Employee Portal   

APA Style Guidelines for Student Papers

Since most journals in the social sciences (including education) require that manuscripts submitted for publication be prepared according to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed., 2009), the McKay School of Education has adopted the policy that student papers, including theses and dissertations, should also be prepared according to APA style guidelines.

This document outlines some of the ways to avoid the most common errors found in student papers; enumerates variations from the guidelines recommended for student papers; provides information on standards and mechanisms for submitting dissertations, theses, and master's projects.


Access the following link to see examples of the proper format for the various heading levels. 


The number of heading levels in the appendices do not need to match the heading levels used in the body of the paper.

Subheadings are used to divide a section into two or more parts. Do not use just one subheading in a section. Headings should be descriptive of the content rather than abbreviated.

Access the Microsoft Word Heading Styles Tutorial to learn how to use styles in Microsoft Word to facilitate the implementation of the APA heading guidelines. This tutorial includes a link to a Microsoft Word template document that includes all the necessary styles already defined. The use of heading styles in Microsoft Word will facilitate the conversion of your document to PDF format for an ETD version with bookmarks to all chapters, sections and subsections (see the ETD section below).

Tables and Figures

There are many guidelines for the proper use and formatting of tables and figures outlined in the Publication Manual, pages 147-201 and 301-302.

Do not use tables for small amounts of data (one or two columns or rows of data).

Note that table titles and figure captions are handled differently. The word "Table" at the top of the table is not italicized, but the title of the table is italicized with the initial letter of the principal words capitalized. See the example table.

In contrast, figure captions are placed at the bottom of the figure and the word "Figure" followed by the figure number and a period are all italicized. The text of the figure caption follows on the same line, is not italicized and only the first word is capitalized. See the example figure.

Some of the guidelines for tables and figures are different for student papers. These variations are outlined in the Variations for Student Papers section below.

APA Editorial Style

Pay attention to the guidelines given in Chapter 3 of the Publication Manual with respect to the appropriate use of commas, semicolons, colons, quotation marks, parentheses, hyphenation, italics, and numbers.

Only use a colon after an introductory clause that is a complete sentence. See pages 80-81 of the Publication Manual.


The guidelines for enumerating elements in a series are found on pages 115-117 of the Publication Manual. Items in a series within a paragraph or sentence should be identified with lower case letters in parentheses as shown in the following example taken from the Publication Manual:

The participant's three choices were (a) working with another participant, (b) working with a team, and (c) working alone.

Seriated paragraphs should not be bulleted. They should be indented and should be numbered with an "Arabic numeral, followed by a period but not enclosed in or followed by parentheses." They should follow the examples given on page 117 of the Publication Manual rather than those provided on page 292. The seriated paragraphs in the following section are correct examples.

Variations for Student Papers

A number of variations from the APA guidelines are recommended in chapter 6 of the Publication Manual for the preparation of student papers that are "final" manuscripts, such as theses and dissertations, rather than "copy" manuscripts to be submitted to a journal. Some of these recommended variations are listed below:

  1. Dissertation abstracts may be up to 350 words in length rather than the 120 word maximum length allowed by journals.

  2. Although most journals discourage the use of appendixes, they may appropriately be included in student papers.

  3. Long tables and figures should be placed on a separate page immediately after the page on which the table or figure is first mentioned, rather than at the end of the manuscript. A short table or figure does not have to be placed on a separate page, but may be embedded in the body of the text after the paragraph where it is first mentioned. Text should follow after the table or figure, if space is available. Table titles and figure captions should be included on the same page as the table or figure.

  4. Although double-spacing should be used for the main body of the document, single-spacing is recommended where it will improve readability: titles and body of tables, figure captions, long quotations, and references (double-space between references). Triple- or quadruple-spacing may be used after major headings or chapter titles, before major subheadings, and before and after tables and figures.

  5. Your paper does not need to include running heads.

  6. Major sections or chapters of a student paper may begin on a new page. They may or may not include a chapter number. The "Introduction" section may be labeled. See the example first page of the main body of your project report, thesis or dissertation.

Minimum Standards for Submitting Dissertations, Theses, and Master's Projects

Access the following link for the Office of Graduate Studies standards for submitting your Dissertation, Thesis or Master's Project:

Standards for submitting dissertations, theses, and Master's projects [PDF]

These standards provide guidelines and templates for the preliminary pages of your document such as the title page, approval page, and table of contents.

Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD)

All Dissertations, Theses, and Master's Projects must be submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies in electronic form in PDF format. Your PDF document should have bookmarks to all chapters, sections, and subsections. This PDF document can be automatically created from Microsoft Word, if you use the proper styles for headings. The Microsoft Word APA headings template, found in the Microsoft Word Heading Styles Tutorial described in the previous "Headings" section, includes all the necessary styles already defined.

Access the following link for instructions and tutorials on creating and submitting an ETD: Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Department List Content Types: