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APA Levels

APA formatted headings have specific requirements.
APA formatted headings have specific requirements.

APA recommends the use of headings and subheadings to help organize a paper.  The use of headings visually marks each section of your paper, helping the reader to follow arguments by anticipating important sections and key points.

Determining the Number and Levels of Headings for Your Paper

The first step in determining which headings and subheadings to use is to identify how many levels you will need.  Levels refer to the degree of generality or specificity of a subsection of your paper.  The levels of headings are determined in the same way that sections of an outline are determined.

Consider these factors to determine the number of levels to use in your paper:

  • The length of the paper
  • The number of topics or points that you will be covering
  • The amount of detail included in each of the points
  • How you want the audience to work through your text

Formatting of Headings

In APA style, long papers, or papers with a high degree of specificity, can have up to five levels of headings.  However,  most people will have one, two, or three levels.  The table below describes the format of each level of heading.  Headings at different levels will vary in alignment, thickness of type, use of capitalization, case of type, and position in relationship to the text that follows:

Level of heading Format
1 Centered, Boldface, Uppercase and

Lowercase Headings

2 Flush Left, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Headings
3           Indented, boldface, lowercase paragraph heading ending in period.
4           Indented, boldface, italicized, lowercase paragraph heading ending in period.*
5          Indented, italicized, lowercase paragraph heading ending in period.*

This table is from the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed. (2009).  Table 3.1, p. 62.

* “lowercase paragraph heading ending in period.”  —In other words, this means that the first letter of the first word of the heading is capitalized; the heading ends in a period; and the text begins immediately after the heading.


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APA Levels

Evaluating Web Sources



  • Does the Web site or document have an author?  You may need to do some clicking and scrolling to find the author’s name.  If you have landed directly on an internal page of a site, for example, you may need to navigate to the home page or find an “about this site” link to learn the name of the author.
  • If there is an author, can you tell whether he or she is knowledgeable and credible?  When the author’s qualifications aren’t listed on the site itself, look for links to the author’s home page, which may provide evidence of his or her interests and expertise.


  • Who, if anyone, sponsors the site?  The sponsor of a site is often named and described on the home page.
  • What does the URL tell you?  The domain name extension often indicates the type of group hosting the site: commercial (.com), educational (.edu), nonprofit (.org), governmental (.gov), military (.mil), or network (.net).  URLs may also indicate a country of origin: .uk (United Kingdom) or .jp (Japan), for instance.

Purpose and audience

  • Why was the site created: To argue a position?  To sell a product?  To inform readers?
  • Who is the site’s intended audience?


  • How current is the site?  Check for the date of publication or the latest update, often located at the bottom of the home page or at the beginning or end of an internal page.
  • How current are the site’s links?  If many of the links no longer work, the site may be too dated for your purposes.



Tips for Evaluating Sources

Investigate your sources.
Investigate your sources.

Checking for signs of bias

  • Does the author or publisher endorse political or religious views that could affect objectivity?
  • Is the author or publisher associated with a special-interest group, such as Greenpeace or the National Rifle Association that might present only one side of an issue?
  • Are alternative views presented and addressed?  How fairly does the author treat opposing views?
  • Does the author’s language show signs of bias?

Assessing an argument

  • What is the author’s central claim or thesis?
  • How does the author support this claim—with relevant and sufficient evidence or with just a few anecdotes or emotional examples?
  • Are statistics consistent with those you encounter in other sources?  Have they been used fairly?  Does the author explain where the statistics come from?  (It is possible to “lie” with statistics by using them selectively or by omitting mathematical details.)
  • Are any of the author’s assumptions questionable?
  • Does the author consider opposing arguments and refute them persuasively?
  • Does the author fall prey to any logical fallacies?