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How to Write a Research Proposal in the APA Style

The sixth edition of the “Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association” directs you how to format and structure your research proposal. This is the most common style used for proposal related to the social sciences. A research proposal in APA format should include a title, abstract, main body and references.

General Structure

APA format recommends that you type your proposal with a highly legible 12-point font, such as Times New Roman. It needs to be double-spaced. When you write a new paragraph, indent fives spaces or use the Tab key. Your paper should have a 1-inch margin on all sides. At the top of each page, insert a running head in the header. To format this correctly, write the title of your proposal in the upper left hand side and the page number in the upper right hand side. Your running head is limited to 50 characters, including spaces. If you must shorten your title, select the keywords.

For your research proposal, your title page should include your paper’s title, your name and your university’s name. Other information that may appear on the title page includes submission date, budget period, total funds requested or advisor’s name, depending on your proposal’s audience. APA style recommends that your title is no more than 12 words in length. All text on this page should be double-spaced. When listing names, do not include any titles or degrees. The running head is different on the title page than the rest of your paper. Format your running head so it says “Running head” followed by a colon and your title.

In APA format, your abstract is the second page of your paper. Despite appearing at the beginning of your paper, plan to write your research proposal last. This is a brief summary of your entire paper. In a 150- to 250-word paragraph, state your problem, and propose a solution for it. To properly format this page, center the word “Abstract” without any additional formatting on the first line of the page. Following a double-space, write your paragraph. Do not indent this paragraph. After your summary, indent five spaces and write the word, “Keywords” in italics followed by a colon. Then list keywords related to your proposal.

In-Text Citations

Every sentence that references another person’s work must include an in-text citation. The APA recommends that you use the author-date method. Write the author’s name and the publication year within parentheses at the end of the referencing sentence. For example, “One study found that the most important element in comprehending non-native speech is familiarity with the topic (Gass & Varonis, 1984).”

At the end of your proposal, APA style advises that you create a references page that lists citations for all of your references. Label this page with the word “References” centered on the first line of the page. Then list all the sources used within your proposal in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. For any references that are longer than one line, indent all subsequent lines by five spaces.

When writing references, APA style recommends that you give the author’s last name and then use initials for all other names. For a single author book, write the author’s last name, a comma, first initial and a period. Next, write the publication year in parentheses. Place a period outside the last parenthesis. Then write the title of the book in italics and sentence case, a period, the city, a comma, the state, a colon, the publisher’s name and a period. A reference may look like this:

Zerby, C. (2002). Devil’s details: A history of footnotes. Montpelier, VT: Invisible Cities Press.

  • University of North Carolina Charlotte: Outline for Research Reports and Proposals Using APA Style
  • Purdue University: APA Formatting and Style Guide: General Format
  • University of Michigan: Proposal Writer's Guide: The Title
  • Penn State University: APA In-Text Citation Guide
  • Purdue University: APA Formatting and Style Guide: Reference List: Books
  • College of Charleston: APA Citation Style for a Bibliography/Works Cited Page

Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.

APA Style 7th Edition: Citing Your Sources

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Formatting rules, various examples.

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Adapted from American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed).  https://doi.org/10.1037/0000165-000

Formatting:

  • Italicize the title
  • Identify whether source is doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis in parentheses after the title

See Ch. 10 pp. 313-352 of APA Manual for more examples and formatting rules

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Home / Guides / Citation Guides / APA Format / How to Cite a Thesis or Dissertation in APA

How to Cite a Thesis or Dissertation in APA

In this citation guide, you will learn how to reference and cite an undergraduate thesis, master’s thesis, or doctoral dissertation. This guide will also review the differences between a thesis or dissertation that is published and one that has remained unpublished. The guidelines below come from the 7th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2020a), pages 333 and 334. Please note that the association is not affiliated with this guide.

Alternatively, you can visit EasyBib.com for helpful citation tools to cite your thesis or dissertation .

Guide Overview

Citing an unpublished thesis or dissertation, citing a published dissertation or thesis from a database, citing a thesis or dissertation published online but not from a database, citing a thesis or dissertation: reference overview, what you need.

Since unpublished theses can usually only be sourced in print form from a university library, the correct citation structure includes the university name where the publisher element usually goes.

Author’s last name, F. M. (Year published). Title in sentence case [Unpublished degree type thesis or dissertation]. Name of institution.

Ames, J. H., & Doughty, L. H. (1911). The proposed plans for the Iowa State College athletic field including the design of a reinforced concrete grandstand and wall [Unpublished bachelor’s thesis]. Iowa State University.

In-text citation example:

  • Parenthetical :  (Ames & Doughty, 1911)
  • Narrative :  Ames & Doughty (1911)

If a thesis or dissertation has been published and is found on a database, then follow the structure below. It’s similar to the format for an unpublished dissertation/thesis, but with a few differences:

  • The institution is presented in brackets after the title
  • The archive or database name is included

Author’s last name, F. M. (Year published). Title in sentence case (Publication or Document No.) [Degree type thesis or dissertation, Name of institution]. Database name.

Examples 1:

Knight, K. A. (2011). Media epidemics: Viral structures in literature and new media (Accession No. 2013420395) [Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Example dissertation-thesis

Trotman, J.B. (2018). New insights into the biochemistry and cell biology of RNA recapping (Document No. osu1523896565730483) [Doctoral dissertation, Ohio State University]. OhioLINK Electronic Theses & Dissertations Center.

In the example given above, the dissertation is presented with a Document Number (Document No.). Sometimes called a database number or publication number, this is the identifier that is used by the database’s indexing system. If the database you are using provides you with such a number, then include it directly after the work’s title in parentheses.

If you are interested in learning more about how to handle works that were accessed via academic research databases, see Section 9.3 of the Publication Manual.

In-text citation examples :

  • Parenthetical citation : (Trotman, 2018)
  • Narrative citation : Trotman (2018)

Author’s last name, F. M. (Year Published). Title in sentence case [Degree type thesis or dissertation, Name of institution]. Name of archive or collection. URL

Kim, O. (2019). Soviet tableau: cinema and history under late socialism [Doctoral dissertation, University of Pittsburgh]. Institutional Repository at the University of Pittsburgh. https://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/37669/7/Olga%20Kim%20Final%20ETD.pdf

Stiles, T. W. (2001). Doing science: Teachers’ authentic experiences at the Lone Star Dinosaur Field Institute [Master’s thesis, Texas A&M University]. OAKTrust. https://hdl.handle.net/1969.1/ETD-TAMU-2001-THESIS-S745

It is important to note that not every thesis or dissertation published online will be associated with a specific archive or collection. If the work is published on a private website, provide only the URL as the source element.

In-text citation examples:

  • Parenthetical citation : (Kim, 2019)
  • Narrative citation : Kim (2019)
  • Parenthetical citation : (Stiles, 2001)
  • Narrative citation : Stiles (2001)

dissertation and thesis Citations for APA 7

We hope that the information provided here will serve as an effective guide for your research. If you’re looking for even more citation info, visit EasyBib.com for a comprehensive collection of educational materials covering multiple source types.

If you’re citing a variety of different sources, consider taking the EasyBib citation generator for a spin. It can help you cite easily and offers citation forms for several different kinds of sources.

To start things off, let’s take a look at the different types of literature that are classified under Chapter 10.6 of the Publication Manual :

  • Undergraduate thesis
  • Master’s thesis
  • Doctoral dissertation

You will need to know which type you are citing. You’ll also need to know if it is published or unpublished .

When you decide to cite a dissertation or thesis, you’ll need to look for the following information to use in your citation:

  • Author’s last name, and first and middle initials
  • Year published
  • Title of thesis or dissertation
  • If it is unpublished
  • Publication or document number (if applicable; for published work)
  • Degree type (bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral)
  • Thesis or dissertation
  • Name of institution awarding degree
  • DOI (https://doi.org/xxxxx) or URL (if applicable)

Since theses and dissertations are directly linked to educational degrees, it is necessary to list the name of the associated institution; i.e., the college, university, or school that is awarding the associated degree.

To get an idea of the proper form, take a look at the examples below. There are three outlined scenarios:

  • Unpublished thesis or dissertation
  • Published thesis or dissertation from a database
  • Thesis or dissertation published online but not from a database

American Psychological Association. (2020a). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1037/0000165-000

American Psychological Association. (2020b). Style-Grammar-Guidelines. https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/citations/basic-principles/parenthetical-versus-narrative

Published August 10, 2012. Updated March 24, 2020.

Written and edited by Michele Kirschenbaum and Elise Barbeau. Michele Kirschenbaum is a school library media specialist and the in-house librarian at EasyBib.com. Elise Barbeau is the Citation Specialist at Chegg. She has worked in digital marketing, libraries, and publishing.

APA Formatting Guide

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To cite a published thesis in APA style, it is important that you know some basic information such as the author, publication year, title of the thesis, institute name, archive name, and URL (uniform resource locator). The templates for an in-text citation and reference list entry of a thesis, along with examples, are given below:

In-text citation template and example:

Use the author surname and the publication year in the in-text citation.

Author Surname (Publication Year)

Cartmel (2007)

Parenthetical:

(Author Surname, Publication Year)

(Cartmel, 2007)

Reference list entry template and example:

The title of the thesis is set in sentence case and italicized. Enclose the thesis and the institute awarding the degree inside brackets following the publication year. Then add the name of the database followed by the URL.

Author Surname, F. M. (Publication Year). Title of the thesis [Master’s thesis, Institute Name]. Name of the Database. URL

Cartmel, J. (2007). Outside school hours care and schools [Master’s thesis, Queensland University of Technology]. EPrints. http://eprints.qut.edu.au/17810/1/Jennifer_Cartmel_Thesis.pdf

To cite an unpublished dissertation in APA style, it is important that you know some basic information such as the author, year, title of the dissertation, and institute name. The templates for in-text citation and reference list entry of an online thesis, along with examples, are given below:

Author Surname (Year)

Averill (2009)

(Author Surname, Year)

(Averill, 2009)

The title of the dissertation is set in sentence case and italicized. Enclose “Unpublished doctoral dissertation” inside brackets following the year. Then add the name of the institution awarding the degree.

Author Surname, F. M. (Publication Year). Title of the dissertation [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Name of the Institute.

Averill, R. (2009). Teacher–student relationships in diverse New Zealand year 10 mathematics classrooms: Teacher care [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Victoria University of Wellington.

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EDK 850 Research Design & Proposal Development

  • Formatting your Dissertation in APA Style
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APA Style Resources

Here are some general APA Style resources. Scroll down further to see more details about citations and paper formatting. 

  • APA Style Website The APA Style Website is the official website for APA 7th edition, and includes formatting guidelines for formatting your overall paper including title page setup, tables and figures, as well as guidelines for formatting reference citations. Sample papers are included.
  • Excelsior Online Writing Lab: APA Style The Excelsior OWL is an excellent resource for how to write and cite your academic work in APA Style. This is a recommended starting point if you're not sure how to use APA style in your work, and includes helpful multimedia elements.

Several print copies of the APA 7th edition Publication Manual are available for checkout at the Mardigian Library.

(Sorry, APA does not provide an eBook version of this for libraries at the present time.)

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APA Style 7th edition Citations (References and In-Text Citations)

If you're new to citation, this brief video will cover an introduction to in-text citations and reference lists in APA 7th edition. Scroll down for more recommended resources about citations. 

More information including examples and sample papers can be found at the recommended websites below: 

  • APA Style Website: Reference Examples Guidelines about references from the official APA Style website.
  • APA Style Website: In-text Citations Guidelines for in-text citations from the official APA Style website.
  • APA 7th edition quick reference handout This quick reference guide to APA 7th edition citations is handy and includes many commonly cited source types and corresponding in-text citations.
  • APA In-text Citation Checklist APA's official In-text citation checklist for the 7th edition.

APA Style 7th edition Formatting for Professional Papers (including Dissertations)

  • APA Style Website: Sample Annotated Professional Paper This is the official sample professional paper from the APA Style website, and includes annotations illustrating the usage of each element.
  • APA Style Website: Paper Format The APA Style website's paper format page includes all of the elements of paper format that you need to follow, including information about the title page, margins and spacing, fonts and headings. Sample papers are included.

CEHHS Formatting Requirements for Ed.D. Dissertations

CEHHS uses the current version of the APA Publication Manual (7th edition) for all matters of format with the exception of some particular requirements for the Title page, pagination (especially of front matter) and top margins. Unless otherwise stated in the CEHHS Ed.D. Dissertation Guide below, defer to APA 7th edition. 

Some formatting aspects to be sure you are following correctly include: 

  • Tables and Figures, including labeling thereof
  • CEHHS Ed.D. Dissertation Guide
  • UM-Ann Arbor Scholarspace Microsoft for Dissertations Guide
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In-text citation

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Theses and dissertations

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(Author's surname, Year)

This was seen in an Australian study (Couch, 2017). 

Couch (2017) suggests that…

  • Go to  Getting started >  In-text citation  to view other examples such as multiple authors.

Published thesis

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of thesis [Type of thesis, Name of institution awarding degree]. Name of archive or site. https://xxxxxx

Stored in a database

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of thesis (Database Publication number, if assigned) [Type of thesis, Name of institution awarding degree]. Database Name.

Taffe, S. (2017).  The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders: The politics of inter-racial coalition in Australia, 1958–1973  [Doctoral thesis, Monash University]. Bridges.  https://doi.org/10.4225/03/59d4482289ea4

Bozeman, A. Jr. (2007).  Age of onset as predictor of cognitive performance in children with seizure disorders  (Publication No. 3259752) [Doctoral dissertation, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.

Unpublished thesis

Author, A. A. (Year).  Title of thesis or dissertation  [Unpublished Doctoral dissertation or Master's thesis]. Name of Institution.

Imber, A. (2003).  Applicant reactions to graduate recruitment and selection  [Unpublished Doctoral dissertation]. Monash University. 

For further guidance, see the APA Style website- Published Dissertation or Thesis , Unpublished Dissertation or Theses .

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Theses and dissertations are already intensive, long-term projects that require a lot of effort and time from their authors. Formatting for submission to the university is often the last thing that graduate students do, and may delay earning the relevant degree if done incorrectly.

Below are some strategies graduate students can use to deal with institutional formatting requirements to earn their degrees on time.

Disciplinary conventions are still paramount.

Scholars in your own discipline are the most common readers of your dissertation; your committee, too, will expect your work to match with their expectations as members of your field. The style guide your field uses most commonly is always the one you should follow, and if your field uses conventions such as including all figures and illustrations at the end of the document, you should do so. After these considerations are met, move on to university formatting. Almost always, university formatting only deals with things like margins, font, numbering of chapters and sections, and illustrations; disciplinary style conventions in content such as APA's directive to use only last names of authors in-text are not interfered with by university formatting at all.

Use your university's formatting guidelines and templates to your advantage.

If your institution has a template for formatting your thesis or dissertation that you can use, do so. Don't look at another student's document and try to replicate it yourself. These templates typically have the necessary section breaks and styles already in the document, and you can copy in your work from your existing draft using the style pane in MS Word to ensure you're using the correct formatting (similarly with software such as Overleaf when writing in LaTeX, templates do a lot of the work for you). It's also often easier for workers in the offices that deal with theses and dissertations to help you with your work if you're using their template — they are familiar with these templates and can often navigate them more proficiently.

These templates also include placeholders for all front matter you will need to include in your thesis or dissertation, and may include guidelines for how to write these. Front matter includes your table of contents, acknowledgements, abstract, abbreviation list, figure list, committee page, and (sometimes) academic history or CV; everything before your introduction is front matter. Since front matter pages such as the author's academic history and dissertation committee are usually for the graduate school and not for your department, your advisor might not remember to have you include them. Knowing about them well before your deposit date means you won't be scrambling to fill in placeholders at the last minute or getting your work returned for revision from the graduate school.

Consider institutional formatting early and often.

