(used in our Psychology Department Research Methods class at Georgia Southern University, revised 1994)
by Dr. Jan Kennedy

This document covers the "elements of APA style" most commonly misunderstood or omitted by students. See the APA "crib sheet" for a comprehensive summary of APA style.

General advice

1. Use a standard-size paper (8 1/2 x 11 inches).

2. Always make a copy of your paper.

3. Do not use folders. Staple the final copy in the top left corner.

4. Double-space between all lines of the manuscript.

5. Do not hyphenate words at the end of lines.

6. Do not use contractions.

7. If you are using a word processing program (e.g., Wordperfect), make sure that your margins are not "right justified." Otherwise, you will have trouble with your spacing.

8. Do not use a word processor to create italic, bold, or other special fonts. Instead, use underlining to indicate italics. [Here on Psych Web we use italics, because underlining is used on some Web browsers to indicate links. You should use underlining in any example where we use italics.]


Leave uniform margins of at least one inch at the top, bottom, right, and left margins.

Paragraph Indentations

Indent five to seven spaces for the first line of every new paragraph. The only exceptions to this are in the cases of block quotations, titles and headings, abstract, and table titles, and figure captions.

Order of Manuscript Pages

Number all pages except the figures consecutively. Arrange the pages of the manuscript as follows:

Title page (separate page, numbered 1)

Abstract (separate page, numbered 2)

Body of paper (start on new page, numbered 3)

References (start on new page)

Appendices (start on new page)

Tables (start on new page, each on a separate page)

Figure captions (start on a new page)

Figures (place each on a separate page)

Manuscript Page Header and Running Head

Pages occasionally get separated, so identify each manuscript page (except the figures) by typing the first two or three words from the title in the upper right-hand corner above or five spaces to the left of the page number. This is the page header. It should not be confused with the running head, which goes only on the title page (one double space below the page header) and appears in the printed article. The running head is limited to 50 spaces.


Headings indicate the organization of a paper and establish the importance of each topic. Topics of equal importance are positioned consistently in the paper. A centered main heading is used to separate and identify the primary topic areas of the paper. Flush side headings and indented paragraph headings are only used when you wish to break the previous heading into two or more distinct topic areas. See the following example for positioning and punctuation of headings:

A Centered Main Heading

A Flush Side Heading

An indented paragraph heading. Begin paragraph here.

Note that a centered main heading is required whenever a new page is required in the paper.

Listing within a Paragraph

When you want to list items within a paragraph or sentence use lower case letters in parentheses as follows: (a)..., (b)..., (c)....

Listing of Paragraphs

When you want to list paragraphs, such as itemized conclusions or successive steps in a procedure, number each paragraph or sentence with an arabic numeral followed by a period as follows:

1. Begin with paragraph indention. Type second and succeeding lines flush with the left margin.

2. Etc.....

Spacing with Punctuation

Space once after punctuation as follows:

Exception: no space after internal periods in abbreviations (i.e., a.m., U.S.)

Hyphens, Dashes, and Minus Signs

See 3.11, pp. 70-74 in the APA Publication Manual for rules about the hyphenation of words in APA style.

Numbers Used in Body of Paper

Generally, numbers one through nine in sentences should be spelled out. Numbers 10 and greater should be typed as numerals, except where they begin a sentence. Exceptions are described on pages 99-105.


Use the symbol for percent only when it is preceded by a numeral. Use the word percentage when a number is not given. (An exception is in table headings and figure legends, where the symbol % is used to conserve space.)

Nonsexist and Ethnically Unbiased Language

Guidelines have been developed by the APA (See Publication Manual, pp. 46-60) to avoid sexism and ethnic bias in research writing. Generally, one should choose nouns, pronouns, and adjectives to eliminate the possibility of ambiguity in sex identity. Moreover, scientific writing should be free of implied or irrelevant evaluation of the sexes.

e.g., The student is usually the best judge of the quality of the course he has taken.

Students are usually the best judges of the quality of the courses they have taken.

e.g., The mission of the Starship Enterprise is to go boldly where no man has gone before.

The mission of the Starship Enterprise is to go boldly where no one has gone before.

e.g., Ambitious men are more likely to achieve success in life; likewise, aggressive women are more likely to reach the top.

Ambitious individuals are more likely to achieve success in life.


Do not abbreviate except for those formally accepted abbreviations such as Mr., Ms., U.S., etc. Another exception is when you have one identifying name such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or a topic such as job satisfaction. You may abbreviate these if they are used throughout the paper by the following method: The U.S. Food and Drug Administrations (FDA); or job satisfaction (JS), after the first time the term is used in a paper.


Quotations are used to support or amplify the content of your paper. They should be used sparingly. Basically, there are two types of quotations used in papers: short quotations of fewer than 40 words, and longer block quotations.

Short quotations are typed within the sentence or paragraph and set in double quotation marks ("). Longer quotations are set in block format, indented margin without the usual opening paragraph indentation.

If the material you are quoting is already set in quotation marks, set it in single quotation marks.

Permissible Changes from the Original Quotation

The first letter of the first word in a quotation may be changed to a capital or a small letter. The punctuation mark at the end of a quotation may be changed to fit the position of the quotation within your sentence or paragraph. Other changes may be made with caution. Do not change any part of the quotation which may alter the context of the original material.

Omitted Material from the Quotation

Three ellipsis points (...) may be used to indicate parts of the quote which are omitted (for brevity, etc.), and four ellipsis points (....) are used to indicate any omission between two adjoining sentences within the quoted material.

