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The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition

American Psychological Association (APA) style is an academic format specified in The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, a style guide that offers academic authors guidance on various subjects for the submission of papers to the publications of APA.[1] The APA states that the guidelines were developed to assist reading comprehension in the social and behavioral sciences, for clarity of communication, and for "word choice that best reduces bias in language."[2][3] The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association contains guidelines on many aspects of academic writing as it is seen appropriate by the APA. Among the topics covered are information on the structure of research papers of various kinds, spelling rules, an author-date reference style, construction of tables and graphs, plagiarism, formatting of papers, and much more.

It is the preferred style guide for the articles on this site. See How to reference and link to summary or text

APA style officially refers to The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, a book of 272 pages now in its sixth edition (ISBN 1433805618). It is published by the American Psychological Association, which is the main scholarly organization for academic psychologists in the United States.

Early editions

The Publication Manual was established in 1929 as a seven-page document with a set of procedures to increase the ease of reading comprehension (APA, 2009a, p. xiii).[4] Created under the sponsorship of the United States National Research Council, its originators included psychologists, anthropologists, and publishing professionals.

In 1952, the booklet was expanded and published as a 55-page supplement in Psychological Bulletin with revisions made in 1957 and 1967 (APA, 1952, 1957, 1967).[5][6][7] The first edition covered word choice, grammar, punctuation, formatting, journal publication policies, and "wrapping and shipping" (APA, Council of Editors, 1952, p. 442).

In response to the growing complexities of scientific reporting, subsequent editions were released in 1974, 1983, 1994, and 2001. Primarily known for the simplicity of its reference citation style, the Publication Manual also established standards for language use that had far-reaching effects. Particularly influential were the "Guidelines for Nonsexist Language in APA Journals," first published as a modification to the 1974 edition, which provided practical alternatives to sexist language then in common usage.[8][9] The guidelines for reducing bias in language have been updated over the years and presently provide practical guidance for writing about race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status (APA, 2009, pp. 70–77; see also APA, 2009b).[10]

Sixth edition of the Publication Manual


The sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association was released in July 2009 after four years of development. The Publication Manual Revision Task Force of the American Psychological Association established parameters for the revision based on published criticism, user comments, commissioned reviews, and input from psychologists, nurses, librarians, business leaders, publishing professionals, and APA governance groups (APA, 2007a, 2007b).[11][12] To accomplish these revisions, the Task Force appointed working groups of four to nine members in seven areas: Bias-Free Language, Ethics, Graphics, Journal Article Reporting Standards, References, Statistics, and Writing Style (APA, 2009, pp. xvii–xviii).

The APA explained the issuing of a new edition only eight years after the fifth edition by pointing to the increased use of online source or online access to academic journals (6th edition, p. xv). The sixth edition is accompanied by a web presence.

Errors in the first printing of the sixth edition

Despite multiple reviews of the manuscript at the copy-editing and proof-reading stages by senior editors, staff realized, shortly after the manual had gone to press, that the sample papers contained multiple errors. Among the detected errors were:

  • In 188 style guidelines, two errors were made, and one of these was a punctuation error.
  • In almost 1,000 examples provided to illustrate those rules, 36 errors were made (roughly half of these occurred in the sample papers, which were subsequently corrected and posted online). Another 10 occurred in the 374 examples that were provided in the reference chapter.
  • Five clarifications to text were made. These were not errors, but rather clarified and expanded text, for example, adding a second example for both a blog post and a blog comment.
  • Three pages of nonsignificant typographical errors were corrected. These included such things as changing an em dash to an en dash, changing a minus sign to a hyphen, and correcting for added space that was automatically added when a sample form was reproduced.

