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APA Style for Psychology assessments

The American Psychological Association (APA) provides a set of standards and rules used for formal writing and academic assessments. APA is an approach used widely in the fields of psychology, social sciences, education and other related disciplines. APA includes rules for referring to authors in your assessment writing (including the practices of citing and referencing), as well as rules for the formatting, presentation and general writing style of your assessments. APA provides a standardised way to structure and present essays, reports and other written works so that there is clarity and consistency in assessments. The uniformity of APA presentation makes it easier for readers (and markers) to understand and navigate your assessment content.

For information on APA referencing, there is some information at the end of this page and you can access further information via the Library's APA referencing page:
APA referencing.
For information about APA style relating to the presentation, formatting, and general writing style for psychology assessments, the key elements are detailed below. If you wish to access further information, see the APA Style website:
APA Style.


Many psychology courses will provide a template and/or extra guidance to help with assessment presentation, formatting and writing style. If a template or extra guidance has been provided in your course, then this should be used for your assessments. A psychology title page template and a standard assessment template have been provided below:

FileStandard Assessment Template_Psychology.docx

FileTitle page Template_Psychology.docx

If a course provides specific course instructions that vary from some of the information provided here, always ensure that you follow the instructions specific to that course. Some courses will have specific requirements that need to be followed. If in doubt, post in the assessment talk channel for clarification.

Title Page

The title page includes an informative title (no longer than 12 words) for the assessment (centred and in bold), the student's name and ID number, the course code and title, the assessment number, and the word limit and word count (where a word limit is relevant for the assessment). A page number should be included (top right corner of the header), and student details in the footer (bottom, left corner of the footer).

Page Format

Pages should have standard margins set at 2.54cm (1 inch) which may be the default setting on most word processing programmes such as Microsoft Word. This applies to all margins – left, right, top and bottom. Generally, all documents should be set to be aligned to the left, giving the appearance of an uneven or staggered right-side margin.   

All paragraphs (with the exception of an Abstract or the Reference list) should be indented for the first line (one tab space or approximately 12mm). This is known as a first line indent in the paragraph settings of Word.

All lines (unless you are told otherwise) should be double line spaced with no extra gaps or spaces between paragraphs (so 0pt before and 0pt after).

Content should be written in clear sentences and complete paragraphs (usually a minimum of three sentences a paragraph) not lists (unless specifically asked to). 

There should not be any extra spaces between paragraphs or sections as this isn’t APA format. The exception to this is if you were to have a single line of content at the bottom of a page (e.g., one heading), whereby you would move this to the start of the next page.

If you are unsure how to set up your document with the above page formatting then there are videos that can help you including Microsoft Support instructions on how to:
indent the first line of a paragraph
set double line spacing

Font Type

APA does not have a specific font that must be used but there are still some rules to follow. The same font should be used throughout the paper. The most common fonts are:

  • a serif font such as 12-point Times New Roman, 11-point Georgia can be used, or a
  • a sans serif font such as 11-point Arial, 11-point Calibri or 10 point Lucida Sans Unicode

These fonts are recommended because they are legible, widely available and contain special characters such as macrons which can be used in te reo Māori.

Headings and Subheadings

APA style uses five levels of headings to help organise content of the paper and each level has a specific formatting style and purpose. Informative headings in the correct style can help readers understand the structure and flow of content in an assessment.  Traditional essays may not allow for headings so check the assessment details and post in the assessment talk channel for clarification if in doubt.

Headings are used to separate distinct sections of content and should help to provide a logical structure to the content and should aid the reader. The same style of heading should be used for topics of the same importance.

Level 1 (centred, bold, title case heading)

Level 2 (flush to the left margin, bold, title case heading)

Level 3 (flush to the left margin, bold italic, title case heading)

Level 4 (Indented, bold, title case heading with a period at the end).

Level 5 (Indented, bold italic, title case heading with a period at the end).

Many assessments will only use level 1 and level 2 headings, though you may be required to use more as per course instructions. The Abstract, References and Appendices (if used) sections are all placed on their own separate page and all have a level 1 heading at the top.

