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How to Write a College Paper APA Style

by Barbie Carpenter , Demand Media

    The American Psychological Association (APA) produces a style guide that dictates how college students should write and format their papers. Particularly used by students in the social sciences, this useful guide serves as your one-stop shop for all things research-paper-related. Understanding the basics of APA style is a must, as you typically spend four years or more referring to this style guide when you write and submit assignments.

    Step 1

    Create your title page. Type the header. The text of your header should read "Running head:" followed by the title of your paper in all capital letters in the upper left-hand corner. In the upper right-hand corner of the page, place the page number, which is one. Use Arabic numerals for page numbers. In the upper middle of the page, type your paper title in title case. Insert a paragraph return, and then type your name. After another paragraph return, type your school's name.

    Step 2

    Create the header for the rest of your document. Since this header is different than the title page header, insert a section break after your title page, and make sure that the header is not linked to the previous section. In the upper left-hand corner, type the title of your paper in all capital letters. Insert the page number in the upper-right hand corner, which should start at page two.

    Step 3

    Write your abstract. The abstract should provide a brief overview of your paper. Discuss the research questions posed, your research methods and your findings. Keep the abstract to between 150 and 250 words. The abstract marks page two of your APA-formatted paper.

    Step 4

    Write the body of your paper. Separate content into sections using heading levels; this formatting style guides the reader through the paper with ease. Center and bold first-level headings. Left-justify second-level headings, which should also be bold. Indent third-level headings, which should be bold and title case, ending in a period.

    Step 5

    Incorporate in-text citations into your paper. Every time you use content that is not your original thought, you must cite it, whether you paraphrase it or quote the original source directly. For paraphrased material, include the author's name and the year of publication, separated by a comma, in parenthesis before the end punctuation. For a direct quote, include that same information as well as the page number, preceded by "p."

    Step 6

    Build your references list. Cite each reference you used to develop your paper. List references alphabetically by the author's last name. Include the author's name, year of publication and book or article name. For journal articles, also list the journal name, issue number, volume number and page numbers. Use a hanging indent, meaning that you indent the second and subsequent lines of each reference. Keep the first line left justified.

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    Tips

    • Double space all text in your paper as per APA guidelines.
    • If you mention the author's name in the text of the sentence, do not include it in the in-text citation. Instead, simply include the year in parenthesis after the author's name and, in the case of direct quotes, the page number at the end of the sentence before the end punctuation.

    About the Author

    Barbie Carpenter worked as a technical writer and editor in the defense industry for six years. She also served as a newspaper feature page editor and nationally syndicated columnist for the Hearst Corp. Carpenter holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Florida and a graduate certificate in professional writing from the University of Central Florida.

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