How to Format Your APA Paper in 5 Minutes

How to Format Your APA Paper in 5 Minutes
Sergio Guevara

Sergio Guevara

Head of Client Success at Gradehacker

Let me ask you something. How many times did you end up with a bad grade due to poor APA formatting in your essays? Yes, we know. It’s really frustrating.

And then, when reviewing why you got a bad grade, you say something like “it’s impossible that I was wrong in something as simple as this!” And again: yes, we know!

Here at Gradehacker we help college students with their essays. In our years of experience, we have seen how college students have difficulties with APA formatting. Many of the students we help, voice that they do not have a clear understanding of APA formatting.

It is easy to make mistakes with APA formatting as it involves such specific rules. As we have completed several APA papers, in this article we will share with you an APA format guide. By following these steps, you will ensure that your professor won’t nitpick your paper’s format!  

What is APA formatting?

The first thing you should keep in mind is that using the APA format is not difficult. APA (American Psychological Association) is used to cite sources in social sciences such as Psychology, Linguistics, Economics, and others. The APA format will formalize your writing and also help you give credit to all the sources you have used during your essay. 

General APA Guidelines

Before you start writing your essay or assignment, you should keep in mind the following aspects:

  • Your paper should be double spaced on standard-sized paper (8.5 “x 11″) and have 1” margins on all sides.
  • APA suggests 12p. Times New Roman font.
  • The first word in every paragraph should be indented one-half inch.
  • Double space your whole paper.

It is essential that you make sure you have this format in your essay before you start writing.

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Paper Sections

Almost all assignments done in APA format have the following sections:

  • Title Page
  • Abstract
  • Main Body
  • References

Your specific paper may not have all the sections, but these are the most common. The sections of your paper will depend on the requirements of your assignment. However, it is common to find that in more informal assignments you only have a Title Page, Main Body, and Reference section.

Title Page

Your title page should contain:

  • title of your paper
  • your name
  • your institution/school’s name
  • essay due date

This information should be centered and in the upper half of the page as shown below.

Remember that your title should be concise and direct, and you should avoid abbreviations and words that have no use. Also, keep in mind that all the text of your paper must be double spaced, including your title page text.

Title Page Header

Follow these steps to make the title page header:

  1. Double-click, the top of the first page in your word processor. You will see the header editing options. 
How to Format Your APA Paper in 5 Minutes - Final

2. Click Different First Page

How to Format Your APA Paper in 5 Minutes - Final

Insert Running Head: PAPER TITLE. The title of your paper in the header must be in capital letters.

How to Format Your APA Paper in 5 Minutes - Final

Your running head cannot exceed 50 characters including spacing and punctuation.

Here’s an example of a completed title page: 

Non-Title Page Header

From the second page until the end of your paper the header will be different in two ways. First, it will not include the words “Running Head.” Also, the non-title page header will include page numbers. To create this, do the following on the second page of your paper.

  1. Double-click the top of the second page and insert your paper’s title in ALL CAPS without the words “Running Head” (Notice the screenshot below only says the word “Header” and not “First Page Header”)

2. Insert the page number by clicking the Page number option on the top left. 

How to Format Your APA Paper in 5 Minutes - Final

– Make sure to select alignment right and deselect “show on first page” option

How to Format Your APA Paper in 5 Minutes - Final

Below is a comparison of your Title Page Header (Left) vs. Non-Title Page Header (Right) 

How to Format Your APA Paper in 5 Minutes - Final

Abstract (If your essay requires it)

Your abstract begins on the second page. In the first line of the abstract page, center the word Abstract. Do not bold, italicize, underline or use quotation marks.

Begin a new line with a concise and specific summary of the critical points of your research (Do not indent). Think of the abstract as an introduction to your paper but much shorter and direct. The abstract should contain the following as needed for your essay.

– Main Topic

– Research Questions

– Methods

– Results

– Data Analysis

– Conclusion

Some of these points are for more traditional research papers, but you can tailor the information as needed for your particular paper. Your abstract must be a single paragraph, double-spaced. You can also mention the keywords in your research. To do this, indent as if you were writing a new paragraph, type Keywords (italicized): then list your keywords. 

