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APA Research Paper Parts and Sections

Michigan State University


This is where the abstract goes. Note that the abstract has no indentation on the first line, hence I used “APA Text No Indent.”

Keywords: APA Manual, publications, writing

An Excellent APA Formatted Paper: For Use by Anyone

Frequently, people find it hard to format papers according to the American Psychological Association’s (2010) guidelines for formatting. But most studies (Gass, Svetics, & Lemelin, 2003; Loewen, 2005; Polio, Mackey, & McDonough, 2004; Sueyoshi & Hardison, 2005) were originally formatted in APA style, demonstrating that it can be done. Here is a quote from Paula Winke (personal communication, January 19, 2011) about it.

I think I can say, in about 45 words (note that if you have more than 40 words in your quote, you have to format it as an in-block quote), that formatting papers according to the APA 6th edition is a real piece of cake.

APA Research Paper Parts and Sections

Here is a way to do it that is quick, easy, and will save you a lot of time. Basically, download my APA formatted template for word (APAFormatTemplate_v2), save it in your Word template folder, and use it when you write your papers.



This is where you write up the facts about your research participants.


This is where you put a description of all the materials you used. Normally, we do not list the consent form as a material. You want to focus on materials that produced data for your analysis.

Background questionnaire. Maybe your background questionnaire gave you data that you did not end up using for your analysis. That is okay—you can still put information concerning the background questionnaire here. Note that when I use a level three header (the “Background questionnaire.” header is level 3), I cannot set a style for it if the text continues on the same line. Thus, I just bold that part of the normal APA text. Note that if you are writing a dissertation or thesis, you will want to add a table of contents. In that case, use the “APA Level 3” style and just start the text on the next line, formatting that text as APA text. Note that for a thesis or dissertation, you do NOT need to format your paper so strictly in terms of the APA Manual.1 (Note that if you have a footnote to something in parenthesis, the footnote number goes inside the ending parenthesis.2)

Working memory tests. I used two types of working memory tests, so I will describe them here.

Phonological working memory test. This is information on my phonological working memory test.

Reading span working memory test. I actually had two reading span tests. So I will describe them both here.

Spanish reading span test. I will describe this L2 reading span test here.

English reading span test. I will describe this L1 reading span test here.

Aptitude test. This is the information concerning my aptitude test.

End-of-course grades. This is the information concerning the end-of-course grades.


This is where I put all the information concerning what the participants did and in what order they did the things.


This is where I write what analysis I applied to the data. For example, I might use ANOVA or structural equation modeling. Or I might use a qualitative approach in investigating the data. I would write here very briefly why I use such an analysis.


I have lots of results. Here is where I present them.

I might have tables in this section too.


And I also might have some figures to add in. If so, I would insert them at the very end of the document, but put a placer at the spot where I think a figure should go.



I am going to discuss the results here. I also am going to discuss them in light of the research questions. But first I give a brief overview of why, in general, I conducted this study and why the results are important. I will most likely have section headers (APA Level 2) in discussing the results.


In this section, I wrap up the results, but to be sophisticated, I don’t just summarize the results and discussion section; rather, I write something memorable and new here. I also may add a bit more on the following topics;


This study had limitations which I need to discuss here.

Pedagogical Implications

Even though there were limitations, this paper was worthwhile because of X, Y, and Z. These findings have pedagogical implications, which I discuss here.

Directions for Future Studies

Even though I found X, Y, and Z by conducting this study, there is still work to be done. Here I discuss what future researchers should do in light of my research findings. And I end this paragraph with a whammy of a great sentence that is clever, informative, and memorable.


  • American Psychological Association (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Gass, S. M., Svetics, I., & Lemelin, S. (2003). Differential effects of attention. Language Learning, 53(3), 497-546.
  • Loewen, S. (2005). Incidental focus on form and second language learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27(3), 361-386.
  • Polio, C., Mackey, A., & McDonough, K. (2004). The relationship between experience, education and teachers’ use of incidental focus-on-form techniques. Language Teaching Research, 8(3), 301-327.
  • Sueyoshi, A., & Hardison, D. M. (2005). The role of gestures and facial cues in second language listening comprehension. Language Learning, 55(4), 661-699.


1 Anything the graduate school requires in terms of formatting should trump what the APA Manual states. And if you need to do a Table of contents, a list of tables, and a list of figures, doing this automatically in Word is only possible if you offset the titles of these on separate lines.

2 This is a second footnote. Note I do not use the automatic footnote maker provided by Word because it automatically puts the footnotes at the very end of the document, and APA requires the footnotes to go in after the references, but before the appendices, tables, and figures. So I just use regular text and format the numbers by going to “Font,” and selecting “Superscript.”


This is the Title of My Wonderful Appendix

The text of an appendix is normal APA text. If I had more than one appendix, I would label them Appendix A and Appendix B. But if there is only one, it is just “Appendix.” See the information concerning this on page 39 in the APA Manual.

Table 1

Participant Characteristics
Name Age IQ
Susan 18 34
Mike 21 41
Sally 34 10

Note. See the APA Manual on how to format your tables. There are certain rules and formatting styles for different types of tables.

Figure 1. This is where you explain the contents of the figure. You might explain it in one sentence or in multiple sentences.

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