APA Sample Paper

APA Sample Paper


The Title of Your Manuscript, Typed in Capitals and Lower Case Letters, Centered on the Page

Your Name

University Affiliation


The second page of a manuscript contains the abstract, which is essentially a mini-version of your paper in 120 words or less (hint: it is often easiest to write this section last). This page must have the manuscript page header (which is simply the first two or three words of your title and is used in case manuscript pages accidentally become separated) in the upper right corner of the page and the word “Abstract” centered on the page. The abstract is a single paragraph that briefly describes the purpose of the study, the participants (including number and gender), the hypotheses, the design (including independent and dependent variables), the research procedures, the findings, and the interpretation drawn from the findings. The abstract is what potential readers will browse through to determine if your paper is sufficiently interesting and relevant to be worth their time to read. Note that the first sentence of the abstract is not indented.

The Title of Your Manuscript, Typed in Capitals and Lower Case Letters, Centered on the Page

The introduction starts on the next page after the abstract. Note that the page header and the full title are on the top of the first page of the introduction, but there is no subheading. Also, note that the entire text is typed without right-justification (i.e., the right side is jagged).

Because the function of the introduction is obvious, no subheading is needed. The primary goals of the introduction are: (a) to introduce the question that you are investigating; (b) to provide a justification as to why that question is interesting and worthy of study; (c) to provide the reader with a review of the relevant literature (and hence a theoretical background for the study); (d) to introduce the research strategy or method that you employed in order to explore the topic further (including e a description of your independent and dependent variables); and (e) to inform the reader of your predictions.
The organization of the introduction is similar to the shape of a funnel, in that it starts out broadly and then narrows to focus exclusively on your topic of interest. In general, your introduction should (a) introduce the topic of interest (the opener), (b) explain what is known about the variables thus far (the literature review), (c) explain the purpose and rationale for your study (i.e., point to a question not yet answered in literature), (d) present the variables and how they are manipulated and/or measured, and (e) end with predictions, with a rationale for why each prediction was expected.

It is critical that you provide a clear, logical theoretical background for your study in the introduction in order to allow your reader to understand the rest of the study. Your choice of independent and dependent variables, your hypotheses, your design, etc., should not come as a surprise to your reader--they all should be logical extensions of the ideas that you present in your introduction. To determine whether your introduction tells a clear and logical story, you should write down the first sentence of each paragraph in order on a separate piece of paper. If the story makes sense, your introduction is logical. If the story is unclear, you need to rework your introduction.

When reviewing the literature, be sure to describe studies in enough detail so that the reader can get a general idea of how the study was conducted and what the variables were--giving only a one-sentence conclusion of each study followed by a reference citation in parentheses is not enough. The introduction should be a thorough review of studies that are relevant to your study’s purpose, but it should not be an exhaustive review of all studies on a given topic (especially those not related to your study). Avoid including references that are tangential or of general significance just because you happened to read them.

In the body of the paper, articles and books are cited by the last name(s) of the author(s) and the year of publication. For example, you might say, "Distinctions between operant and classical conditioning, originally stated by Skinner (1938), have recently been challenged (Rescorla & Wagner, 1969).” Note that when a reference is enclosed completely within parentheses, the ampersand (&) is used instead of the word “and.” In the text, the word “and” is used between authors rather than the ampersand. If different references are cited simultaneously at the same point in the text, the citations are arranged alphabetically by the authors’ surnames, separated by semicolons, and enclosed in parentheses. “Recent studies dispute the behaviorist position (Smith, 1983; Smith & Jones, 1984; Toffler, 1979).”

As a general rule, you should try to avoid footnotes and quotations. The literature you reference should be from original work and should be your description or interpretation of it. Unless something is particularly elegant, put it into your own words. Do not write, for example, "Jones (1985) found that 'males were more likely than females to recall gender-consistent pronouns (p. 47).'" You may write, however (because it is elegant), "As Gilbert and Osborne (1989) pointed out, 'Backward-hopping gum chewers who try to conjugate Latin verbs are far more likely to fall over than to swallow their gum (p. 940).'" Even when it is warranted, use quotes sparingly (perhaps once per paper or not at all). You should generally avoid citing secondary sources (i.e., sources that you did not personally obtain and read, such as an article you saw cited somewhere else, a conference paper, or a dissertation). If necessary, cite secondary sources as follows: Place the source in the text as “...Heider (1958) reported that Asch observed...” In the reference section list Heider, not Asch, despite the fact that it is the work of Asch that is of interest to you.

