Formatting APA Headings and Subheadings

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In American Psychological Association style, APA headings and subheadings are used to give readers a general idea of the content and what to expect from a paper, and it leads the flow of discussion by dividing up a paper and defining each section of the content.

APA style is different than Modern Language Association style, which is used in most humanities courses, and Chicago style, which is used in most history courses. There are some differences between APA, MLA, and Chicago style headings in papers, particularly on the title page as well as at the top of subsequent pages.

Fast Facts: APA Headers

  • APA style is generally used for social science research papers.
  • There are five heading levels in APA. The 6th edition of the APA manual revises and simplifies previous heading guidelines

APA uses something called a "running head," while the other two styles do not. MLA uses a left-indented topper for the paper author's name, the professor's name, the course name, and date, while MLA and Chicago style do not. So it's important to use the correct style for APA headings when formatting a paper in APA style. APA style uses five levels of headings.

APA Level Headings

​APA style recommends using a five-level heading structure based on the level of subordination. Purdue OWL notes the APA headings levels as follows:

APA Headings
Level Format
1. Centered, Boldface, Uppercase, and Lowercase Headings
2.  Left-aligned, Boldface, Uppercse, and Lowercse Heading
3. Indented, boldface, lowercase heading with a period.
4. Indented, boldface, italicized, lowercase heading with a period.
5.  Indented, italicized, lowercase heading with a period.

The sections named above are considered major elements of your paper, so these sections should be treated as the highest level of headings. Major levels (highest level) titles in your APA title are centered on your paper. They should be formatted in boldface and the important words of the heading should be capitalized.

In addition to the above rules, headings and subheadings also should not be accompanied by letters or numbers. You should use as many levels as required in your paper to present the most organized structure. Not all five levels should be used, but the same level of heading or subheading should be of equal importance regardless of the number of subsections under it.

For level one and two headings, paragraphs should begin under the heading on a new line, and these levels should capitalize each word in the heading. However, levels three through five should have the paragraph begin in line with the headings, and only the first word is capitalized. In addition, in levels 3-5, the headings are indented and end with a period.

Example APA-Formatted Paper

The following shows, in part, what an APA-formatted paper would look like. Where needed, explanations have been added to indicate the placement or formatting of the headers:

RESEARCH PROPOSAL (Running head, all caps and flush left)

(The below title page information should be centered and at the center of the page)

Research Proposal


HUB 680

Professor XXX

April. 16, 2019

XXX University

RESEARCH PROPOSAL (Each page should start with this running head, flush left)

Abstract (centered)

           Research shows that developmentally disabled individuals need skills training in order to be able to function independently as adults (Flannery, Yovanoff, Benz & Kato (2008), Sitlington, Frank & Carson (1993), Smith (1992). There is a need for further research detailing what kinds of services are important to success, such as reinforcement of domestic, vocational and social skills, as well as financial planning. This paper proposes to answer the question: What is the effect of services provided by Regional Centers on the independent living skills of developmentally disabled adults?

Operational Definition of Variables.

           The Independent Variable would be services provided by Regional Centers. The dependent variable would be independent living skills of developmentally disabled adults. I will test my hypothesis – that such services could lead to greater independence in developmentally disabled adults – by examining living skills of a group of developmentally disabled adults with services provided by Regional Centers to a group of developmentally disabled adults who do not receive Regional Center services. I will establish this “control” group by examining a similar group of individuals who have sought – but refused – Regional Center services.

Benefits of the research

           An abundance of literature reveals a great need for better transitional services for developmentally delayed individuals leaving high school and entering adulthood (Nuehring & Sitlington, 2003, Sitlington, et. al., 1993, Beresford, 2004). Many of the studies focus on transitional services needed to aid developmentally disabled adults move successfully from high school to the adult working world (Nuehring & Sitlington, 2003, Sitlington, et. al., 1993, Flannery, et. al., 2008). Yet, some of those same researchers note that most developmentally disabled adults do not work after high school (Sitlington, et. al.,


1993). More recently (and even in older studies), researchers have begun to note that developmentally delayed adults need services to help them succeed in adulthood in a variety of areas needed for successful independent living, such as living arrangements, financial and budgeting skills, relationships, sex, aging parents, grocery shopping and a host of other issues (Beresford, 2004, Dunlap, 1976, Smith, 1992, Parker, 2000). Few agencies exist nationally to provide such services to developmentally delayed individuals from birth through adulthood. However, in California, a group of 21 Regional Centers provides services to developmentally delayed adults ranging from life-planning, funding of services and equipment, advocacy, family support, counseling, vocational training, etc. (What are regional Centers? n.d.). The purpose of this study, then, is to determine the effects of Regional Center services on the independent living skills of disabled adults.

Literature Analysis (centered)

           Smith (1992) notes that many developmentally disabled adults fall “through the cracks” once they reach adulthood. Smith used a survey method to examine the success or lack thereof of 353 developmentally disabled adults. Smith noted that 42.5% were employed full time, 30.1% were employed part time and 24.6% were unemployed. In discussing results, Smith noted that what was needed to improve the employment situation of these individuals was to ensure that they learn how to access Vocational Rehabilitation services and that those providing services –vocational rehabilitation counselors, teachers and other professionals -- be better trained in reaching out to such individuals. In other


words, if developmentally delayed adults simply had better access to vocational rehabilitation services (the independent variable), they would somehow become more successful in terms of full-time employment. Smith provides no empirical evidence to demonstrate how or why this would occur.

Synthesis of Literature Relevant to the Research Proposition

           Sitlington, et. al. (1993) imply that if developmentally delayed individuals are not successful in adulthood, it is, essentially, their fault. Sitlington, et. al. give no indication that providing vocational services alone may not be enough. And, there is nothing in Sitlington, etc....

Title Page, Abstract, and Introduction

The title page is considered the first page of an APA paper. The second page will be the page containing an abstract. Because the abstract is a main section, the heading should be set in boldface and centered on your paper. Remember that the first line of an abstract is not indented. Because the abstract is a summary and should be limited to a single paragraph, it should not contain any subsections.  

Every paper begins with an introduction, but according to APA style, an introduction should never carry a heading that labels it as such. APA style assumes that the content that comes at the beginning is an introduction and therefore doesn't require a heading. 

As always, you should check with your instructor to determine how many main (level-one) sections will be required, as well as how many pages and sources your paper should contain.