Writing Literature Reviews in APA Format

Literature reviews are writing assignments that investigate the research conducted on a particular topic. It summarizes what scientific literature has to say about your particular topic. APA format helps us to organize the references in a standardized form. As such, it is most commonly used while writing literature reviews. Knowledge of writing literature reviews in APA format is very essential, especially for students. Students are often assigned the task of writing literature reviews to get them prepared before they take on primary research assignments. Generally, writing literature reviews in APA format is considered to be a complex process. However, you must remember that though writing it might be a complicated task, it is easy for the reader to understand. A few useful tips for writing literature reviews in APA format are discussed below.

Tips for Writing Literature Reviews in APA Format

  • As far as possible, avoid using direct quotes. You can summarize the basic idea in your own words, and give proper author citation for it. In case you have to use a direct quotation, enclose the quoted text in quotation marks, and provide the author name, year of publication, and page number in parentheses.
  • Mention the most fundamental studies first. In other words, the most recent studies should be mentioned at last. In that way, the studies will be listed in a sequence. Therefore, the reader can easily understand the research conducted on a particular topic and what conclusions were put forth. Reading about a research and knowing how and why it leads to another research helps you to get a clear understanding of a particular topic.
  • Based on your topic, try to include as many relevant references in your literature review as possible. That will help in preventing repetitive research. If some significant studies are omitted, readers might assume that research has not been conducted in that particular area and might take up the same. There is no point in people conducting the same type of research again and again. It is just a waste of time and effort.
  • Avoid citing secondary sources as far as possible. It is always advisable to go through the original source yourself and decide whether it is relevant enough to be cited in your literature review.
  • While presenting the sources, make it a point to evaluate them in the context of the topic. Present comparisons, point out flaws or loopholes that help in deciding the course of future research.

These are just a few general tips. For knowing more about the technical specifications of writing literature reviews in APA format, you can refer the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition.


Writing an abstract in APA style

Writing an abstract in APA style needs practice and a clear idea about the APA guidelines. An abstract is a condensed summary of a research paper. You should write the paper before writing the abstract.

The abstract always begins in a new page, which includes the page header. The abstract as the heading is in the first page and is centered without any formatting, bold, italics, under lining or quotation marks.

The first line of an APA style abstract is not indented. The abstract is a summary of the most salient points of the research. The abstract should be written as a single paragraph; double spaced and should be 150-250 words long. While writing an abstract in APA style, it should include the research problem, hypothesis, the methods, results and conclusion.

After the abstract is written, keywords are given. Keywords are italicized, and the line is indented.


Points to remember while writing an abstract in APA style

  • Begin writing the abstract only when the whole research paper has been finished. Although the abstracts come first, but it should be written last as it contains the gist of the complete research.
  • The abstract in APA style is written in a new page. The word Abstract is centered, and the first line is not indented. But the keywords are italicized and indented. The running head and the page number should be at the top right corner.
  • Writing an abstract in APA style should be short and precise. The abstract should be between 150 to 250 words. Although the word limit might differ in different journals.
  • Write the abstract as a paragraph and double spaced it.
  • The structure the abstract follows the order of the research paper. Start with a brief introduction, and then continue with a summary of the methods, results and discussion of the paper.
  • First write a rough draft by summarizing each section of the paper in one or two lines. Now refine the draft with repeated revisions.

APA Style of Formatting

The APA style of formatting refers to the style guidelines documented by the American Psychological Association. This comprehensive guideline makes us familiar about the structure of an APA paper and its overall writing style. Using APA format is very helpful when most of the sources in the paper are from published journals and frequently published works. Though APA style of formatting was basically developed to standardize scientific writing, it has found widespread acceptance in social and behavioral sciences, education, and business fields also.

APA style is the key for properly formatting various research and academic publications. Beginners might face some difficulties in understanding the APA style of formatting. But, with gradual use, you become familiar with this style. A few basic rules of APA style are discussed below.

Basic Rules of APA Style of Formatting

  • Set one inch margin on all sides.
  • The font of your text should be a serif font that is clearly readable, most preferably Times New Roman, and the font size should be 12 pt.
  • Text alignment should be flush left (i.e., the right side should look ragged).
  • Line spacing should be set as double-spaced throughout the document including title page, abstract, main body, references, tables, figures, etc.
  • There should be a running head (short title of your paper) at the top of every page. It should be set flush left, and the page numbers should be set flush right. Ensure that the running head does not exceed 50 characters (including spacing and punctuation).
  • The first line indent of every paragraph should be half inch.
  • APA paper consists of four main sections: title page, abstract, main body and references.
  • Title page should consist of the title of your paper, author name(s), institutional affiliation(s), author note. The title should not contain any abbreviations.
  • The Abstract should begin on a new page. The word limit for the Abstract is 150-250 words (may vary as per specific publications).
  • The main body of your paper should begin on a new page. It includes Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion and References section. Appendix can also be included if applicable.
  • References should begin on a new page. It should include all the sources, which have been cited in the paper. The entries should be sorted alphabetically by the surname of the first author. First line should be flush left, and additional lines should have a hanging indent.
  • Each Table should begin on a new page after the Reference section.
  • Each Figure should begin on a new page after the Tables.

 The basic guidelines presented here provide you with just an outline of the APA style of formatting for a research paper. Every aspect of APA style has much more detailed specifications that we will discuss elaborately in our following posts.

Layout Considerations And Page Design

Different magazines have different layout styles, which determine the content choices. This means that a magazine will not change its layout and the space allotted to each article type, to accommodate a particular article. The article would be edited and formatted in the magazines standard manner.

Main layout considerations include:

  • Space: Each article has a word limit to accommodate it in the space allotted in the magazines layout.
  • Paragraph length: Magazine articles have shorter paragraphs compared to reports and essays.
  • Visuals: Visuals are often used to add more clarity to the article and are designed considering the target audiences needs and expectations.
  • Sections and headings: Sections are designed according to the space allotted for an article. Crossheads are used as a form of signposting to direct readers attention.

Page design is divided into four aspects:

  • Proximity: This refers to the spatial layout that displays related objects. For example, you be placed close to each other and to the relevant text.
  • Alignment: This refers to balancing the positions of horizontal and vertical elements on a page in relation to each other. For example, you can align the objects on the left with the left edge of the page and the objects on the right with the right edge of the page.
  • Repetition: This refers to the repetition of elements that bind different sections together. Bullet points, colors, and typefaces can be repeated for a visual impact and to help readers recognize and scan through pages easily and quickly.
  • Contrast: This is the opposite of repetition. It refers to putting together different elements and creating a visual impression. The use of contrasting elements acts as an information hierarchy. It introduces an element of surprise and indicates that the article has depth and variety. It can be used in colors, fonts and direction. To create an effective and impressive publication, you need to balance repetition and contrast.

Journalists use different terminologies to talk about the layout of articles and pages:

  • Title: This is used for all articles except new stories; headline is used for news stories. Titles can be creative and cryptic; headlines are not: they are structured in sentence form, present tense. For example, a title can be Swept Away; a headline can be Largest Tsunami Ever Recorded Hits Country.
  • Pullquote: It refers to using text of an article as a highlighting device “ the pullquotes from an article should be able to tell a story (i.e., summarize the main points of the article).
  • Subhead: It refers to the text that comes below the title and is used to give more information on the articles topic. Subheads are useful when the title is too enigmatic and needs explanation.
  • Crosshead: It is the journalistic term for heading.
  • Caption: It is the text that accompanies a visual.