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APA Format Example: Best Tips for Your Paper

If you’re a student working toward becoming a professional in a social sciences field, chances are you've encountered (or will encounter) APA format.

“APA” stands for the American Psychological Association, which pioneered this method for documentation. This citation style is predominantly used in social sciences such as psychology, anthropology, sociology, education, nursing, communications, education, business, engineering, and related fields. It is distinct from the MLA (Modern Language Association) format, which is often used in humanities disciplines such as literature, cultural studies, and languages.  

APA was established as a standard approach to authoring scientific papers and citing sources, in turn ensuring that researchers and authors are appropriately credited for their work while creating a way for readers to easily find original sources. Using this method for crediting original sources also protects you from inadvertently plagiarizing, which can carry some serious repercussions like expulsion from school.  

APA's 7th Edition sets a convention for student papers receiving course credit and a separate set for papers drafted by professionals with the intent of scholarly publication. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to master APA style. 

What Is APA Style Format?

The APA style format is a set of guidelines for writing and formatting research papers and articles. It provides standards for structure, tone, word choice, citations, and the reference list, with the goal of creating consistency across all academic and professional writing in the social sciences. The style guide is regularly updated, so it’s important to check the official site regularly.

A 1929 article published in Psychological Bulletin by a group of psychologists, anthropologists, and business managers detailed the basic guidelines for what would evolve into the APA style we know today. First designed to create clear communication in the scientific research world, APA standards now play an integral role in preventing plagiarism, giving credit to authors, and presenting readers with a clear and organized structure to follow. It’s important to note, the recommended font options for an APA-formatted paper are 12-point Times New Roman, 11-point Arial, 11-point Calibri, 11-point Georgia, or 10-point Lucida Sans Unicode.

Two of the most important components of APA style are the in-text citations and the reference page:

  • In-text citations: These are included in the main body of an article or paper when ideas or text from external sources are used. In-text citations include the author’s last name, the year of publication, and the page number from the source. For example: (Williams, 2022, p. 68).
  • Reference page: The reference page is the paper’s last page, which includes a complete list of every source cited in the work. This allows readers to find and review the sources. Each reference includes the name of the author, the year of publication, the title of the work, and the publication information. For example: Williams, H. (2022). The Power of Mindfulness. New York, NY: XYZ Publications.

By sticking to the key aspects of APA style, you not only maintain the integrity of your work, but you also make it easier for others to engage with your research, ensuring that your ideas can be thoroughly reviewed and expanded on in future studies.

Citing a Source in APA Format

Citing in APA format involves providing the author's name and the publication year whenever you summarize, paraphrase, or quote from another source.

There are two main ways to do this:

  1. Author's last name in text: Include the author's last name in your sentence, followed by the year in parentheses. Example: "Williams (2022) highlights the significance of the study's findings."
  2. Author and year in parentheses: Both the author's last name and the year can be placed inside parentheses, typically at the end of the sentence. Example: "The study's findings were significant (Williams, 2022)."

The method used depends on the sentence structure in question. In other words, if the sentence referencing the author mentions the author’s name, option one would be most appropriate. If the sentence doesn’t naturally incorporate the author’s name, the latter option is best.

Citing a Journal Article 

Citing a journal article doesn't guarantee or imply that the authors of the cited work agree with the arguments in the paper. The references can encompass diverse viewpoints—those that align with or counter the ideas in the piece. Journal articles serve not only as supportive evidence for the arguments in the paper, but also help illustrate contrasting perspectives, enriching the paper's overall discourse.

References Pages 

A references page, is a compiled list of all the sources cited in a paper. It provides readers with the relevant details to locate and review the sources themselves. The formatting varies depending on the type of source.

For a journal article, an entry should look like this:

Williams, H. (2022). Title of the article. Title of the Journal, 50(2), 100-120.

In this example, "Williams, H." represents the author's name (last name, first initials). The year of publication is then recorded in parentheses followed by the title of the article, where only the first word of the title, the first word after any colons, and proper nouns are capitalized. Next comes the title of the journal listed in italics. The volume number follows, then the pages of the article are listed. 

For books, the format differs slightly. An entry should look like this:

Williams, H. (2022). Title of the book. City, State: Publisher.

Here, the author's name (last name, first initials) is listed first, followed by the date of publication. The title of the book comes next, with only the first word capitalized and italicized. The city of publication and the name of the publisher are listed last.

Elements of Your Paper

Writing a paper in APA format entails specific sections, each having a unique approach and formatting requirements.

Title page: This is the first page of an APA paper. The title page includes the title of the paper, the author’s name, and the associated institution’s name, all centered and double-spaced. Include the page number aligned to the right in the header. The title page serves as a first impression for the reader, so it should clearly and concisely communicate what's to follow within the paper. The APA style guide recommends avoiding any extraneous words that do not add meaning to your title.

  • Introduction: Despite being the first part of your paper, this section doesn't carry an "Introduction" heading. It's primarily a literature review, providing theoretical or empirical grounding for your research. Including relevant previous work on your topic enhances the validity of your study. This section concludes by stating the purpose of your research.
  • Method: This section forms the second core part of an empirical paper, outlining your research methodology. Note that for literature review papers, this section isn't necessary.
  • Participants: In this section, you detail your study's participants. This includes information like the total number of participants, gender distribution, average age, and their ethnic or cultural background. Other relevant demographic details can also be included as needed.
  • Research design: For experimental studies, the Research design section details the independent variables used in the study, which are part of the overall study's design as described in the Method section.
  • Measures: This section outlines the tests or instruments used for data collection. For instance, any questionnaires used would be described here.
  • Procedure: The Procedure section houses an in-depth explanation of your data-collection processes. This includes details on participant recruitment, obtaining informed consent or assent, the participation process, compensation details, and more.
  • Results: The Results section is where data analysis is presented. This part of the article plays a critical role in communicating the study's findings.

Using Signal Phrases in APA Format

In APA format, using signal phrases before citing a source within the text helps guide the reader, setting the context for the citation. These phrases introduce the sources and align with the ideas expressed in the piece.

Consider these common signal phrases:

  • Adds
  • Argues
  • Claims
  • Denies
  • Illustrates
  • Grants
  • Notes
  • Observes
  • Suggests
  • Said

For example, you can introduce an APA citation with:

  1. "Williams (2022) argues that..."
  2. "In contrast, Smith (2021) denies..."
  3. "As Smith (2019) observes..."

Using phrases like these helps seamlessly introduce the sources into the paper while indicating the perspective each source brings to the overall discussion.

The Bottom Line

APA format serves as a standardized guide for scientific writing, particularly prevalent in social sciences and education. This system, pioneered by the American Psychological Association, ensures that researchers and authors receive appropriate credit, facilitates accessibility to original sources, and brings uniformity to academic writing.

APA format not only safeguards the integrity of your work, but it also simplifies reader engagement with your research. So, as you progress in your academic or professional journey, consider APA format as a valuable tool in enhancing the accessibility, credibility, and overall value of your research. 

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