Students studying social or behavioral sciences will likely, at some point, be asked to write a paper using American Psychological Association, or APA, style. APA style was created more than 80 years ago by a group of social scientists who wanted to standardize written documents within their field. Today, APA format has become the standard for students studying everything from psychology to economics to anthropology. Despite the benefits related to its uniform standards, it can present challenges for those unfamiliar with its guidelines.

Strength: Widely Recognized

As you progress through your academic career, you will find that because APA format is the standard formatting guide for the social and behavioral sciences, it is widely recognized. Therefore, resources about the style guide are easy to find. If you’ve never written a paper in APA format before, resources are readily available on the APA style website, from the Purdue Online Writing Lab and from hundreds of similar sites that can be located with a simple Internet search.

Strength: Consistency

Because APA style establishes consistent formatting guidelines for formal writing, it takes the guesswork out of how to punctuate in-text citations, how to list references, and how to incorporate section subheads. It also establishes a standard for listing and citing tables and graphs and for handling capitalizations, abbreviations, numbers and statistics in your paper. The more papers you write using APA format, the more familiar you’ll become with its guidelines; after a period of time, writing a paper in APA format will practically become second nature.

Challenge: In-text Citations

While APA format presents many benefits, it can be challenging for new users, especially when it comes to in-text citations. Because there are so many different types of resources -- such as books with one author, books with two authors, anthologies, periodicals, websites and other electronic sources -- new users can easily become overwhelmed with trying to determine what information should be included inside the parentheses. Thankfully, as mentioned above, plenty of resources exist to help guide you.

Challenge: Reference List

For new users, the reference list at the end of your document can also present challenges. Because it presents a summary of all of the sources you cited in your paper, each one of your sources must be correctly listed on your reference list. You must ensure that the indentation, capitalization, author’s names, titles, dates, page number and URLs are accurate for each source. This can become a tedious process, especially if you are writing a lengthy paper with a long list of sources. Again, you can refer to websites like the Purdue Online Writing Lab to help you through this process.