APA Headings and Subheadings – APA Format Heading


APA Headings and subheadings are required to help organize and provide structure to papers and essays. Just like MLA, APA has guidelines for APA headings and subheadings which offer a premise on what each section should entail. This is important for the easy navigation of readers all through the literary piece. APA or American Psychological Association is an organization, the largest one so to speak, of scientific and professional psychologists in the United States.

This association birthed the APA style of writing which is a format with which academic journals and literary documents are written. Also, this writing style is ideally used for source citation within the social science niche and it is known for its simplicity.

This piece highlights the guidelines that a student, writer, and author may follow when writing Headings and Subheadings in APA format.

An APA paper is typically divided into chapters and sections; each of these chapters and sections is expected to have its unique headings. Headings are identifiers that are provided to give structure to papers. The APA style has a unique heading system that is used to classify and separate these sections.

With the proper use of headings and subheadings, readers can easily understand the intent of the paper as they lead the flow of the discussion all through the paper. They give readers the general idea of what to expect while reading the paper as they define each section of the paper. Now, just like the MLA style, there are equally 5 levels of headings in the APA style.

Introducing Levels

Levels are indicators of the hierarchy of importance of each heading or subheading. Each level is styled differently in the APA format and this styling is based on font size, style, and even formatting.

The extent to which a writer makes use of the different hierarchy levels depends on the length as well as the complexity of the literary piece. Short pieces utilize fewer levels of headings and subheadings while long pieces use more. In essence, the lengthier the work, the more levels of APA headings and subheadings to be used.

Guidelines for APA Headings and Subheadings

There are five heading levels when formatting APA headings and subheadings. There are several guidelines for formatting headings in APA style to ensure the paper is easy to read. Each level of headings should be written in Times New Roman and with a 12pts font size. The unique guideline for each heading is as follows:

APA Heading Level 1

This heading should be centered, bold, and written in title case. Texts start in a new paragraph and indented five spaces to the right. Heading level 1 is the primary heading and it is the one at the top of the hierarchy chain, immediately after the title.

Also, this H1 heading is mainly used for identifying the main sections in a literary piece. These main sections can include ‘Methods’, ‘Outcomes’, or ‘Discussion’. Note: ‘Introduction’ isn’t supposed to be a heading. This is because, for every literary piece, the first paragraph is automatically assumed to possess introductory texts.

APA Heading Level 2

This heading should be aligned to the left, written in title case, and bold. Texts start in a new paragraph and indented five spaces to the right. The H2 heading is used to highlight subsections that are directly under H1.

In essence, assuming a writer has an H1 heading of ‘Methods’, the H2 heading under this would be an identification of subsections that are under H1. Hence, the corresponding H2 heading, in this case, could be ‘Examples of methods’.

APA Heading Level 3

This heading should be indented five spaces to the right, written in sentence case and bold. A period should be kept after the heading, and the text should follow immediately after.

Also, this heading succeeds the H2 and if H2 is ‘Examples of Methods’, then H3 would be ‘Analysis Method’, ‘Sampling Method’, and many more.

APA Heading Level 4

This heading should be indented five spaces to the right, written in sentence case, italics, and bold. A period should be kept after the heading, and the text should follow immediately after. H4 highlights any subsections under H3.

APA Heading Level 5

This heading should be indented five spaces to the right, written in sentence case and italics. A period should be kept after the heading, and the text should follow immediately after. H5 highlights any subsections under H4.

Take note, the number of subsections for each level is based on the topic and preference of the writer. It can be unlimited, provided the writer can represent them accordingly.

Guidelines for APA headings and subheadings


Methodology – heading 1 (This is centralized in the middle of the page.)

Methods – heading 2

            Sampling procedure.  The participants were inducted on the……… – heading 3

Sampling techniques. The sampling technique required for this………. – heading 4

Sample size. To determine the sample size to be used for this………. – heading 5

Section Labels

In APA, there are special headings that are called section labels. Section labels are used for specific sections of the paper, and they always start on a new page following the guideline for heading 1. Section labels are somewhat similar to regular headings; however, they are formatted differently. These section labels include:

  • Abstract
  • Paper title
  • References
  • Footnotes
  • Appendix
APA heading sample
An example of APA headings and subheadings
Download a word file APA heading sample

When to Use the Different Heading Levels

It is important to use the right heading levels as it helps the readers to navigate the paper as well as in generating an automatic table of content using Microsoft Word. Therefore, you are to use:

  • Heading 1, when the heading is one of the main elements of the paper. For example, literature review, method, result, conclusion, and discussion
  • Heading 2 for the subsections or headings that are directly under the heading 1
  • Heading 3 for the subsections or headings that are directly under the heading 2
  • Heading 4 for the subsections or headings that are directly under the heading 3
  • Heading 5 for the subsections or headings that are directly under the heading 4

Using APA Heading Styles in MS Word or Google Docs

Word processing software like MS Word or Google Docs has pre-designed styles in both MLA and APA format. This is called the ‘Styles’ feature and it will save the writer from manually formatting every designated heading in the document.

