedom, there is no room for the creativity that comes out of it or the constructive debate that comes from a variety of viewpoints. New knowledge cannot be generated without that creativity and debate, and that debate can’t happen if people engaging in it don’t know where the information is coming from.
Citations within a paper and the corresponding references at the bottom provide a visual representation of the scholarly conversation and also make it clear which parts are the words and thoughts of the author and which are the thoughts and ideas of others.
Pro Tip: You can save yourself time by starting your paper in a document already formatted for APA. Download the APA 7th Ed. Paper Template to get started.
Already started your paper or using software other than Word? No sweat! Here's what you need to format a student paper in APA:
APA citations in the References list are in hanging indent format. That means the first line goes all the way to the left and subsequent lines start .5 inches to the right. You can create a hanging indent by highlighting the citation, right clicking on the highlighted portion, choosing Paragraph, and then choosing Hanging Indent in the Spacing section.
APA 7th Edition uses a system of up to 5 headings to organize your paper. Student papers often have 1-3 headings, while professional papers might have more.
Level 1 Heading in Title Case Bolded Centered
Level 2 Headings in Title Case Bolded Left
Level 3 Headings in Title Case Bolded Italicized Left
Level 4 Heading in Title Case Bolded Indented
Level 5 Headings in Title Case Bolded Italicized Indented
These examples show an outline in a format you may be more familiar with and then how it looks formatted in APA:
I. Guided Imagery and Progressive Muscle Relaxation in Group Psychotherapy
II. Guided Imagery
a. Features of Guided Imagery
b. Guided Imagery in Psychotherapy
III. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
a. Features of Progressive Muscle Relaxation
b. Progressive Muscle Relaxation in Group Psychotherapy
IV. Guided Imagery and Progressive Muscle Relaxation in Group Psychotherapy
a. Limitations of Existing Research
b. Directions for Future Research
(Outline taken from APA Student Paper Example)
Guided Imagery and Progressive Muscle Relaxation in Group Psychotherapy
Features of Guided Imagery
Guided Imagery in Psychotherapy
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Features of Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation in Group Psychotherapy
Guided Imagery and Progressive Muscle Relaxation in Group Psychotherapy
Limitations of Existing Research
Directions for Future Research
I. Comparison of Student Evaluations of Teaching With Online and Paper-Based Administration
a. Online Administration of Student Evaluations
b. Effects of Format on Response Rates and Student Evaluation Scores
c. Purpose of the Present Study
a. Response Rates
b. Evaluation Ratings
c. Stability of Ratings
a. Implications for Practice
i. Improving SET Response Rates
ii. Evaluation SET Scores
(Outline taken from APA Professional Paper Example)
Comparison of Student Evaluations of Teaching With Online and Paper-Based Administration
Online Administration of Student Evaluations
Effects of Format on Response Rates and Student Evaluation Scores
Purpose of the Present Study
Implications for Practice
Improving SET Response Rates Italicized Left
Evaluating SET ScoresItalicized Left
Need help setting up Word for APA Headings or need more information? Download the APA Template with Tables and Headings for a document already set up with Headings or checkout Microsoft's article on customizing headings in Word:
Include the last name of the author every time you cite the source and the date separated by a comma. Add the page number(s) after the date separated by a comma if you are directly quoting a source.
(Bottomly, 1996, p. 7).
Include the last names of the authors every time you cite the source and connect them with an ampersand &. Add the page number(s) after the date separated by a comma if you are directly quoting a source.
(Cunningham & Tocco, 1989).
(Cohen & Fried, 2007, p. 144).
(Baider et al., 1994).
(Baider et al., 1994, pp. 347-348).
Include only the first author's last name followed by the abbreviation et al. ('and also' in Latin). Only include more authors names if you have two or more sources that would have the same citation. Then add as many authors as you need to distinguish the sources. Add the page number(s) after the date separated by a comma if you are directly quoting a source.
First time: (American Psychological Association [APA], 2020).
Subsequent times: (APA, 2020).
Include the entire name of the group or organization in the citation. If there is an acronym, include it in brackets the first time you cite the source, then following citations use only the acronym. Add the page number(s) after the date separated by a comma if you are directly quoting a source.
If the source has no author, use the first few words or phrase from the source title or the first few words of the reference entry. Put the words in double quotations.
("Book of the Dead", 1901).
If there is no date, use the abbreviation n.d. for no date.
(The Cornell Lab, n.d.)
You have three different options for citing sources in text.
1.) Put all the information into the parenthesis at the end.
Happy students achieve higher grade point averages (Barker et al., 2016).
2.) Name the author(s) in the sentence and put the date in parenthesis next to them.
Barker et al. (2016) found that happy students achieve higher grade point averages.
*When directly quoting a text, the page number is also necessary separated by a comma and with a p. in front of the page.
Barker et al. (2016) conclude, “These results more generally suggest that happy students’ academic success could be derived from their ability to adaptively manage motivational benefits of time-limited periods—or bouts—of heightened negative affect” (p. 2026).
3.) Put all the information in the sentence so no parenthetical citation is necessary.
In 2016, Barker et al. found that happy students achieve higher grade point averages.
*Note this only works for a paraphrase or summary. Direct quotes will still need the page numbers in the parenthesis.
Summarizing or Paraphrasing: (Author Last Name, Year).
Direct Quotation: (Author Last Name, Year, pp. Pages).
Any time you quote, paraphrase, summarize, or use an idea from a source within the text of your project, you must give credit to the source by using an in-text citation. Usually, in-text citations go at the beginning or end of a sentence. The information found in an in-text citation includes the last name of the author(s) and the publication date. The page number is also included if you directly quote an article.
