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APA Headings and Seriation
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Note: This page reflects the latest version of the APA Publication Manual (i.e., APA 7), which released in October 2019. The equivalent resource for the older APA 6 style can be found here .
APA Style uses a unique headings system to separate and classify paper sections. Headings are used to help guide the reader through a document. The levels are organized by levels of subordination, and each section of the paper should start with the highest level of heading. There are 5 heading levels in APA. Regardless of the number of levels, always use the headings in order, beginning with level 1. The format of each level is illustrated below:
Thus, if the article has four sections, some of which have subsections and some of which don’t, use headings depending on the level of subordination. Section headings receive level one format. Subsections receive level two format. Subsections of subsections receive level three format. For example:
Method (Level 1)
Site of Study (Level 2)
Participant Population (Level 2)
Teachers (Level 3)
Students (Level 3)
Results (Level 1)
Spatial Ability (Level 2)
Test One (Level 3)
Teachers With Experience. (Level 4)
Teachers in Training. (Level 4)
Teaching Assistants . (Level 5)
Test Two (Level 3)
Kinesthetic Ability (Level 2)
In APA Style, the Introduction section never gets a heading and headings are not indicated by letters or numbers. For subsections in the beginning of a paper (introduction section), the first level of subsection will use Level 2 headings — the title of the paper counts as the Level 1 heading. Levels of headings will depend upon the length and organization of your paper. Regardless, always begin with level one headings and proceed to level two, etc.
Special headings called section labels are used for certain sections of a paper which always start on a new page.
- Paper title
- Appendix A (and so on for subsequent appendices)
These labels should be positioned on their own line at the top of the page where the section starts, in bold and centered.
APA also allows for seriation in the body text to help authors organize and present key ideas. For lists where a specific order or numbered procedure is necessary, use an Arabic numeral directly followed by a period, such as:
On the basis of four generations of usability testing on the Purdue OWL, the Purdue OWL Usability Team recommended the following:
- Move the navigation bar from the right to the left side of the OWL pages.
- Integrate branded graphics (the Writing Lab and OWL logos) into the text on the OWL homepage.
- Add a search box to every page of the OWL.
- Develop an OWL site map.
- Develop a three-tiered navigation system.
Numbered lists should contain full sentences or paragraphs rather than phrases. The first word after each number should be capitalized, as well as the first word in any following sentence; each sentence should end with a period or other punctuation.
For lists that do not communicate hierarchical order or chronology, use bullets:
In general, participants found the user-centered OWL mock up to be easier to use. What follows are samples of participants' responses:
- "This version is easier to use."
- "Version two seems better organized."
- "It took me a few minutes to learn how to use this version, but after that, I felt more comfortable with it."
Authors may also use seriation for paragraph length text.
For seriation within sentences, authors may use letters:
On the basis of research conducted by the usability team, OWL staff have completed (a) the OWL site map; (b) integrating graphics with text on the OWL homepage; (c) search boxes on all OWL pages except the orange OWL resources (that is pending; we do have a search page); (d) moving the navigation bar to the left side of pages on all OWL resources except in the orange area (that is pending); (e) piloting the first phase of the three-tiered navigation system, as illustrated in the new Engagement section.
Authors may also separate points with bullet lists:
On the basis of the research conducted by the usability team, OWL staff have completed
- the OWL site map;
- integrating graphics with text on the OWL homepage;
- search boxes on all OWL pages except the orange OWL resources (that is pending; we do have a search page);
- moving the navigation bar to the left side of pages on all OWL resources except in the orange area (that is pending);
- piloting the first phase of the three-tiered navigation system, as illustrated in the new Engagement section.
If your bulleted list is part of the sentence and is not preceded by a colon, treat the bullets like a part of the sentence, adhering to standard capitalization and punctuation. This option is helpful for complex or longer bulleted sentences that may be more difficult to read without the aid of punctuation. For items in a bulleted list that are phrases rather than sentences, no punctuation is necessary.
APA 7th Edition Style Guide: Headings in APA
- About In-text Citations
- In-Text Examples
- What to Include
- Bracketed Descriptions
- URLs and DOIs
- Book with Editor(s)
- Book with No Author
- Book with Organization as Author
- Book with Personal Author(s)
- Chapters and Parts of Books
- Classical Works
- Course Materials
- Journal Article
- Magazine Article
- Multi-Volume Works
- Newspaper Article
- Patents & Laws
- Personal Communication
- Physicians' Desk Reference
- Social Media
- Unpublished Manuscripts/Informal Publications (i.e. course packets and dissertations)
- Formatting Your Paper
- Formatting Your References
- Annotated Bibliography
- Headings in APA
- APA Quick Guide
- NEW!* Submit your Paper for APA Review
What are headings?
Headings, sections, subsections, or levels of subordination are a style of dividing your research paper into major parts, then minor subsections. Most college papers do not need headings, especially if you are only producing two to five pages. However, if your professor requests you use headings or your are writing an especially long or detailed paper, then use headings to help readers navigate your text. Follow the APA style rules for creating the correct level of heading. Always start with a level one heading and drill down to the last subsection possible (five) in order as seen below. Instructions and examples for headings are available on p. 47- 49 of the new APA 7th Edition manual.