Inserted Material

Brackets [ ] are used to enclose additions to the quoted material to enhance the reader's understanding and/or for sentence flow.

Citation of the Source of the Quotation

All quotations must be cited (given a reference) and indicated as such (by quotation marks or blocking). The reference citation must include the author's last name, year of publication, and page number.

Citations in Body of Paper and Reference List

In place of the bibliography and footnotes used in other writing styles, a reference citation method is used in psychology. The purpose is to make it easy for the reader to identify the source of an idea and then to locate the particular reference in the list at the end of the paper. The surname of the author and the year of publication are inserted in the narrative text at the appropriate point.

Do not list any publication in your reference list that you do not cite in the body of your paper. Similarly, do not cite any reference without listing it on the reference list. If you want to cite a source that you did not read, use the following format:

Nelson (1984, as cited by Fung, 1985) observed that....

A citation must be given for any material you use in your paper that is not your own thought or expression. (If you use someone else's exact words, then you must so indicate by using quotation marks or a block quotation and page numbers. See above.)

The GSU Faculty Handbook (1988) indicates the following (pp. 36- 37):

When direct quotations are used, they must be indicated....A writer's facts, ideas, and phraseology should be regarded as his or her property....Whenever any idea is taken from a specific work, even when the student writes the idea entirely in his/her own words, there must be a [citation] giving credit to the author responsible for the idea....Students are entirely responsible for knowing and following the principles of paraphrasing. The student should never retain a sentence pattern and substitute synonyms for the original words. S/he should never retain the original words and alter the sentence pattern. In other words, paraphrasing means alteration of sentence pattern and changing the words. Any direct quote should be properly cited. Even when the student uses only one unusual or key word from a passage, that word should be quoted. If a brief phrase that is common or somewhat common is used as it occurs in a source, the words should be in quotation marks. (underlining added)

When one rephrases an author's ideas or summarizes a researcher's study in one's own words, then the original author's work is cited as described below:

There are four ways to incorporate citations throughout your paper:

1. The author(s) name can be used within the context of your sentence with the year cited in parentheses.

Example: Jones and Smith (1981) reported that....

2. The author(s) name and year can be set in parentheses after the material used.

Example: It is agreed that....(Jones & Smith, 1981).

3. When there are 3-5 authors of a source the expression "et al." is used after all of the authors have been listed in the regular formats

For example, if the first mention of a source is:

In a follow-up article, Jones, Smith, and Williams (1982) studied....
Any following citations of the same source can be as follows:

Jones et al. (1982) confirmed the findings of the original study.
4. When there are six or more authors, cite only the surname of the first author followed by "et al." and the year for the first and subsequent citations.

If you are citing a series of words, the proper sequence is by alphabetical order of the surname of the first author and then by chronological order.

(Kern, 1960, 1961; Mithalal, 1963, 1964)

Note that an ampersand is used with multiple authors when they are listed within parentheses; "and" is used outside parentheses.

Rodgers and Bakeman (1992) found that social isolation is not always a negative experience.

Social isolation is not always a negative experience (Rodgers & Bakeman, 1992).

Reference List

The reference list is placed at the end of your paper in place of the bibliography. The references are placed in alphabetical order and only listed once.

The format used is author last name, initials, date, title, and publications facts. See reference examples for more detail.

Capitalize only the first letter of the first word, proper nouns, and the first letter of the first word following a colon in titles of books, chapters, articles, etc.

Indent the first line of each entry five to seven spaces, the same as a paragraph in text.

Reference Examples

Book--one author:

Shaw, M. E. (1981). Group dynamics: The psychology of small group behavior (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Book--two authors:

Trewatha, R. L., & Newport, M. G. (1979). Management, functions and behavior (3rd ed.). Dallas, TX: Business Publications, Inc.

Book--editor(s) instead of authors:

Hackman, J. R., Lawler, E. E., III, & Porter, L. W. (Eds.). (1983). Perspectives on behavior in organization (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw- Hill.

Journal article--one author:

Rousseau, D. M. (1978). Measures of technology as predictors of employee attitude. Journal of Applied Psychology, 63, 213- 218.

Note: Use issue number in parentheses immediately after the volume number if, and only if, each issue begins on page 1.

Journal articles--two authors:

Oldham, G. R., & Hackman, J. R. (1981). Relationships between organizational structure and employee reactions: Comparing alternative frameworks. Administrative Science Quarterly, 26, 66-83.

Article in an edited book:

Hartzberg, R. (1983). One more time: How do you motivate employees? In J. R. Hackman, E. E. Lawler, & L. W. Porter, (Eds.), Perspectives on behavior in organizations. New York: McGraw-Hill.

These methods and examples have been adopted from the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (4th ed.). For further details about references, tables, figures, etc. consult the manual.

Commonly Misspelled or Misused Words

In matters of spelling and usage, look in the dictionary when in doubt. Words that sound alike or look alike are often misspelled or misused, as in the following examples:

Do not depend on your spelling checker to distinguish between these words.

Other words or phrases frequently misspelled in research reports are listed below:

Note that: The word "data" is plural. For example, data were gathered in three sessions of 15 subjects per session.

When referring to humans, use the pronouns "who" or "whom;" when referring to animals or inanimate objects, use "that" or "which." For example, individuals who were late for the experiment were not allowed to participate.

Note that statistically one can never "prove" anything (alternative theories may also predict the results obtained in your study, or your results may have been obtained by chance). Be very careful in using this term. I would suggest banishing it from your vocabulary.

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