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APA Headings and Seriation

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APA (American Psychological Association) style is most commonly used to cite sources within the social sciences. This resource, revised according to the 6 th edition, second printing of the APA manual, offers examples for the general format of APA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the reference page. For more information, please consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association , (6 th ed., 2 nd printing).

Note:  This page reflects APA 6, which is now out of date. It will remain online until 2021, but will not be updated. The equivalent APA 7 page 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. The 6 th edition of the APA manual revises and simplifies previous heading guidelines. 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)

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. 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.

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 proceeded by a period, such as:

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For lists that do not communicate hierarchical order or chronology, use bullets:

  • "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:

Authors may also separate points with bullet lists:

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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.

The purpose of tables and figures in documents is to enhance your readers' understanding of the information in the document. Most word processing software available today will allow you to create your own tables and figures, and even the most basic of word processors permit the embedding of images, thus enabling you to include tables and figures in almost any document.

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APA 7th Edition Style Guide: Headings in APA

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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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apa paper format headings


APA Style 7th Edition

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apa paper format headings

Heading Levels

Learn how to use headings in an APA Style paper, including how to format the five heading levels and use them to effectively organize your paper.

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© 2023 American Psychological Association.

Headings are used in APA Style writing to separate a paper into sections. Headings are the sign-posts, guiding the reader through the document. There are 5 heading levels in APA. Always begin with level 1 and proceed to level 2. 

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APA headings (6th edition) | How to use and format (example)

Published on November 7, 2020 by Raimo Streefkerk .

A paper is usually divided into chapters and subsections. Each chapter or section has its own heading, and these headings provide structure to a document. As well as many other APA format requirements , there are specific guidelines for formatting headings to ensure that all papers are uniform and easy to read.

Table of contents

Apa heading formatting, apa headings example, using heading levels, aligning word’s heading styles to apa style, setting up in google docs.

The APA formatting guidelines for each heading style are outlined in the table below. APA recommends using 12pt. Times New Roman font for both the body text as the headings.

* Capitalize the first word of the title and all major words (including words that have four or more letters). Example: The Effects of Autism on Listening Skills. ** Capitalize the first word of the title and proper nouns (just as you would capitalize a sentence). An example: Teenagers with autism in the United States.

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apa paper format headings

The example shows the different heading levels according to APA style. Hover over the different headings to see the specific APA formatting guidelines. You can also download the APA heading Template to add the correctly formatted APA heading styles to Word.

Download APA Headings Template

The Effects of Smartphones on the Attention in Classrooms

This research aims to gain insight into the relationship between smartphones and students’ attention in classrooms. This chapter further discusses the research method, the sampling method and the data analysis procedure.

Research Method

In addition to an extensive literature review, 40 interviews were conducted for this study. The goal of conducting interviews was to find out how students looked at the use of smartphones in the classroom.

Sampling Method

A non-probability sample was used to gather participants for this research. The driving factors behind this decision were cost and convenience.

Procedure. Participants were given an introductory text prior to the survey. In this introductory text, the participants were informed that all answers would be processed anonymously.

Participant recruitment. Students who participated in this study were recruited through posts on the school’s Facebook page. As an incentive, students who participated were granted an exemption for writing an essay.

Participant assessment. Participants were selected based on their age and gender to acquire a representative sample of the population. Furthermore, students had to share additional demographic information.

Data Analysis

The interviews collected for this research were transcribed and then coded. Next, the coded interviews were analysed and compared. The statistical program SPSS was used to perform the analysis.

First Hypothesis

The first hypothesis was tested using a regression analysis that used attention in classrooms as the dependent variable and the use of smartphones as the independent variable. The results of this analysis showed that the attention of the student decreases when a smartphone is used.

Using the right heading levels not only helps readers navigate your paper, but also enables you to automatically generate an APA style table of contents in Word.

Use as many heading levels as you need. Some papers only have three heading levels, whereas others use all five. It’s also possible for one section (e.g. “methods”) to have more subheadings than other sections. When writing your paper or thesis, you will often use these heading levels:

Heading 1 : Use heading 1 for the main elements of your paper, such as the “methods,” “results,” “conclusion” and “discussion” sections.

Heading 2 : Use heading 2 for the subsections underneath heading 1. For example, under “methods,” include sections describing the “participant selection,” “experiment design’ and “procedure.”

Heading 3:  The heading 2 subsections (e.g. “procedure”) can be split up further into subsections such as “data collection” and “data processing.” Use heading 3 for these subsections.

Heading 4 and 5:  Depending on your paper, you can also use heading 4 and 5 for subsections that fall underneath heading 3 and 4, respectively.

Instead of formatting every heading individually, use Word’s built-in headings feature, which you can find in the toolbar at the top of your document. This is the easiest and fastest way to format all the headings in your paper.

By default, Word’s heading styles do not follow APA style. However, you can change the default settings by right-clicking on the heading style and selecting “modify.”

You can also download the Scribbr APA Heading Word template . When attaching this template to your Word document the correctly formatted APA headings are added and the heading formatting will automatically apply on all existing headings.

To attach the APA heading template to your Word document go ‘tools’ and ‘Templates and Add-ins’. Next, attach the downloaded template to the document and check the box ‘automatically update heading styles’.

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

This video will demonstrate how to format different APA heading levels in Google Docs.

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. (2020, November 07). APA headings (6th edition) | How to use and format (example). Scribbr. Retrieved November 21, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/apa-style/6th-edition/archived-headings/

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