How to Write a Term Paper APA Style

Term Paper

Writing a term paper can be a daunting task for students. Following APA style guidelines helps create a polished, professional document. APA stands for the American Psychological Association and is a format commonly used for scientific papers in the social sciences. 

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Selecting a Topic

The first step is choosing a relevant, interesting topic within your subject area. Your instructor may provide a list of suggested topics or themes. Review material from your course readings and lectures to generate ideas. Consider a topic that you may want to explore further in a future research project.

Narrow down your topic so it is focused enough to thoroughly cover in a standard term paper length, usually 10-15 pages. A topic that is too broad will be difficult to discuss in sufficient depth. Screen your topic with your instructor to ensure it fulfills the assignment requirements and to get guidance.

Conducting Research

After selecting your topic, the real work begins – finding accurate, credible sources to reference. Your school’s library is an excellent resource to locate scholarly books, academic journals, and online databases. Seek advice from reference librarians to aid your search.

Evaluate potential sources carefully in terms of relevance to your thesis and credibility of the author and publication. Aim to find about 10-15 quality sources such as peer-reviewed journal articles, books by respected publishers, and government reports. Maintain a detailed record of references as you go along to save time later. 

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Developing a Thesis Statement

With preliminary research completed, you can develop a working thesis statement – a concise summary of the main argument or position of your paper. It gives focus and direction to your writing. All sections of your paper should relate back to your thesis.

The thesis may evolve as you delve deeper into your topic. However, taking time early on to establish a clear thesis helps organize supporting ideas and research. A strong, focused thesis gives your paper purpose.

Creating an Outline

After establishing your thesis, plan the structure of your paper with an outline. Group related ideas into sections with descriptive headings.typical headings include the introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion.

The introduction presents background on the topic and previews the thesis. The literature review synthesizes previous research related to your topic. The methods section explains how you conducted your research. Results reveal analysis and findings. The discussion interprets the significance of the results. Finally, the conclusion summarizes key points and implications.

Writing the First Draft

With research completed and an outline in place, you’re ready to write your first draft. Begin by expanding on each section of your outline. Use clear topic sentences and transitions to connect ideas within and between paragraphs. Aim for a logical flow of information.

Back up statements with examples and references to sources. Paraphrase material from research but avoid excessive quoting. Adhere to APA guidelines for in-text citations anytime you include information from outside sources.

Strive to clearly communicate complex concepts and arguments. Keep your audience and objectives for the paper in mind as you write. Remember to define key terms and explain relevant theories.

Revising and Editing

After completing an initial draft, take time away from the paper to gain a fresh perspective. Then begin the vital processes of revising and editing. Read actively, as if you are a reviewer reading the work for the first time. Check that the thesis is strongly supported throughout.

Revise content to improve flow, strengthen arguments, and enhance clarity. Verify that your writing aligns with APA style guidelines. Edit carefully for grammar, punctuation, and typos. Employ critical thinking skills to evaluate the soundness and objectivity of your statements and conclusions.

Creating a References Page

Accurately cite all sources used within your paper on the references page. Center and bold the heading “References.” Alphabetize entries by the first author’s last name. Follow APA format for the reference list entries.

Double check that in-text citations match corresponding references. All references mentioned in the text must appear in the references list, and vice versa. A consistent style for citations and references enhances professionalism.

Writing the Abstract and Title Page

After completing the body of your paper, write the abstract and title page. The abstract is a one paragraph summary placed on a separate page right after the title page. It highlights key points and findings.

The title page notes the paper’s title, your name, institution, course name and number, instructor’s name, and due date. It helps identify your work. Follow the specified APA format. A polished title page and abstract help make a good final impression.

Re-reading for a Final Polish

Schedule time to re-read your paper carefully before turning it in. Check for proper formatting of titles, headings, page numbers, margins, and the references page. Ensure that you have adhered to APA style and properly cited outside sources. Verify that your thesis is strongly supported throughout.

Reading aloud sometimes helps catch errors and improve flow. Consider asking a classmate or writing center tutor to provide feedback. With a final polish, your diligent efforts will culminate in submitting a well-written, APA-formatted term paper.

Following APA Guidelines

Using APA style helps create consistency across term papers in the social sciences. Here are key APA guidelines to follow:

Paper Sections and Headings

Organize your paper with standard APA sections and headings. Center and bold the main section titles: Abstract, Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion, Conclusion, and References. Flush left the subsection headings.

Margins and Font

Use 1-inch margins on all four sides. Choose 12-point Times New Roman font. Double-space the entire document including the title page, abstract, body, references, etc. Indent the first line of each paragraph 0.5 inches.

Title Page

The title page includes the paper’s full title, your name, institution name, instructor name, course number and name, and due date. Center this information in the top half of the page. Running heads are not required for student papers.


