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Key Changes in APA 7th Edition That You Should Know


In the fall of 2019, the American Psychological Association, most well-known as APA, updated its style manual to the seventh edition, with some important changes. These changes address various features of classic APA style, including page layout elements, headings, in-text citation format, reference list entry format, style, and more.

While many of these changes are minor, some will have a big impact on how you format your document. This blog post outlines some of the key changes to keep in mind as you write your next paper or article using APA seventh edition format, starting at the top of a manuscript.

Running head

In previous APA versions, the running head was a staple presence at the top of all APA papers. The intent of the running head is to provide the reader with important information about the document, including a succinct title and the page number. At no more than 50 characters, the running head offers a quick reminder on every page of what the main theme of the article is.

One feature of the running head in previous versions of APA style is the use of the words "Running head:" on the first page of the document just before the shortened title. In APA 7, the words "running head" are omitted.

That's not all, however. APA 7 distinguishes between professional and student papers. According to the APA's Guide to What's New in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Seventh Edition, A running head is not required on student papers, unless requested by an instructor. Professional manuscripts still include a running head of 50 characters or fewer. The words "Running head:" no longer appear as a label on the first page.

Title page

In addition to the distinction on the running head for student papers and professional papers, the title page for students and professionals are also different. Note that student papers should first follow any instructions given by their instructors or school. If no specific direction is given, then students should follow the standard APA title page format. The Purdue Online Writing Lab notes the following title page requirements:

Student papers should include the following items on their title page:

  • the title of the paper,
  • the name of each author of the paper,
  • the affiliation for each author (typically the school being attended),
  • the course number and name for which the paper is being written (use the format used by the school or institution (e.g., ENGL 106),
  • the course instructor's name and title (ask for the instructor's preferred form if possible; e.g., some instructors may prefer "Dr.," "Ms.," "Mrs.," "Mr.," or a different title),
  • the assignment's due date written in the format most common in your country (e.g., either January 3, 2020, or 3 January 2020 may be appropriate),
  • a page number (which also appears on the following pages).

Professional title pages should have the following:

  • the title of the paper,
  • the name of each author of the paper,
  • the affiliation for each author,
  • an author note (if desired),
  • a running head,
  • a page number.


APA 7 simplifies the format of headings throughout a manuscript. APA sixth edition used a mixture of bold font, indentation, periods, capitalization, and italics to set various heading levels apart. In the seventh edition of the APA style guide, headings are based on indentation, periods, and italics only.

First off, all headings are in title case, which means all important words are capitalized in all heading levels. Next, all headings are bold, including section titles like Abstract, References, and Author Note. The level 1 heading is centered. Level 2 and 3 headings are flush left, with level 3 in italics. Levels 4 and 5 are indented and end in a period and lead directly into the paragraph text, with level 5 in italics. The following is an example of headings in an APA formatted paper:

Discussion (Level 1)

History of Language (Level 2)

Language in Germany (Level 3)

Southern Germany. (Level 4)

Middle Low German. (Level 5)

Old Saxon. (Level 5)

Northern Germany. (Level 4)

Middle German. (Level 5)

Upper German. (Level 5)

Language in France (Level 3)

Modern Language Use (Level 2)

In-text citation format

APA is, generally, one of the easiest style guides to follow when it comes to in-text citations and references—relative to other styles, that is. In APA 6, there were different instructions for one author, two authors, three to five authors, and five or more authors. APA 7 has greatly simplified that process (thankfully).

In APA seventh edition, the most notable change is when citing in-text references with three or more authors. Write the first author's last name and then follow it with "et al.", a comma, and the publication year each time, including the first time you cite that work. For example, say you have the following reference:

Nguyen, T., Carnevale, J. J., Scholer, A. A., Miele, D. B., & Fujita, K. (2019). Metamotivational knowledge of the role of high-level and low-level construal in goal-relevant task performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 117(5), 879-899.

The in-text citation would be "People love reaching their goals (Nguyen et al., 2019)." or "Nguyen et al. (2019) wrote…." Previous versions of APA style required writing out all authors up to five in the first use of the reference and then using "et al." for the rest of the document. Using "et al." every time is much easier!

There is one exception to this rule. If using just the first name and "et al." would create an ambiguity, such as if there are two papers published in the same year with the same first author name, then list as many names as needed to differentiate between the papers, the end with "et al."

For example, say you had references for Spencer, Smith, Ramirez, Johnson, and Merkel (2020) and Spencer, Smith, Daniels, Beecroft, and Miller (2020). Write the in-text citations as (Spencer, Smith, Ramirez, et al., 2019) and (Spencer, Smith, Daniels, et al., 2019), respectively.

References list

While there aren't many changes in reference list entries in APA seventh edition, there are some important changes. One of the most important updates is that up to 20 authors should all be listed in the reference entry. If there are more than 20 authors, then after the 19th author, use an ellipsis followed by the final author's name. Previously, that was the format used for more than seven authors.

Some additional changes include:

  • The words "Retrieved from" (preceding the URL or DOI) are now only used when a retrieval date is also provided in the citation.
  • If available, APA 7 requires a DOI for all works that have one — whether print or digital. If a print work does not have a DOI do not include it in the reference citation. Instead of using a DOI label with the DOI number, all digital object identifiers (DOIs) and URLs linking to the reference are presented as hyperlinks at the end of the reference entry.
  • Book entries in a reference list now only include the publisher name, not the publication place. For example, APA 6 would require "New York City, NY: Penguin Books", while APA 7 only requires "Penguin Books."

Style and grammar

The biggest changes in the seventh edition of the APA Manual are regarding pronoun usage:

The seventh edition of the APA Manual endorses the use of "they" as a singular pronoun. The manual advises writers to use "they" for a person whose gender is unknown or irrelevant. For instance, rather than writing 'I don't know who wrote this note, but he or she has good handwriting,' you might write something like 'I don't know who wrote this note, but they have good handwriting.'

APA 7 also specifies using the non-human relative pronouns "that" and "which" when referring to animals and other objects. It was previously accepted to use "who" in some cases where it felt appropriate. Now, the language is specified to use non-anthropomorphizing language.

Finally, the seventh edition of the APA Manual has updated guidelines for using person-first language. This includes using phrases like "a woman with diabetes" instead of "a diabetic" or "a diabetic woman." Person-first language also means being more specific when referring to groups of people and focusing on the specific qualities related to the topic or the discussion.

In all, the APA style guide can feel overwhelming, and adding changes like these can make it cumbersome to keep up when you want to focus on the content you're writing. Using an APA-specialized editor can help ease the stress when putting together your references, in-text citations, and overall formatting. A well-trained APA editor can ensure that your paper or manuscript follows the APA Manual guidelines correctly.

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