Headings in APA- A Definitive Guide

APA (American Psychological Association) style is documentation that many scholars and professionals use to write papers, articles, and books. APA style is used in social sciences, including business and engineering.

One aspect of this style is using heading styles in the text appropriately. Headings in APA are an essential part of citing sources, formatting essays, and word processing.

This article will go over what you need to know about headings in APA Style so that your research paper or essay looks professional and organized.

What Are Headings Used for in APA?

Headings are used to breaking up different ideas, sections, and subsections within your APA-style paper. The different levels of headings allow you to break down larger topics into smaller, more specific subtopics.

The reader can easily distinguish between the main points. Headings serve as ‘road signs’ for your readers to quickly identify where they are in the paper and what information will be discussed next.

Headings are also used to generate a table of contents (TOC), and list of figures (LoF), and a list of tables (LoT). Headings are also used for reference purposes.

By establishing wherein the text, a reference may be found (e.g., author, date, and page), headings provide readers with ready access to bibliographic information.

Headings also separate and distinguish references from other types of information, such as descriptive text or tables. Authors who create their own headings and make their references accordingly are less likely to make errors when creating the bibliography.

So, we can say headings serve several purposes:

1) To provide structure for the paper by breaking up different sections of the text.

2) To provide quick reference points to help readers understand information quickly without reading all of the paragraphs in that section.

3) They help to generate a table of contents (TOC) quickly, and a list of figures (LoF), and a list of tables (LoT).

4) Headings are also used for reference purposes.

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Heading Levels

There are five headings used; level one (most important), level two, level three, level four, and level five. In an APA-style paper, headings should follow a specific format for each level of heading.

Headings should be included whenever you begin a new section. However, it is not necessary to include headings for subsections.

Let us look at this in detail.

How to Format APA Headlines in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th Edition

Apa heading levels are as follows:

Heading Level 1: Centered, bold, in title case. The text should begin on a new page, with the first line indented.

Here is what it would look like on actual paper:

Heading Level 2: Bold, in title case, and flush left. The font size should be smaller than the level 1 heading. The text should begin on a new line, with the first line indented.

Heading Level 3: Flush left, bold and italicized, title case. The font size should be smaller than the Level 2 heading. The text should begin on a new page, with an indented first line. Here is what it would look like on actual paper:

Heading Level 4: Indented, bold and italicized, and followed by a period. The font should be smaller than the Level 3 heading (but larger than a standard paragraph). The text begins on the same line (After the period).

Heading Level 5: Indented, flush left, bold, italicized, and underlined with a period. The font size should be smaller than the level 4 heading (but larger than a normal paragraph). The text begins on the same line (After the period).

To Note:

  • Title case means that the first letter of every word in the heading is capitalized. However, if it is a proper noun, then capitalize it, e.g., HIV/AIDS.
  • Indentation means that the first line starts five (5) spaces from the margin.

How to Format APA Headings Within the Body of an Article

To begin a new level of heading, use three dashes and then the appropriate heading level:

  • For Level 1 and Level 3 headings, no additional punctuation is needed.
  • For Level 2 headings, use a period at the end of each heading.
  • For Levels 4 and 5 headings, use three dashes followed by the appropriate heading level; then use a period at the end of each subheading.

Heading levels typically mark where one section ends and another begins. If there is more than one level of heading in a section, the main points should be bulleted and preceded with intertitles (if there are fewer than three points) or a dash if there are more than four main points in the section.

To outline student papers by using headings effectively:

  • A heading must precede every section of the writing, and the first letter should be capitalized.
  • If you need to use more than one level of headings (i.e., levels 3 and 4) within the same section, use a period after each heading and start each bulleted section with an intertitle or dash.
  • The last heading within a section should be at the end of that section. Underline it and place a period after it. Do not underline the first heading in the next section.

Different sections may have different heading levels. For example, section one may have two levels (heading one and heading 2), while Section 2 may have four heading levels. It depends on the content of your writing and how many subheadings each section has.

In-text Citation Formatting According to APA 7th Edition Guidelines

The in-text citation is a way of listing the author’s last name and the year of publication for a source in parentheses at some point within your paper.

For example, (Smith, 2010) or (Gibbs, 2006). In-text citations fulfill an essential role in helping readers find out where they learned certain information from.

Quoting from a Paper

If you use a quote from the paper and cite the author, format the citation as follows: (Author’s last name, year published).

If you use a quote from the paper and cite the author and page number, format your citation as follows: (Author’s last name & page number).

Do not include quotation marks around text or parentheses around citation information if you paraphrase information from the paper.

Use of Direct Quote

To use a direct quote from the paper with more than three lines, indent the text one-half inch from the left margin. Place quotation marks around the quote.

Include a parenthetical citation after the quote that includes the author name, date published, page number if available, and inclusive page numbers.

Using your own words to Quote

If you share information about finding articles (i.e., databases) but not the author’s exact words, use your own wording and include quotation marks.

Using More Than One Author

When using two or three authors, place them in the order they appear on the title page. When using four or more authors, place them in alphabetical order.

Reference Formatting According to APA 7th Edition Guidelines

After you have written the body of your article, have the reference page/works cited page.

It is essential to cite references so that other researchers can find and verify information correctly. Give enough details for others to find the sources in the scholarly databases they use. Otherwise, it will be difficult for anyone who reads your paper to check what you have said and the sources.

  • References appear at the end of the paper and indicate where you found the information.

The first line of the works cited should be flush with the left margin (left-aligned). All lines should be double-spaced and indented in 5 spaces.

How to Reference Books (Print):

Author last name, First initial. (Year published). Title of book: Subtitle, if any. Place of publication: Publisher.

Anderson, T., & Anderson, E. (2012). Intermediate algebra for college students (4th Ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

How to Reference Newspaper article found on microfilm or in print:

Author’s last name, First initial. (Year, Month Date of article). Title of article. Newspaper name, section title if any, page number(s).

Kaufman D. (1995, September 1). Drought cuts to grassland habitats. The San Diego Union-Tribune, pp. A-6.

How to reference Websites:

Author’s last name, First initial., or organization/institution, year of publication. Title of document or page. Available at URL (Accessed Month day, year).

Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Green living: Reduce your environmental impact on the environment at home. Retrieved March 14, 2012, from http://www.epa.gov/greenliving/index.htm

How to Reference Lecture Notes:

Last name of the author, First initial., & Last name of the author, First initial.. (Year). Title of presentation or course component [Format]. Retrieved Month Day, Year from the URL address.

Lundy, J. (2010). Marketing [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved January 9, 2015, from http://www.devry.edu/irj/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=623151&mode=2

How to Reference Conference Proceedings:

Author’s last name, First initial., & Author’s last name, First initial.. (Year). Title of contribution or proceedings [Format]. Name of the conference, location, & Date. Page numbers if applicable.

Abdullah, C., Kawasaki, Y., Naufal, A., Ismail, Z., & Khalidi, S. R. (2009). E-learning in Malaysia: Challenges and current developments. In International Conference on Social Sciences & Humanities (pp. 5-10). Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Universiti Teknologi MARA.

When you use an author (or authors) more than once in your paper, always cite them each time they are mentioned. It is unnecessary to include the same information in subsequent references. Reference the full information for the first reference alone.

For example, if you use three different books by a single author in your article, do not repeat the full citation each time.

Anderson, T., & Anderson, E. (2012). Intermediate algebra for college students [Book]. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

An exception to this rule is when citing a very long quote (more than three lines) that you found in the same book, and the author was mentioned within the quoted text. In this case, it is acceptable to repeat information from the previous reference for clarity.

Anderson, T. (2012). Intermediate algebra for college students [Book], 4th Ed., New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

In this situation, reference the author again when quoting from another source because there is no information given for this book to determine who wrote it.