Many graduate students leave this aspect of submitting their projects until it's almost too late to work on it, causing delays in obtaining their degree. Simply being aware that this is a task you'll have to complete and making sure you know where templates are, who you can ask for help in your graduate office or your department, and what your institution's guidelines are can help alleviate this issue. Once you know what you'll be expected to do to convert to university formatting, you can set regular check-in times for yourself to do this work in pieces rather than all at once (for instance, when you've completed a chapter and had it approved by your chair). 

Consider fair use for images and other third-party content.

Most theses and dissertations are published through ProQuest or another publisher (Harvard, for instance, uses their own open publishing service). For this reason, it may be the case that your institution requires all images or other content obtained from other sources to fall under fair use rules or, if an image is not considered under fair use, you'll have to obtain permission to print it in your dissertation. Your institution should have more guidance on their specific expectations for fair use content; knowing what these guidelines are well in advance of your deposit date means you won't have to make last-minute changes or removals to deposit your work.

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  1. PDF Research Proposal Format Example

    1. Research Proposal Format Example. Following is a general outline of the material that should be included in your project proposal. I. Title Page II. Introduction and Literature Review (Chapters 2 and 3) A. Identification of specific problem area (e.g., what is it, why it is important). B. Prevalence, scope of problem.

  2. PDF APA Style Dissertation Guidelines: Formatting Your Dissertation

    tutorials under the "Resources for Writing Your Dissertation" tab. APA Style, 7 th Edition: A Brief Overview This section provides a very brief overview of APA Style formatting. For more thorough information about APA Style, 7 th edition, please refer to Appendix A (on page 11) of this guide for additional APA resources. Headings

  3. Academic Proposals

    The following proposal structure, as outlined by Peter E. Dunn for thesis and fellowship proposals, provides a useful guide to composing such a long proposal (Dunn, Peter E. "Proposal Writing." Center for Instructional Excellence, Purdue University, 2007): Cover Page; Statement of Problem. Literature Review; Identification of Problem

  4. How to Write a Research Proposal

    Example research proposal #1: "A Conceptual Framework for Scheduling Constraint Management" Example research proposal #2: "Medical Students as Mediators of Change in Tobacco Use" Title page. Like your dissertation or thesis, the proposal will usually have a title page that includes: The proposed title of your project; Your name

  5. How to Write a Dissertation or Thesis Proposal

    When starting your thesis or dissertation process, one of the first requirements is a research proposal or a prospectus. It describes what or who you want to examine, delving into why, when, where, and how you will do so, stemming from your research question and a relevant topic. The proposal or prospectus stage is crucial for the development ...

  6. How to Write a Research Proposal in the APA Style

    General Structure. APA format recommends that you type your proposal with a highly legible 12-point font, such as Times New Roman. It needs to be double-spaced. When you write a new paragraph, indent fives spaces or use the Tab key. Your paper should have a 1-inch margin on all sides. At the top of each page, insert a running head in the header.

  7. Sample papers

    The following two sample papers were published in annotated form in the Publication Manual and are reproduced here as PDFs for your ease of use. The annotations draw attention to content and formatting and provide the relevant sections of the Publication Manual (7th ed.) to consult for more information.. Student sample paper with annotations (PDF, 4.95MB)

  8. APA Formatting and Citation (7th Ed.)

    Throughout your paper, you need to apply the following APA format guidelines: Set page margins to 1 inch on all sides. Double-space all text, including headings. Indent the first line of every paragraph 0.5 inches. Use an accessible font (e.g., Times New Roman 12pt., Arial 11pt., or Georgia 11pt.).

  9. Thesis/Dissertation

    Thesis, from a commercial database. Lope, M. D. (2014). Perceptions of global mindedness in the international baccalaureate middle years programme: The relationship to student academic performance and teacher characteristics (Order No. 3682837) [Doctoral dissertation, University of Maryland].ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.

  10. PDF How to Prepare your Dissertation in APA Style Style Manual Spacing Margins

    How to Prepare your Dissertation in APA Style This guide has been taken from the American Psychological Associations Website. Style Manual It is recommended that APA Style Seventh Edition is used. It should be in 12-point type using Times New Roman font. Spacing The test in the manuscript should be double-spaced.

