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May 10, 2012

Mysteries of the Running Head Explained

Jeffby Jeff Hume-Pratuch

The running head is one of the smallest parts of a manuscript, yet it seems to cause big problems for some. In previous posts, we’ve given an overview of the running head and how to format it, but recently we’ve received some new questions that have folks scratching their heads.

What Is the Running Head?

The running head is a shortened form of the title of your paper that appears  in  uppercase letters at the top left of each page of your manuscript. It helps to identify the pages of your paper and keep them together (without using your name, in case you’re submitting it for blind review). When your paper is published, this short title will appear at the top of each odd-numbered page.

On the title page of your manuscript, the label “Running head:” precedes the running head itself. It’s there to let the typesetter know that this shortened title is, in fact, the running head for your article. (This is a holdover from the fifth edition of the APA Publication Manual, which required a “manuscript page header” on every page as well as a running head on the title page.)

How Long Should the Running Head Be?

The running head should be a brief version of the title of your paper, no more than 50 characters long (including spaces). The label “Running head:” that precedes the running head on the title page is not included in the 50-character count, because it’s not part of the title of your paper. (Unless, of course, the title of your paper is something like “Running Head: Feature or Bug?”)

What Makes For a Good Running Head?

It’s usually not a good idea to simply copy the first 50 characters of your title. The running head needs to both make sense as a phrase and give some idea of what your paper is about.

Pop quiz: If the title of your paper is “A Review and Meta-Analysis of the First Decade of Articles About the Psychology of Llamas,” which would be a more informative running head?
(a)    A REVIEW AND META-ANALYSIS OF THE FIRST DECADE OF
or
(b)    REVIEW OF THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LLAMAS

Where Does the Running Head Go?

Use the automatic header feature of your word processing program to set the running head at the top left of the page. Don’t worry about the running head’s precise distance from the top of the page or relationship to the margin; the default setting for your software is fine.

For more about the running head, see the APA Publication Manual (6th ed., pp. 229–230).

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