17 Really Useful Things You’ll Probably Want to Know about Formatting Papers in APA Style

Updated: Apr 26, 2019

During the first year of my doctoral program, I dreaded formatting my reference list. I was sure there would be one or two details I’d miss that identified me as an APA amateur. Let’s be honest: It’s often more convenient to look up how to do it online than it is to pull the hard copy of the APA manual off the shelf (important though it is to be familiar with it).

I found it helpful to know about resources like the reference librarian at my university library, the APA Style Blog, the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), and Academic Writer. After getting to know these sites and attending a few webinars on APA, I learned how to clean up my reference list, search for answers to questions, and find clarity on issues that confused me in the APA manual.

Here are some of the pesky details you may not know about.

1. Headings

The reference list heading should be centered and should not be in bold like most other headings. For more information on headings, see APA Headings and Seriation from the Purdue OWL (n.d.-a) and How to Use Five Levels of Heading in an APA Style Paper by Chelsea Lee (2011).

2. Titles

The title of your assignment belongs on the title page.

For example: Assignment 2: Peer Review

The heading for your introduction is the title of your paper, not the word Introduction as a heading. The heading/title of your paper belongs at the beginning of the body and should not be written in bold.

Not all class papers require an abstract, but if you are tasked with writing one, use the heading Abstract. It does not belong in bold.

See this sample paper for an example (Purdue Online Writing Lab, n.d.-b).

3. Volume and Issue

The journal volume number should be in italics, but not the issue number or the page numbers.

For example: Journal of the American Dietetic Association, (104)4, 604-610.

4. Hanging Indent

The reference list is double-spaced, just like the rest of the paper, but after the first line of each entry, the subsequent lines should be indented. Do not use the tab key for this indentation. Use what’s called a hanging indent. To create the hanging indent, follow these steps:

Place your cursor at the beginning of the line you wish to indent. Right-click and you’ll see a box with a drop-down menu. Choose paragraph from this menu.

In the paragraph box, choose hanging from the indentation section in the middle. Click okay and the second and subsequent lines of each reference will indent.

5. Splitting links

Links should cover the full length of the page (within preset margins) before continuing on the next line.

This is incorrect:

This is also incorrect:

This is correct:

See how the link is split, but the second line of the reference carries all the way over? The way you do this is to place your cursor right before the point at which you want to split the link, then click Shift+Enter. Be sure to break the link after a symbol rather than before. If it doesn’t line up right the first time you try, don’t use the backspace key. Use the undo arrow or the Ctrl+Z shortcut to undo what you did, then choose a different place at which to split the link. Create your hanging indents before you split your links, because the indent will move your text and you may end up having to redo your work once the spacing changes.

6. Hyperlinks

The APA Style Blog says it’s “fine for links to be live in a paper”, as the APA manual does not specify a preference (APA Style Blog n.d.-b). That said, it may matter very much to your professor, who may prefer all text in black.

There are two ways to remove the blue and underlining from your links when you don’t want them to look like this:

Option 1. You can remove the underlining and change the color from blue to to black as described here. Note that using this method will preserve the clickable feature of the link. It will also change every hyperlink in your document to black text with no underlining. If you do not wish to change the style of every link in your document, you can edit each one manually using the color and underline editing features on your tool bar in the home tab (pictured), but that would be a lot of unnecessary work!

Option 2. Your second option is to paste each URL into the Windows Notepad app, which removes the formatting and renders the link inactive. Once you’ve pasted a URL into Notepad, copy the link from Notepad and paste it into your paper in Word. The URL will not be an active hyperlink. You may see this as a disadvantage, since it becomes necessary for the reader to copy and paste the link in order to view the source. However, there is one advantage to this method. Have you ever copied and pasted text into your paper only to find that the font style, font size, and spacing did not match the formatting you’d set up for your document? When you copy and paste text from Notepad into Word, that text automatically assumes the font style, font size, and spacing of your Word document.

For more information about using hyperlinks in Microsoft Word, see here.

7. No period

In your reference list, links should not have a period after them, like this:

Retrieved from https://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/digital-object-identifier-doi/.

This is to avoid confusion should the period be mistaken as part of the link. If you copy and paste the example above, period included, you may get an error, depending on the site.

8. Retrieval Link

Do not copy and paste the retrieval link from your library search.

9. DOI

The DOI (Digital Object Identifier) number should be used if available. In APA style referencing, you can write the DOI one of three ways:

While all three ways are considered correct, the most recent recommendation is the third example I provided, according to the APA Style Blog (McAdoo, 2017). Your professor may prefer one format over the others, so ask if you’re not sure. Whichever format you choose, be consistent and use it for all references in your paper. Note that DOI is always written doi (lower case) in your reference list.

