7th Edition APA Style: How to Use APA Headings in Your Paper

APA headings and subheadings give your paper the structure it needs to differentiate and separate sections – much like how we’ve structured this article. Sounds simple, right? Not exactly. 

Like a reference list, in-text citations, footnotes, and abstract, APA headings require correct formatting. More so since the American Psychological Association (APA) released the 7th edition of their style guide. 

In this article, we’ll go through the different APA heading levels and their formats. You will also have access to APA headings examples and insight on APA capitalization rules so you can nail APA heading formatting without breaking a sweat. 

What Are APA Headers? 

As mentioned earlier, APA headers separate and differentiate your paper’s sections. They are crucial in scholarly works because: 

  1. They give structure to your report. 
  2. Readers and your adviser or restructure can quickly identify the sections of your paper. 
  3. When properly formatted and used, they can provide a visual aid to improve the flow of information in your paper. 

The APA headers are divided into five levels (more on this later!).

APA 6th Edition vs. 7th Edition: Is There A Difference In Headings?  

Before diving down to APA’s unique headings system, let’s talk about the elephant in the room – the style guide edition. And, we hate to break it to you. There are a lot of changes between the APA 6th edition vs. 7th edition, but since we’re only talking about headings, we’re not going to outline all the differences. 

Luckily for you, there are not a lot of changes in the APA style 7th edition headings. 

  • For the capitalization and style, you should write the headings in title case and boldface. 
  • Formatting of the first level (main level of heading) and second level headings are almost identical to the 6th edition, except for the new title case and boldface rules. 
  • The third, fourth, and fifth-level headings of the 7th edition APA are distinguished by using periods, indentation, and italics. 

To better understand these changes, you can refer to the table below.  

Diagram showing the difference between 6th APA edition and 7th APA edition headings

In addition to these formatting changes, the 7th APA style guide also dictates that student papers do not need a running head.

What Are the Different APA Heading Levels? 

Now that you know what APA headings are and the difference between the headings of APA 6th and 7th editions, let’s talk about the levels. 

APA headings levels are divided into five – Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, Level 4, and Level 5. In a hurry? You can check the comparison table below.

LevelAlignmentTitle CaseWith Period?Text
1CenteredYesNoneBegins as new paragraph 
2Flush leftYesNoneBegins as new paragraph 
3Flush leftYesNoneBegins as new paragraph 
4IndentedYesYesSame line as regular paragraph
5IndentedYesYesSame line as regular paragraph

Expert Insight: Title case means capitalizing the first letter of words with at least four or more letters. These words are typically proper nouns, pronouns, adverbs, nouns, and adjectives. However, keep in mind that the first word in a header is always in upper case, even if the first word is an article like “the” or “a.”

Level 1 

Level 1, or the first level of heading, represents the main section of your paper. For instance, if your paper topic discusses the effects of social media platforms on university students, the header “Method” should be in level 1. 

In a 7th APA style, the structure should be:

Leve1 1:              Centered, Boldface, Title Case Heading
Example:                              Method

The text after Level 1 will be a new paragraph and not on the same line as the heading. 

Expert Insight: Does the Level 1 format look familiar? That’s because it has the same structure as the Paper Title element (APA 7 title page) in the APA cover page format.

Level 2

What if the next portion of your paper discusses the sampling method you’ve used? In that case, the first level of subsection should be the second level of headings or simply Level 2. Why? This is because the “sampling method” is a cluster of the main level “Method.”

The structure of a Level 2 header is, however, different. Instead of having the “Sampling Method” centered, you’ll flush it to the left. A Level 2 header will be in bold, and the paragraph will start in a new line. 

Here’s how a Level 2 APA is formatted:

Leve1 2:Flush left, Boldface, Title Case Heading
Example:Sampling Method

Tip: When in doubt, remember that APA sub-headings or subsections should be related to the subsequent header.

Level 3 

The third level of headings, or Level 3, further expounds the information you’ve shared in Level 2 or “Sampling Method.” In this case, your level 3 will be “Procedure.”The formatting of Level 2 and Level 3 are pretty similar.

As a matter of fact, there is one key difference a Level 3 header will be in bold italic. The alignment, boldface, and title case will remain the same. 

You should format a Level 3 APA header like this:

Leve1 3:Flush Left, Boldface Italic, Title Case Heading
Example:Procedure

Level 4 

You will need to use the fourth level of headings or Level 4 if there are other details from the Level 3 “Sampling Method” that you need to discuss further. In our APA example, that Level 4 will be the “Participant Recruitment.”

The format of Level 4 is distinct from levels 1, 2, and 3 because: 

  • It is indented. 
  • The paragraph is in line with the heading. 
  • You will add a period at the end of the heading. 

