Skip to content

Subheadings Apa Essay Paper

by Chelsea Lee

Headings give structure to your writing. They not only tell the reader what content to expect but also speak to its relative position within a hierarchy. The APA Publication Manual (section 3.03, pp. 62–63; see also the sample papers) gives guidelines for up to five levels of heading in a paper, although most papers will need only two, three, or four.

The example below shows font and indentation formatting for when all five levels are used, including what to do when headings follow one another with no text in between. We have previously explained in detail how to format each level of heading.

Anxiety Made Visible: Multiple Reports of Anxiety and Rejection Sensitivity
Our study investigated anxiety and rejection sensitivity. In particular, we examined how participant self-ratings of state and trait anxiety and rejection sensitivity would differ from the ratings of others, namely, the close friends of participants.
Literature Overview
Anxiety and rejection sensitivity are two important facets of psychological functioning that have received much attention in the literature. For example, Ronen and Baldwin (2010) demonstrated....
Participants were 80 university students (35 men, 45 women) whose mean age was 20.25 years (SD = 1.68). Approximately 70% of participants were European American, 15% were African American, 9% were Hispanic American, and 6% were Asian American. They received course credit for their participation.
Recruitment. We placed flyers about the study on bulletin boards around campus, and the study was included on the list of open studies on the Psychology Department website. To reduce bias in the sample, we described the study as a “personality study” rather than specifically mentioning our target traits of anxiety and rejection sensitivity.
Session 1: Psychiatric diagnoses. During the initial interview session, doctoral level psychology students assessed participants for psychiatric diagnoses. Eighteen percent of the sample met the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder according to the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM–IV Axis I Disorders (First, Gibbon, Spitzer, & Williams, 1996).
Session 2: Assessments. All participants attended a follow-up session to complete assessments. Participants were instructed to bring a friend with them who would complete the other-report measures.
Self-report measures. We first administered several self-report measures, as follows.
State and trait anxiety. Participants took the State–Trait Anxiety Inventory for Adults (STAI–A; Spielberger, Gorsuch, Lushene, Vagg, & Jacobs, 1983), a 40-item self-report measure to assess anxiety.
Rejection sensitivity. Participants took the Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire (RSQ; Downey & Feldman, 1996), an 18-item self-report measure that assesses rejection sensitivity.
Other-report measures. We also included other-report measures to obtain independent sources of information about participants’ levels of anxiety and rejection sensitivity.
State and trait anxiety. We adapted the STAI–A so that questions referred to the target participant rather than the self.
Rejection sensitivity. We adapted the RSQ so that questions referred to the target participant rather than the self.
State and Trait Anxiety
State anxiety.
Self-report data. For state anxiety, participant self-report data indicated that participants were significantly less likely....
Other-report data. For state anxiety, other-report data indicated that friends of participants were significantly more likely....
Trait anxiety.
Self-report data. For trait anxiety, participant self-report data indicated that participants were significantly less likely....
Other-report data. For trait anxiety, other-report data indicated that friends of participants were significantly more likely....
Rejection Sensitivity
The results for rejection sensitivity paralleled those for anxiety, demonstrating that....
Strengths and Limitations
Some of the strengths of our research were....
Directions for Future Research
In the future, we hope that researchers will consider multiple sources of information when making assessments of anxiety. We also recommend....

Important notes on formatting your headings:

  • The title of the paper is not in bold. Only the headings at Levels 1–4 use bold. See this post for a clarification on when to use boldface.
  • Every paper begins with an introduction. However, in APA Style, the heading “Introduction” is not used, because what comes at the beginning of the paper is assumed to be the introduction.
  • The first heading comes at Level 1. In this paper, the first heading is “Literature Overview,” so it goes at Level 1. Your writing style and subject matter will determine what your first heading will be.
  • Subsequent headings of equal importance to the first heading also go at Level 1 (here, Method, Results, and Discussion).
  • For subsections, we recommend that if you are going to have them at all, you should aim for at least two (e.g., the Literature Overview section has no subsections, whereas the Method section has two Level 2 subsections, and one of those Level 2 sections is further divided into three sections, etc.). Again, the number of subsections you will need will depend on your topic and writing style.
  • Level 3, 4, and 5 headings are indented, followed by a period, and run in with the text that follows. If there is no intervening text between a Level 3, 4, or 5 heading and another lower level heading following it, keep the period after the first heading and start the next heading on a new line (e.g., see “State anxiety” and “Trait anxiety” at Level 3 in the Results section, which are immediately followed by lower level headings and text). Begin each heading on a new line; do not run headings together on the same line.