In-text citations are a visual cue for readers showing which sections are your own thoughts and which belong to someone else. They also point a reader to the full citation in the References list.
Guided Imagery and Progressive Muscle Relaxation in Group Psychotherapy
Combinations of relaxation training techniques, including guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation, have been shown to improve psychiatric and medical symptoms when delivered in a group psychotherapy context (Bottomley, 1996; Cunningham & Tocco, 1989). The research supports the existence of immediate and long-term positive effects of guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation delivered in group psychotherapy (Baider et al., 1994). For example, Cohen and Fried (2007) examined the effect of group psychotherapy on 114 women diagnosed with breast cancer. The researchers randomly assigned participants to three groups (a) a control group,
Baider, L., Uziely, B., & Kaplan De-Nour, A. (1994). Progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery in cancer patients. General Hospital Psychiatry, 16(5), 340–347. https://doi.org/10.1016/0163-8343(94)90021-3
Bottomley, A. (1996). Group cognitive behavioural therapy interventions with cancer patients: A review of the literature. European Journal of Cancer Cure, 5(3), 143–146. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2354.1996.tb00225
Cohen, M., & Fried, G. (2007). Comparing relaxation training and cognitive-behavioral group therapy for women with breast cancer. Research on Social Work Practice, 17(3), 313–323. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049731506293741
These examples come from APA's Student Paper Sample. For the complete paper, check out this annotated PDF from APA:
To combat bias, advance science, and promote the fair treatment of all people, APA 7th edition requires you to write in affirming and inclusive language. Biased writing can cause your readers to draw conclusions you didn’t intend, imply value judgments, and alienate or offend your readers. Using bias free language is ethical and respectful behavior, as well as good writing.
The biases we face in everyday life aren’t only hurtful; they affect scientific research and how people perceive each other. Bias in relation to people is the implied or irrelevant evaluation of groups. For example, until recently, car safety research was conducted with a crash dummy the size and weight of the average man. Whether a car passed federal safety standards was only based on the results for the average size man. As a result, cars had been predominantly designed for the safety of men, and women were 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a crash and 17% more likely to die in a crash than men. The assumption that all bodies were sized and shaped like one “average” man made everyone else less safe (Goldberg, 2020).
If you are ever unsure of language to use in your assignments, refer to these examples by category or the linked APA’s Articles on Bias-Free Language.
“the Black race”
“the White race”
"Pansexual gender-fluid adolescents"
“Person with substance use disorder”
"Person with dementia from Alzheimer's"
“The mentally retarded”
"Wheel chair bound"
"Sight challenged person"
"Flight attendant" (vs. stewardess or steward)
"He or she"
"Individuals who are undocumented"
"People whose incomes are below the federal poverty threshold"
"Youth experiencing homelessness"
"People with less than a high-school education"
"Economically marginalized families"
"High school drop-outs"
Along with showing your knowledge of the subject and credibility as an author, the point of providing a reference is to allow a reader to look up the source for themselves. So you need to provide as much information as you can. You can either learn the reference elements and their formatting rules so that you can apply them to any source or you can use reference examples. Keep in mind that if you use the examples, you may need to combine several of them to get the best citation for your source. For example, if you have an edited book with an edition and several authors, you may need to look at the edited book example, a book with multiple authors example, and the book with an edition example.
For a Word Document with citation examples already formatted with hanging indent, download the APA 7th Ed. Paper Template.
Ex: Author, A. A.
Ex: Editor, A. A. and Editor, B. B. (Eds.).
Ex: In A. A. Editor (Ed.),
Ex: In A. A. Editor & B. B. Editor (Eds.),
Ex: In A. A. Editor, B. B. Editor, and C. C. Editor (Eds.),
Ex: American Psychological Association.
Ex: (2006, January 31).
To Capitalize or Not to Capitalize
Ex: The psychology of affiliation: Experimental studies of the sources of gregariousness.
Journal Ex: American Journal of Psychology
Website Name Ex: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
To Italicize or not to Italicize?
You may have noticed that some citations in APA require a description in brackets while others do not. If a description would help your reader identify the source or if the source is not typical for a research paper, such as social media or videos, then include a description in brackets after the title.
Ex: [Tweet], [Status update], [Comment], [Brochure], [Video file], [Motion picture], [Lecture notes], [Monograph], [Transcript], [Video webcast]
Journal and Magazine Articles
Ex: Volume 5, Issue 12 would be formatted: 5(12),
Books with Volumes or Editions
Ex: (Vol. 1)
Ex: (Expanded ed.)
Ex: Oxford University Press
DOIs or Digital Object Identifiers are the preferred method for citing an electronic source. Have you ever clicked on the link to a website only to find the link was broken? DOIs are permanent urls assigned to an article to make sure a reader can always find it. They are most commonly assigned to journal articles, but sometimes ebooks, ebook chapters, and online magazine articles have them too.
Some publishers put the DOI in number only form. In this case, change the DOI into the url form with the prefix https://doi.org/
Ex: Change this: DOI:10.1037/arc0000014
To This: https://doi.org/10.1037/arc0000014
For electronic journal, magazine, and newspaper articles without DOI’s, you do not need to provide an alternative URL from the database or browser bar.
Websites do not have DOIs. If you’re citing a website you can use the full URL of the page you’re citing from.
Do no put a period after a DOI or URL.
The DOI or URL should not be hyperlinked unless your professor asks for it to be.
Need to see reference citation formatting explained in a different way? Check out this Scaffolded Reference Elements Worksheet by the American Psychological Association: