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The Essay Format (APA)

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Formatting your essay according to the APA guidelines (6th ed.) can be quite tricky. Fortunately, this guide will help you score high marks for professionalism. And, even if you’re not planning to read it, do scroll down to download our free APA essay template.

Note: All detailed instructions refer to Microsoft Word. If you’re using a different word processor, you may have to look for an equivalent setting.

The Basics

Essay Components

An APA paper has four parts:

  1. The Title Page
  2. The Abstract
  3. The Essay
  4. The Reference List

It’s best to separate each section with a page break (Insert > Page Break).


The default font is Times New Roman, size 12 (a smaller size is fine for footnotes). If you select any other font, make sure it’s a serif font. You may, however, use a sans-serif font for captions and descriptions in figures and tables.


Since 2007, the default margin for any Word document has been 1 inch all around. Fortunately, APA format has the same requirement. If for some reason you need to fix the margins, go to Page Layout > Margins > Normal.


All the text in your essay should be double-spaced. To make this change quickly, first press Ctrl + A to highlight all text and then press Home > Line and Paragraph Spacing (symbol) > 2.0. Make sure you also click on “Remove Space After Paragraph.”

Title Page

Let’s look at the basic layout of an APA title page:

Let’s break down what goes into making a great title page. The first thing you’ll want to do is make sure that your first page is formatted independently from the rest of the paper. To do so click on Page Layout > Page Setup > Layout > Different First Page.

Then add a page number (Insert > Page Number > Plain #3) and add a Running head. The running head is your essay title in 50 characters or less (that includes spaces and punctuation). If your full title is too long, provide a shorter version. After you’ve typed the title, press Tab once or twice to make the Running head flush with the left margin. Don’t forget to use the right font.

When you add your title, make sure that you capitalize important words, but not prepositions and articles.

Optional: you can add an author’s note near the bottom of your title page. For more information, please see pp. 24-25 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). The author’s note is more common for published papers, and most students can safely ignore it.


The abstract receives its own page:

This time leave out the words “Running head” and give just the title (or the shortened version). Insert a page number (Insert > Page Number > Plain #3), and make sure your header is in the right font (Times New Roman, size 12). Each subsequent page should now have the correct header.

Centre the word Abstract and left-align the actual summary. Do not indent this paragraph.

Essay Start Page

Your essay really begins on the third page:

References List

Finally, don’t forget to cite your sources:

For more details, please visit our page on formatting the reference list.

Section Headings

APA papers are often divided into sections. If you’d like to organize your material with headings, you can choose from a number of different headers. Start by using first level headers and use the others for sub-headers:

First Level Header (Bold, Centered, and in Title Case)

Second Level Header (Bold, Left Aligned, and in Title Case)

Third level header (indented, bold, and lowercase), ending with a period.

Fourth level header (same as the third level, but now in italics!).

Fifth level header (same as the fourth level, but not in bold).

As you can see, you don’t have to use some complex numbering system (e.g., 3.2.1b) to organize your ideas. The formatting of the header does the trick.

Essay Template

Use our handy-dandy template to get started quickly:

APA Essay Template