To better understand an APA Level 4 heading format, here is an example:

Leve1 4:  Indented, Boldface Title Case Heading Ending With a Period.
Example:  Participant Recruitment. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.

Level 5

You’ve probably caught on that Level 5 is a subheading of Level 4, and you are correct! If “Participant Recruitment” warrants more information, you can use the fifth level of headings for either “Tools” or “Compensation.”

The formatting of Level 5 is a bit similar to Level 4; the only difference is that you’ll use a boldface italic. Other elements like indent and period will remain the same. 

Leve1 5:  Indented, Boldface Italic, Title Case Heading Ending With a Period.
Example:  Compensation. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.

APA Heading Examples 

If you combine the levels, your paper should look like this:

picture showing an APA heading example paper

How to Choose the Right APA Heading to Use?

With five levels to choose from, selecting which one you should use for your paper can be daunting. Here are some tips: 

  • Use the Level 1 APA header when it is an important part of the paper. For instance, method, conclusion, and results. 
  • Use the Level 2 heading when the subsections are related to the first level. 
  • You should apply a Level 3 header when the APA subheadings are related to Level 2. 
  • Level 4 headers should be used in your paper if the sections are directly correlated with Level 3. 
  • Lastly, you should use Level 5 headers when the information is related to Level 4. 

How Do You Organize Headings in APA 7? 

Now that you are familiar with all the five-level headings in APA 7. The question now is, how do you arrange them? The rule of thumb for organizing APA 7 headers is to always start with Level 1, followed by subsequent headings of equal importance. 

Does that mean that the levels should only be used once? Not technically. You can have all the number of levels in a section as long as you follow the progression, wherein Level 1 always comes first. 

Tip: Don’t mistake section labels and APA headings or vice versa. Section labels or special headings are different from regular headings. Not only are they formatted differently, but they also appear at the top section of the paper, below the pagination or page number. You will always find them at the start of a new page. 

Additional APA 7 Header Guidelines 

On top of the format or structure of the level headers, you should also watch out for the following: 

  1. Text, including the headers, should be double-spaced.
  2. Font size and typeface should stay consistent throughout your article. For instance, if you’ve used Times New Roman 12pt in your headers, the text should also have the same typeface and size. 
  3. Depending on your teacher’s requirements, you may or may not need labels (letter or number) for the headers. When in doubt, ask for clarification. 
  4. There should be at least two APA subheadings in your paper. If you only have one, consider adding more sections in your paper or use no subheadings at all. 

APA Headings FAQ

How to Create Table of Contents in APA Format?

In APA 7th edition, it is not required to have a table of contents, but in case your adviser requires one, you can easily do so whether you are using Google docs or Microsoft Word. 

In Google Docs: 

  1. Set the headers in the correct header size. Click the “Normal Text” dropdown and choose Header 1 for Level 1 APA headings, Header 2 for Level 2, and so on. 
  2. Go to Insert>Table of Contents. 

Note: Keep in mind that APA 7th style guide dictates that the headings and text should have the same font size and typeface. So, after printing the table of contents, make sure to revert the levels to the correct size. 

In Microsoft Word: 

  1. Highlight the level heading 
  2. Select Update the Heading
  3. Match the heading size with the level heading. For instance, if you have a Level 1 Header, select Header 1. 
  4. Go to References > Table of Contents > Custom Table of Contents.  
  5. Input how many headings you will need. 

Tip: Ensure you set the levels in the correct format before creating the table of contents. All levels no longer have a lower case heading. The only thing you should watch out for is the alignment, boldface, italics, and period.

Do You Have to Use All the APA Headers?

No, you don’t have to use all five APA headers in your paper. The headers and the number of subsections will highly depend on your writing style and subject matter. 

Is There an Introduction Heading? 

No, there isn’t an “introduction heading.” This is because the first paragraphs of a paper are already understood as the introduction section. 

Heading in the Right Direction 

The format of APA headings and subheadings can be confusing at first. But remember, APA capitalization rules for the 7th APA edition mean using title case for all heading levels; no more uppercase and lowercase headings. And you can distinguish the third, fourth, and fifth-level headings through italicization, period, and indentation. As for the text after the heading, only levels 4 and 5 will have the paragraph in line with the headings. 

Don’t forget that running headers are no longer required in student papers! But just to be on the safe side, make sure to always ask your instructor.


This post was proofread by Grammarly. Try it - it's FREE!

Capitalize My Title is a dynamic title capitalization tool used to make sure your titles or headlines use proper capitalization rules according to various style guides include APA, AP, MLA, and Chicago. It also counts your words and checks for grammar issues.

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