6 posts categorized "Headings"

October 05, 2017

Widows and Orphans and Bears, Oh My!

David Becker

By David Becker

Dear APA Style Experts,

Is it okay for a heading to be alone at the very bottom of a page while the first paragraph of that section begins at the top of the next page? I checked page 62 in the Publication Manual where it talks about levels of heading, but I couldn’t find any answers to this question. Please help!

—Keith T.

Dear Keith,

Yes, in an APA Style manuscript, it’s perfectly fine to have a heading at the bottom of one page with the body of the section starting on the next page. In fact, you can see examples of this at the beginning of Sample Paper 2 (see pp. 54–55 in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual; the sample papers are also accessible online via our “Best of the APA Style Blog” post).

Lonely headings like these are sometimes called orphans in typesetting. An orphan can also mean the first line of a paragraph that’s left all alone at the bottom of a page. When the last line of a paragraph appears by itself at the top of the page, typesetters may refer to it as a widow. Widows, like orphans, are acceptable in APA Style manuscripts.

However, if you’re a student writing a class paper or a dissertation, your professor or university may have standards that differ from APA Style. They might prohibit widows and orphans. Universities have particularly precise criteria for dissertations and theses that often address widows and orphans—sometimes even specifying the minimum number of lines of text that can appear on the same page as a table. Your professor or a dissertation committee will be the ones evaluating your work, not APA, so their standards supersede those in the Publication Manual. You should therefore ask your professor or dissertation advisor about whether widows and orphans are acceptable.

You may be wondering why the Publication Manual doesn’t discuss widows and orphans. This is because the guidelines in the manual were designed with draft journal articles in mind. They don’t directly address issues that are more relevant to a final article’s appearance and composition, including widows and orphans, which are sorted out during typesetting. Publishers generally determine what their articles will look like when they go to print, so they establish their own typesetting standards. Although the Publication Manual doesn’t weigh in on these issues, section 8.06 (pp. 239–240) briefly addresses an author’s responsibilities during typesetting, which includes sending the manuscript files to the publisher in an acceptable format and double-checking the typeset page proofs for any errors.

Typesetter at Work

Although some aspects of a draft manuscript carry over into the typeset version—the reference list follows the same APA Style guidelines, for example—the appearance and composition of the article will change drastically. The font type and size, the margins, and the line spacing are all typically very different after typesetting. Some articles will also be formatted so that the text is split into two columns. And, the tables and figures that appear at the end of the manuscript will be embedded close to their first mention in the text. All this rearranging and redesigning means that what were once widows and orphans in a draft manuscript will likely be in completely different places in the final version. There’s no reason to be too concerned about these lonely lines of text during the draft stage if they will be reunited with their lost relatives during typesetting and appear together in the final article.

If you’re a student, your schoolwork won’t go through this whole process before it’s finalized. Your paper is considered “final” when you submit it to your professor. For example, a dissertation, once submitted, becomes the final, published version of record. Therefore, it’s important to consider the final appearance of your paper during the draft stage. Some formatting issues not covered in the Publication Manual will need to be addressed while you’re writing your paper. When in doubt, always check with your professor or university to see if they have their own preferred standards.

And, in case you were wondering, APA Style doesn’t have any guidelines concerning bears. I doubt your professor or university will have any either.

March 09, 2012

Title Case and Sentence Case Capitalization in APA Style

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

APA Style has two capitalization methods that are used in different contexts throughout a paper: title case and sentence case (see Publication Manual section 4.15). APA’s title case refers to a capitalization style in which most words are capitalized, and sentence case refers to a capitalization style in which most words are lowercased. In both cases, proper nouns and certain other types of words are always capitalized. Below are guidelines for when and how to use each case in an APA Style paper.

Title Case

Title case is used to capitalize the following types of titles and headings in APA Style:

Here are directions for implementing APA’s title case:

  1. Capitalize the first word of the title/heading and of any subtitle/subheading;
  2. Capitalize all “major” words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns) in the title/heading, including the second part of hyphenated major words (e.g., Self-Report not Self-report); and
  3. Capitalize all words of four letters or more.

This boils down to using lowercase only for “minor” words of three letters or fewer, namely, for conjunctions (words like and, or, nor, and but), articles (the words a, an, and the), and prepositions (words like as, at, by, for, in, of, on, per, and to), as long as they aren’t the first word in a title or subtitle. You can see examples of title case in our post on reference titles.

