How to Write and Format Documents Using APA Style

This guide highlights important details UW-Superior students should remember when writing in APA Style. We’ll explain what APA Style is, where you can find more details about using APA Style correctly to write and format your assignments, help you identify and cite strong sources, and cover the basic formatting and setup of an APA Style document.

Please read this guide in order at least once, but you can use the links below to quickly jump to different sections for quick reference.

What is APA Style?

The American Psychological Association (APA) citation style, named APA Style, is the most commonly used format for manuscripts in the social sciences. APA Style is used to correctly format manuscript text, in-text citations, and references. APA Style is currently in its seventh edition.

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Seventh Edition (2020) is a recommended text that you will need to use throughout the Education Program. You can access it for free in the following places:

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Seventh Edition (2020) can be purchased in digital and print copies from the website and online retailers.

Photo of Book in JDHL StacksAPA Style Guide Open

Cross-Referencing Sources

APA Style provides writers with a format for cross-referencing their sources—from parenthetical references to their reference page. This cross-referencing system allows readers to locate the publication information of source material. This is of great value for researchers who may want to locate your sources for their own research projects. The proper use of APA Style also shows the credibility of writers; such writers show accountability to their source material. Most importantly, use of APA Style can protect writers from plagiarism—the purposeful or accidental use of source material by other writers without giving appropriate credit.

Language Style

When writing in APA, it’s important to write with both clarity and conciseness.

Unfortunately, it is challenging to balance clarity (which requires providing clarification) and conciseness (which requires packing information). To achieve clarity, avoid vague wording and be specific in descriptions and explanations. To achieve conciseness, condense information as much as possible. Avoid using metaphors and minimize the use of figurative language, both of which are commonly used in creative writing. Likewise, rhetorical questions should not be used in APA style writing.

Your writing should be:

  • Clear: Use specific descriptions and explanations.
  • Concise: Condense information when you can.
  • Plain: Use simple, descriptive adjectives and minimize figurative language.


Along with the style of your writing, APA documents need to be formatted in a specific way.

Document Format

Type your papers on a white background with a black font. Use the following document formatting:

  • Font Size: 10–12pt
  • Type Spacing: Double Spaced
  • Page Margins: 1”
  • Page Numbers: On the top-right corner of every page

Title Page

Include the page number in the top right hand corner of your title page. Next, add the following—and nothing else—in this order, with each item on a new line:

  1. Title of your paper, in bold text
  2. Your name
  3. “University of Wisconsin-Superior”
  4. Course Code and Course Title
  5. Your Instructor’s Name
  6. Assignment Due Date

All text should be in 12pt Times New Roman font, double spaced, and centered both horizontally and vertically.

Do not include images or color on the title page.

Example Title Page


Documents formatted in APA Style use a system of five heading levels.

Always start with heading Level One and move down through the levels in each section of your paper. For example, use Level One formatted headers for each section of the document, then use Level Two formatting for each subsection, and use Level Three headers for each subsection of Level Two.

In APA Style, the “Introduction” section never gets a heading and headings are not indicated by letters or numbers.

Levels of headings will depend upon the length and organization of your paper. Proceed to the next header level when necessary to break up the current section into more than one subsection (like in an outline). Each heading level is distinguished by unique formatting.

This table demonstrates five header levels and their correct formatting.
Level Format
1 Centered, Bold, Title Case
2 Left-aligned, Bold, Title Case
3 Left-aligned, Bold Italic, Title Case
4 Indented, Bold, Title Case, Ends with a Period.
5 Indented, Bold Italic, Title Case, Ends with a Period.

For more information about APA Style headings, visit the APA Style and Grammar Guidelines Paper Format page.

Example of How to Format Headings

Academic Writing Conventions and Expectations

As you write, keep the following expectations in mind:

  • Consistent Fonts: Use one font size. Do not use different colors of text.
  • Consistent Headings: Headings should be the same font and size as the rest of the document text.
  • Image Formatting: Use images sparingly, when the assessment requires it. Reference each image with appropriate attribution. ( provides images you can download and use for academic purposes with accurate citations included.)
  • Define Acronyms: Use the full title before introducing an acronym.
    • The first time you use the phrase in a sentence, add the abbreviation in parenthesis after it. For example, “United States of America (USA)” or “posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)”.
    • The first time you use the phrase in a citation, add the abbreviation in square brackets after it. For example, “US Department of Agriculture [USDA]”.
  • Do Not Use Contractions: For example, use “do not” instead of “don’t”.
  • Number Formatting: For quantities smaller than ten, write out the word. For numbers 11 and above, use the number.
  • Use Page Breaks: To start a new page in your paper, use a page break. Don’t use a series of new lines to fill the remainder of a page, as this can cause formatting issues when adding text earlier in the document. (Both Google Sheets and Microsoft Word make it simple to add page breaks.)

