Dissertation formatting shouldn't be rocket science – but sometimes it can be just as stressful as writing the dissertation itself. And when you're working in APA Style, you don't just have citations, margins, and tables to worry about – you've got a whole system of headings and sub-headings that you need to pay attention to as well. But never fear – this guide will put the ins and outs of APA-Style headings at your fingertips.


Why APA Style Requires Headings

The headings in APA Style aren't arbitrary: they've been carefully designed to help your reader make their way through your work. As Chelsea Lee explains at the APA Style Blog, headings give your writing structure. They're like road signs: they tell your reader where they are in your dissertation.


APA Headings are Hierarchical

When you look at a paper, dissertation, or article written in APA Style, you'll see a few different types of headings. These headings are hierarchical. As Lee explains, headings “not only tell the reader what content to expect but also speak to its relative position within a hierarchy.” What does it mean to say that headings are hierarchical? It means that the headings will indicate the importance of the sections, and whether the material that follows each heading constitutes part of a larger section.


APA Heading Levels

The 6th edition of the APA Publication Manual includes formatting instructions for five different heading levels.

Heading level one looks like this:

APA Style Heading Level One

It's centered, in boldface, and words are capitalized.

Heading level two looks like this:

APA Style Heading Level Two

It's almost the same as level one – but flush left instead of centered.

Levels three through five are where things get more interesting. Heading level 3 looks like this:

APA style heading level three.

It's indented, in boldface, and ends in a period; and words are not capitalized.

Here are heading levels four and five:

APA style level four.

APA style level five.

Like level three, they're indented, end in a period, and words are not capitalized. Level four is in bold italic type, while level five is in italic type.


Where Your Paragraph Should Start

When you use heading level one or two in your dissertation, your paragraph should begin below the heading, indented and on a new line. When you use level three, four, or five in your dissertation, you don't begin your paragraph on a new line. Instead, it starts right after the period that ends the heading.


How To Choose Which Heading Level to Use

The heading levels that you use will depend on how many sections your document or dissertation has. If you're writing a dissertation chapter that has five main sections, each of those sections would get a level one heading.

Now, say one of your sections has two sub-sections. Each of those sub-sections would get a level two heading. And then imagine it went a step further: a sub-section has sub-sections of it's own. Each of those would get a level three heading – and so on. The Purdue University Online Writing Lab does a good job of explaining how this works. Most of the time, you won't need more than two or three levels of headings.

If you don't want to worry about untangling your APA-style headings, leave your dissertation formatting to us. Our team of PhDs are APA-style experts, and they'll make sure that every section of your dissertation has the appropriate heading, and that everything else is accurately formatted, too. And if you need help with MLA Style or Chicago/Turabian Style formatting, we've got experts on those formatting styles as well. We also provide professional dissertation editing and dissertation consulting services. Contact us today to find out how we can help you write a successful dissertation.
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