Sentence Case

Sentence case, on the other hand, is a capitalization style that mainly uses lowercase letters. Sentence case is used in a few different contexts in APA Style, including for the following:

Here are directions for implementing sentence case in APA Style in these two contexts:

  1. Capitalize the first word of the title/heading and of any subtitle/subheading;
  2. Capitalize any proper nouns and certain other types of words; and
  3. Use lowercase for everything else.

Additionally, as you might suspect given its name, sentence case is used in regular sentences in the text of a paper. In a typical sentence, the first word is always capitalized, and the first word after a colon is also capitalized when what follows the colon is an independent clause.

You can see examples of sentence case in our reference titles post

More Posts on Capitalization

January 13, 2012

APA Style Interactive Learning

AnneGasqueAnne Gasque

Have you ever had the urge to read the Publication Manual from beginning to end? We thought not. 

It takes a special kind of stamina and devotion to approach a manual of writing guidance and style rules with the excitement a person might bring to, say, John Grisham’s latest legal thriller. To help you find your way in the manual, we’ve created an interactive online course. This course, available for continuing education credit, provides a comprehensive tour of the guidance in the Publication Manual

Basics of APA Style: An Online Course follows the organization of the manual and offers an in-depth overview of the types of articles used in psychological and social research, manuscript elements, heading style, reducing bias in language, punctuation, capitalization, italics, numbers, tables, figures, citing references in text, creating a reference list, and reference templates and examples. Many of the sections in the course include relevant examples to provide context, and each section ends with two or three review questions to help you learn as you go along. The course ends with 20 assessment questions and offers 4 CE credits upon successful completion. We hope you find the course a helpful tool for learning APA Style!

If you would like a broader less detailed overview of APA Style, we offer a free tutorial, The Basics of APA Style, which shows you how to structure and format your work, recommends ways to reduce bias in language, identifies how to avoid charges of plagiarism, shows how to cite references in text, and provides selected reference examples.

April 14, 2011

How to Use Five Levels of Heading in an APA Style Paper

Chelsea blog by Chelsea Lee

Headings give structure to your writing. They not only tell the reader what content to expect but also speak to its relative position within a hierarchy. The APA Publication Manual (section 3.03, pp. 62–63; see also the sample papers) gives guidelines for up to five levels of heading in a paper, although most papers will need only two, three, or four.

The example below shows font and indentation formatting for when all five levels are used, including what to do when headings follow one another with no text in between. We have previously explained in detail how to format each level of heading.

Anxiety Made Visible: Multiple Reports of Anxiety and Rejection Sensitivity
Our study investigated anxiety and rejection sensitivity. In particular, we examined how participant self-ratings of state and trait anxiety and rejection sensitivity would differ from the ratings of others, namely, the close friends of participants.
Literature Overview
Anxiety and rejection sensitivity are two important facets of psychological functioning that have received much attention in the literature. For example, Ronen and Baldwin (2010) demonstrated....
Participants were 80 university students (35 men, 45 women) whose mean age was 20.25 years (SD = 1.68). Approximately 70% of participants were European American, 15% were African American, 9% were Hispanic American, and 6% were Asian American. They received course credit for their participation.
Recruitment. We placed flyers about the study on bulletin boards around campus, and the study was included on the list of open studies on the Psychology Department website. To reduce bias in the sample, we described the study as a “personality study” rather than specifically mentioning our target traits of anxiety and rejection sensitivity.
Session 1: Psychiatric diagnoses. During the initial interview session, doctoral level psychology students assessed participants for psychiatric diagnoses. Eighteen percent of the sample met the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder according to the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM–IV Axis I Disorders (First, Gibbon, Spitzer, & Williams, 1996).
Session 2: Assessments. All participants attended a follow-up session to complete assessments. Participants were instructed to bring a friend with them who would complete the other-report measures.
Self-report measures. We first administered several self-report measures, as follows.
State and trait anxiety. Participants took the State–Trait Anxiety Inventory for Adults (STAI–A; Spielberger, Gorsuch, Lushene, Vagg, & Jacobs, 1983), a 40-item self-report measure to assess anxiety.
Rejection sensitivity. Participants took the Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire (RSQ; Downey & Feldman, 1996), an 18-item self-report measure that assesses rejection sensitivity.
Other-report measures. We also included other-report measures to obtain independent sources of information about participants’ levels of anxiety and rejection sensitivity.
State and trait anxiety. We adapted the STAI–A so that questions referred to the target participant rather than the self.
Rejection sensitivity. We adapted the RSQ so that questions referred to the target participant rather than the self.
State and Trait Anxiety
State anxiety.
Self-report data. For state anxiety, participant self-report data indicated that participants were significantly less likely....
Other-report data. For state anxiety, other-report data indicated that friends of participants were significantly more likely....
Trait anxiety.
Self-report data. For trait anxiety, participant self-report data indicated that participants were significantly less likely....
Other-report data. For trait anxiety, other-report data indicated that friends of participants were significantly more likely....
Rejection Sensitivity
The results for rejection sensitivity paralleled those for anxiety, demonstrating that....
Strengths and Limitations
Some of the strengths of our research were....
Directions for Future Research
In the future, we hope that researchers will consider multiple sources of information when making assessments of anxiety. We also recommend....

