When writing for many colleges and universities or for the sciences, in most cases the American Psychological Association or APA format is the writing format to use. There are guidelines available online and in print that can be consulted as a handy reference. Most educational institutions that require APA style for written work of any kind will provide the format or an Internet link to a site with guidelines at the very beginning of classes.
APA style is not an easy thing to learn, but most people will find it worthwhile to learn the format. As the APA changes its format from time to time, it is always wise to check with www.apa.org or one of the university web sites that has the up-to-date formatting style for the APA. Something as small as a period or space that is newly required in the final reference page, for example, can throw the reference page off track and lose points on a paper.
The APA format is difficult to explain without being able to show it or provide a diagram, but this author will attempt to explain what it involves:
1. Before starting to write, set your word processing program's line spacing at 2 for double spacing. Use Ariel or Times New Roman set at 12 for the entire text. Then begin with the title page. The APA-formatted paper will require the page number at the upper right corner along with a shortened version of what the title of the paper will be - two to three words at most, that will identify the subject of the paper. Using Word will allow ease of page numbering, and the numbers will begin with 1 for the title page and continue along automatically on each page, along with the shortened title.
2. Vertically and horizontally centered, the crucial information on the title page will show the title of the article on the first line, (double space between everything in the paper, all the way through,) the student's or other author's full name, the class for which the paper is submitted on the third line, the professor's or supervisor's name on the fourth line, and the date the paper is submitted on the fifth line.
3. An abstract. A page by itself will be next and contains an abstract, or a brief summary of what the article will contain. This should be about 120 words in length, but not less. This is NOT indented; it is a solid paragraph of text. It is best kept concise and easy to understand.
4. The next page is the first page of actual text of the paper. It begins with the title centered two spaces below the upper right page number and short title. The first line of each paragraph is indented five spaces. In Word, you can set this up ahead of time with first line indentation. The program will then automatically indent the first line of each paragraph.
5. On the first page of actual text, create an opening paragraph or introduction that includes a thesis statement. This is your main theme of your paper. The thesis statement should clearly state what your paper will address. Each paragraph thereafter will need to link its thought to that thesis statement. A good question to ask yourself in each paragraph is, "What does that have to do with my thesis statement?" If it seem relevant, it will have helped organize the paper's ideas.
6. In-text citations. This is where you will need to have a reference guide. A few examples would be: (Strunk & White, 1979) for a book with two or more authors. The year is included. You must include in-text references when you have used information or ideas that are not yours, so that plagiarism is not an issue. If it is not general knowledge, a source must be cited. Any source you cite in-text must also be included on the final reference page, but we will get to that. Another example of in-text citation would be: ("The Blood Business," 1992) for a magazine article with no author's byline. A newspaper article would be done the same way (APA Citation Style Guide, 2006). If the articles you've found have an author's byline, their name would be listed on the reference page before the name of the article.
7. Conclusion. Your paper should have a strong conclusion and should summarize what has been stated throughout the paper. It must be directly related to the thesis statement and intention of the paper that was stated in the opening paragraph or introduction. The conclusion ties the thoughts of the paper together, and is very important in making clear what you had to say.
7. Word requirement. If a certain number of pages or words have been requested, take care of that by highlighting the words in the actual text (not including the title page or abstract) and checking the word count to be sure you are within the guidelines. A few words over usually do not detract from the paper, but a significant number of words under the requirement could be costly.
8. Final reference page. Again, this is not part of the word count requirement. The reference page, according to APA style, is set up for "first line hanging," which means the first line is not indented, but the rest of the reference is. It is a backward-looking style - a reverse of what is usually seen as indentation. A guide or reference is normally required for getting this part of the paper correct. This page is also double-spaced, and the references are cited in alphabetical order. For example, the first reference may look like this, beginning with a book with three authors:
Aron, A., Aron, E., & Coups, E. (2008). Statistics for the behavioral and social sciences, a brief course. (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Keep in mind the second line is indented. It may be the first entry on the reference page, since it begins with A. This is a book with three authors. The date is always in parentheses after the names. The title of the book is next, with only the first word capitalized. The edition comes next, typed just the way it is shown above. Then the city and state, and finally the publisher. If the city is familiar, such as New York, Boston, Chicago, or Sacramento, it is sufficient for the location and no state needs to be included.
Continue to list all your references, but do obtain a guide from the APA to be sure you have cited your references correctly. References retrieved from the Internet, for instance, have a different format. Personal interviews have yet another format, and movies, another. There are many sources of information that have different formats, all APA style.
When used frequently enough, such as in academics or in a researcher's work, the APA format for research papers becomes very familiar and can be done, in most cases, without looking it up each time. However, as stated above, it is wise to check at the APA web site occasionally to be sure the formatting procedure has not changed.
APA Style Guide (2006). Retrieved August 25, 2006 from http://library.osu.edu/sites/guides/apagd.php