The 7th edition of the APA manual is out, which means it’s time to talk once again about an issue that I hold dear: APA headings. Granted, I’m a little late to the party here. The 7th edition has been out for about a year, and I received it last year as a Christmas present.

Academics have weird wish lists.

I wrote a blog post last fall as a resource for my students who wanted to learn about using headings in their APA papers. However, with the changes in the 7th edition, we’re overdue for an update!

Quick disclaimer before we jump into this: if you’re submitting to an academic journal, double-check the requirements for headings on the journal’s website. Some journals will have specific instructions for formatting your paper, including the use of headings.

How Many Levels of Headings do I Need?

APA Style includes five levels of headers, but the number you actually need for your paper will really depend on both the length and complexity of your paper (APA, 2020). In my experience, this also seems to vary between different disciplines. For example, in healthcare and health professions education we tend to use a lot of headings.

The APA Manual states that three is the average, so people typically use Level 1, 2, and 3 headers. It is possible you won’t need any headers if your paper is short.

Formatting Your APA Headings

You can see a quick summary of this in the table below, which is taken from the APA Manual. Below the table I talk a bit more about each level. The title for each level is formatted appropriately for the 7th edition of APA except for the indentations in Level 4 and 5 headings because, alas, WordPress will not allow me to include indentations.

Format for the Five Levels of Heading in APA Style (APA, 2020, p. 48)

First Level Heading

The first level heading is the same as the 6th edition. It is centered, bolded, and uses title case. There is no period or colon after it, and the paragraph beings on the following line of text.

Note that there is no “Introduction” heading in your paper, as it is assumed that your first section will be the introduction of your paper. Instead, your title serves as your first heading in the paper. APA describes it as being sort of a “de factor Level 1 heading” and it’s formatted as such. If you want to include sections within your introduction, you would format these subsections as Level 2 headings.

Second Level Heading

The second level of heading is similar to Level 1, expect it’s aligned flush left. This means it is aligned with the left margin and is not indented. Like Level 1, it is bold, uses title case, does not contain a period or colon at the end, and the paragraph begins on the following line.

Third Level Heading

Our third level heading is where things start to get exciting, but for different reasons than in the 6th edition. Third level headings in the 7th edition are very different than the 6th edition. This level is formatted the same as a Level 2 Heading (aligned flush left, bold, title case, no period or colon at the end) except this time the heading uses italics. The paragraph begins on the following line – like Level 2 headers- rather than on the same line, as it did in the 6th edition.

Fourth Level Heading. This level is somewhat similar to the third level of headings in the 6th edition. So here your title is indented, bold, title case, and ends with a period. The text then begins on the same line as your heading and continues on as a regular paragraph.

Fifth Level Heading. This is formatted the same as the fourth level, except the text is in italics. So your title is indented, bold, italics, title case, and ends with a period. Like a Level 5 heading, the text for your paragraph begins on the same line as your heading and continues on as a regular paragraph.

What is Title Case?

In title case, most words are capitalized. This includes all major words and minor words in select circumstances.

Major words include nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and words that are four or more letters (e.g., “with,” “from”). These are always capitalized in APA titles and headings, including if they’re the second part of a hyphenated major word (e.g., Self-Report).

Minor word are words that are three letters or less (e.g., “an,” “and,” “but,” “for,” “off”). In titles and headings, these are only capitalized in the following situations:

  • If they’re the first word of a title and subtitle
  • First word following a colon, em dash, or end punctuation

In APA, title case is used for the following:

  1. Titles of books, articles, reports, and other works when they appear in your writing. (Note that we use sentence casing when we write these out in our reference list.)
  2. Titles of periodicals (journals)
  3. Titles of tests or measures
  4. All headings
  5. The title of your paper and all sections/subsections with it
  6. Table and figure titles

You can read about capitalization in Section 6.13 – 6.21 in your seventh edition APA manual.

Putting it Into Practice

Now, how do we go about putting this all into practice? Each section of your writing starts with the highest level of heading that you can use, and then you use different levels of subheadings for any subsection. You can see an example of this in the images below. Clicking on the images will enlarge them.

Want to read more about heading levels? Check out Section 2.27 in your 7th edition APA Manual.


American Psychological Association (APA). (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.