In this post we cover APA guidelines for margins, page size, and page orientation. We then cover in detail how to set up APA page formatting in Microsoft Word. Using a Mac? Check out our section on setting up margins and page layout in Word for Mac.
The first item to consider when you set about to check your APA page formatting is margins. Formatting margins in APA Style is straightforward. The Publication Manual calls for margins to be a minimum of one inch (2.54 cm) on all sides throughout the manuscript.
Minimum of one inch: Margins can be wider than one inch—and some university programs require them to be—but not narrower. One inch is usually the default width in word processing programs, so it’s likely your margins meet this specification if you opened up a blank document and started typing.
On all sides: Your document has four margins: left, right, top, and bottom. Each margin must be at least one inch wide.
Throughout the manuscript: Tables and figures are the most common culprits for margins not being consistent throughout a manuscript. If you have a table or figure that’s too big or too text-heavy to fit the page, resist the temptation to narrow (or ignore!) the margins on that page. You should rework the content to fit the margins instead of messing with the margins themselves.
Wider margins make for narrower pages. If you begin writing with the correct margins in place, you can save yourself headaches down the road by not having to reformat tables or figures to fit a narrower space.
- If you are a graduate student, always check your program guidelines or student handbook. These preferences supersede the Publication Manual. Some schools call for a wider left-hand margin or wider margins on all sides.
- If you plan to have your thesis or dissertation bound, we recommend widening the left-hand margin to 1.25 or 1.5 inches. (Remember, margins must be a minimum of one inch. They can be wider as long as they are consistent throughout the paper.)
- Adjusting your margins affects more than your page count. It can impact the layout of tables and figures, and if your paper requires a table of contents, the pagination will need to be updated. Double-check these items if you have changed your margins.
The second important aspect of page formatting in APA Style—and one that is often overlooked—is page size.
If you’re submitting your thesis or article to a North American university or publisher, you’ll want to be sure your paper is letter size: 8.5 inches by 11 inches. This is the default document size in word processing programs. Clients sometimes have other sizes selected, though, so it’s worth taking the time to be sure your page size is correct.
If you’re submitting to a school or publisher based in Europe or Asia, you’ll likely need to use A4 paper. Always check the specific guidelines for any exceptions to the APA manual.
Keep reading to learn how to check your page size and change it if needed.
Finally, for your APA paper to meet guidelines, you need to have the proper page orientation. What does this mean, exactly?
Imagine you’re about to jot down some thoughts in a notebook. You’d likely place the notebook in front of you with the shorter side to the top. This is portrait orientation. It’s the usual way we orient a piece of paper for reading and writing. Your manuscript pages should be formatted this way.
If we spin the notebook 90 degrees, the longer side is now on top. This is landscape orientation.
If you have content that won’t fit a portrait orientation, such as a large table, you should be able to present it landscape. Always check the journal or program guidelines to be sure. That orientation would apply only to the page in question, not the whole document.
In other words, most of your paper would be portrait, and just the page or pages with the large table would be in landscape. Formatting in this way requires you to set up your document in sections. Just ask us if you’re not sure how to proceed. We can help!
Setting up APA page formatting in Microsoft Word
Ready to learn how to set up margins and how to check page size and page orientation for your APA paper? We recommend doing all three in one fell swoop. Screenshots in this post are from Word 2016, but earlier versions of Word look similar.
1. Open your document in Word. Select the Layout Tab on the top ribbon and click the Page Setup drop-down arrow in the bottom corner.
The Page Setup dialogue box will open. It has three tabs: Margins, Paper, and Layout. Margins will be selected by default.
2. In the Margins Tab, check for the following:
- The margins are a minimum of one inch on all sides. If you need to adjust the margins, use the up or down arrows, or simply type the number into each field.
- The page orientation is set to Portrait. (It should be selected by default.)
- At the bottom, the setup is applied to “Whole document,” not “This section” or “This point forward.”
Your screen should look like this:
Don’t click “OK” yet!
3. Along the top of the dialogue box, click the Paper Tab. You’ll now see options for paper size, which should be letter (8.5 x 11”). Again, at the bottom of the dialogue box, make sure your settings are applied to the whole document. Your screen should look like this:
4. Finally, click on the Layout Tab. You’ll now see options for how pages are to be laid out throughout the file.
- Select “Different first page” under Headers and Footers. You will need the first page to be different to format the running head (and to meet special considerations, if applicable, for your title page). Check out our blog post on how to format and insert your running head for more information.
- At the bottom, ensure the preferences apply to the whole document, not just a section.
Your screen should look like this:
5. Click OK. Your margins, orientation, page size, and layout are set, and so are you!
Setting up margins and page layout in Word for Mac
Are you using a Mac instead of a PC? The process for setting up margins and page layout is similar. Click here for a quick video on how to change margins using Word for Mac.
Did You Know?
If you’re starting out and like using templates, MS Word has one for an APA Style report—and it’s free to use. Download the APA 6 template here.
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