APA Formatting for Headings and Subheadings

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A paper that is written in American Psychological Association (APA) Style usually contains a number of sections. Research papers that are written for a classroom assignment may contain some or all of the following main sections:

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Method
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • References
  • Appendices

Your instructor will let you know if your paper should contain all of these sections. Obviously, papers that involve experiments will contain sections entitled Method and Results, but other papers may not.

APA Headings and Subheadings

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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.

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. However, there are other sections of your paper that will contain subsections. You can create up to five levels of subsections with a hierarchy of subtitles, formatted in a specific way to show the descending levels of importance.

Creating Subsections in APA Format

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APA allows for five levels of headings, though it's unlikely that you'll use all five. There are a few general rules to keep in mind when creating subsections for your paper:

  • You must always have two subsections of the same level. In other words, there is no reason to create a subsection (or a subsection of a subsection) if you don't need to have at least two equal subjects or points to divide.
  • Note that heading levels one and two stand alone on a line. When you get to level three, you begin typing your text on the same line as the heading.
  • You can have up to five levels.
  • Notice that levels three to five are indented.

The five levels of headings follow these formatting rules:

  • Level one is centered, boldface, and important words are capitalized.
  • Level two is left-aligned, boldface, important words capitalized.
  • Level three is indented, boldface, ends with a period, and the text begins on the same line.
  • Level four is indented, boldface, italicized, ends with a period. and the text begins on the same line.

Here are a few examples, starting with Level 1:

Text goes here.

Cats as Examples (second level)

 Cats that meowed.(third level)
Cats that didn't meow. (third level)

Dogs as Examples (second level)

 Dogs that barked.(third level)
Dogs that didn't bark.(third level)
Dogs that didn't bark because they were bored. (fourth level)
Dogs that didn't bark because they were sleeping.(fourth level)
Dogs sleeping in doghouses. (fifth level)
Dogs sleeping in the sun.(fifth level)

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.