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What are the APA Style rules for section headings?

Last Updated: Apr 28, 2016  |  1961 Views

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Headings help to give structure to your document and allow your reader to clearly understand the levels of organization within your paper:

Levels of heading establish the hierarchy of sections via format or appearance. All topics of equal importance have the same level of heading throughout a manuscript. For example, in a multiexperiment paper, the headings for the Method and Results sections in Experiment 1 should be the same level as the headings for the Method and Results sections in Experiment 2.

            Avoid having only one subsection heading and subsection within a section, just as you would in an outline. Use at least two subsection headings within any given section, or use none. (American Psychological Association, 2010, p. 62)

Please see below for the five levels of headings and their respective formatting:

Centred, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading (1)

Flush Left, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading (2)

Indented, boldface, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period. (3)

Indented, boldface, italicized, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period. (4)

Indented, italicized, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period. (5)

(p. 62)

When using paragraph headings, begin your paragraph text on the same line after the heading.  No extra line spacing is added to headings; that is, the double-spacing that occurs in the text should continue in the headings without any extra lines being added before or after headings. 

If you're using Microsoft Word, use Word styles to format your headings so that you can later use the headings to create an automatic table of contents. Format your headings consistently within each level throughout the entire document; that is, use level one formatting for your top level of heading, level two formatting for your next level of heading, and so forth. Finally, "do not label headings with numbers or letters" (American Psychological Association, 2010, p. 63). For example:

Literature Review


Historical perspective


Modern history. (Body text starts on same line as the heading)


Research Strategy



Do not include an "Introduction" heading (see "Should I provide an "Introduction" section heading in my essay (APA Style)?"), and the title of the essay at the top of the first page of text should not be formatted as a section heading (see #3 in the "APA Style formatting checklist"). For more information regarding section headings, please refer to pages 62-63 in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association, 2010). 


American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. 

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