In the interest of transparency (and following the same procedure that was followed for the fifth edition), staff posted all of the corrections online in a single document on October 1, 2009, and shortly thereafter alerted users to the existence of the corrections in an APA blog entry.[13] On the same day the corrections were posted, an individual posting to the Educational and Behavioral Sciences Section mailing-list (EBBSS-L) of the American Library Association alerted readers to what she described as the "many" errors in the first printing, and speculated that "some but not all" would be corrected in a second printing. On October 5, 2009, APA staff responded to the note, clarifying that errors were found in the sample papers, that the papers had been corrected and posted online, that the substantive guidance in the manual was correct and accurate as printed, and that a full list of corrections could be found at the APA Style website.[14] Nevertheless, APA refused initially to exchange submitted erroneous books of the first with corrected versions of the second printing.

On October 13, 2009, the article "Correcting a Style Guide" was published in the online newspaper Inside Higher Ed that included interviews with several individuals who defined the errors as "egregious" (Epstein, 2009).[15] The article, along with rumors spread on various mailing-lists, resulted in exaggerated accounts of both the magnitude and the extent of the errors, with some reports on claiming more than 80 pages of errors had occurred. APA responded to the increasing confusion by issuing an apology, and implementing a return/replacement program for purchasers who wished to exchange their first-printing copies for second-printing copies of the Publication Manual. The first-edition copies returned to APA were destroyed. The second and all subsequent printings of the Publication Manual have been fully corrected.

Why APA style?

Although adopting certain aspects of APA style may be resented by some authors, it is widely agreed that it serves a useful purpose. Uniform style across journals helps readers to navigate and access material more efficiently. Scholars who experience uncertainty when writing may find the Manual a useful guide. For example, the "political correctness" sections of the manual discourage authors from writing prose that is abusive to women and minorities. Scholarly journals that require APA style sometimes let their authors deviate from it when it would increase clarity.

Please note that many of the examples listed on this page are from the 5th Edition of the Manual; 6th edition was released in 2009 and many of the examples given are no longer valid. There were changes to headings, citing electronic references, format of the paper, font type, font size, headers, and others (this is just a partial list):

General APA Format/Guidelines[16]


Times New Roman, with 12-point font size.

Line spacing

Double-space between all text lines of the manuscript.


Leave uniform margins of at least 1in. at the top,bottom,left,and right of every page.

Line length and alignment

The length of each typed line is a maximum of 6½ inches.

Paragraphs and indentation

Indent the first line of every paragraph and the first line of every footnote.

Page number and running heads

Both the page number and running head should be located in the header of the paper so it appears on each page.
  • There is no need to include a retrieval date for references that are unlikely to change.


Following APA style, headings are used to organize articles and give them a hierarchical structure. APA style prescribes a specific format for headings (from one to five levels) within an article. [17]

APA Headings




Centered, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Headings


Left-aligned, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading


     Indented, boldface, lowercase heading with a period. Begin body text after the period.


     Indented, boldface, italicized, lowercase heading with a period. Begin body text after the period.


     Indented, italicized, lowercase heading with a period. Begin body text after the period.

According to APA style, if an article has:

  • One level: use Level 1 headings
  • Two levels: use Level 1 (superordinate) and Level 3 (subordinate) headings
  • Three levels: use Level 1, Level 3 and Level 4 (from superordinate to subordinate)
  • Four levels: use Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 and Level 4 (from superordinate to subordinate)
  • Five levels: use Level 5, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 and Level 4 (from superordinate to subordinate)

No guidelines are provided for articles with six or more levels of headings. Note that APA style does not permit preceding numbers or letters for the headings.

Reference citations in text

Reference citations in text are those which are referenced within a passage of text in the body of an article. APA style defines that a reference section may only include articles which are cited within the body of an article. This is the distinction between a document having a Reference section and a Bibliography which may incorporate sources which may have been read by the authors as background but not referred to or included in the body of a document.

APA follows a number of rules for formatting in-line citations, the following is not an exhaustive list as it does not cover quotations, nor all scenarios that may arise when referring to an article or document. Hopefully, it is enough to get a feel for how it is used.

  • Single Author, Book, Journal, Published article, conference proceedings.: Format should be Author's last name (no initials) followed directly by a comma, then the year of publication. You may choose not to use enclosing brackets around the authors' names and refer to the article as part of a natural sentence (year should however normally remains enclosed). The same holds for multiple authors.

