Skip to Main Content
Skidmore College
Psychology Department

Student Advice

Writing an APA Style Paper

The best resource for APA style is the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition. You'll find this resource on reserve in the library and in many faculty offices. What we will attempt here is not a substitute for the manual, but an abridgement and supplement. If you anticipate a career in psychology, you may want to purchase your own copy of this useful resource.

At the outset, we need to make an important distinction between the submitted APA-style paper and the published APA-style paper. If you've read a number of psychology journals, you're likely already familiar with the style in which articles are produced within those journals. However, those papers looked a lot different as they were submitted to the journal. For your courses, particularly PS 306, you will write your papers using the style required by the APA for submitted papers.

A typical APA-style paper is divided into a number of sections: Title, Abstract, Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion, References, Tables and Figures. Although that is the typical order in which the sections appear, that is not the order in which one would typically write the sections. Although your preference may differ, an order that makes a lot of sense is: Method, Results, Introduction/Discussion, Title/Abstract, References, Tables and Figures. Here's the logic.

  • As soon as your study is designed--even before the first piece of data is collected--you have sufficient information to write the Method section. The hard part of any writing project is getting started, so if you've got a written Method section, you're well on your way.

  • Once the data are collected and analyzed, you're ready to write the Results section.

  • At that point you've got a clear sense of the way your study turned out. You know if the results fit with your prior thinking, etc. That means that you can write the Introduction and Discussion sections with a clear sense of what you need to highlight (e.g., in terms of background readings, the logic underlying your design) and what you need to clarify to help the reader to understand the results of the study. Waiting to write the Introduction and Discussion until you've analyzed your data may make you look prescient, but doing so ensures that you'll be in the best position to lead your reader through the results and their implications.

  • Writing good titles and abstracts is an art, and you'll profit from the time spent on the rest of the paper before tackling these two crucial parts of your paper. The reason these two parts are so crucial is that for many people that's all that they will see of your work. If you've written a clear and intriguing title and abstract, you may well influence a colleague to read your work when he or she may not have ordinarily been inclined to do so. [Hint: To practice writing good abstracts, read a paper without reading its abstract. Then write your own abstract and compare it to the published abstract. Which is better? If you don't think that yours is better, then repeat the process until you feel that you've gotten the hang of it.]

  • Unless you're using some referencing software (e.g. EndNote), you'll have saved the worst for last. Even for a short paper, typing in the reference page and ensuring that you've included every reference made in the text of the paper is a pain in the neck. Nonetheless, it is essential and no real shortcut is available (except referencing software).

  • From the early stages of your analyses, you'll have rough tables and figures from which you'll be working. However, prior to submitting a paper, you'll need to put those tables and figures into pristine form (to ensure that they look good in the final published version). This task is another that one typically leaves for the end of the writing project.

A number of people have developed tools to aid you in writing according to the APA style. However, with the recent change to the 6th edition of the manual, some of these resources are likely to be a bit out of date. Here are some possible links:

Here are some links specific to APA-style referencing:

With the advent of the web has come the need to develop referencing styles for such resources. Some of the above links address electronic citations, but the ones below are specific to web resources: