A free, comprehensive, peer-reviewed, award-winning Open Text for students and faculty in college-level courses that require writing and research.

Evidence & Documentation

How should section and subsection headings be formatted in APA style?

A research paper written in APA style should be organized into sections and subsections using the five levels of APA headings. APA recommends using subheadings only when the paper has at least two subsections within a larger section. Notice how sections contain at least two smaller subsections in the example below:

What punctuation should be used when words are inserted or altered in a direct quotation?

When writers insert or alter words in a direct quotation, square brackets—[ ]—are placed around the change. The brackets, always used in pairs, enclose words intended to clarify meaning, provide a brief explanation, or to help integrate the quote into the writer’s sentence.  A common error writers make is to use parentheses in place of brackets.

Placement

The abstract acts as the second major section of the document and typically begins on the second page of the paper. It follows directly after the title page and precedes the main body of the paper.

The abstract is a succinct, single-paragraph summary of your paper’s purpose, main points, method, findings, and conclusions, and is often recommended to be written after the rest of your paper has been completed.

When should footnotes be used?

The APA suggests two instances in which footnotes may be used:

  • Content Footnotes: to offer further information on a topic that is not directly related to the text. As content footnotes should be concise, avoid writing lengthy paragraphs or including extraneous information.
  • Copyright Permission Footnotes: to cite adapted or reprinted materials in the paper, especially data sets, tables, and quotations that exceed 400 words. Consult the APA Publication Manual (6th ed.) for more information about copyright permissions.

Learn how to format the abstract of your paper in APA style. For additional information about formatting the abstract in APA, see also: 

Formatting the Abstract Page (APA)

What punctuation should be used when words are omitted from a direct quotation?

Dot com. Dot org. Dot edu. Dots abound. One purpose a dot serves is to separate information into easily-interpreted units: a website name from its extension, dollars from cents, or one idea from another in written text. Almost everyone is familiar with the dot placed at the end of a sentence—that everyday form of punctuation known as a period. A less common punctuation mark, often used in academic writing, is a series of three dots called ellipsis points.

Placement

As the first major section of the document, the title page appears at the top of the first page.

Components

The title page is comprised of a few key elements:

  • Running head (or shortened title) and label
  • Page number
  • Full title of the paper

Learn how to format the title page of your paper in APA style.

(Open article to see full document)

When should a block quotation be used?

When a writer chooses to include a long quotation—one that takes up four or more lines of text—it must be set off as a free standing block. As with any quotation a writer employs as evidence, the original text should contain relevant and compelling ideas that are expressed in vivid and concise language.

Block quotations should be used sparingly in longer essays and articles (multiple pages) and rarely in shorter works (1,500 words or less). Lengthy, wordy quotations should never be used simply to fill pages when the writer has little to say about the topic or issue.

Placement

Beginning at the top of a new page, the main body of the research paper follows the abstract and precedes the References page. Comprised of the introduction, method, results, and discussion subsections, the main body acts as the third major section of the document and typically begins on the third page of the paper.

How might you format your in-text citations so that they're more compliant with MLA guidelines?

You already know why MLA formatting guidelines are an important part of an academic paper, but let’s face it—who can remember all those rules about when and where certain citation information is requisite and when and where particular punctuation is appropriate? Thankfully, memorizing all of MLA’s formatting guidelines is not necessary!

When should long titles be shortened within in-text citations?

In-text citations usually supply the author(s)’ last name to reference their work, but when the source has no known author or more than one source by the same author is cited, the title of the source is inserted instead. When an in-text citation refers to a work with a long title, a shortened phrase from the title should be used.

Care should be taken to shorten the title in such a way that it does not compromise the reader’s ability to locate the source on the Works Cited list.

Why is it wise to avoid unreliable sources?

Information from unreliable sources is not always true, up-to-date, or accurate. Using unreliable sources in an academic paper can weaken the credibility of the writer, dilute the writer’s argument, and detract from the overall strength of the paper.

What kind of sources should be avoided?

While the Internet provides a plethora of information on almost any topic imaginable, not all of its content can be trusted.

What punctuation should be used to indicate omitted words from a direct quotation?

When a portion of a sentence (or sentences) is not included in a quotation, three ellipsis points should be typed in place of the omitted material. However, ellipsis points do not need to be included at the beginning or end of a quotation; the reader will assume that additional material is present in the original text before and after the quotation.

When should a block quotation be used?

A block quotation is an extract consisting of more than 40 words from another author’s work. Block quotations should be used in moderation, typically when using another writer’s words is a more effective way of illustrating an idea. Avoid using block quotations excessively as this practice gives the reader the impression that you are inexperienced in the subject or are simply filling pages to meet a word count requirement.

How should words emphasized by the writer be indicated in a direct quotation?

Use italics to add emphasis to a specific word or words in a direct quotation that were not originally emphasized by the author. Additionally, type the phrase emphasis added and enclose it in brackets directly after the emphasized words to indicate to the reader that the emphasis is not present in the original text.

Synthesis is something you already do in your everyday life.  For example, if you are shopping for a new car, the research question you are trying to answer is, "Which car should I buy"?  You explore available models, prices, options, and consumer reviews, and you make comparisons.  For example:  Car X costs more than car Y but gets better mileage.  Or:  Reviewers A, B, and C all prefer Car X, but their praise is based primarily on design features that aren’t important to you.  It is this analysis across sources that moves you towards an answer to your question.

Early in an academic research project you are likely to find yourself making initial comparisons—for example, you may notice that Source A arrives at a conclusion very different from that of Source B—but the task of synthesis will become central to your work when you begin drafting your research paper or presentation. 

Academic writing requires authors to connect information from outside sources to their own ideas in order to establish credibility and produce an effective argument.

Sometimes, the rules surrounding source integration and plagiarism may seem confusing, so many new writers err on the side of caution by using the simplest form of integration: direct quotation. However, using direct quotes is not always the best way to use a source. Paraphrasing or summarizing a text is sometimes a more effective means of supporting a writer’s argument than directly quoting. Taking into consideration the purpose of their own writing and the purpose of utilizing the outside source, authors should seek to vary the ways in which they work sources into their own writing.

How should a parenthetical in-text citation be formatted?

An essential component of a research paper, in-text citations are a way of acknowledging the ideas of the author(s) of a particular work.

Each source that appears as an in-text citation should have a corresponding detailed entry in the References list at the end of the paper. Including the required elements in every citation allows other researchers to easily track the references used in a paper and locate those resources themselves.

Why is it important to arrange the major sections of an APA-style paper in the correct order?

Writing a paper in APA style involves adhering to specific conventions laid out by APA. Readers are inclined to approach a paper with certain expectations about its format and appearance. Careful adherence to these conventions is likely to make a good initial impression on the reader, while carelessness may have the opposite effect. When the major sections of a paper are carefully arranged in the appropriate order, the reader may be more inclined to show an interest in the paper’s ideas.

Placement

The References page is located at the end of the main body of the paper and begins at the top of a new page. Appendices, footnotes, and additional materials should follow after the References page.

General Format

Like the rest of the paper, the References page should be double-spaced and typed in Times New Roman, 12 pt. The running head should appear flush with the upper left-hand corner of the page, and the page number should appear at the upper right-hand corner of the page.