What is a running head?

A running head is a short title, no more than 50 characters, that appears in the header on each page of an APA Style paper. It serves a few purposes:

  • It highlights at a glance the key idea or content under discussion.
  • It identifies the manuscript while also hiding the author’s identity, which is important during peer review of journal articles.
  • If a printed copy gets mixed in with other documents, the reader can use the running head to identify the manuscript.

Running head do’s and don’ts

Follow our five do’s and don’ts when creating your APA Style running head:

  1. Do position your running head flush left in the header. The page numbers go flush right.
  2. Do TYPE YOUR RUNNING HEAD IN UPPERCASE LIKE THIS. Shout out your awesome research to the world!
  3. Do repeat your entire title if it’s short enough. You don’t need to shorten it more.
  4. Don’t let your running head exceed 50 characters, including spaces. The uppercase text above is 46 characters, so that gives you an idea of how long it can be. Exceeding the character limit is one of the most common mistakes we see with running heads. Later in this post we show you how to count characters to be sure you’re within the limit.
  5. Don’t just use the first few words of your title by default. The first few words often make a great running head, but not always. Pick the best words to communicate your key idea:
  • Consider this title: “‘What, Me Worry?’ The Cultural Legacy of Alfred E. Neuman.” We could use the quippy first three words as our running head, but “THE CULTURAL LEGACY OF ALFRED E. NEUMAN,” although less original, provides more information.
  • The title “Do Traffic Calming Measures Have an Impact on Residential Burglary?” doesn’t pack much punch when reduced to the first few words: “DO TRAFFIC CALMING MEASURES HAVE AN IMPACT.” A better choice for a running head might be, “TRAFFIC CALMING MEASURES’ IMPACT ON BURGLARY.”

How to insert a running head in MS Word

The trickiest bit about inserting a running head is that the words “Running head:” precede it on the first page it appears—and only on that page. Follow our steps to get it right!

  1. In your APA paper, double click near the top of the page to open the header. The cursor will move into it automatically. This action also opens the Header & Footer Tools Tab. Be sure Different First Page is selected:
  1. On page 1, type “Running head:” (note the colon!) followed by your running head in all caps. You want the text to be positioned on the left side of the page. If you wrote a paper entitled “Editarians Resources as a Pathway to Nirvana,” your running head on the first page would look like this:
  1. In the Header & Footer Tools Tab, click Next to jump to the header on page 2.
  1. On this page, type the running head in all caps without “Running head:” preceding it, like this:
  1. The running head should continue like this on every page of the paper, including the references and appendices. You can exit the header by clicking the Close icon in the Header & Footer Tools Tab or by double clicking in the file anywhere outside the header.

Follow our five do's and don'ts when creating your APA Style running head. Click To Tweet

How to check character count in MS Word

Curious to know how to check your character count to be sure your APA running head is no more than 50 characters?

  1. Using your cursor, select the text of your running head. On the Review Tab, click on the Word Count icon:
  1. A dialogue box will pop up. