APA formatting guidelines — everything you need to know


Do you need to format your paper? This article is a guide to APA style with key updates from the 7th Edition!

Table of contents:

  1. What is APA style?
  2. APA formatting guidelines 
    I) Paper organization
    II) Writing style
    III) Citations and references
  3. How to format in-text citations
    — One author
    — Two authors
    — Three or more authors
  4. Paraphrasing
  5. Quotations
  6. Secondary Sources
  7. APA style reference list
    — One author
    — Two authors
    — Source with multiple authors 
    — Group author names
    — Online media
  8. APA citation generator — you find at Mettzer 

Correctly formatting your paper is central to ensure you are respecting scientific standards. Although, it is not a very simple step.

APA style provides several standards to format academic papers, including paper organization, scientific writing, citation and references.

For that reason, at some point of your academic path, you probably will use APA formatting guidelines.

To help you understant APA style and formatt you paper according to it, we create this guide 🙂

Let’s begin!

What is APA style?

APA style — or APA format — is a formatting standard for academic papers, especially for journal articles.

These standards emerged with the American Psychological Association (APA) style manual in 1929. Since then, the APA style has been revised several times to adapt it to the new needs of scientific research.

In October 2020, APA presented the 7th Edition of its style guide — the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association — which replaces the last update of the standards in 2009. The 7th Edition is therefore the most current version of APA style.

The 2020 APA standards meet the latest demands of the academic world. That is why the new edition pays special attention to the citation of online materials and the concern with a more inclusive language.

APA formatting guidelines

APA style guide has three main levels to format an academic paper: I) organization; II) writing style; and III) mechanics of citation, references and punctuation.

I) Paper organization

Paper format

Central elements: according to APA style, your paper must have the following elements: title page, abstract, introduction, methodology, results, discussion, and references. 


APA style permits a variety of fonts, which includes:

  • Sans Serif Fonts: Calibri (11-point), Arial (11-point), Lucida Sans Unicode (10-point);
  • Serif Fonts: Times New Roman (12-point), Georgia (11-point), or Computer Modern (10-point).


  • Double-spacing and 8.5 x 11 paper with 1-inch margins on every side of the page.
  • All text should be double-spaced;

Paragraph alignment

  • The text must be aligned to the left margin. You also need to indent the first line of each paragraph 0.5 inches from the left margin.

II) Writing style

This level of APA formatting recommends that you write your paper in a formal language. The academic writing must be clear, direct and without slang or humor. 

The main aim of APA writing style is to facilitate scientific communication throughout the standardizing of research contents. Therefore, APA style emphasizes the need for a bias-free language to include and respect all the people.

III) Citations and references

The main focus of APA style guidelines is to offer principles of proper citation for scientific writing. 

When you are writing an academic paper it is central to acknowledge other authors and researches that have contributed to your work. Also, correctly citation and referencing avoid plagiarism. 

We have selected key APA style standards for citation and references to help you achieve proper scientific writing.

Let ‘s check them out 😉

How to format in-text citations

APA Style uses the author–date citation system for in-text citations — the ones that appear along the body of the paper.

Author–date citation system means that, in general, you should wrtie the author’s last name and the year of publication when you refer to their research. 

One author

  • (Connell, 2010) or Connell (2010).

Two authors

In a source with two authors, you should use their last names separated by an ampersand (&) in a parenthetical citation or “and” in a narrative citation.

  • (Connell & Pearse, 2015) or Connell and Pearse (2015).

Three or more authors

According to the APA manual, all in-text citations with three or more authors are shortened to the name of the first author followed by the expression et al.

For example:

  • (Butler et al, 2013) or Butler et al (2013).


It is when you use an author’s idea, but with your own words. In this case, you must cite the author last name and the year of publication, separated by a comma.

For example:

  • Narrative citations: Teachers use differentiated instruction to help students learn, allowing the teacher to cater lessons to the way each student learns and each student’s skill. (Thompson, 2009).
  • Parenthetical citations: Thompson (2009) shows that teachers use differentiated instruction to help students learn, allowing the teacher to cater lessons to the way each student learns and each student’s skill.

For paraphrasing, APA style does not require a page or paragraph number in the citation.

APA style


Direct quotation is the exact transcription of the author words. No changes are made. It is, therefore, the reproduction of the author words verbatim. 

In other words, a direct quotation is when you copy and paste a passage from the research source.

In APA standards, the direct quotation must contain the author last name, year of publication and page number.

However, there is a difference in formatting depending on the quotation length.

Short quotations (fewer than 40 words)

In short quotations, you must incorporate the sentence in your text with quotation marks. After the quotation, the author’s last name, the page number and the year appear in parentheses.