How to Format Your APA Paper in 5 Minutes

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The Body

This is the meaty part of your paper. In the body of the paper, you will discuss all the aspects that make up your paper. If you need help on how to actually put this part together, check out our blog post 10 Easy Steps to Writing an Essay. The important part of the body in APA is the in-text citations 

In-Text Citations

In-text citations will help you make direct reference or paraphrase another person’s work. When paraphrasing, quoting, or using someone else’s ideas, the last name of the author and the year of the publication must be cited as follows:

(Mancini, 2013).

  • For direct quotes from sources, include the page number as well. For example:

(Mancini, 2013, p. 123)

  • For multiple works separate each work with semi-colons:

 (White & Coetzer, 2007; Mears & Beck, 2003).

  • When citing multiple authors:

If you are referring to several authors within parentheses use “&” to separate the names.

One author: (Latessa, 2005)

Two authors: (Latessa & Hubbard, 2013)

Three to five authors:

First citation: (Latessa, Hubbard & Matthews, 2009).

Subsequent citations: (Latessa et al., 2009).

Short Quotations

Short quotations are less than forty words. This type of quotation is incorporated into the text, and quotation marks are used to indicate specific information.

Here we use a phrase to indicate the author’s last name and date of publication in parentheses to introduce the author’s quote:

According to Mancini (2013), “Many researchers think that public opinion should not be considered when conducting empirical research” (p. 33).

If you do not indicate the author before the quote, state the author’s last name, year of publication and the page number in parentheses after the closing quotation marks.

The professor affirmed that “Many researchers think that public opinion should not be considered when conducting empirical research” (Mancini, 2013, p. 33).

The punctuation for the sentence goes AFTER the parenthesis. 

Long Quotations

If your quotation has forty words or more, indent your whole quotation half an inch and start writing in a new line without quotation marks. After the final punctuation mark, state your source.

                 Criminal offenses of a sexual nature are undoubtedly a contentious issue in the United States due, in part, to the tremendous impact on the victim (especially child victims), the often violent nature of the crime as well as the distinctive sense of fear emanating from the release of the seemingly incurable sex offender post-incarceration. Thus, to say sex offending is a polarizing topic is an understatement, as it seems everyone, from laypeople to academics alike, formulates robust opinions on the subject (often to the contrary) and frequently rooted in sensationalism and myth (Mancini, 2013, p 133). 

Citing Web Pages

Citing web pages work exactly like any other type of source.

  • Web page with an author:

Louis Sullivan believed that the exterior of a tall office building should reflect its internal functions (Craven, 2018).

  • If you do not know the author’s name, use the title of the article and the publication date to make the in-text citation.


People with a borderline personality disorder may experience mood swings and display uncertainty about how they see themselves and their role in the world. (“Border Line Personality Disorder,” 2017).  


  • If the title of the article is too long, use only the first two words.
  • If the web page does not have a publication date, use d. (no date) in place of the year.

Leaders help themselves and others to do the right things. They set direction, build an inspiring vision, and create something new (“Mind Tools Content Team,” n.d.). 

Reference Section

Congratulations! Finally, you have reached the final part of your assignment. Many people are afraid of references, yet there are many online tools that can help you.

We recommend Citation Machine, Easy Bib, and Zbib.

  • Start the references page on the last blank of your essay
  • Write the word ‘References’ at the top center of the page, Dot not bold or italicize
  • Your references must be in alphabetical order by author
  • Your reference list must be double spaced
  • Indent one-half inch with each reference

Here’s an example of a reference page: 

Say Hello to Your A+

It is definitely frustrating when you receive a poor grade, not due to the content but the formatting. You are not alone in forgetting certain APA requirements, and including formatting mistakes.

We understand how APA formatting can be a hassle. We also are aware of how easy it is to forget to follow certain APA guidelines. Hopefully with this article you will finally be able to make sure your paper follows APA formatting 100%, and you can say hello to your A+!

Sergio Guevara

Sergio Guevara

Sergio Guevara has been an avid essay writer and researcher for Gradehacker since 2018. He has helped countless non-traditional students with a plethora of subjects like literature, nursing, and history. Now as the head of the Client Success Team he’s constantly involved with SEO-driven content that can make the life of both non-traditional and traditional college students much easier. You can find him on LinkedIn