Social representations theory posits that reified scientific knowledge that exists at the boundaries of a given society, will be interpreted in meaningful and often simplified forms by the majority (Pauling, 2005).


Pauling (2005) posits that...

  • Two Authors, Book, Journal, Published article, conference proceedings. Authors should be presented in order that they appear in the published article. If they are cited within closed brackets, use the ampersand (&) symbol between them. If not enclosed in brackets then use expanded "and".

Social representations theory posits that reified scientific knowledge that exists at the boundaries of a given society will be interpreted in meaningful and often simplified forms by the majority (Pauling & Liu, 2005).


Pauling and Liu (2005) posit that...

  • Three or More Authors, Book, Journal, Published Article, Conference proceedings. At this point ambiguities and problems over various journals' interpretations and enforcement of various APA styles and editions becomes apparent. With three or more authors, it is expected that the first reference to an article contains all authors. Subsequent citations in the same document may refer to the article by the principal author only plus "et al." The general format is Author 1, Author 2, ... Author N & Author N + 1, normally in the order they appear in the publication, but sometimes listing the principle author, then the others in alphabetical order. The number of authors required for invoking the "et al. rule" is also often misused and misunderstood. (Note the reference section must contain ALL authors)

First Instance

Social representations theory posits that reified scientific knowledge that exists at the boundaries of a given society, will be interpreted in meaningful and often simplified forms by the majority (Pauling, Liu & Guo, 2005).


Pauling, Liu and Guo(2005) posit...

Subsequent instances in the same document

Pauling, et al. (2005) posit...


(Pauling et al., 2005)

  • Multiple publications same author

If an author has multiple publications which you wish to cite, you use a semi colon (;) to separate the years of publication in chronological order (oldest to most recent). If the publications occur in the same year, then you must denote this, using a suffix "a" or "b" is common (note you must also ensure that the "year field" in the reference section also contains the same suffix). For multiple authors, follow the same rules.

...majority (Pauling, 2004; 2005)


Pauling (2004; 2005) suggests that...

  • Multiple publications different authors

Follow the rules above as for same author, using a semicolon to separate articles. Citation should first be in Alphabetical order of the Author, then chronological.

...majority (Alford, 1995; Pauling, 2004; 2005; Sirkis, 2003)

Reference list

The APA style guide asserts that bibliographies and other lists of names should be ordered by surname first, and mandates inclusion of surname prefixes. For example, "Martin de Rijke" should be sorted as "de Rijke, M.". In APA style, citations from media sources such as magazines and books should always include the name of the author, the year of publication, title (in italics), and publisher.[18][19]

Book by One Author:
Sherman, R. D. (1956). The terrifying future: Contemplating color television. San Diego: Halstead.

Book by Two or More Authors:
Kurosawa, J., & Armistead, Q. (1972). Hairball: An intensive peek behind the surface of an enigma. Hamilton, ON: McMaster University Press.

Article in an Edited Book:
Stanz, R. F. (1983). Practical methods for the apprehension and sustained containment of supernatural entities. In G. L. Yeager (Ed.), Paranormal and occult studies: Case studies in application (pp. 42–64). Place: Publisher.

Article in a Journal with Continuous Pagination:
Rottweiler, F. T., & Beauchemin, J. L. (1987). Detroit and Sarnia: Two foes on the brink of destruction. Canadian/American Studies Journal, 54. 66–146.

Article in a Journal Paginated Separately:
Crackton, P. (1987). The Loonie: God's long-awaited gift to colourful pocket change? Canadian Change, 64(7), 34–37.

Article in a Monthly Magazine:
Doe, J. (2001, May). My life as a grocery-store delivery boy. Hot & Steamy Letters, pp.81–85+.

Article in a Newspaper
Wrong, M. (2005, August 17). Misquotes are "Problematastic" says Mayor. Toronto Sol. p.4.