For example:

  • When we analyze the production of scientific knowledge it’s important to understand that modern research involves the interlocking efforts of a whole workforce: not just the star professors but more importantly the research team, graduate students, technical staff, the other research teams, journals, institutes, funding agencies, and more. (Connell, 2019, p.12).

Block quotations (40 words or more)

Although, if the quotation has 40 words or more, it should be written in a new line and the whole block must be indnted 0.5 in. from the left margin and double-spaced. 

In this case, you don’t add quotation marks as with short quotations.

Block quotation example:

When we analyze social imagination, it’s important to note that:

  • The imagination can be both empowering and disempowering. It can createand deepen vulnerabilities, but it can also make people stronger and able to resist. Different ways of imagining can sensitize or desensitize people to human experiences—not only those of others, but even one’s own; they can make people feel close or distant to others—and even to aspects of themselves; and they can create or sever social bonds, affective ties, and relations of empathy or antipathy, solidarity or lack of solidarity. (Medina, 2013, p. 252).

Secondary Sources

A secondary source refers to content replied from the original source (primary source).

In other words, imagine you were reading a paper that quotes Angela Davis, but you do not have access to the original book written by Angela Davis. Even so, you want to use that content in your paper. To do that, you’ll need to create a secondary source citation.

In this case, you should write — in parentheses — the name of the original author followed by the year of publication, then the term “as cited in” and inform the name of the secondary source, the year of publication — and the page number if it is a direct quotation.

  • (Davis, as cited in Smith & Osman, 2015).

But, remember, it’s a good practice in the academic world to always search for the primary source. Therefore, use secondary sources sparingly. 

APA style reference list

At the end of the paper, it should have a list of references – alphabeticaly organized – with the complete information of the research sources you used.

APA style requires four basic reference information: author, date, title, and source.

But, there are some formatting specificities depending on the source.

One author


To reference a book with one author, you need to write the author last name and the first letter of the first name, year of publication (in parentheses), title (italicized), and the publisher of the book.

If the book has a DOI you must include it after the publisher.

The book’s edition — if you have it — must appear in parentheses after the title without italics.

  • Author last name, First Initial. Second Initial. (Year). Book title: Subtitle. Publisher.

Journal Article

For journal articles you must include the Journal’s title, its volume — italicized — issue, page numbers and DOI link. 

  • Author Surname, Initial(s). (Year). Article title: Subtitle. Journal Title, Volume (Issue), page numbers. https://doi.org/xx.xxxxxxxxxx

Two authors 

In a two authors source, you should cite their last names and the initials (in the order they appear in the original material). Also, the authors should be separated by commas and an ampersand instead of “and”.


  • Svendsen, S., & Løber, L. (2020). The big picture/Academic writing: The one-hour guide (3rd digital ed.). Hans Reitzel Forlag.

Journal article

Source with multiple authors

If the source has three to 20 authors you must cite all their names in the reference list. The author’s surnames are separated by a comma, while the last author surnname is preceded by an ampersand.

Book with multiple authors

  • Author Surname, First Initial. Second Initial., Author Surname, First Initial. Second Initial., & Author Surname, First Initial. Second Initial. (Year). Book title: Subtitle. Publisher.

Journal article with multiple authors

  • Author Surname, First Initial. Second Initial., Author Surname, First Initial. Second Initial., & Author Surname, First Initial. Second Initial. (Year). Article title: Subtitle. Journal Title, Volume (Issue), page numbers. https://doi.org/xx.xxxxxxxxxx

In-text citations with multiple authors

Use the first author’s last name followed by the expression et al.

  • For example: (Butler et al, 2013) or Butler et al (2013).

Group author names

If your source is a government body or an organization you must use its full name in the first mention in-text, then you can use an acronym for the next mentions.

For example: According to The United Nations (UN, 2020) or (UN, 2020).

In the reference list you must write the official name of the organization, followed by the year of the publication, title — italicized — and the website address.

Online media

Citing online materials in APA style requires the author’s name, date of publication, title of the work — italicized —website address and URL.

Author’s last name, initial (s). (Last update or copyright date — year, month, day). Title of the work. Site Name. URL

  • Beard, M. (2011, March 29). The fall of the Roman Republic. BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/fallofromanrepublic_article_01.shtml

APA citation generator — you find at Mettzer

Correctly formatting your paper ensures you are respecting scientific standards. 

Although, formatting is not a very simple step, it can be easier with Mettzer 😉

Mettzer is the first and only digital platform that integrates – in one place the entire cycle of academic work. From planning your research, formatting in APA style to plagiarism checking.

Mettzer’s text editor formats any academic work in APA style. It automatically generates citations and references for you.

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You can even start your academic paper from a pre-ready template!

With Mettzer’s technology you save time to focus exclusively on what matters, which is the content of your research.

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