10. No DOI

If the DOI number is not available for a journal article, as is often the case with older articles, the journal website should be provided, like this:

You can find journal websites in a directory called Ulrichsweb. In Ulrichsweb, you can search by title, ISSN, or search term for “detailed information on more than 300,000 periodicals (also called serials) of all types: academic and scholarly journals, e-journals, peer-reviewed titles, popular magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and more” (ProQuest LLC, n.d.).

You will need to sign into this database using your university credentials. Please note that your university must have a subscription to Ulrichsweb for you to have access. Be careful not to sign in directly from the Ulrichsweb site, as their connection is not secure. Instead, sign in to your institution’s library website, look for the databases tab, and type Ulrichsweb in the databases search bar.

11. Multiple References to the Same Source

When you have more than one reference from the same source with the same publication date, be it a book, an article, a website, or any other source, you’ll need to differentiate between references with a lower case letter after the date, like this (Lee, 2011, October):

12. Page Numbers

Be sure to change the font of your page number to Times New Roman. The Word default for headers and footers – including page numbers – is Calibri.

13. Publication Date

Do not assume that the copyright date of the website is the date of publication. If there is no date on the post/page, then use n.d. in your reference (APA Style Blog, 2016). There should be a period after the (n.d.), just as there would be for a year.

14. Chapter from an Edited Book

When you’re citing a chapter from an edited book (Purdue Online Writing Lab, n.d.-c) and it’s got an edition number, write the edition and page number in parentheses, separated by a comma, after the journal name and followed by a period, like this:

15. Blog Posts

You will frequently find yourself citing blog posts. Note that in the example below, the year comes before the month and day. Indicate that it’s a blog post in brackets, after the post title, inside the period.

16. Capitalization

One of the most common errors I see when workshopping a classmate’s paper is the capitalization of both the journal name and the title of the journal article. In APA style, write the journal name in title case (first letter of each word capitalized), but the title in sentence case – whether it’s the title of a journal article or any other kind of title in reference list entries. For title case and sentence case guidelines in the rest of your paper, read this.

17. Missing Information

For anything you’re not sure about, have a look at How to Write an APA Style Reference When Information is Missing (APA Style Blog, n.d.-a).


(Please note that due to the limitations of the Wix blog, the references are not indented or spaced as described above.)

APA Style Blog. (2016, November 30). Writing website in-text citations and references [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/website/

APA Style Blog. (n.d.-a) How to write an APA style reference when information is missing [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.apastyle.org/files/missing-pieces---apa-style-reference-table-1.pdf

APA Style Blog. (n.d.-b). Should links be live in APA style? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2015/04/should-links-be-live-in-apa-style.html

Extendoffice.com. (n.d.) How to change the color or remove the underline form hyperlinks in word. Retrieved from https://www.extendoffice.com/documents/word/501-word-hyperlink-color.html

International DOI Foundation. (n.d.). The DOI system. Retrieved from https://www.doi.org/

Lee, C. (2010, November 18). How to cite something you found on a website in APA style [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2010/11/how-to-cite-something-you-found-on-a-website-in-apa-style.html?_ga=2.124265225.2042286575.1551587283-887893243.1551587283

Lee, C. (2011, April 14). How to use five levels of heading in an APA style paper. Retrieved from https://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2011/04/how-to-use-five-levels-of-heading-in-an-apa-style-paper.html

Lee, C. (2011, October 20). Reference twins: or, how to cite articles with the same authors and same year. Retrieved from https://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2011/10/reference-twins.html

Lee, C. (2012, March 9). Title case and sentence case capitalization in APA style [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2012/03/title-case-and-sentence-case-capitalization-in-apa-style.html

McAdoo, T. (2017, March 1). DOI display guidelines update (March 2017) [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/digital-object-identifier-doi/

Microsoft Support. (n.d.). Frequently asked questions about hyperlinks in Word [Web page]. Retrieved from https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/291182/frequently-asked-questions-about-hyperlinks-in-word

ProQuest LLC. (n.d.). Ulrichsweb.com [Web page]. Retrieved from http://ulrichsweb.serials solutions.com

Purdue Online Writing Lab. (n.d.-a). APA headings and seriation. Retrieved from https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/apa_headings_and_seriation.html

Purdue Online Writing Lab. (n.d.-b). APA sample paper [Web page]. Retrieved from https://owl .purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/apa_sample_paper.html

Purdue Online Writing Lab. (n.d.-c). Reference list: Books [Web page]. Retrieved from https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/reference_list_books.html

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