When writing a paper in APA Style, consider using headings to improve your paper’s readability. For you as an author, headings will help you to organize your ideas; for your readers, headings facilitate reading by indicating the logical presentation of your paper’s topics and subtopics. Headings also serve as concise transitional elements that facilitate your readers’ progression through the sections and subsections of your paper.

A paper written in APA Style can use up to five levels of headings (as appropriate) to indicate the paper’s hierarchy of sections and subsections. Each of the five heading levels is indicated by the use of a specific format, as indicated in Figure 1, below.

 

Heading Rules

  • Throughout a paper, all topics of equal importance use the same heading level. For example, in a literature review paper that presents critiques of several studies in sequence, the introductory paragraph of each study critique should use the same heading level.
  • Within a section, headings can be used to introduce subsections only if the section has two or more subsections. In a section that has a single subsection, the single subsection should not begin with a heading.
  • The heading structure for all sections follows the same top-down progression, regardless of the number of levels of subheading within a section.
  • Each section starts with the highest level of heading, even if one section has fewer levels of subheading than another section.

For example, the Method and Results sections of a paper may each have two levels of subheading, and the Discussion section may have only one level of subheading.  There would then be three levels of heading for the paper overall: the section headings (Method, Results, and Discussion) and the two levels of subheading, as follows:

 

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  • Introduction heading. The title of a manuscript’s introduction section is the title of the paper itself—not the word “Introduction.”  (The first part of a manuscript is assumed to be the introduction.)  This title of the introduction section is centered but not boldface.

The following format for an introduction section heading—with a Level 1 heading (“Purpose, Background, and Importance”) positioned between the Introduction title and the first paragraph text—is not acceptable:

 

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  • References and appendices. The titles “References” and “Appendix” are centered but not boldface.
  • Do not label headings with numbers or letters. (The sections and headings in the Publication Manual are numbered only to permit indexing and cross-referencing.)
  • The number of levels of heading needed for your article will depend on its length and complexity. If only one level of heading is needed, use Level 1; for a paper with two levels of heading, use Levels 1 and 2; if three levels are needed, use Levels 1, 2, and 3; and so forth.
  • The following format—with no paragraph between headings of different levels—is acceptable (per APA Style Team).

 

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However, insertion of a paragraph between headings of different levels is usually necessary—in order to provide cohesion and effective transition.