Writing an Essay in APA Format

If your instructor asked you to write an essay in the APA format, at first glance this might seem like a pretty daunting task.

What Is APA Format?

Regardless of whether you attend an introductory course or a psychology course for graduates, it is likely that you will have to write at least one article per semester. In almost every case, you will need to write your article in APA format, the official publication style of the American Psychological Association.

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The APA format is used in a number of disciplines, including psychology, education, and other social sciences. The format dictates the presentation elements of your paper, including spacing, margins, and content structure. Although this may seem like something that you can simply disguise, most instructors as well as publication editors have strict rules regarding how you format text. Not only does adhering to the APA format let readers know what to expect from your article, but it also means that your work will not lose critical points due to minor formatting errors.

While this guide offers some basic tips on how to write an essay in APA format you should always check with your teacher for more specific instructions.

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  • There should be uniform margins of at least one inch at the top, bottom, left, and right sides of your essay.
  • Your writing essay should be double-spaced.
  • Every page should include a page number in the top right corner.
  • For professional papers, every page of your essay should also include a running head at the top left. The running head is a shortened form of your title, often the first few words, and should be no more than 50 characters (including spaces).
  • Your essay should also have a title page in APA format. This title page should include the title of your paper, your name, and your school affiliation. In some instances, your teacher might require additional information such as the course title, instructor name, and the date.
  • The title of your paper should be concise and clearly describe what your paper is about.
  • Your title can extend to two lines, but it should be no longer than 12 words.
  • Your essay should also include a reference list. Located at the end of your paper, the reference section is a list of all the sources that were cited in your essay. References should be listed alphabetically by the last name of the author, and they should also be double-spaced.
  • The first word of each paragraph in your paper should be indented one-half inch.
  • The American Psychological Association recommends using Times New Roman size 12 font.
  • While the formatting requirements for your paper might vary depending upon your instructor’s directions, your essay will most likely need to include a title page, abstract, introduction, body, conclusion, and reference sections.


In addition to quoting your sources correctly and providing information in accordance with APA style guidelines, there are a few things you can do to make writing a little easier.

Start by choosing a good subject for writing. Ideally, you want to choose a subject that is specific enough to allow you to fully research and explore the topic, but not so specific that it is difficult for you to find sources of information. If you choose something too specific, you may not have enough space for writing; if you choose something too general, you may be overloaded with information.

Secondly, start research as early as possible. Start by looking at some basic books and articles on your topic. Once you become familiar with the subject, create a preliminary list of potential books, articles, essays and studies that you can use in your essay.

When you write your essay, be careful with the sources you quote. Remember that any source used in your essay should be included in your reference section. Conversely, any source referenced in your links should be listed somewhere in the body of your article.

Once you have prepared a draft of your essay, it’s time to review, review, and prepare your final draft. In addition to ensuring that your message is coherent and supported by your sources, you should also carefully monitor typos, grammar, and possible formatting errors.

Final Thoughts

Writing your first essay in APA format may be a little intimidating at first, but learning some basic APA style rules can help. However, be sure to always refer to the instructions given by your instructor for each assignment.

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