What are Reliable, Scholarly and Authoritative Sources?

Many of your instructors will require you to use reliable, scholarly and authoritative sources in your work and then cite and subsequently reference those sources correctly. Unfortunately, while there are many sources of information available to you, not all are considered reliable, scholarly and authoritative sources appropriate for academic research and writing. Follow the tips below to select sources that fit this criteria.

Authoritative Sources

This kind of source is a credible publication from established institutions that provide industry/professional guidelines. Authoritative publications are often written by industry experts. These include:

  • Government Websites (often located on a .gov webpage)
  • University Websites (often located on a .edu webpage)
  • Course learning materials inside Canvas
  • Recognized institutions (e.g., United Nations, National Education Association, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, etc.)
  • Legislation

Scholarly Sources

Look for publications that are evaluated by academic peers before publishing—known as “peer-reviewed” or “blind peer-reviewed” publications. These are archived in academic and publicly accessible databases, such as Education Research Complete (EBSCO), Education Resource Information Center (ERIC), and PsycINFO.

UW-Superior students and staff can access many peer-reviewed publications through the Jim Dan Hill Library. Try searching the Education databases!

Reliable Sources

Look for recognized and credible sources. Information from these publications can be verified and supported by multiple sources, making them reliable.

These include,, Smithsonian Magazine, Time Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.


While useful and easy to search, Wikipedia is not a reliable, authoritative, or scholarly source. There is not a way to verify authorship and anyone can edit a Wikipedia entry at any time.

To use Wikipedia wisely, look in the references section of entries for reliable sources. Remember to always access those sources and confirm their veracity before using them to inform your work.

Need Help Finding and Assessing Sources?

For more information about locating and evaluating sources, contact a librarian at the Jim Dan Hill Library for assistance. Librarians are available by email at or by appointment. Research guides and video tutorials are available to help you get started with your research.

Citing, Quoting, and Paraphrasing Sources

When writing academic papers, it’s important to reference your research. Documents formatted in APA Style use consistent formatting to do so. In this section we’ll show how to:

  • paraphrase passages from your sources
  • cite sources that inform your writing
  • quote sources directly

Introduce Your Reference

Regardless of how you choose to reference others’ ideas in your writing, you’ll need to use words or phrases that indicate where you’re drawing from others’s work. These are called “signal words” or “signal phrases”.

  • According to Schuelke (2019), ”…“ (p. 3).
  • Schuelke (2019) argued that “…” (p. 3).

Useful signal verbs include acknowledged, contended, maintained, responded, reported, argued, and concluded. Remember to use the past tense or the present perfect tense of verbs in signal phrases when they discuss past events.

Principles of Paraphrasing

In academic writing, it’s best practice to paraphrase your sources. At the same time, you should use a professional tone when describing a concept, idea, or finding in your own words (APA, 2019, p.269).

Cite the work you paraphrase using either the narrative or parenthetical format, which we’ll explain in more detail later in this guide.

You can continue to write without citation as long as it is obvious that the same work is being sourced. The citation may be parenthetical or narrative; however, if you use the narrative approach you must repeat the author names in each of the subsequent sentences.

Now we’ll show you how to format your citations and quotes.


In-text citations are included in APA Style documents.

These help readers locate the cited source in the References section of the paper. More importantly, they establish the credibility of the writer by showing respect to someone else’s intellectual property and avoiding plagiarism.

In-text citations follow either a parenthetical format or a narrative format.

Parenthetical Citations

These include both the author’s last name and year of publication, separated by a comma. Place the citation in parenthesis at the end of the sentence. For example:

As a sign of respect to their elders, young Indigenous students will not look at the person of authority while they are speaking and they will not answer a question if they realize that the elder already knows the answer (Hale, 2000).