However, if you want to switch between writing styles let’s say from MLA to APA, you will first need to update the default styles (MLA) to reflect that of whichever style you’re switching to (APA).

Tips for Using APA Headings

  • The APA headings should not be labeled with letters or numbers
  • There should be more than one subsection within a section
  • The APA heading should also use double line spacing
  • There should be no blank line below or above the headings
  • Make the APA headings concise and descriptive
  • The introductory part of the paper does not require any heading as it is widely known as the introductory part
  • To ensure your paper have an organized structure, use as many levels of headings as you require
  • A paragraph should begin below levels 1 and 2, however, for levels 3 to 5, it should begin in line with the headings.
  • Headings in levels 3-5 should be indented and terminate with a period.
  • Headings in levels 1 and 2 should be formatted in sentence case while only the first letter of the first word in heading level 3-5 should be capitalized

 Tips for Writing in APA Style

First of all, the aim of writing is communication. Your ideas and intent must be passed to the reader as effectively as possible, else, what’s the purpose?

Now, a piece of writing can be very informative but it could still lack coherence, thus making its value immediately depreciate. Hence, when writing, it’s imperative to be following APA guidelines if you’re using the APA format.

Your piece has to be of logical sequence and sound structure to make it easy to read, comprehend and remember. This way it will be sublime by all metrics of writing; from conciseness to readability, clarity, engagement, and many more.

 Wrapping It Up

Just like MLA, APA writing format enhances the coherence and soundness of a literary piece, provided the writer is abreast with its guidelines. This piece has highlighted a handful of these guidelines but in the department of headings and subheadings as they’re the identifiers that help readers to navigate through the literary work.

The heading levels in APA are in a hierarchy of 5 and each one is formatted differently. To make this easier, word processors like MS Word and Google Docs have pre-designed styles in both MLA and APA which can make using these headings and subheadings a lot easier.

(Also learn about MLA headings and subheadings and Chicago headings and subheadings)

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By Andy Xavier

Andy is an avid content developer and writer. He is experienced in creating engaging articles that are entirely unique and insightful. He has written lots of articles for Scientific Editing since 2019.

23 thoughts on “APA Headings and Subheadings – APA Format Heading”

  1. I was looking for an article clearly describing the APA format of heading. There are lot of articles about APA heading but yours is very descriptive and resolved any ambiguity. Thanks!

    • Thanks for your feedback. The right format for APA heading could be difficult for beginners. We have tried to simplify it.

  2. I have been looking all over the internet to find information about APA heading for figures. Do figures need a heading? If yes, what font should be used for figures?

    • Figures do not need a heading, but a caption or legend using the same font as the main body of the content.

    • APA was mainly developed for hard copies like essays, papers, and theses. Although nowadays most of these documents are submitted online, the logic remains the same: Hyperlinks do not make sense in hard copies.

  3. My question was “What are subheadings?”. But I think after reading this article, I have a good idea of what they are.

    • No, You cannot cite a reference in the heading if you are writing according to the APA format. As a general rule for any format, citation in headings are unusual.

  4. Can I skip one level of subheading and jump to the next level? For example, can I have subheading level 4 under subheading level 2, without going through level 3 first?

    • The APA format of headings requires you to insert headings hierarchically. While you do not need to have all levels of headings, you cannot skip a level and jump to 2 or more levels further.

    • No, this is a free style article. If you need a sample/template, you can download the template or see the image with the description “An example of APA headings and subheadings”

  5. I have a website and would like to use the APA format for headings and subheadings in my blog posts. Are they SEO friendly? Could they help or compromise my SEO?

    • APA format is not either SEO friendly or unfriendly. However, having headings and subheading in your content is a good factor that helps Google understand the topic and therefore helps SEO.

    • Highlighting headings and subheadings is not allowed in APA format. But every heading and subheading already implies emphasizing the topic and therefore highlighting is not necessary.


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