APA 7th Edition Formatting

A Simple, Step-by-Step Guide + Free Template

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Reviewer: Eunice Rautenbach (DTech) | June 2023

Formatting your paper in APA 7th edition can feel like a pretty daunting task, and understandably so. In this post, we’ll walk you through the APA 7 requirements, step by step. We’ll also share our free APA template, which you can use to fast-track your writing.

Student vs Professional Papers

First things first, it’s important to clarify that APA 7th edition has slightly different requirements for two different types of papers: student papers and professional papers. In this post, we’ll focus on the requirements for student papers. This will cover pretty much any paper you’ll need to submit as part of a degree program, including a dissertation or thesis (although those can require some small tweaks – more on that later).

Structure and Layout

Let’s start by looking at the overall structure of a student paper formatted for APA 7th edition, before diving into the details of each section. APA requires that your paper follows a very specific, standardised structure, consisting of the following parts:

The title page: this will include the title of your paper, as well as a subtitle (if required by your university). It will also contain some information about yourself, your department and the course you’re writing the paper for.

The abstract: depending on the length of your paper and the requirements of your university, you may be required to present a brief abstract, summarising the core takeaways from your paper.

The main body: this section is the “heart” of your paper, containing the bulk of your word count. This is where you’ll present your A-grade writing!

The reference list: this section is where you’ll detail all the reference information corresponding to the in-text citations in the main body of your paper (the previous section).

Tables and figures: in the vast majority of cases, universities require that tables and figures are included in the main body of the paper, but if that’s not the case, the alternative is to have a dedicated section for the tables and figures. This is uncommon though, but we’ve mentioned it just in case.

The appendices: depending on the length of your paper and the specific requirements of your university, you may be required to include an appendix or a set of appendices containing supplementary information, such as data sets or evidence of some sort of fieldwork.

These core sections form the standard structure and order of a student paper using APA 7th edition. As we mentioned, not all of these sections are always required (specifically, the abstract, tables and figures section, and the appendix are less common), so be sure to check what your university expects from you before submitting.

Now that we’ve got a big-picture view, let’s look at the specific formatting requirements for each of these sections, step by step.

Generic Page Setup

Before you jump into writing up your paper, you’ll need first set up your document to align with APA 7th edition’s generic page requirements. Alternatively, you download our APA template (which comes fully preformatted) to fast-track your writing.

Margins

APA 7th edition requires a 1-inch margin on all sides of your document, for all pages. That said, if you’re writing a dissertation, thesis or any document that will ultimately be bound, your university will likely require a larger left margin to accommodate for binding.

Fonts & sizing

You’ll need to use a specific font and font size consistently throughout your student paper. The approved options for APA 7th edition are as follows:

  • Sans serif fonts: 11-point Calibri, 11-point Arial, or 10-point Lucida Sans Unicode
  • Serif fonts: 12-point Times New Roman, 11-point Georgia, or normal (10-point) Computer Modern (the default font for LaTeX)

Within figures, you will need to use a sans serif font, typically between 8 and 12 points in size. It’s best to check with your university what their preference is in this regard. For footnotes, you can use whatever the default settings are in your word processor.

In general, all text other than headings needs to be left-aligned and should not be justified. We’ll cover the formatting of headings a little later.

Line spacing

APA 7th edition requires double line spacing throughout the document. There should also be no extra space before and after paragraphs. One exception to this rule is that text within figures or tables can utilise single or 1.5-line spacing. Again, it’s a good idea to check with your university what their specific preference is.

Running header

Last but not least, you’ll need to set up a running header for your document. This should contain the page number and should be positioned in the top right corner of all pages (including the first page). There is no need for footer content unless your university specifically requests it.

With these generic formatting considerations out of the way, let’s dive into the specific requirements for each section of your paper.

The Title Page

The title page is the shop window of your paper; it’s where you make the all-important first impression to your reader. Therefore, it’s really important to make sure your format this exactly as required for APA 7th edition.

Here’s the process you can follow to set up your title page for success.

  1. Centre-align your curson and create 4 empty lines
  2. On a new line, type the title of your paper in boldface, using title case
  3. On a new line, type the subtitle of your paper in boldface, using title case
  4. Add one blank line, then write your full name on the next line
  5. On a new line, type your affiliation (your department and university or school name)
  6. On a new line, type your course code and course name (match the format used by the institution)
  7. On a new line, type your professor or course instructor’s name
  8. On a new line, type the due date for your paper

Remember to centre align all of this text and do not use justification. If you’re unsure about how to write using title case, here’s a useful title case converter. To make it all a little more tangible, below is an example of a title page formatted according to APA 7th edition specifications.