Government Document
Revenue Canada. (2001) Advanced gouging: Manual for employees (MP 65–347/1124). Ottawa: Minister of Immigration and Revenue.

Internet Article Based on a Print Source
Marlowe, P., Spade, S., & Chan, C. (2001). Detective work and the benefits of colour versus black and white [Electronic version]. Journal of Pointless Research, 11, 123–124.

Article in an Internet-only Journal
Blofeld, H. V. (1994, March 1). Expressing oneself through persian cats and modern architecture. Felines & Felons, 4, Article 0046g. Retrieved October 3, 1999, from

Article in an Internet-only Newsletter
Paradise, S., Moriarty, D., Marx, C., Lee, O. B., Hassel, E., et al. (1957, July). Portrayals of fictional characters in reality-based popular writing: Project update. Off the beaten path,7(3). Retrieved October 3, 1999, from

Stand-alone Internet document, no author identified, no date
What I did today. (n.d.). Retrieved August 21, 2002, from

Document available on university program or department Web site
Rogers, B. (2078). Faster-than-light travel: What we've learned in the first twenty years. Retrieved August 24, 2079, from Mars University, Institute for Martian Studies Web site:

Electronic copy of a journal article, three to five authors, retrieved from database
Costanza, G., Seinfeld, J., Bennes, E., Kramer, C., & Peterman, J. (1993). Minutiæ and insignificant observations from the nineteen-nineties. Journal about Nothing, 52, 475–649. Retrieved October 31, 1999, from NoTHINGJournals database.

Monterey, Allison (personal communication, September 28, 2001)

Book on CD
Nix, G. (2002). Lirael, Daughter of the Clayr [CD]. New York: Random House/Listening Library.

Book on Tape
Nix, G. (2002). Lirael, Daughter of the Clayr [Cassette Recording No. 1999-1999-1999]. New York: Random House/Listening Library.

See also

References & Bibliography

  1. APA Journals Manuscript Submission Instructions for All Authors. American Psychological Association. URL accessed on October 27, 2011.
  2. [ Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition American Psychological Association]. URL accessed on February 14, 2013.
  3. APA Style. American Psychological Association. URL accessed on October 27, 2011.
  4. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). 2009. Washington, DC
  5. American Psychological Association, Council of Editors. (1952). In 1967 the Publication Manual made also the shift from footnotes to parenthetical referencing. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Psychological Bulletin, 49(Suppl., Pt. 2), 389-449.
  6. American Psychological Association. (1957). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (Rev. ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
  7. American Psychological Association. (1967). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (Rev. ed.). Washington, DC: Author
  8. APA Task Force on Issues of Sexual Bias in Graduate Education (June 1975). Guidelines for nonsexist use of language. American Psychologist 30 (6): 682–684.
  9. APA Publication Manual Task Force (June 1977). Guidelines for nonsexist language in APA journals [Change Sheet 2]. American Psychologist 30 (6): 682–684.
  10. Supplemental materials: Chapter 3: Writing Clearly and Concisely. American Psychological Association. URL accessed on October 27, 2011.
  11. American Psychological Association. (2007a, April 13–14). Meeting of the Council of Editors [Agenda book]. APA Archives, Washington, D.C.
  12. American Psychological Association. (2007b, May 18–20). "Meeting of the Publications and Communications Board [Agenda book]. APA Archives, Washington, D.C.
  13. Mary Lynn Skutley. Note to APA Style Community: Sixth Edition Corrections. APA blog, October 08, 2009
  14. Corrections to the First Printing of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition (July 2009) APA Style website, July 2009.
  15. Epstein, Jennifer (October 13, 2009). Correcting a Style Guide. Inside Higher Ed.
  16. Association, A. P. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. (6 ed., section 8.03, p. 229–230). Washington DC: Amer Psychological Assn.
  17. Heading levels, Publication Manual (6th ed., sections 3.02–3.03, pp. 62–63)
  18. How To Cite A Book In APA. Mental Daily.
  19. How To Properly Write Citations In APA Format. Carnegie Mellon University.

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