APA Headings – Constructing Effective Headings

15.11.22 APA structure & sections Time to read: 5min

How do you like this article?

0 Reviews


In academic writing, APA headings provide a clear, hierarchical structure to your paper, guiding your reader through your arguments and findings. Most importantly, they signal each section and allow easy navigation for readers. For this reason, universities and other academic institutions have strict rules on writing headings and subheadings. One of the most common rules in the APA Style is using APA formatted headings, which this post will discuss in detail.

APA Heading – In a Nutshell

  • APA headings are crucial in informing readers of the content in each section of your academic paper.
  • APA headings direct the flow of the content and ensure a logical structure within the presentation of the idea.
  • In order to master the art of creating effective APA headings and subheadings, it is worth studying the five APA heading levels presented in this guide.
  • The levels of APA headings are used to break down sections into subsections, sub-sub sections, and so on and are all formatted differently.

Definition of APA headings

APA heading is a widely used formatting style for organising information in a heading to enhance its readability. This style uses unique heading systems to separate and classify various paper sections. The purpose of these headings in academic writing is to guide the reader through the document. They also help organise different paper sections and give your academic writing more structure.

Ensure your final paper is free from plagiarism
Failure to correctly credit original sources most likely leads to mark deductions. Don’t risk it and utilise our online plagiarism chequeer, which allows you to detect potential plagiarism that you may have committed. Get confident in just 10 minutes!

The five levels of APA headings

APA headings have five basic levels, each with different formatting. The table below provides a guide to the five APA heading levels:

Level Formatting Example
1 • The heading should be bold and aligned to the center.
• Double-space the text and use the title case.
• Texts after this heading start as a new paragraph and the first line must be indented.
Writing APA Headings

(new paragraph starts here,

the first line has an indent.)
2 • Left-align the text
• Use the title case, and make it bold.
• Ensure that the text after the heading begins on a new line
Site of Study

(new paragraph starts here,

the first line has an indent.)
3 • Heading must be left-aligned, bold, italic, and in the title case.
• Text after the heading in this level begins as new paragraphs.
Heading Levels

(new paragraph starts here,

the first line has an indent.)
4 • The headings should be indented, bold, title case, and ending with a period.
• The following text begins on the same line and continues as a regular paragraph.

Applications in New Levels. (text begins here.)

5 • The heading must be indented, bold, italic, title case, and end with a period.
• The following text starts on the same line as in level 4.

Benefits of Each Level. (text begins here.)

When formatting APA headings in an academic paper, there are some things you should always remember:

  • Double-space the whole paper, also the headings
  • Use the same font for headings and body text

In contrast, there are some things you should remember NOT to do when formatting APA headings in academic papers:

  • Do not list headings with numbers or letters
  • Do not add extra spaces above or below headings

Note: When writing longer papers such as dissertations and theses, it may be relevant to number or label your headings. This always depends on your supervisor or university; their rules are always superior to the general APA guidelines.

When to use which level of APA headings

Use the levels depending on the level of subordination. Below is a table outlining when it is relevant to use which level of APA headings:

No. of levels When to use the heading level
1 The main title or idea of your paper
2 The subheadings underneath your main idea
3 If your subheadings have further sections that cannot be explained together
4 If you need to under-categorize the subject of level 3 headings into further sections
5 Only use for complex and extensive sections with subheadings under the level 4 headings
Give your thesis a final format revision prior to printing
Have a last cheque of your formatting with our 3D preview feature before sending your thesis to print. The accurate virtual representation of what the physical print will look like, affords you to ensure the printed version aligns with your expectations.

A guide for APA headings

  • Use heading level 1 for the main sections of your paper, such as the title and the beginning of each major section.

For example: Methodology, Research, Discussion, and Conclusion.

  • Use level 2 for subheadings of the level 1 headings.

For example: Under Methodology, you may have subsections like Data Collection and Data Analysis.

  • Use level 3 for further subsections of the level 2 heading sections.

For example: Under Methodology (level 1), you may have Data Collection (level 2), and then Sampling Method (level 3).

  • Use level 4 and 5 APA headings for more subsections of each section.

For example: Under Methodology (level 1), you may have Data Collection (level 2), then Sampling Methods (level 3), followed by Participant Recruitment (level 4), and Tools (level 5).

One section may have all five levels or fewer, depending on its complexity.

APA headings in the form of section labels

In academic writing, APA headings may also serve as section labels. Section labels are introductions for different thoughts and segments of your paper. The headings give the reader a brief idea of what to expect from the following part. Moreover, they provide structure to your headings by using different levels of APA headings for different sections and subsections.

Formatting APA headings in Microsoft Word

When formatting APA headings in Microsoft Word documents, you do not need to format each heading individually. Instead, you may use the “Styles” feature. All you need to do is follow the steps below:

  1. Select your text or heading
  2. Click on the “Layout” button in the upper menu
  3. Choose “Margins” and then “Normal”
  4. Set your font to “Times New Roman” in size 12
  5. Enable double space by choosing “Home” then “Line”, and then “Paragraph Spacing

Another benefit of using the “Styles” feature in Microsoft Word is that it allows you to generate tables of contents for your paper automatically.

Examples of APA headings

Here are examples of using the levels of APA headings in different scenarios:

Example 1: With two levels only

Level 1- The Effects of Computers on Productivity in Classrooms

(paragraph here, the first line is indented.)

Level 2- Attention Span

(paragraph here, the first line is indented.)

Level 2- Computer Applications

(paragraph here, the first line is indented.)

Example 2: With all five levels

Level 1- Methodology

(paragraph here, the first line is indented.)

Level 2- Data Collection Methods

(paragraph here, the first line is indented.)

Level 3- Sampling

(paragraph here, the first line is indented.)

Level 4- Participant Selection. (text begins here.)

Level 5- Recruitment. (text begins here.)

Level 5- Volunteers. (text begins here.)

Level 5- Paid Volunteers. (text begins here.)


The formatting technique depends on the heading level.

For instance, level 1 APA headings are formatted by aligning them to the center and writing them in bold and Title Case.

There are five APA heading levels. Each level has different formatting requirements, which apply to other sections of your paper.

The number of heading levels you use should depend on the length and complexity of your paper. For instance, shorter papers do not need all five headings, while longer ones may gain a better structure from the five levels. In addition, it is perfectly okay for some sections in your academic paper to have five levels, while others have less or one.