Example of a title page in APA 7 format

The Abstract

As we mentioned earlier, an abstract is not always required for student papers, but if your university has indicated that they require one, you’ll need to follow a specific format for APA 7th edition. Here’s how you can set it up:

  1. Start your abstract on a new page
  2. On the first line, type “Abstract”. This should be boldface and centred
  3. On a new line, write the abstract. This should be aligned flush left (no indentation) and is typically 150 – 250 words in length.
  4. On a new line, type “Keywords:”. This should be indented a half inch and italicized
  5. On the same line, include 3 – 5 relevant keywords. These should all be written in lowercase and should not be italicised. They should be separated by commas and there should be no period after the final keyword.

Here’s an example of an abstract page formatted according to APA 7th edition specifications.

Example of APA 7 abstract

The Main Body

Now we can move on to the important stuff – the body section of your paper. There are quite a few things you need to know about formatting this section for APA 7th edition – let’s unpack it step by step.

Initial set-up

To kick things off, insert a page break and start your main body on a new page. You can then copy and paste the title (and subtitle, if you have one) from your title page onto the first line of your body page.

With your title (and subtitle) in place, you can start your write-up on a new line. This should be left-aligned and the first line of each paragraph should have a half-inch indent. As with the rest of your paper, this section should use double-line spacing.

Headings

The first paragraph of your main body does not require a heading as it’s generally assumed that the first paragraph will be introductory in nature. For the rest of the body, you can use headings as you see fit. However, it’s important to understand the specific formatting requirements for APA headings. Here’s a quick overview:

Level 1: Centered, boldface, title case (paragraph text starts on a new line)
Level 2: Flush left, boldface, title case (paragraph text starts on a new line)
Level 3: Flush left, boldface, italic, title case (paragraph text starts on a new line)
Level 4: Indented, boldface, title case, end the heading with a period (paragraph text starts on the same line)
Level 5: Indented, boldface, italic, end the heading with a period (paragraph text starts on the same line)

It’s also important to note that headings shouldn’t be labelled with any numbers or letters. For example, “1. Potential Causes”, “2. Consequences”, etc. Instead, you can stick to purely descriptive headings.

Related to this, you should avoid using an excessing number of headings – less is more when it comes to headings. Don’t feel the need to use multiple headings or heading levels, especially for shorter papers. Just keep it simple 🙂

APA 7 editing

Text styling and punctuation

APA 7th edition has specific requirements with regard to text styling and punctuation. Here are some of the most important requirements you’ll need to follow:

  • Use a single space (as opposed to a double space) at the end of each sentence (i.e., after the period)
  • Use an Oxford comma when listing out 3 or more items
  • Use words to write any number less than 10, as well as when starting a sentence
  • Write out all fractions in text format (e.g., two-thirds, three-quarters, etc.)
  • Use numerals for any numbers that represent time, dates, age or money

Language

There are a few important rules to follow in terms of language use when writing your paper using APA format. Most importantly, you’ll need to:

  • Use active voice (as opposed to passive voice) as much as possible
  • Stick to one verb tense throughout the same and adjacent paragraphs
  • Avoid using contractions, colloquial language or excessive jargon
  • Use bias-free language – you can learn more about this here

In-text citations

APA 7th edition has a very specific set of requirements regarding how to reference resources within your paper. Here are some of the most important things you need to be aware of:

Author-date system: in-text citations consist of (at a minimum) the lead author’s last name, followed by the date of publication. APA does not use numbers or footnotes to denote citations.

Types of citations: APA allows two types of in-text citations – parenthetical (non-integrative) and narrative (integrative). Parenthetical citations feature the author and date in parentheses (brackets) at the end of the respective sentence. Here’s an example:

APA 7th edition is easy to grasp if you visit the Grad Coach blog (Jansen, 2023).

Narrative citations weave the author into the flow of the sentence and only include the date in parentheses at the end of the sentence. Here’s an example:

Jansen states that APA 7th edition is easy for students to grasp if they visit the Grad Coach blog (2023).

Both of these citation formats are acceptable and, in general, it’s a good idea to utilise a mix of both in your writing.

Quotations: when quoting text verbatim from a source, you’ll need to include the page number of the original text in your citation. This number needs to be placed after the date portion of the citation, whether it’s a narrative or parenthetical citation. Here’s an example:

APA 7th edition is easy to grasp if you visit the Grad Coach blog (Jansen, 2023, p.45).

Multiple authors: when citing resources that were created by three or more authors, you only need to state the lead author’s last name, followed by “et al.”. Here’s an example:

APA 7th edition is easy to grasp if you visit the Grad Coach blog (Jansen et al., 2023).

As we mentioned, APA has an extensive set of requirements regarding how to format and structure in-text citations and references, so please keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. If you’d like to learn more, you can visit the referencing section of the APA site here. Below you can find an example of a portion of body content from our free template, which demonstrates the different types of citations.

Example of APA 7 body text

The Reference List

With your body content taken care of, the next item on the agenda is the reference list. Again, APA has a notably large set of requirements regarding the content and formatting of the reference list. Nevertheless, we’ll cover the basics here to help you get started.

Basic setup

As with all sections, your reference list needs to start on a new page and should be titled “References”. The title should be boldfaced and centred. The reference list should then start on the next line. As with the rest of the document, the reference list should have double line spacing throughout.

The list itself

The reference list should comprise the following:

  • All sources cited in the body of your document should feature in the reference list. Make sure that every citation is accounted for in your reference list.
  • The references should be ordered alphabetically, according to the lead author’s last name.
  • Each entry must include (at a minimum) information regarding the author(s), publication date, the title of the article and the source (e.g., an academic journal).
  • All references should be left-aligned and should use a hanging indent – in other words, the second line of any given reference (if it has one) should be indented a half inch.

We have to stress that these are just the basics. APA 7th edition requires that all of your references must be structured and formatted in a very specific way, depending on the type of resource. For example, the content and formatting requirements for a journal article will be significantly different from that of a blog post or magazine article (you can see some examples in our template).

Simply put, if you plan to draft your reference list manually, it’s important to consult your university’s style guide or the APA manual itself. This leads us to our next point…

In general, it is a terrible idea to try to write up your reference list manually. Given the incredibly high level of detail required, it’s highly likely that you’ll make mistakes if you try to write this section yourself. A much better solution is to use reference management software such as Mendeley or Zotero. Either of these will take care of the formatting and content for you, and they’ll do a much more accurate job of it too. Best of all, they’re both completely free.

If you’re not familiar with any sort of reference management software, be sure to check out our easy-to-follow explainer videos for both Mendeley and Zotero.

The Appendix

Last but not least, we’ve got the appendix (or appendices). The appendix is where you’ll showcase any supporting data for your student paper. This section is not always required, especially for shorter papers, so don’t worry if it sounds unfamiliar. If you’re unsure, check with your university if they require (or even allow) appendices.

If an appendix is required, here’s how you’ll set it up:

  1. Start the appendix on a new page
  2. Title the page “Appendix” if there is only one appendix, or “Appendix A”, “Appendix B”, etc. if there are multiple appendices. This title should be boldfaced and centred.
  3. On a new line, write the title of the appendix. Again, this should be boldfaced and centred.
  4. On a new line, start your appendix content. As with the body content, the first line of each paragraph should be indented.

An important point to remember is that you need to refer to your appendix within your main body section. This typically means including a line that reads something like “(see Appendix A for more information)”. In other words, your appendix should never be an orphan.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that appendices don’t typically earn marks (at least not directly). To be clear, your appendix can help support the claims you make in your body content (which would have a positive impact on its mark-earning potential), but, in most cases, markers will not award marks to the appendix content itself. If you’re unsure, check with your university what their policy is.

Example of an APA 7 formatted appendix

Wrapping Up

In this post, we’ve provided a primer covering the core requirements for student papers using APA 7th edition. To recap, we’ve looked at the following:

  1. APA structure and layout
  2. General page setup
  3. The title page
  4. The abstract
  5. The main body
  6. The reference list
  7. The appendices

One last thing to point out; it might be obvious but it’s important to mention it – if your university has specified anything that contrasts what we’ve discussed here, do follow their guidance. Some universities and/or programmes will have slight variations on the standard APA requirements, and you want to make sure you follow them.

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