Are there other aspects of headings you want to know more about? Let us know in the comments.

The following are specific instructions for how to set up a document in APA format. For further and more detailed instructions, please see chapter 2: "Manuscript Structure and Content" in the APA Handbook.


All margins (top, bottom and sides) should be set at a minimum of one inch.  

The default setting for most Microsoft Word programs is one inch margins.  You can set the margins of your Word document by selecting "Page Layout" > "Margins" from the Ribbon Display Options.

Alignment / Line Spacing

All documents following APA guidelines are required to be aligned left and double-spaced throughout the entire document.  Be sure not to include additional spacing between paragraphs, headings, etc.

Font Type and Size

The preferred font type is Times New Roman.  Additionally, APA requires the font size to be 12 point.  

This is an example of 12-point Times New Roman.

Paragraph Indentation

All papers typed in APA format require paragraphs to be indented one-half inch.  This can easily be accomplished by striking TAB on the keyboard at the start of a new paragraph.  

To set the one-half inch tab default in Microsoft Word, under "Home" on the Ribbon Display Options, select "Paragraph" > "Increase Indent", and set to a one-half inch indentation.

Page Header

Beginning on the very first page (title page) and running continually throughout the APA document, a page header is utilized.  

The page header should appear one-half inch down from the top margin.  It includes the running head flush left and the page number flush right.  The running head consists of the words Running head (the R in Running is capatilized) followed by a colon and the title of the paper in all capital letters. There is a maximum of 50 characters (including spaces).  If the title encompasses more than 50 characters, then only major words should be used.

Ex.  Running head: TITLE OF YOUR PAPER

This can be accomplished using the Header and Footer settings in Microsoft Word.  

Levels of Heading

When a document requires the use of headings, the following five levels should be utilized (See sec. 3.03 APA Handbook).

Centered, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading
(Level One)

Flush Left, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading 
(Level Two)

      Indented, boldface, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period.
(Level Three)

      Indented, boldface, italicized, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period.
(Level Four)

     Indented, italicized lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period.
(Level Five)

*NOTE: In levels three, four, and five, capitalize only the first letter of the first word.

*NOTE: In levels three, four, and five, the paragraph begins on the same line as the heading.

Title Page

The title page of the document should include the following:

         * Page header: Running head is flush left; page number is flush right.

         * Title of the paper, student's name, and name of college of university (typed in that order & centered on the title page).

The Running head will appear .5" from the top of the page.  See Page Header for further instructions about formatting a Running head.

Reference Page

A list of references should be given on a separate page(s) at the end of an APA document.  Every reference cited in the text should be listed on the reference page(s), and every reference listed on the reference page(s) should be cited in the text.  However, note that secondary sources are not necessary as an entry on the reference page-- only the original source that cites it.

General 6th edition APA guidelines for the reference page(s) include:

- Margins should be at least one inch all around (top, bottom, left and right) & double spacing should be used.

- The page heading should be centered and called References.  

- References should be listed in alphabetical order by authors (using surname of first author), associations (if the work is authored by an organization), and Anonymous (if work is signed Anonymous). If no author is provided, the title should be moved before the date and alphabetized according to the first word of the title (excluding a, an, the). 

- Underlining should not be used on the reference page.

- Personal conversations, emails, interviews, and letters should not be listed since the reader is unable to retrieve these types of sources (cite as personal communication in text, but do not list on the reference page).

- The first line of each reference entry should start at the left margin with the following lines being indented one half inch (hanging indent).

- Numerals are used to denote numbers ten and above.

- References beginning with numerals should have the numeral spelled out. (ex. "3 times the fun: The joy of triplets" should be listed as "Three times the fun: The joy of triplets")


The word Abstract should be centered, one inch from the top of the page.  The actual abstract, however, should be left justified.  This is the only paragraph of the paper that is not indented.  It should be concise, accurate, and reflect the content of the document.  The abstract should be only one paragraph in length.  No paraphrasing or direct quotations should be included.


Appendices are pages at the end of the paper (after the references) with additional information.  Appendices allow the author to include information that would be distracting to the reader if included in the body of the paper.  Tables or charts more than a half page in length are often placed in the appendices rather than the text of the paper.  The page header continues onto pages containing an appendix.  

* NOTE: If only one appendix is included, it should be labeled Appendix and centered, with uppercase and lowercase letters.  If more than one appendix is included, they should be labeled Appendix A, Appendix B, etc.