A free, quick step-by-step guide

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If you have completed your assignment, you will understand the struggle of citing your sources correctly using the proper referencing style. While there are many referencing styles that you can use, different universities have their preferences. One common style is the American Psychological Association (APA) referencing style.

Understanding a specific referencing style is crucial to delivering quality academic work as it helps to put your work in context, demonstrate the breadth and depth of your research, and acknowledge other people’s work to avoid plagiarism.

According to author services firm Enago, the APA referencing style is frequently used in fields like economics, criminology, political science, sociology, business, and pedagogy. The great thing about this style is that it has specific rules on how to format your references and style guides to create a research paper that is easy to read along with the necessary elements.

Some students may struggle to grasp the requirements of this referencing style. After all, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association has seven editions, so there’s a lot to take in. The seventh edition was released in Oct. 2019.

You may wonder: “How do I format my academic papers using the APA referencing style?” In her Youtube video, Chelsea Seburn, an online educator and academic writing expert, breaks down the nitty-gritty details of the latest APA referencing style for high school, college, and graduate students. We draw on her advice and break down her step-by-step guide:

APA referencing style 101

Before we move on to the guide, you should always follow your professor’s instructions if they choose to deviate from the APA referencing style. They will be grading your paper after all.

Margins, font, and line spacing

APA requires a one-inch margin on all sides of your paper. Your documents should be in that margin by default on Microsoft Word and Google Docs. 

If you want to check the page margin on Microsoft Word, you can click the “Layout” button and ensure the margins are set to “Normal.” Doing so will ensure that the top, bottom, left, and right margins are one-inch.

There are no specific font requirements. Seburn shares that the seventh edition of the APA referencing style only requires your font to be “legible and consistent throughout the entire document.” Some recommended fonts by APA include 11-point Calibri, 11-point Arial, and 12-point Times New Roman.

You should format your paper in double spacing. In Microsoft Word, you can select the “Line and Paragraph Spacing” option from the toolbar and select “2.0”. Once you’ve done so, go back to the line spacing tab and click “Line Spacing Option” to choose the box that states, “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style”. Ensure the double-spacing remains consistent throughout your paper.

Failure to do so will result in your word processing document (either Microsoft Word or Google Docs) adding a new space when you hit “Enter” on your keyboard and begin a new paragraph, violating the APA guidelines for double-spacing.

apa referencing style

The APA referencing style practices inserting a page number on the top right of the document. Source: Alain Joncard/AFP

Title page

Here’s how you create a title page using the APA format:

  • Hit “Enter” four times.
  • Centre your text and type out your title in a bold font.
  • Type out your title.
  • Hit “Enter” twice.
  • Unbold your text.
  • Type your name or names.
  • Hit “Enter” and type your affiliation.
  • Hit “Enter” again and type your course information.
  • Hit “Enter” again and type your professor’s name.
  • Hit “Enter” one last time and type out the due date of your assignment.

You can click here to view the extra pointers Seburn when typing your title, name, affiliation, course information, and professor’s name.

Lastly, you should add a page number. Following the seventh edition, APA no longer requires you to have a page header in your academic paper. The easiest way to add a page number is to double-click the top part of your document to display the “Header”. Scroll to “Page Number” and select the same in the drop-down menu to ensure that the alignment is on the top right of your document.

Main body and section headings

Abstracts are not required for academic papers in the latest APA guidelines unless your professors specify you to do so.

On a new page, repeat the title on the main body of your document and ensure that it is centred. Start a new paragraph on the left side and indent each paragraph (you do so by clicking the “Tab” button).

Section headings should be descriptive and concise, making it easier for readers to understand your paper. According to the seventh edition of APA, there are five levels of headings. If you are confused about the heading types, you can view the guidelines here.

You would not need a Level 1 heading for the introduction of your paper since the paper’s title signifies the introduction. You will use a Level 2 heading if you need to use a header in the first section. Headings should also not be labelled with numbers or letters.

Reference list

Start your reference list on the next full page after the last page of your main body. You can start by typing “References” in bold font at the centre of the page. Proceed to hit “Enter” and align your text flush left.

Your references should be listed in alphabetical order and hanging indent format (that’s when you indent the subsequent line of the paragraph). If one of your references begins with a number, it should be listed first before the alphabet.

APA grammar

Here are a few final things to keep in mind when writing your academic paper using the APA referencing style: 

  • You should use a space at the end of each sentence.
  • Use the Oxford comma when listing three or more items. For example: California is sunny, beautiful, and warm.
  • Use words to write out any numbers smaller than 10 or if the number is starting the sentence. Otherwise, it would be best if you used numerals. 
  • You should write out common fractions. 
  • Always use numerals to represent times, dates, ages, and money.



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