The Most Important APA Rules to Know |

May 10, 2017 3:08:51 PM | writing The Most Important APA Rules to Know |

APA is a citation style that consists of rules and guidelines to ensure a clear and consistent presentation of written material.


The Most Important APA Rules to Know 

What’s the big deal about APA style?

APA (American Psychological Association) style … what’s the big deal, and why do we use it?

Originated in 1929 by a group of anthropologists, psychologists, and business managers, APA is a citation style that consists of rules and guidelines to ensure a clear and consistent presentation of written material. APA style was established to provide ease of reading scientific writing.[1]

Citation styles that you might already be familiar with include MLA, AMA, Chicago, and Turabian.[2] However, if you are in the social science discipline (Psychology, Sociology, Nursing, etc.), it is likely you will be writing in APA style and should become familiar with the general formatting requirements and styling basics. Some APA styling basics include, but are not limited to:

  • Citations and Reference list
  • Page layout
  • Language 

If you are new to APA style, don’t fret. There are plenty of resources out there to guide you through even the most difficult formatting questions. The APA Publication Manual, APA OWL Purdue website, and APA Style Blog are just a few favorite resources.

Here’s a quick look at some of the most important APA style guidelines for students, researchers, and writers to know, including citations and references, page layout, and language.

#1 What should APA in-text citations and References list look like? 

By far, one of the trickiest parts of mastering APA style is properly citing sources. To help ease the process of formatting a reference in APA style, I made you a formatted references template for the most common sources cited. Click HERE to download the APA references template. 

A few APA references pointers to remember:

  • Alphabetize by author’s last name
  • Use a hanging indent in the Reference list
  • Double space
  • Detail matters
  • Always double check your work

Additionally, every reference in a Reference list has an in-text citation associated with it. An in-text citation is a reference included in the body of a piece of writing (e.g., an academic essay, research article). You must use in-text citations when you are paraphrasing, summarizing, or directly quoting from a source. The general format of an APA in-text citation is (author, date).[3]

#2 What is the required APA page formatting? 

In general, the required sections of an APA styled paper include the title page, abstract, main body, and reference list.

The APA title page includes the following information: the title of your paper, your name, your institutional affiliation, and the date. 

An APA abstract should be on a separate page, consist of approximately 150-200 words, be written in a single paragraph, and should not be indented.

The main body of an APA-formatted paper consists of your main content, and include headings and subsections.

The APA Reference section is on a separate page, and of course, consists of your references.

Organizing the main body of your paper can be a difficult process. That is why APA style has five different levels of headings and subsections. These headings and subsections are:

  • Level 1: Centered, Bold, Uppercase and Lowercase words
  • Level 2: Flush left, Bold, Uppercase and Lowercase words
  • Level 3: Indented, boldface, lowercase
  • Level 4: Indented, boldface, italicized, lowercase paragraph
  • Level 5: Indented, italicized, lowercase [4]

#3 What are the language rules for APA style?

Language is important when writing in APA style.

APA style suggests being as clear and concise as possible. For instance, avoid poetic language, biased language, and wordiness. When writing, make a note of your point of view and tone. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association suggests, “One effective way to achieve the right tone is to imagine a specific reader you intend to reach and to write in a way that will educate and persuade that individual.”[5]

#4 But, why APA style?

Is APA style that important? Yes, it is. It helps researchers, writers, students, and professors to express key elements of results, describe accuracy in a clear, concise format, and report the critical details of a research protocol and process (APA Style, n.d.). It also provides consistency in writing, and is needed to write a successful research paper. 

But remember, to write a successful research paper, you must follow the rules and guidelines. Most important, like other citation styles, APA style protects against plagiarism. Most, if not all, universities and colleges require their students to some form of style guide for their required coursework. At ACHS, for example, we require our graduate and undergraduate students to use APA style for all assignments, including weekly assignments, research papers, case studies, etc. 

APA style can be confusing at times. With all its rules and guidelines, it’s easy to give up. However, to be a successful researcher and writer, it is important to know this citation style. With all the resources out there to help guide you, it is possible to succeed. Now, go out there and write! 

If you have any questions about this blog post, leave a comment or contact the ACHS librarian at

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[1] APA Style. (n.d.). What is APA style? Retrieved from 

[2] Associates Degree Online. (n.d.) What is APA format? Retrieved from 

[3] Paiz, M. J., Angeli, E., Wagner, J., Lawrick, E. Moore, K., Anderson, M., et al. (2014, November 11). In-text citations: The basics. Retrieved from

[4] Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). (2009). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

[5] Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). (2009). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Ashley Ehmig

Written By: Ashley Ehmig

Ashley received her Master of Library Science from Emporia State University, and her bachelors in general science from the University of Oregon. She has worked in libraries for seven years, including positions in academic libraries, continuing medical education, and medical archives. Ashley is passionate about providing information literacy through different technology platforms, and has an interest in instructional design and distance education. She loves working as a librarian and sharing her knowledge with others. In her free time, Ashley enjoys thrift shopping, reading in coffee shops, traveling, exploring new river spots (when it is warm), and hanging out with friends.