Formatting a College Essay APA Style

Learning Objectives:

  • Employ correct citation format for APA style.
  • Identify proper APA formatting for college essays, including a references page.

You will likely be asked to write numerous essaysA short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. over the course of your academic career. While the contentThe text in a writing that includes facts, thoughts, and ideas. The information that forms the body of the work. of your work is significant, it is also essential that you develop strong and accurate formattingThe way in which content is arranged, usually following a set of rules. In writing, outlines and essays often follow a format specified by their purpose or where they are published. skills. Formatting an essay correctly is not only good authorship but is also important to instructors who often have to read hundreds of essays over the course of a semester. Your instructors will likely provide you with essay guidelines indicating whether you should use MLAA grammar and reference guide used mainly by students and scholars writing about the humanities (languages and literature). or APAA set of guidelines for citing sources used in literary and academic writing. APA style is most commonly used in the social sciences. style to format your paper. If you are uncertain as to your instructor's expectations, be sure to ask. Instructors appreciate students taking extra measures needed to correctly format essays. In this lesson, you will learn how to correctly format a college essay using APA style. Note: This foundation lesson is not meant to include or cover all of the rules and guidelines for properly formatting an essay. Be sure to refer to the APA style guide to ensure that you follow all of the formatting rules.

Part of formatting an essay is properly formatting in-text citationsInformation about a source, such as the author, date, and page number, in an essay or research paper that helps readers find the source in the works cited or references page. There are different rules for how to use in-text citations depending on the context of the citation and the style of formatting you are using. and your list of sourcesA person, book, article, or other thing that supplies information.. APA refers to the list of sources as a references pageAn alphabetized list of publication information about the sources used in an APA-formatted essay or research paper.. Keep in mind that in-text citations and the references page work together. Without one, you cannot have the other. The in-text citations lead readers to the listing of complete source information in the references page.

Formatting an Essay in APA Style

Headers and page numbers

In APA style, the headerInformation that appears at the very top of a page and may appear on subsequent pages of a work. appears on each page. It includes the title of the essay, which should be flush with the left marginThe outer edges of a document that do not contain writing or images. and in ALL CAPITAL letters. (If your title is longer than fifty characters, you will have to decide on a shorter version to use in your header.) On the title page only, include the words "Running head:" to precede the title. Consecutive page numbers are included on every page flush with the right-hand margin. (Examples will follow in the next section.)

APA Headers


  • Title in all capital letters (50 character limit)
  • Consecutive page numbers


  • 1/2" from top
  • Title: flush with left margin
  • Page numbers: flush with right margin
  • Include words "Running head:" to precede title on title page only

Cover pages

APA style requires the use of a cover pageA page that comes before an essay or article and contains basic information about the work, including its title and author. The format of a cover page (also called the title page) will vary depending on the style guide in use.. The cover page should include the title of your essay, your full name, and the name of your college or university, double-spaced and centered on the page. It should also include your header, as described above. (Some colleges and/or classes require additional or different information on the cover page; again, if you are unsure, be sure to visit your writing center or ask your instructor.)

APA Cover Page

 Cover page

 Separate cover page 

 preceding the essay


 On Cover Page:

  • Title
  • Your name
  • College or university name
  • Header


 Double-spaced and

 centered on the page

Here is an example of an APA cover page:

Here is an example of the first page of content in an APA paper:

Margins, font, and spacing

APA has specific requirements with respect to margins, fontA set of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks that are the same style. Examples: Times New Roman and Arial are fonts., and line spacingThe vertical distance between lines of text on a page. The most common types of spacing are single and double.. Set one-inch margins on all sides. Use 12-point font; APA style recommends using Times New Roman. If you are ever in doubt as to which font to use, ask your instructor. Whichever font you choose, remain consistent throughout your essay. Your essay should always be double-spaced throughout. Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch from the margin. Use only one space after all end punctuationThe punctuation at the end of a sentence, which can be a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point. The end punctuation helps define the tone and meaning of a sentence. Notice the difference in tone in these examples: Someone ate my last cookie! (I'm really mad about that.) Someone ate my last cookie. (Oh well, I wasn't hungry anyway.) Someone ate my last cookie? (I'm not sure I even had another cookie.).

APA Margins, Font, and Spacing


 1" on all sides


 12 point

 Times New Roman


 Double-spaced throughout


 First line of paragraphs

 1/2" from left margin

 End punctuation

 One space following

Click here to view an example of the body of a properly formatted APA essay.

Punctuating and Formatting In-text Citations

Here are the guidelines for using in-text citations when using APA style.




There will be times when all the information for a citation is not available--for example, websites do not always list dates and usually do not include page numbers, sources are sometimes published without authors, and so on. If you cannot obtain all the required information on a source, provide as much information as you can in order to allow readers to find your source.

Here are some more specific requirements with respect to the punctuationMarks such as such as a comma (,), period (.), question mark (?), and exclamation mark (!), among others, that help break a writing into phrases, clauses, and sentences. Different types of punctuation marks give the reader different impressions of the writer’s purpose in that sentence. and format of APA in-text citations:

References Pages

APA style requires a references page to list the sources at the end of the work. Here are the guidelines for formatting a references page.