It could be that a different author is writing about the same topic in this second source that you are referencing. In such cases, it is much clearer to the reader if you mention the author again when making the quotation.

Author(s), Lastname, F. I., & Author(s), Lastname, F. I., (Year). The title of the resource [Format]. Retrieved Month Day, Year from the URL address.

If there is more than one author for an article or book, list all authors together followed by a comma and then “&.” If there are more than three authors, only indicate the first three followed by ‘et al..’

If the source has no author, list it in Italics with the title underlined and centered on top of the page.

General Format APA guidelines in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th Edition

  • Use font size 12 pt for the entire paper except for headings which should be formatted appropriately.
  • Use Times New Roman font.
  • Leave only one space after periods.
  • Do not leave blank lines between paragraphs or page numbers.
  • Leave one line space before starting a new paragraph.
  • Double-space the entire document except for block quotes, which are single-spaced.
  • Use one-inch margins on all sides of the paper.
  • Center the title at the top of the first page and center any subtitles at the left margin below.
  • Leave one blank line between each heading or subheading and its text (or between each heading and the following text).
  • Do not add a period at the end of a sentence that ends with punctuation.
  • Create a hanging indent for the first line of each paragraph.
  • Use headings and subheadings when appropriate.
  • Include a “References” (reference list) or “Bibliography” page at the end of the article.
  • Be consistent in punctuation, spelling, and formatting throughout the paper.
  • Create internal citations according to the appropriate method for each type of source.
  • Tables, figures, headings, and references should be double spaced between them. Do not triple space any of them except for the citations in the running text.
  • Use one-inch margins all around.
  • The top margin may be set at 1.5 inches for convenience in creating the following elements: title pages, running heads, tables of contents, list of figures, headings, and references.

How to Format APA Headings in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th Edition

Heading 1: Bold, title case and centered

Heading 2: Bold, title case, flush left (left-aligned)

Heading 3: Bold, indented, sentence case with a period in the end.

The body text begins on the same sentence (after the period)

Do You Have to Use All the Five Headings in the Research or Essay Paper?

Not really. The length and details of a paper determine the number of headings. Not all student papers need a level 5 heading. For example, if a student has three sections in their paper and each section is relatively short with two levels of headings, they may use the appropriate headings for that section.

For example:

Section 1: Headings Level 4 & 5

Heading for Section 2: Level 3 only

If you have additional sections, just follow the same pattern.

Remember that the APA paper format requires first level heading on each page. Use Heading 1 for this, or divide larger sections with two headings to have a Level 3 and 4 heading on one page. For example:

Heading for Section 2: Level 3

Heading for Section 3: Level 4

The same rule applies to the page margins. The body text starts at the upper 1/3 section on the paper. Right below that is where to place the level three heading. Use Heading 2 or Heading 3, but do not start the body of the paper directly with a level 3 heading. It is too crowded and does not look good. The same rule applies to the page margins, which you can find in the APA Paper Format section.

The basic guideline for formatting a paper using headings is to divide the body into clear and coherent sections, with a logical flow of ideas from one section to another.

Typically, research methods and results papers contain six or more headings (levels 1 to 5). Papers that include tables and figures may need fewer headings.

The following headings are used for papers that include tables and figures:

  • Introduction (Heading 1)
  • Table or Figure (indented and centered on the page with a caption)
  • Methods (Heading 2)
  • Results and Discussion Sections (Levels 3, 4, and 5 headings may be used, depending on the length of your paper)
  • Conclusion (Heading 1)
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How to Format the Title Page in APA 7

All APA-style essays and research papers require a page title. It should include

The Title of the Paper

The title of the paper should be centered, bold, and double spaced. Place it 3 or 4 lines from the top of the page. Please include keywords in the paper title.

Example of How it Should Appear on Paper

Author Name/s

The name/s should appear on a new line below the title. For two authors, use the term “and” between the names—for example, Esther G. Gozarez and Jonathan Bright.

If authors are more than two, use a comma after every author’s name, then use “and” before the last author’s name.