Narrative Citations

These place the author’s name directly in the sentence. Follow the author’s name with the year of publication in parenthesis. For example:

Jay and Knaus (2018) found in their study whole child development should be a key focus when planning for social and emotional curriculum in early elementary.

Citing Page Numbers

If the source you’re citing includes page numbers, add that information to your citation.

In a parenthetical citation, add the page number after the year of publication, separated by a comma, with a lowercase “p” and a period before the number. For example:

There is now without a doubt an increasing pressure to achieve academic results early on, leaving little time for play and exploration of concepts (Wells, 2016, p. 42).

In a narrative citation, add the page number at the end of the sentence, in parenthesis, preceded by a lowercase “p” and a period before the number. For example:

Lowen (2007) notes the concern with these materials is that such as these are designed to catch the eye of the purchaser not the students themselves (p.23).

Follow the same guidelines for parenthetical and narrative citations when summarizing or paraphrasing a longer chunk of text:

The problem with commercially and teacher made resources, such as those on teachers pay teachers, is that they are designed to catch the eye of the purchaser not the students themselves. (Lowen, 2007).

Lowen (2007) suggests the problem with commercially and teacher made resources, such as those on teachers pay teachers, is that they are designed to catch the eye of the purchaser not the students themselves.

Citing Two or More Works

When the parenthetical citation includes two or more works, order them in the same way they appear in the reference list—the author’s name followed by the year of publication, separated by a semi-colon.

A common narrative amongst educators regarding the overwhelming amount of paperwork that needs to be completed to meet accountability and increased pressure to improve student learning outcomes (Bisaillion, 2013; Crowell, 2017).

Other Types of In-Text Citations

The APA Style and Grammar Guidelines explains how to format citations for a wide range of sources. For more information on how to cite these, review the APA Publication Manual, or click the links below:

  • Works with two authors
  • Works with three or more authors
  • Works with group authors
  • Multiple authors with the same last name
  • Works with an unknown author
  • Works without page numbers
  • Classroom or Canvas Resources
  • Personal communication (like interviews, letters, and email)


The APA Style guide recommends paraphrasing sources instead of directly quoting them.

However, there are specific situations where quotations are more appropriate. For example, quote from your source when reproducing an exact definition, when an author has said something memorable, or when you want to respond to exact wording (APA, 2019, p.270).

Introduce and Cite Quotes

If you choose to directly quote a source in your writing, introduce the quotation with a signal phrase, and then format the quote using either a parenthetical or narrative citation format. For example:

As scientific knowledge advances, “the application of CRISPR technology to improve human health is being explored across public and private sectors” (Hong, 2018, p. 503).

Loveless (2014) described how the press has picked up on this story, writing “reports of kids over-burdened with homework and parents rebelling against their children’s oppressive workload” (p. 25).

When directly quoting from a source, always include the author, year, and page number in the in-text citation. To indicate a single page use the abbreviation “p.” and for multiple pages use the abbreviation “pp.”, separating the page range with a dash.

Similarly, the Piramide Approach founded by Jef van Kuyk, promotes the use of project themes where “children can make play choices for themselves and carry out initiative learning activities within the context of a rich play and learning environment…where the teacher introduces new elements into the play and learning environment during each project to give children new challenges to play and learn” (2013, p.314). Play pedagogies, which are implemented through project or themes, present curriculum as an integrated experience, because as Branscombe et al (2013, pp.32–33) points out “children view learning as holistic rather than as separate subject matter areas.”

Quote Length

If you quote is less than 40 words long, then incorporate it into the text and encase it in double quotation marks.

In West Africa, Fortes (2008) uncovered how the Tallensi people “teach through real situations which children are drawn to participate in because it is expected that they are capable and desirous of mastering the necessary skills” (p. 37).

If your quote is 40 words or longer, present it as a block quotation. Start the quotation on a new line, do not use quotation marks, and indent the entire block 0.5 inches from the left margin.

This approach empowers children and encourages them to design their own learning units, to engage in curriculum content in a method that is personally meaningful to themselves, and to develop depth of understanding through participation. Helm (2012) agrees, stating:

they generate their own questions for investigation, discuss hypotheses with peers, use their notes and drawings as resources, and interview experts and we see this in the way their paintings, drawings, and sculptures represent their relationship with what they are studying. (p. 73)

Direct Quotation without page numbers

When quoting from a scholarly source that does not have page numbers (websites, some ebooks), provide one of the following details instead:

  • a heading or section name
  • an abbreviated heading or section name in quotation marks to indicate abbreviation
  • a paragraph number
  • a heading or section name in combination with a paragraph number

When quoting from a YouTube video, audio book, TED Talk, or TV Show, use a timestamp instead of the page number.

