How to Format Headings in APA

In writing, headings are like signposts that show readers the way through different parts of a paper. Making headings clear and brief is a skill that makes reading easier for everyone.

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The APA format uses a hierarchy of five heading levels. The primary level 1 heading is followed by subheadings, including level 2 and level 3. The decision on which heading levels to use is influenced by the length and complexity of the paper. If simplicity is the goal, one can opt for a sole level 1 heading. For a more structured approach, combining levels 1 and 2 is recommended.

APA Format Headings Template


Headings have five levels, and each section starts with the main heading, regardless of how many smaller headings there are. Don’t use numbers or letters for headings, and don’t begin with “Introduction.” Put the title at the top of the first page, using regular font with most words capitalized. Bold and center the title for emphasis.

Smart Use of Headings: Using headings wisely is like finding the perfect recipe. Not all papers need lots of headings, especially shorter student papers that can flow well without them. It’s important to steer clear of mistakes like having just one subsection heading in a section or adding numbers and letters to label headings. Keep things looking neat by double-spacing headings and resist the urge to use single spacing. Don’t add empty lines above or below headings, even if a heading ends up at the bottom of a page.

Microsoft Word Users: If you use Microsoft Word, use the Styles menu to set up and personalize heading formats following Microsoft’s instructions for future use.

Title Case: When creating headings, always use title case, capitalize the first and last words, as well as all major words in between.


APA Format Headings in a Sample Paper

Note. Double-space headings.

The sample paper demonstrates how the study was conducted. It begins with a main title, followed by a level 2 heading after the introduction. The methodology section is marked with a level 1 heading, and within it, there are more detailed parts labeled as level 2 (“Penetration Testing”), level 3 (“Machine Learning for Anomaly Detection”), and level 4 (“Machine Learning Algorithms for Anomaly Detection”) headings, explaining the systematic approach of the study.

The results are presented in the results section, indicated by a level 1 heading. Within this section, there are two level 2 headings, “Vulnerability Heat Map” and “Analysis of a Vulnerability Heat Map,” highlighting specific results.

In the discussion section, there are level 2 headings such as “Policy Recommendations” and “Future Trends in Cybersecurity.” These headings aid readers in understanding the meaning of the results, their importance, and potential future developments.

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Hannah Berry (Ph.D.)

Hannah Berry has lectured at several colleges and teaches at the WEA. Besides publishing extensively, she has taught citation skills and written multiple style guides.

Learn how to cite in APA