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14 Important Rules to Format an Academic Paper
in APA Style
by Peter Gallagher

The formatting guidelines for APA Style are exact and specific, varying from the correct font size to the correct margins to the thickness of paper that you need to use. I have included fourteen of the most common formatting rules that you should follow to create an academic paper based on guidelines from the American Psychological Association.

Tip 1: ABBREVIATIONS. Avoid using abbreviations in your paper. However, if you need to use an abbreviation or acronym that's recognized in our language and you can find it in the dictionary, such as AIDS, then you can use it.

Tip 2: HYPHENATIONS. Do not separate and hyphenate words at the end of a line. Rather, leave one line slightly short and put the complete word on the next line; otherwise proceed a couple of characters past the right margin to adjust the complete word on the line.

Tip 3: INDENTIONS. Indent paragraphs within the primary text of the paper one-half inch, if using a word processing program; or indent five to seven spaces in, if typing on a typewriter. However, do not indent in these unique circumstances: the abstract, block quotations, figure captions, notes, reference list entries, table titles, and titles or headings.

Tip 4: MARGINS. Use 1-inch margins on all four sides of the paper: Top, bottom, right, and left. Old rules required 1.5-inch margins, but these rules are now obsolete.

Tip 5: PAGE NUMBERING. Number nearly every page in the paper, including the title page. Put the number in the upper-right corner of the page, and use only Arabic numbers. Put the number "1" on the title page and the number "2" on the Abstract page. Begin the main body of the text on page number "3." Don't number pages that consist of only statistics or illustrations.

Tip 6: PAPER TYPE. Use regular white, 20-pound bond paper that has measurements of 8.5-by-11 inches. If printing from a computer, use an inkjet or laser printer to print the paper; if you must use a tractor-feed printer, make sure to tear off the pinhole borders from the sides of the paper.

Tip 7: PARENTHESES. Aim to restrict parentheses to separate or divide items that are structurally independent, such as listing a number or illustration that is associated with a sentence. If you're enclosing a full sentence in parentheses, position the punctuation inside the parentheses. If you're enclosing only a piece of a sentence inside parentheses, then place the punctuation outside the parentheses.

Tip 8: PUNCTUATION. In most cases, use a single space after all common punctuation marks, such as periods, commas, colons, and semicolons. There are three exceptions to this norm: 1) don't use a space after periods inside an abbreviation, such as when writing U.S. for United States; 2) don't use a space after a colon in a ratio, such as 4:7; and 3) some professors like the outdated rule of using two spaces after periods that end sentences. If you're using Courier or another mono-space font, APA Style does permit two spaces between sentences, although one space is recommended.

Tip 9: SHORT TITLE. A Short Title is a two- or three-word introduction of the main title. Put it on every page in the top right corner, except for pages that consist of only numbers or illustrations. The Short Title should appear slightly to the left of the page number.

Tip 10: SLASH MARK. Don't use slash marks in your paper. For instance, rather than writing "blue and/or purple," it is better to write, "blue, purple, or both."

Tip 11: SPACING. Use double spacing throughout the whole paper, unless your professor expressly asks for single spacing in specific situations, such as with block quotations.

Tip 12: TEXT ALIGNMENT. Always format the text flush left. Don't use the "full justify" feature on your word processor's toolbar because this will spread the text fully across the paper and align sentences both left and right.

Tip 13: TITLE. Center the title on the Title page, creating a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters. If the title is long enough to warrant a second line, double space between the lines. After the title, include your name, followed by the college that you attend. If you don't belong to a college, you can substitute the city and state. Double space between each line on the title page. Put the number "1" in the upper right corner of the Title page.

Tip 14: TYPEFACE. If using a word processor like MS-Word, opt for a serif font, such as Times New Roman. Use text in a 10- or 12-point size.

© Peter Gallagher, LousyWriter.com