How to Write an Essay in APA Format for College

No matter what kind of paper you write, you’ll have to format it according to one of the established styles. There are a few, with APA, MLA and Chicago being the most frequently used ones.
If you are working on a paper in social sciences, you will be using APA – the style introduced by the American Psychological Association. Here, we’ll address the main requirements set by this formatting style and tips on writing an essay in APA format.

What Is APA Format?

The APA formatting style, in its primary form, was first introduced by the American Psychological Association in 1929. Having lived through numerous editions, it is now described in detail by the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

The style addresses the formatting requirements set for documents intended for publishing. Its primary function in the educational field, however, is to unify the requirements to citing the sources used in a paper.

The latest 6th edition of the APA manual was released in July 2009 and is the most comprehensive and up-to-date document that contains APA style norms in effect.

Basics of an APA Format Essay

The structure of an essay in APA format is no different from any other paper. It includes the following chapters:

  • Abstract – a short summary of the paper that is designed to give your readers a general idea of what your research is all about and what outcomes have been received.
  • Introduction – an introductory chapter of the paper where the background information is provided and a thesis statement is introduced.
  • Method – a chapter describing what methods you used to do your research and why they were the most appropriate in your opinion.
  • Materials – a chapter that describes the resources that have been used in the course of your research.
  • Procedure – a chapter that describes the steps of your research in detail so that your readers could reproduce them.
  • Results and discussion – a chapter that describes the results of your research and puts it into a wider scientific picture.
  • Conclusions – a chapter that summarizes your paper and talks about its future applications.

Tips for Writing an Essay in APA Format

Even though there is nothing difficult about writing a paper in APA format, it can be quite time- and labor-consuming, not to mention all the frustration. That’s why we’d like to give you the following recommendations:

Always allocate sufficient time on formatting your essay, because improper formatting will significantly reduce your chances of success.

Never settle for secondary sources when it comes to formatting. The most comprehensive and up-to-date information about the APA style requirements can be found in the corresponding style guide, which in turn can be found online.

If you are having troubles citing your sources appropriately in the selected style, there are tools that could help you. Simply look for an online citation generator and choose one of the available options. Such tools usually need you to enter basic information about the sources you are citing and will return a citation ready for use.

Formatting an Essay in APA Style

Here are the main requirements to write an essay in APA format for college:

The essay you are writing in the APA style should be typed on paper of the standard size and should have 1-inch margins on all sides. The recommended font is 12 pt. Times New Roman, but you are free to choose another one. The main condition is that it should be easily readable.

Every page of your essay should include a header with a page number (flushed right) and the title of your paper (flushed left, all caps, not more than 50 characters with spaces).

Title Page

The title page of your essay should include general information: the title, your name, and the name of the institution in the upper third of the sheet. Do not include any titles and degrees.


The abstract chapter should start from the new page. Type the word “Abstract” at the top, below your page header. Generally, abstracts in the APA style papers are short and do not exceed 250 words, double-spaced. The abstract should describe all the key points of your paper.


The margins in your APA essay should be at least 1 inch on all sides. The page header should be included in the upper margin.


There are five levels of headings that you can use in your paper. How many you use will depend on the complexity of your paper and the number of chapters. Headings in the body of your paper can be in bold or in italics. Do not use bold or italics for section titles, e.g. Abstract.

Bulleted and numbered lists

Th APA style allows using bulleted and numbered lists in your paper with a period, comma or semicolon wrapping each point, depending on the grammatical structure. In the running text, the points will be designated with letters in parentheses.


Tables provided in your APA paper should have separate pages and should be placed at the end of your paper. The font and margins can be adjusted as needed. However, the general APA recommendations apply.


Figures should be large enough to allow easy reading. They should have separate pages and should be placed at the end of your paper after the tables. Each figure should have a caption to describe it and explain abbreviations used in it.


Citations in the APA style consist of two parts: in-text citations and references in the reference list. It means that you will indicate the author, the date of publication, and the page number when you first introduce a scientific work in the text of your paper and then provide more detailed information at the end. For example: (Smith, 1999, p. 45).

The reference list is provided at the end of your paper and intends to supply the reader with information on how to locate any source that you cite in your work. There are some general and specific rules to describe citing different types of sources – books, articles, etc. The specific rules are way too numerous and detailed to describe them here. That’s why we will only address the general ones:

  • Indent every line except the first one of each entry by half an inch.
  • The last name of the author should come first. Names of ALL authors should be provided for works where 7 or fewer authors have been involved.
  • The entries should be in an alphabetical order by the first letter of the author’s last name.
  • For several works written by the same author, place them in a chronological order.
  • Capitalize all words in journal articles
  • Write longer names of books and journals in italics

If you are unable to locate the type of source that you need to cite in the APA manual, the Association advises you to find a source that is the most similar to yours and look up its formatting in the manual. Unfortunately, the manual does not cover all types of sources.

For more detailed information, refer to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Please note that there are some known mistakes in the current 6th edition – such mistakes have been identified and listed on the Association’s website. Familiarize yourself with them before submitting your paper.

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