Within the text, cite sources using the author-date method. For example: (Jones, 2019). Include page numbers for direct quotes. Provide the full citation information in the references section.

References Page

Start the references page on a new page after the conclusion. Center and bold the heading “References.” Alphabetically order reference entries by the first author’s last name. Follow APA format for different source types.

Reducing Bias

Avoid gender, ethnic, and other forms of bias in language. For example, use “firefighter” instead of “fireman.” Check that you have objectively presented research from diverse perspectives.

Key Sections of an APA Paper

Now let’s explore the structure of a term paper in more detail. Understanding the purpose of each section will assist in developing an organized, logical paper.


The abstract follows the title page. It summarizes the paper in 120 words or less. Cover the main points: (1) research topic, (2) research questions/objectives, (3) methods, (4) key findings, and (5) conclusions. The abstract helps readers quickly gauge the paper’s relevance to their interests.


The introduction provides background to build a framework for the topic. Offer context such as prominent related theories and previous significant research findings. Establish the importance of the topic and explain issues or controversies. State the purpose and objectives of your paper. Close with your thesis statement.

Literature Review

The literature review analyzes existing studies related to your topic. Compare and contrast different theories and findings. Highlight key developments over time. Critically evaluate aspects such as the research methods used. Synthesize findings and point out consistencies and inconsistencies. Demonstrate how your paper adds to the body of knowledge.


Succinctly explain how you conducted the research for your paper. Describe the methods of data collection and analysis. Identify databases, subject populations, instruments, and steps taken. The methodology should be described in enough detail for someone to potentially replicate the study.


The results section presents the data and findings without any subjective interpretation. Use tables and figures to help summarize quantitative data. Thoroughly describe qualitative observations. Be concise yet provide enough depth for key data points. Only report results – save analysis for the discussion section.


Analyze the significance of your findings in the discussion section. Compare your results to prior research. Explore possible implications and limitations. Point out applications to real world problems. Offer well-thought-out interpretations but avoid speculation unsupported by your data. Tie the discussion back to your original thesis.


The conclusion sums up the main points of your paper. Restate your thesis in light of the evidence presented. Highlight key findings but do not simply repeat the results. Discuss potential avenues for further research building off your study. The conclusion closes the loop opened in the introduction.

Formatting References and Citations

Properly formatting citations and references may seem tedious but it is vital for giving credit to sources and enabling readers to locate the original material. Follow these guidelines:

In-Text Citations

For each fact or opinion taken from an outside source, include an in-text citation in the body of your paper. The basic structure is: (Author, Year). For example: (Stevenson, 2018). Include page numbers for direct quotes. Adhere to APA citation standards and avoid plagiarism.

References Page

The references page lists complete publication details for all in-text citations. Alphabetize entries by authors’ last names. Use hanging indent format with 0.5 inch indentation for all lines after the first. Follow APA guidelines for citing various source types such as books, journal articles, and websites.

Book References

For book references, begin with the author last name and initials, followed by the publication year in parentheses. Then list the italicized book title, publisher location, and publisher. For example:

James, H. (2009). The turn of the screw. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Journal Article References

For journal articles, start with the author name(s) and year. Then list the article title. Next provide the journal name in italics along with volume and issue numbers. Finally include the page number range. For example:

Sawyer, J., & Palmer, B. (2014). Investigating preservice teachers’ transfer of learning. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 14(4), 49-61.

Website References

For websites, note the author name(s) and year first. Then list the page title in italics followed by the website name. Finally provide the URL. For example:

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. (2018). Autism spectrum disorder in under 19s: Support and management.

Tips for Success

Writing a quality APA paper takes time and practice. Here are a few helpful tips:

Start Early

Don’t wait until the last minute! Allow sufficient time to thoroughly research, outline, write, and revise your paper.

Use Active Voice

Active voice improves clarity. For example, write “The teacher explained the concept” rather than “The concept was explained by the teacher.”

Avoid Common Errors

Be alert for errors like passive voice, run-on sentences, improper citations, and misuse of words. Proofread carefully.

Ask for Feedback

Take advantage of instructor office hours, writing tutors, and classmates to get constructive feedback on improving your paper.

Apply Critical Thinking

Think critically throughout the process – when evaluating sources, developing interpretations, and drawing conclusions. Back up claims with evidence.

Edit Extensively

Leave time after drafting to fully revise and edit your paper. Refine arguments, improve flow, check formatting, and polish writing.

Adhere to APA Style

Follow APA guidelines meticulously for margins, font, citations, references, reducing bias, and other style matters. Consistency matters.

Writing an APA paper takes attentiveness to detail. From selecting a topic to properly citing sources, following guidelines helps convey scholarly ideas with clarity. Use this guide to the writing process and APA style elements to create a well-formatted term paper.

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