Important notes on formatting your headings:


  • The title of the paper is not in bold. Only the headings at Levels 1–4 use bold. See this post for a clarification on when to use boldface.
  • Every paper begins with an introduction. However, in APA Style, the heading “Introduction” is not used, because what comes at the beginning of the paper is assumed to be the introduction.
  • The first heading comes at Level 1. In this paper, the first heading is “Literature Overview,” so it goes at Level 1. Your writing style and subject matter will determine what your first heading will be.
  • Subsequent headings of equal importance to the first heading also go at Level 1 (here, Method, Results, and Discussion).
  • For subsections, we recommend that if you are going to have them at all, you should aim for at least two (e.g., the Literature Overview section has no subsections, whereas the Method section has two Level 2 subsections, and one of those Level 2 sections is further divided into three sections, etc.). Again, the number of subsections you will need will depend on your topic and writing style.
  • Level 3, 4, and 5 headings are indented, followed by a period, and run in with the text that follows. If there is no intervening text between a Level 3, 4, or 5 heading and another lower level heading following it, keep the period after the first heading and start the next heading on a new line (e.g., see “State anxiety” and “Trait anxiety” at Level 3 in the Results section, which are immediately followed by lower level headings and text). Begin each heading on a new line; do not run headings together on the same line.

Are there other aspects of headings you want to know more about? Let us know in the comments.

June 24, 2010

Headings and the Use of Boldface Type

Chelsea blog by Chelsea Lee

APA has gotten a lot of questions and feedback from users who are confused about when to use boldface type and when not to, particularly in headings. Here are the short and sweet answers about font formatting style:

Regular Formatting

Use regular font formatting (no boldface, no italics) for all section titles, such as

  • Abstract,
  • Author Note,
  • Title of Your Paper (on the title page and on the page where the text begins),
  • References,
  • Appendix/Appendices, and
  • Footnotes.

Section titles should also be centered, on their own line, and in title case (that means capitalize all major words—for more information what words are considered major, see the first bullet in Section 4.15 on p. 101 of the Publication Manual). A section also generally begins on a new page. (The only exception is for the author note section, which goes on the title page.)

Boldface Formatting

Use boldface only for headings within the body of your paper, that is, within the text itself—these headings we refer to by levels (Levels 1–3 use boldface; Level 4 uses boldface and italic; Level 5 uses italics only). This blog on headings describes the levels in more detail (see also Section 3.03 on pp. 62–63). Common headings within the body of the paper are Method, Results, and Discussion, but your headings will differ depending on what you are writing about. Additionally, if you have an appendix with lots of text, you can use the levels of heading within that body of text as well (but the section title "Appendix" would still use regular nonboldface formatting).

Take a look at the sample papers for examples of how section titles use regular formatting and headings within the body of the paper use boldface.  

July 09, 2009

Five Essential Tips for APA Style Headings

Chelsea blog by Chelsea Lee

The 6th edition of the Publication Manual brings an important and exciting change: a new way of doing headings. The updated headings style should make headings easier to understand, implement, and see in your finished paper. Here are five essential things you need to know:

  1. APA has designed a five-level heading structure (we numbered them to talk about them, but you won’t actually number your headings in your paper). Click the image below to get a close-up view of the new heading style.APA Style Headings 6th ed

  2. Proceed through the levels numerically, starting with Level 1, without skipping over levels (this is in contrast to the 5th edition heading style, which involved skipping levels depending on the total number of levels you had—how complicated!).

  3. That first heading won’t be called “Introduction” or be the title of your paper; these are common mistakes. Actually, the first heading will likely be somewhere in the body of your paper. In an experimental study, for example, often the first real heading is the Method section, and it would thus go at Level 1.

  4. Use as many levels as necessary to convey your meaning. Many student papers and published articles utilize two or three levels. Longer works like dissertations may demand four or five.

  5. Need more guidance? Consult the Publication Manual (Chapter 3, Section 3.03) for more examples and explanation. Also look at published APA articles to see how it’s done—APA plans to fully implement the new heading style in its journals by January 2010. 

How do you like the new heading style? Do you have any questions or comments about it? Please share!

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