Levels of Headings
Additional headings resources.
- APA Style: Headings This page of the APA Style Blog provides more details about styling paper section headings in APA style.
- Heading Levels Template: Student Paper APA Style 7th Edition This example student paper clearly illustrates how to style section headings including the paper title and the Introduction section (which should not be labeled Introduction as APA assumes all papers begin with an introduction section).
Proper Title Case vs. lowercase paragraph heading
Proper title case is using both uppercase and lowercase letters in a title. It calls for the major words to be capitalized while any small conjunctions are made smaller, i.e.,
The Title of this Paper is Lengthy
Lowercase paragraph heading calls for the first word to be capitalized along with any proper nouns contained within the heading, i.e.,
The title of this heading is much shorter and all lowercase except for the first word.
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Generate accurate APA citations for free
- Knowledge Base
- APA Style 7th edition
- APA headings and subheadings
APA Headings and Subheadings | With Sample Paper
Published on November 7, 2020 by Raimo Streefkerk . Revised on October 24, 2022.
Headings and subheadings provide structure to a document. They signal what each section is about and allow for easy navigation of the document.
APA headings have five possible levels. Each heading level is formatted differently.
Table of contents
Additional guidelines for apa headings, how many heading levels should you use, when to use which apa heading level, section labels vs headings, sample paper with apa headings, using heading styles in word or google docs.
As well as the heading styles, there are some other guidelines to keep in mind:
- Double-space all text, including the headings.
- Use the same font for headings and body text (e.g., Times New Roman 12pt.).
- Don’t label headings with numbers or letters.
- Don’t add extra “enters” above or below headings.
Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.
Depending on the length and complexity of your paper, you may not use all five heading levels. In fact, shorter student papers may have no headings at all.
It’s also perfectly fine for some sections in your paper to go as deep as five levels, where others use only heading level 1.
Heading level 1 is used for main sections like “ Methods ”, “ Results ”, and “ Discussion ”. There is no “ Introduction ” heading at the beginning of your paper because the first paragraphs are understood to be introductory.
Heading level 2 is used for subsections under level 1. For example, under “Methods” (level 1) you may have subsections for “Sampling Method” and “Data Analysis” (level 2). This continues all the way down to heading level 5.
Always use at least two subheadings or none at all. If there is just one subheading, the top-level heading is sufficient.
In addition to regular headings, APA works with “section labels” for specific parts of the paper. They’re similar to headings but are formatted differently. Section labels are placed on a separate line at the top of a new page in bold and centered.
Use section labels for the following sections in an APA formatted paper :
- Author note
- Paper title
- Reference page
Scribbr Citation Checker New
The AI-powered Citation Checker helps you avoid common mistakes such as:
- Missing commas and periods
- Incorrect usage of “et al.”
- Ampersands (&) in narrative citations
- Missing reference entries
Instead of formatting every heading individually, you can use the “Styles” feature in Word or Google Docs. This allows you to save the styling and apply it with just a click.
The first time you use APA Style, you need to update the default heading styles to reflect the APA heading guidelines. Click here for the instructions for Microsoft Word and Google Docs .
An added benefit of using the “Styles” feature is that you can automatically generate a table of contents .
Cite this Scribbr article
If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.
Streefkerk, R. (2022, October 24). APA Headings and Subheadings | With Sample Paper. Scribbr. Retrieved November 28, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/apa-style/apa-headings/
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APA Citations (7th ed.)
- General Formatting
- Professional Paper Elements - Title Page
- Student Paper Elements - Title Page
- In-text Citation Basics
- In-text Citation Author Rules
- Citing Multiple Works
- Personal Communications
- Classroom or Intranet Resources
- Secondary Sources
- Books and Reference Works
- Edited Book Chapters and Entries in Reference Works
- Reports and Gray Literature
- Conference Sessions and Presentations
- Dissertations and Theses
- Data Sets and Software
- Tests, Scales, & Inventories
- Audiovisual Works
- Audio Works
- Visual Works
- Social Media
- Webpages & Websites
- Basics & Formatting
- Avoiding Plagiarism
Some APA papers may not have any headings. Some may only have one or two levels of headings. Use the number of heading levels you need depending on the complexity of your paper.
Not sure if you need headings? Check with your instructor!
APA style headings have five possible levels : Level 1 headings are used for top-level or main sections, Level 2 headings are subsections of Level 1, and so on.
Because the first paragraphs are a paper are understood to be introductory, the heading "Introduction" is not needed .
The paper title , centered and in bold, on the first page of text acts as a de facto Level 1 heading.
To learn more about headings, see pp. 47-49 in the manual.
Format for Heading Levels
Format headings in a sample paper.
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APA Style (7th ed.)
- Cite: Why? When?
- Book, eBook, Dissertation
- Article or Report
- Business Sources
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) Tools
- In-Text Citation
- Format Your Paper
Format Your Paper
Download and use the editable templates for student papers below: .
- APA 7th ed. Template Document This is an APA format template document in Google Docs. Click on the link -- it will ask for you to make a new copy of the document, which you can save in your own Google Drive with your preferred privacy settings.
