Scientific Writing Tips: Understanding the Basics of APA Style (Seventh Edition)

Writer: Amy Li

Instagram: @amyylli


The writing type generally used in education, psychology, and sciences is the American Psychological Association (APA) style, regulating stylistics, in-text citations, and references (Purdue Online Writing Lab [Purdue OWL], n.d. -a). The ENVISION research proposal competition recommends using APA style, with the most recent format as APA 7 released in October 2019 (Purdue OWL, n.d. -b).

One: General APA Guidelines

In general, the paper format should be typed and double-spaced with four main sections: title page, abstract, main body, and references. The essay should be printed on standard-sized paper (8.5” x 11”) with 1” margins on every side of the page (Purdue OWL, n.d. -b). Although there is no particular font for APA Style, the APA Manual recommends using sans serif fonts (11-point Calibri, 11-point Arial, and 10-point Lucida Sans Unicode) and serif fonts (12-point Times New Roman, 11-point Georgia, and 10-point Computer Modern). They are legible, widely available, and have special characters (American Psychological Association [APA], 2019a). While professional papers are for academic or commercial publication, student papers are for course credit (Purdue OWL, n.d. -a). ENVISION research proposals are student papers.

Page Header

The paper contains a page header in the top margin of every page. For student papers, there is a page number only. For professional documents, there is a page number and running head.

Page numbers are generally flush right on every page, with the title page holding page number 1. To insert page numbers, use the page-number function of the document software:

  • Google Docs: Insert > Page numbers > Choose options > Apply

  • Microsoft Word (macOS): Insert > Page Number (icon) > Page Number (option) > Choose options > OK

  • Microsoft Word (Windows): Insert > Page Number > Choose location and style > Close Header and Footer or esc

Running heads are the abbreviated versions of the paper title, usually for professional papers. The format is all-capital letters, no more than 50 characters, and must be in a consistent form on every page (APA, 2019c).

Two: Title Page

In a student paper, the page header has the page number on the flush right and no running head. The title is in the center of the upper half of the page, consisting of the name with no title or degree, academic department, course, instructor, and date.

In a professional paper, the page header has a running head and the page number on the flush right. The title is in the center of the upper half of the page. On a separate line, there is a name with no title or degree. Next, there is an affiliation, for example, a university. Also, an author note section encompasses the ORCID iDs, affliction changes, specific disclosures or acknowledgments, and the corresponding author’s contact information (APA, 2019d).

Three: Abstract

The abstract is a 150 to 250 word summary of the paper, bolding and centering “Abstract” at the top. Professional papers have both the running heads and page numbers, and student papers have page numbers only. After the abstract, there is an indented short keywords list (Purdue OWL, n.d. -b).

Four: Main Text

The first main text page should be page number 3. Each heading should be bolded, and most paragraphs should be indented one half-inch from left margins (Purdue OWL, n.d. -a).


There are five heading levels, with Level 1 as the main heading level (APA, 2019b).

In-Text Citations

In-text citations refer to the cited sources from the References section of the paper (Purdue OWL, n.d. -c). In parenthetical citations, follow the author-date method at the end of a sentence: (Author Last Name, Year). In narrative citations, use the reference as a signal phrase: Author Last Name (Year).

  • One author: Author Last Name (Year) or (Author Last Name, Year).

  • Two authors: Author Last Name 1 and Author Last Name 2 (Year) or (Author Last Name 1 & Author Last Name 2, Year).

  • Three or more authors: First Author Last Name et al. (Year) or (First Author Last Name et al., Year).

  • Two or more works (order according to reference list): (Author Last Name 1, Year 1; Author Last Name 2, Year 2).

  • Unknown author: Full title or (First word of title, Year).

  • Quote articles and chapters

  • Italicize books and reports

  • Organization as author: Organization name (Year) or (Organization name [abbreviation], Year).

More Information:

Five: References

At the end of the paper, the references list is on a separate page, with “References” bolded and centered at the top. The sources should be in alphabetical order and double-spaced. The list should have inverted author names, listing all last names and initials with commas and an ampersand (&) before the final name unless the work consists of more than twenty authors (Purdue OWL, n.d. -d).

Useful online citation tools include:

More Information:

Six: Samples


American Psychological Association. (2019a, October). Font.

American Psychological Association. (2019b, October). Headings.

American Psychological Association. (2019c, October). Page Header.

American Psychological Association. (2019d, October). Title Page Setup.

Purdue Online Writing Lab. (n.d. -a). APA PowerPoint Slide Presentation // Purdue Writing Lab.

Purdue Online Writing Lab. (n.d. -b). General Format // Purdue Writing Lab.

Purdue Online Writing Lab. (n.d. -c). In-Text Citations: Author/Authors // Purdue Writing Lab.

Purdue Online Writing Lab. (n.d. -d). Reference List: Basic Rules // Purdue Writing Lab.