  11. APA Formatting and Style Guide (7th Edition)

    APA Stylistics: Basics. APA Stylistics: Avoiding Bias. Footnotes & Appendices. Numbers & Statistics. Additional Resources. APA Headings and Seriation. APA PowerPoint Slide Presentation. APA Sample Paper. Tables and Figures.

  12. APA Sample Paper

    Media Files: APA Sample Student Paper , APA Sample Professional Paper This resource is enhanced by Acrobat PDF files. Download the free Acrobat Reader. Note: The APA Publication Manual, 7 th Edition specifies different formatting conventions for student and professional papers (i.e., papers written for credit in a course and papers intended for scholarly publication).

  13. PDF Student Paper Setup Guide, APA Style 7th Edition

    Indent the first line of every paragraph of text 0.5 in. using the tab key or the paragraph-formatting function of your word-processing program. Page numbers: Put a page number in the top right corner of every page, including the title page or cover page, which is page 1. Student papers do not require a running head on any page.

  14. PDF A PROPOSAL FOR A MASTER'S THESIS

    A Thesis Proposal is a document that sets forth what is to be studied as a thesis project, why and in what way. It contains a number of important sections. The purpose of the proposal is to communicate the plan for the work to the faculty of the Division of Emerging Media Studies via the First Reader (principal thesis advisor) and a Second Reader.

  15. How to Cite a Thesis or Dissertation in APA

    Citing a published dissertation or thesis from a database. If a thesis or dissertation has been published and is found on a database, then follow the structure below. It's similar to the format for an unpublished dissertation/thesis, but with a few differences: Structure: Author's last name, F. M. (Year published).

  16. Formatting your Dissertation in APA Style

    CEHHS uses the current version of the APA Publication Manual (7th edition) for all matters of format with the exception of some particular requirements for the Title page, pagination (especially of front matter) and top margins. Unless otherwise stated in the CEHHS Ed.D. Dissertation Guide below, defer to APA 7th edition.

  17. APA Citations for a Thesis or Dissertation

    To cite a published dissertation in APA 7th edition, you need to include: Author, A. A. (Year). Title of doctoral dissertation or master's thesis (Publication number, if available) [Doctoral dissertation or master's thesis, Institution]. Publisher. Published APA Dissertation Example.

  18. How to Write an APA Methods Section

    The main heading of "Methods" should be centered, boldfaced, and capitalized. Subheadings within this section are left-aligned, boldfaced, and in title case. You can also add lower level headings within these subsections, as long as they follow APA heading styles. To structure your methods section, you can use the subheadings of ...

  19. DOC APA style: Structure of a Research Report/Proposal

    APA style is to use the first two or three words of the title, then a few spaces, then the page number. To create the header: Go to the View menu, and select Header and Footer. Click on the right justification button in the main toolbar. ... If you are completing a research proposal, your results section will include a description of what you ...

  20. APA Formatting and Style (7th ed.) for Student Papers

    APA 7th ed. Fillable Word Template and Sample Paper. APA 7th ed. Template. Download this Word document, fill out the title page and get writing! Sample Paper APA 7th ed. Our APA sample paper shows you how to format the main parts of a basic research paper. APA 7th Sample Papers from Purdue Owl

  21. Subject guides: APA 7th: Theses and dissertations

    Age of onset as predictor of cognitive performance in children with seizure disorders (Publication No. 3259752) [Doctoral dissertation, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.

  22. APA Abstract (2020)

    Follow these five steps to format your abstract in APA Style: Insert a running head (for a professional paper—not needed for a student paper) and page number. Set page margins to 1 inch (2.54 cm). Write "Abstract" (bold and centered) at the top of the page. Place the contents of your abstract on the next line.

  23. University Thesis and Dissertation Templates

    These templates also include placeholders for all front matter you will need to include in your thesis or dissertation, and may include guidelines for how to write these. Front matter includes your table of contents, acknowledgements, abstract, abbreviation list, figure list, committee page, and (sometimes) academic history or CV; everything ...