- APA 7th ed. Template Document A Microsoft Word document formatted correctly according to APA 7th edition.
- APA 7th ed. Annotated Bibliography template A Microsoft Word document formatted correctly for an annotated bibliography.
Or, view the directions for specific sections below:
Order of sections (section 2.17).
- Title page including Title, Author, University and Department, Class, Instructor, and Date
- Body (including introduction, literature review or background, discussion, and conclusion)
- Appendices (including tables & figures)
Margins & Page Numbers (sections 2.22-2.24)
- 1 inch at top, bottom, and both sides
- Left aligned paragraphs and leave the right edge ragged (not "right justified")
- Indent first line of each paragraph 1/2 inch from left margin
- Use page numbers, including on the title page, 1/2 inch from top and flush with right margin
Text Format (section 2.19)
- Times New Roman, 12 point
- Calibri, 11 point
- Arial, 11 point
- Lucinda Sans Unicode, 10 point
- Georgia, 11 point
- Double-space and align text to the left
- Use active voice
- Don't overuse technical jargon
- No periods after a web address or DOI in the References list.
Tables and Figures In-Text (chapter 7)
- Label tables and figures numerically (ex. Table 1)
- Give each table column a heading and use separating lines only when necessary
- Design the table and figure so that it can be understood on its own, i.e. it does not require reference to the surrounding text to understand it
- Notes go below tables and figures
Title Page (section 2.3)
- Include the title, your name, the class name , and the college's name
- Title should be 12 words or less and summarize the paper's main idea
- No periods or abbreviations
- Do not italicize or underline
- No quotation marks, all capital letters, or bold
- Center horizontally in upper half of the page
Body (section 2.11)
- Align the text to the left with a 1/2-inch left indent on the first line
- As long as there is no Abstract, at the top of the first page, type the title of the paper, centered, in bold , and in Sentence Case Capitalization
- Usually, include sections like these: introduction, literature review or background, discussion, and conclusion -- but the specific organization will depend on the paper type
- Spell out long organization names and add the abbreviation in parenthesis, then just use the abbreviation
- Spell out numbers one through nine and use a number for 10 or more
- Use a number for units of measurement, in tables, to represent statistical or math functions, and dates or times
Headings (section 2.26-2.27)
- Level 1: Center, bold , Title Case
- Level 2: Align left, bold , Title Case
- Level 3: Alight left, bold italics , Title Case
- Level 4: Indented 1/2", bold , Title Case, end with a period. Follow with text.
- Level 5: Indented 1/2", bold italics , Title Case, end with a period. Follow with text.
Quotations (sections 8.26-8.33)
- Include short quotations (40 words or less) in-text with quotation marks
- For quotes more than 40 words, indent the entire quote a half inch from the left margin and double-space it with no quotation marks
- When quoting two or more paragraphs from an original source, indent the first line of each paragraph a half inch from the left margin
- Use ellipsis (...) when omitting sections from a quote and use four periods (....) if omitting the end section of a quote
References (section 2.12)
Begins on a new page following the text of your paper and includes complete citations for the resources you've used in your writing.
- References should be centered and bolded at the top of a new page
- Double-space and use hanging indents (where the first line is on the left margin and the following lines are indented a half inch from the left)
- List authors' last name first followed by the first and middle initials (ex. Skinner, B. F.)
- Alphabetize the list by the first author's last name of of each citation (see sections 9.44-9.49)
- Capitalize only the first word, the first after a colon or em dash, and proper nouns
- Don't capitalize the second word of a hyphenated compound
- No quotation marks around titles of articles
Appendices with Tables, Figures, & Illustrations (section 2.14, and chapter 7)
- Include appendices only to help the reader understand, evaluate, or replicate the study or argument
- Put each appendix on a separate page and align left
- For text, do not indent the first paragraph, but do indent the rest
- If you have only one appendix, label it "Appendix"
- If you have two or more appendices, label them "Appendix A", "Appendix B" and so forth as they appear in the body of your paper
- Label tables and figures numerically (ex. Table 1, or Table B1 and Table B2 if Appendix B has two tables) and describe them within the text of the appendix
- Notes go below tables and figures (see samples on p. 210-226)
Double-space the entire bibliography. give each entry a hanging indent. in the following annotation, indent the entire paragraph a half inch from the left margin and give the first line of each paragraph a half inch indent. see the template document at the top of this page..
- Check with your professor for the length of the annotation and which elements you should evaluate.
These elements are optional, if your professor or field requires them, but they are not required for student papers:
Abstract (section 2.9).
- Abstract gets its own page
- Center "Abstract" heading and do not indent the first line of the text
- Summarize the main points and purpose of the paper in 150-250 words maximum
- Define abbreviations and acronyms used in the paper
Running Head (section 2.8 )
- Shorten title to 50 characters or less (counting spaces and punctuation) for the running head
- In the top margin, the running head is aligned left, with the page number aligned on the right
- On every page, put (without the brackets): [SHORTENED TITLE OF YOUR PAPER IN ALL CAPS] [page number]
More questions? Check out the authoritative source: APA style blog
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