Quotations and Paraphrasing

The expectation in APA style is for students to write in their own words and for content obtained through reading other sources to be paraphrased. This means writing in your own words and including a citation to support the content written and acknowledge the original source. Paraphrasing is important to show understanding and to avoid plagiarism.  Quotes should be used sparingly in assessments (as they do not demonstrate a student's understanding) and there are specific requirements around the presentation of quotations when they are used. For more information see:

If you find it difficult to understand what quoting and paraphrasing are, and how to cite them correctly, then check out the Library's information:
How do I quote or paraphrase?
Video: how do I quote or paraphrase in APA 7th ed. style?

Tables and Figures

Most of your assessments will expect content to be presented in paragraph format not in tables. However, if your assessment brief requires tables, graphs, charts or images then APA has guidelines for formatting and labelling them appropriately:
graphs, charts, or images

Punctuation, Spelling and Grammar

Punctuation is important for providing instructions telling a reader where to pause (e.g., comma, semicolon or colon), to stop (e.g., question mark or full stop) and where to take a deviation (e.g., dash, parentheses, square brackets). The range of possible punctuation rules is broad and most relate to expectations of grammatically correct English, so the key ones are covered in the bullet points below.

  • One space after sentence pauses or stops, and after initials in names.
  • Double quotation marks if directly quoting from a source and the quote is under 40 words

See more: Punctuation 

The spelling and grammar in assessments should be checked to ensure that it is correct. Microsoft Word has spelling and grammar checkers available and these are a good place to start (although check you are using New Zealand English spelling or British English spelling, rather than American English spelling).


In general, words are used to express numbers for zero through to nine, while numerals are used to express numbers 10 and above. There are some exceptions including:

  • Numerals where units of measurement immediately follow (e.g., 5 cm).
  • Numerals for time, dates, age, scores or points (e.g., 5 months).
  • Numerals after a noun (e.g., year 5).


Abbreviations (acronyms) can be used as long as you include the term or name in full the first time you include it (unless the first time is in a heading). The format is different depending on whether the term is within the main text or in parentheses. See the example below:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapeutic approach which has been widely used to address a range of mental health issues including depression and anxiety (Beck, 2011). One key technique used in CBT is cognitive restructuring…

Writing Style

Content should be written in a formal tone, and most often in the past tense. Academic writing is prepared as if you were going to publish your work in a journal or book. Write in the third person, unless assessment instructions advise you to use first person perspective such as 'I' or 'my’.

References and Citations

Supporting content with appropriate academic resources is an important aspect of academic writing and there are specific rules about how citations and references should be formatted. Specific requirements for citation and reference format across the different types of sources can be found in the Library's APA referencing section: 
Referencing guides.

The references page is a list of all the sources cited in the paper. It provides complete information for each source and allows readers to locate the original works if necessary.

Here are some general rules to follow:

  • References are formatted with a hanging indent (so the first line is flush with the left margin and subsequent lines are indented) and listed in alphabetical order (by the author's last name). You can set up a hanging indent using the paragraph settings in Word.
    (see Video: Curtin Library_Creating a hanging indent if you are unsure how to do this).
  • Use reliable and credible sources for your information (academic or peer-reviewed sources are best)
  • Remember that citations acknowledge the source you have obtained the information from and validate the content you have written.
  • While course readings can be used, actual module content should not be used to write your assessment (unless specifically instructed to do so). Often you will be asked to demonstrate research beyond the course readings as well.
  • Paragraphs should be well supported, with citations throughout.
  • All references should be in correct format, listed by the author's last name and be in alphabetical order according to the first author's last name.
  • All cited sources need to be referenced and only include a reference entry if a source has been cited.
  • When the author and date are exactly the same, use alphanumeric dates (e.g., 2018a and 2018b) depending on which source is mentioned first in the assessment content.
  • In-text Citations: When referencing ideas, information, or quotes from other sources within the text of the assessment, APA style requires the use of in-text citations. These citations include the author's last name and the publication year. For direct quotations, a page (or paragraph) number are also included.

See further information via the Library:
APA referencing.