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Apa Format Research Paper Rules

Are you writing a paper for a psychology class? Then you will need to use APA format to organize your paper and list the references you used. If you’ve never used this format before, you may find that it is quite a bit different from some of the writing styles and guidelines you have used in the past.

While it might take a while to get used to, learning how to write an APA paper is a useful skill that will serve you well whether you are a psychology major or just taking your first social science class.

What Is APA Format?

APA format is the official style of the American Psychological Association (APA) and is commonly used to cite sources in psychology, education, and the social sciences. The APA style originated in a 1929 article published in Psychological Bulletin that laid out the basic guidelines. These guidelines were eventually expanded into the APA Publication Manual.

So why is APA format so important in psychology and other social sciences? By using APA style, researchers and students writing about psychology are able to communicate information about their ideas and experiments in a consistent format. Sticking to a consistent style allows readers to know what to look for as they read journal articles and other forms of psychological writing.

If you have never taken a psychology or social science class before, then you are probably accustomed to using a different style guide such as MLA or Chicago style.

New college students are often surprised to find that after spending years having another formatting style drilled into their heads, many university-level classes instead require APA style. It can be a difficult transition, especially if you have to bounce back and forth between different styles for different classes.

Getting a solid grasp of the basics and bookmarking a few key resources can make learning this new format a bit easier.

The 4 Major Sections of Your Paper

In most cases, your paper should include four main sections: the title page, abstract, main section, and references list.

1. Title Page

Your title page should contain a running head, title, author name, and school affiliation. The purpose of your title page is to let the reader quickly know what your paper is about and who it was written by. Learn more about writing an APA format title page.

2. Abstract

An abstract is a brief summary of your paper that immediately follows your title page. According to APA format, your abstract should be no more than 150 to 250 words although this can vary depending upon the specific publication or instructor requirements. Learn more about writing an APA format abstract.

3. The Main Body

For something like an essay, the main body of your paper will include the actual essay itself. If you are writing a lab report, then your main body will be broken down into further sections. The four main components of a lab report include an introduction, method, results, and discussion sections.

4. References

The reference section of your paper will include a list of all of the sources that you used in your paper.

If you cited any piece of information anywhere in you paper, it needs to be properly referenced in this section. One handy rule of thumb to remember is that any source cited in your paper needs to be included in your reference section, and any source listed in your reference section must also be mentioned somewhere in your paper.

How to Handle In-Text Citations in APA Format

As you are writing your paper, it is important to include citations in your text identifying where you found the information you use. Such notations are called in-text citations, and APA format dictates that when citing in APA format in the text of your paper, use the author's name followed by the date of publication.

For example, if you were to cite Sigmund Freud's book The Interpretation of Dreams, you would use the following format: (Freud, 1900). The extended information on the source should then appear in your reference section.

Important Tips for APA Style Reference Pages

  • Your references should begin on a new page. Title the new page "References" and center the title text at the top of the page.
  • All entries should be in alphabetical order.
  • The first line of a reference should be flush with the left margin. Each additional line should be indented (usually accomplished by using the TAB key.)
  • While earlier versions of APA format required only one space after each sentence, the new sixth edition of the style manual now recommends two spaces.
  • The reference section should be double-spaced.
  • All sources cited should appear both in-text and on the reference page. Any reference that appears in the text of your report or article must be cited on the reference page, and any item appearing on your reference page must be also included somewhere in the body of your text.
  • Titles of books, journals, magazines, and newspapers should appear in italics.
  • The exact format of each individual reference may vary somewhat depending on whether you are referencing an author or authors, a book or journal article, or an electronic source. It pays to spend some time looking at the specific requirements for each type of reference before formatting your source list.

A Few More Helpful Resources

If you are struggling with APA format or are looking for a good way to collect and organize your references as you work on your research, consider using a free APA citation machine. These online tools can help generate an APA style referenced, but always remember to double-check each one for accuracy.

Purchasing your own copy of the official Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association is a great way to learn more about APA format and have a handy resource to check your own work against. Looking at examples of APA format can also be very helpful.

While APA format may seem complex, it will become easier once you familiarize yourself with the rules and format. The overall format may be similar for many papers, but your instructor might have specific requirements that vary depending on whether you are writing an essay or a research paper. In addition to your reference page, your instructor may also require you to maintain and turn in an APA format bibliography.

Source:

American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington DC: The American Psychological Association; 2010.

In-Text Citations: The Basics

Summary:

APA (American Psychological Association) style is most commonly used to cite sources within the social sciences. This resource, revised according to the 6th edition, second printing of the APA manual, offers examples for the general format of APA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the reference page. For more information, please consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (6th ed., 2nd printing).

Contributors: Joshua M. Paiz, Elizabeth Angeli, Jodi Wagner, Elena Lawrick, Kristen Moore, Michael Anderson, Lars Soderlund, Allen Brizee, Russell Keck
Last Edited: 2018-02-21 02:50:04

Reference citations in text are covered on pages 169-179 of the Publication Manual. What follows are some general guidelines for referring to the works of others in your essay.

Note: APA style requires authors to use the past tense or present perfect tense when using signal phrases to describe earlier research, for example, Jones (1998) found or Jones (1998) has found...

APA citation basics

When using APA format, follow the author-date method of in-text citation. This means that the author's last name and the year of publication for the source should appear in the text, for example, (Jones, 1998), and a complete reference should appear in the reference list at the end of the paper.

If you are referring to an idea from another work but NOT directly quoting the material, or making reference to an entire book, article or other work, you only have to make reference to the author and year of publication and not the page number in your in-text reference. All sources that are cited in the text must appear in the reference list at the end of the paper.

In-text citation capitalization, quotes, and italics/underlining

  • Always capitalize proper nouns, including author names and initials: D. Jones.
  • If you refer to the title of a source within your paper, capitalize all words that are four letters long or greater within the title of a source: Permanence and Change. Exceptions apply to short words that are verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs: Writing New Media, There Is Nothing Left to Lose.

    (Note: in your References list, only the first word of a title will be capitalized: Writing new media.)

  • When capitalizing titles, capitalize both words in a hyphenated compound word: Natural-Born Cyborgs.
  • Capitalize the first word after a dash or colon: "Defining Film Rhetoric: The Case of Hitchcock's Vertigo."
  • Italicize the titles of longer works such as books, edited collections, movies, television series, documentaries, or albums: The Closing of the American Mind; The Wizard of Oz; Friends.
  • Put quotation marks around the titles of shorter works such as journal articles, articles from edited collections, television series episodes, and song titles: "Multimedia Narration: Constructing Possible Worlds;" "The One Where Chandler Can't Cry."

Short quotations

If you are directly quoting from a work, you will need to include the author, year of publication, and page number for the reference (preceded by "p."). Introduce the quotation with a signal phrase that includes the author's last name followed by the date of publication in parentheses.

According to Jones (1998), "Students often had difficulty using APA style, especially when it was their first time" (p. 199).

Jones (1998) found "students often had difficulty using APA style" (p. 199); what implications does this have for teachers?

If the author is not named in a signal phrase, place the author's last name, the year of publication, and the page number in parentheses after the quotation.

She stated, "Students often had difficulty using APA style" (Jones, 1998, p. 199), but she did not offer an explanation as to why.

Long quotations

Place direct quotations that are 40 words or longer in a free-standing block of typewritten lines and omit quotation marks. Start the quotation on a new line, indented 1/2 inch from the left margin, i.e., in the same place you would begin a new paragraph. Type the entire quotation on the new margin, and indent the first line of any subsequent paragraph within the quotation 1/2 inch from the new margin. Maintain double-spacing throughout. The parenthetical citation should come after the closing punctuation mark.

Jones's (1998) study found the following:

Students often had difficulty using APA style, especially when it was their first time citingsources. This difficulty could be attributed to thefact that many students failed to purchase astyle manual or to ask their teacher for help. (p. 199)

Summary or paraphrase

If you are paraphrasing an idea from another work, you only have to make reference to the author and year of publication in your in-text reference, but APA guidelines encourage you to also provide the page number (although it is not required.)

According to Jones (1998), APA style is a difficult citation format for first-time learners.
APA style is a difficult citation format for first-time learners (Jones, 1998, p. 199).

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