Just like the rolling nothing from the movie The Neverending Story (1984), the objective of this culture is to oppress the people in order to control the outcomes. In a scene from the movie (Petersen, 1984, 1:11:10) the young warrior Atreyu has a desperate discussion with the villain G’mork, the servant of the nothing:

Atreyu: What is the Nothing?
G’mork: It’s the emptiness that’s left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it.
Atreyu: But why?
G’mork: Because people who have no hopes are easy to control; and whoever has the control… has the power!

When quoting material that contains a quote from another source, include the original citation in the quote.

Irvine and Farrell (2013) suggested that “a multi-lateral National Partnership Agreement (COAG, 2008) outlines the related roles and responsibilities of the Australian, State and Territory governments, and requires full implementation by 2013” if early years reform is to be achieved (p. 226).

Changes to a Quotation

If you need to make changes to a quote, explain why the change was needed. This can be done subtly using the following approaches.

Omit Parts of the Quote

Use an ellipsis (three dots with space around each) to shorten a sentence or combine two sentences.

This is particularly important for Australian First People’s where the “presence of familiar faces, familiar understandings, and familiar languages within the school … help promote a strong Aboriginal identity” (Dockett, Mason & Perry, 2006, p.141).

Add to the Qoute

Use square brackets to enclose language you have inserted into the quote, such as an addition or explanation.

As Samuelsson and Carlsson (2008) declared, “the curriculum must be internalized and lived by the teacher…[so that they] see the possibilities everywhere in the child’s environment” (p. 637).

Add Emphasis

If you want to emphasize certain words in a quotation, format them in italics and add in the phrase “emphasis added” in squared brackets immediately after the emphasized words.

The Early Years Learning Framework, the key component of the Australian Government’s National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care, describes play based learning as “a context for learning through which children organize and make sense of their social worlds, as they actively engage [emphasis added] with people, objects and representations” (Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009, p. 46).

Secondary Sources

A secondary source is content that is embedded in a document which you are reading. For example, if we cite the Hudson quote in the paragraph below in our own work, this would be a secondary source.

It is clear that to retain teachers in the field it is imperative that a school culture which supports the development of a community of practice amongst the teaching faculty. Mentoring for beginning teachers within their first five years in particular, is crucial in teacher retention. Hudson (2016) states mentors which share their “experiences by divulging their pedagogical weaknesses with tangible solutions to mentees as a method of modeling open self-reflection and that [demonstrating] as experienced teachers they are not infallible but rather on a continued learning journey about teaching” develop partnerships in learning and teaching creating a community of practice (p. 41). This was also seen in Kraft, Blazer & Hogan’s study (2018) which found large positive effects of coaching on teachers’ instructional practice and raised student performance on standardized tests (pp. 561–562).

You should always locate and cite the original, “primary” source instead of citing a secondary source. If that’s not an option, this is how you cite a secondary source.

Format your narrative citation by including the source’s full title:

According to Hudson (as cited in Riek, 2018)…

Format your parenthetical citation by including the first word of the title followed by the year of publication:

(Hudson, 2016, as cited in Riek, 2018)

List Your References

Include a references page at the end of your document that details the source of all your citations. Reference pages should be formatted in the following way:

  • Type “References” at the top of the page. Center that line and make it bold.
  • Type your reference entries below, double spaced
  • Left align all your entries
  • List each author last name first, followed by their first initial
  • Capitalize the first letter of the first word of a title and subtitle, the first word after a colon or a dash in the title, and proper nouns. Do not capitalize the first letter of the second word in a hyphenated compound word.
  • Order entries alphabetically by the surname of the first author of each work.

If you include references that will change over time, such as a web page referenced on a particular date, include “retrieved” information. Do not add “retrieved” for a book or journal page article.

Example References Page

KeywordsAPA Counseling styleguide   Doc ID130068
OwnerMichael M.GroupUW Superior
Created2023-08-01 10:51:26Updated2024-07-12 16:02:36
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