Above all, write with clarity and do not use flowery language. For example, “The eminent clinical psychologist, Dr. George Kelly, is credited with the first portrayal of individuals as naive scientists” could be better stated as “Kelly (1955) was the first to portray persons as naive scientists.”


The method section is headed with the word “method,” which is capitalized and centered (note that there is no “s” on the end). This section immediately follows the introduction, and only starts on a new page if fewer than two complete sentences would fit underneath the header at the bottom of the page. The method section generally has several subsections, the exact number of which depends on the complexity of the study.

This section describes your participants and how they were selected. Researchers typically report the number, gender, age, and race (general, if not exact numbers; e.g., "predominately White, upper middle class students") of participants, along with other relevant demographic characteristics. You should describe how participants were recruited for the study and their motive for participating---Did they volunteer? Were they paid? Did they receive extra credit (e.g., "Individuals participated as part of a course requirement for a human anatomy lab at the University of California, Los Angeles"). Note that according to the APA manual, the use of the word “subjects” is considered derogatory, and thus the word “participants” is the preferred alternative.

In this section, describe the setup of the study so that your reader can visualize its structure. In the design, you should (a) specify the design type (e.g., between-, within-, or mixed-subjects), (b) explain how participants were assigned to conditions, (c) describe each independent variable and its levels (including both conceptual and operational definitions), and (d) describe the dependent variable and its operational definition. It is generally helpful to start the design section with a brief overview of the procedure (one or two sentences at most) to put the design into context (e.g., "Participants were asked to make judgments about a series of words and were later given a surprise recall test to assess memory for those words").
Measures (or Materials and Apparatus)

Give brief descriptions of all materials (and/or major apparatus) used in the study and their functions. If you constructed the materials or apparatus yourself you may have to go into far greater detail so that readers can comprehend exactly what the materials were and how they were constructed. If you adapted your stimuli from a published source, be sure to credit the authors. Generally, if your study does involve any equipment or physical apparatus (e.g., it uses scenarios or other paper-and-pencil measures instead), use the word “measures” for the heading. Describe all randomization, counterbalancing, and other control features of the research design.

This section describes in a step-by-step fashion precisely how the study was conducted. It should include instructions to participants, the formation of groups, and the specific experimental manipulations. The testing situation should be described, as should the length of time to complete the study; the nature of the debriefing should also be included. Note that “choppiness” is often a problem in procedure sections; use transitions between sentences (e.g., “First,” “Next,” “Then,”, “In addition,”,etc.) for smoother flow.

In sum, the method should tell the reader what was done and how it was done, and it should do so in enough detail so that another researcher could replicate the study. In other words, err on the side of too much, rather than too little, detail.


The results section follows the method section on the same page. Note that the word “results” is centered and capitalized. The purpose of the results section is to summarize the collected data and your statistical treatment of those data. All relevant results and outcomes of all statistical analyses performed should be reported, including effects that are significant as predicted, effects that are significant but contrary to your hypotheses, and predicted effects that fail to reach statistical significance. Do not, however, speculate about why your results were or were not significant (or about what they mean); save that for the discussion section.

First, identify the specific statistic or type of analysis used (e.g., “A chi-square test of independence was used to analyze the data”). Second, report your results, one-by-one, along with a statistical statement supporting each result (usually at the end of the sentence). The statistical statement typically includes the statistic, degrees of freedom, the value of the statistic, and the probability of a Type I error. Here is an example: “The analysis of variance indicated significant differences in latency of response for participants not provided with training, F (1, 34) = 123.7, p < .001.”

After stating the results, be sure to interpret them, relating them to your hypothesis and giving the appropriate descriptive statistic (e.g., “Contrary to the hypothesis, males (M = 7.3) were no more likely than were females (M = 7.4) to agree with the attitude change message"). You may choose to present data summaries in the form of graphs or tables. Refer to graphs, pictures, or drawings as “figures” and to tables as “tables.” For example, you might say “Figure 1 is a graph of goal acceptance levels for the three experimental groups.” If you include figures or tables, each one goes on a separate page at the end of the manuscript. Note that titles of tables go on the same page as the table, whereas figure captions are listed on a separate “Figure Caption(s)” page prior to the figures.