Example of How It Should Appear on Paper


Student papers should have the department name and the name of the school (College or University). The affiliation comes after Author name/s and on its own line. It should be centered and double-spaced—for example, Department of Sociology, Cambridge University.

How it should appear on paper;

Course Name and Number

Course number and name should appear below the author affiliation. It should be centered, double spaced, and on its own line. You will find the course number on the instructional material.

How it should appear on paper;

Name of the Instructor

The name of the unit instructor should be placed after the course number and name and on its own line. Format should be centered and double spaced.

How it should appear on paper:

Due Date

Include the assignment due date after the instructor’s name; centered and double spaced. Example September 27, 2020, or 27 September 2020 (You may use your country’s date format).

How it should appear on paper:

Page Number

The title page should be numbered 1, right-aligned at the top of the page header. Use Microsoft Word automatic page numbering function to generate page numbers.

Example of how the page number should appear on paper:

How the Formatted Title Page Should Look:

How to Format The Works Cited Page

According to APA style, the works cited page is titled “Works Cited” and not “Bibliography.”

  • If you are using in-text citations for the references (which you should), the last name of the author(s) or editor(s) appears in the body text. On the Works Cited page, however, all names are alphabetized by the first author’s last name.
  • If you use more than one source by the same author, order entries alphabetically by title and use three hyphens in place of the author’s name(s).
  • Treat corporate authors as they are presented on their websites. If no information is available, then use “Anonymous.” Anonymous works should be in italics.

Source: Anonymous, “Untitled,” EBSCOhost, doi:10.1002/job.4031

  • When your paper has more than one author, list the authors alphabetically and separate each name with a comma and “&.” The first author’s last name goes first and is followed by a comma. The “et al.” comes next and is not italicized.

What is the Difference Between “Title Case” and “Sentence Case?”

Only proper nouns are capitalized in Sentence Case because they describe a specific person, place, or thing. In the title case, everything is capitalized except for articles, prepositions, and conjunctions. Unless the first letter of a sentence is one of these parts of speech, it is not capitalized either. For example:

“Last night, I went to the store,” in sentence case is written as “Last night, I went to the store.” In Title Case, it would be written as “Last Night I Went to the Store.”

What is a Level 1 Heading in APA 7th Edition?

A level 1 is the broadest heading, for example, “HIV/AIDS.”

What is a Level 2 Heading in APA 7th Edition?

A level 2 heading is more specific than a level 1 but still broader than level 3 headings. For example, “Symptoms of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome” is a level 2 heading.

What is a Level 3 Heading in APA 7th Edition?

A level 3 is the most specific heading within the writing. For example, the “Symptoms of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome” section would be written as an individual heading or subheading with level 3 headings.

What is a Level 4 Heading in APA 7th Edition?

A level 4 heading is the most specific within an individual section. For example, “Short-Term Side Effects” would be written as an individual heading or subheading with level 4 headings.

How Should I Format the Conclusion Section of the Paper?

The conclusion should be an abbreviated version of your thesis statement, following this formula: “In conclusion, [appropriate thesis statement]. [Conclusion statement]” The final sentence of the conclusion should be a concluding thought. For example:

“In conclusion, the symptoms of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome are flu-like symptoms including fever, weight loss, fatigue, and swollen glands.”

Conclusion Headings in APA 7th Edition consist of “Conclusions” or “Concluding Thoughts” and will be centered with a period at the end.


When writing an essay or research, formatting the document with sections and headings can help the reader understand your argument. The different levels of headings allow you to break down larger topics into smaller, more specific subtopics.

Remember that headings are not necessary if you do not have too much information to present within a limited space. If you are using headings in your paper, remember some helpful tips on formatting them to appear correctly when the document is published.

Headings provide readers with a quick visual guide to the content of your work. They also provide an outline that tells readers what key information is contained in each section of the research/essay. Headings are used when generating a table of contents (TOC), a list of figures (LoF), and a list of tables (LoT).  Headings are also used to generate a reference list.

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