The discussion section, which is the part of your report in which you evaluate and interpret your findings, follows immediately after the results. Again, note the capitalization and the centering of the section heading. The structural organization of the discussion section is, to a large extent, the mirror image of the organization used in the introduction. It begins with a summary of your specific findings, proceeds to a discussion of the theoretical implications of your findings, and ends with a discussion of general conclusions and/or applications for your findings.

Open your discussion with a brief restatement of the specific hypotheses of your study, and indicate whether the data you obtained supported, partially supported, or did not support your original hypotheses. Discuss the results, both significant and nonsignificant, of all theoretically interesting statistical tests that you performed. Be sure to discuss your results in prose form only, and do NOT include technical details about the statistics, which have already been presented in the results section. In other words, terms like "correlation," "ANOVA," “data,” and "significant," should NOT appear in the discussion section. For each result, remember to remind the reader whether or not the outcome was consistent your hypotheses.
Now discuss your results a little more broadly by briefly relating them back to the overall purpose or goal of the study. Are the results generally consistent with your theory? Then, relate your results back to the literature you reviewed in the introduction (making sure to cite properly). How do your findings fit in with the findings of other researchers? Which results are consistent? Which are inconsistent? If your results do not follow your predictions or run contrary to the findings of others, briefly speculate as to why this may have occurred.

Next, discuss any limitations, inconsistencies, or problems with your research. (Note that all research has at least some limitations or weakness, so you must come up with something here.) For example, you might account for some methodological errors that might have affected the validity of your experiment, and then follow with specific recommendations on what could be done in future studies to reduce or eliminate the problem found in your study. Do not just “throw out” a random, undeveloped laundry list of half-baked ideas here (e.g., “maybe the materials were ambiguous” or “perhaps we should have had more participants”). For each limitation mentioned, specifically explain why it is a problem, how it may have affected your results, and what could be done to address the problem in future research.

End your discussion section on a positive note by pointing out the importance of your findings. In other words, come back to the "big picture" by discussing your study's implications. You should discuss both (a) theoretical implications (e.g., how your results add to the development or refinement of a theory) and (b) practical applications (e.g., real-world applications or ways in which your findings can improve our ability to understand and predict behavior). This part of your discussion should be interesting and full of ideas; it should NOT be relegated to an afterthought or an obstacle to be rushed through in order to complete the paper. Finally, try to end "with a bang," or at least with something other than an empty, vacuous phrase such as, "Future research is needed to further investigate this interesting phenomenon.” Tying your ending back into your opener in a clever manner is an added bonus.

Note that you will typically have several citations to research in your discussion; some will be the same as in your introduction (especially when you’re tying your results back into previous theory) and some will be new (e.g., if you’re talking about future research ideas and you’ve found a citation to similar research that you can build on).


Scientific writing often gathers the references together near the end of the text so that they do not interfere with reading the manuscript. Thus, the reference section starts on a new page immediately after the discussion section. The word “references” is centered and capitalized. Note the “hanging indent” format used, in which the first line is flush left and the remaining lines are indented (you can use the formatting tool bar in Microsoft Word to accomplish this). References are placed in alphabetical order by first author name, and there are no first names used (only initials). Article and book titles (other than the first word and the first word after a colon, if there is one) are not capitalized.

Below are several common examples (i.e., a journal article, a website, a conference paper, a book, and a chapter in an edited book, respectively) of the format required for different types of text references. Further information can be obtained by consulting the American Psychological Association’s Publication Manual.

Gilbert, D. T., McNulty, S. E., Giuliano, T. A., & Benson, E. J. (1992). Blurry words and fuzzy deeds: The attribution of obscure behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 18-25.

Krystek, L. I. (1996). Nessie of Loch Ness. Retrieved September 5, 2004, from http://www.unmuseum.mus.pa.us/lochness.htm.
Turner, K. L., Giuliano, T. A., Lundquist, J. C., & Knight, J. L. (2003). Twice as nice: The double burden of contemporary female athletes. Poster presented at the 18th annual meeting of the American Psychological Society, Atlanta.

Vallacher, R. R., & Wegner, D. M. (1985). A theory of action identification. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Social facilitation in cockroaches. In E. C. Simmel, R. A. Hoppe, & G. A. Milton (Eds.), Social facilitation and imitative behavior (pp. 258-302). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.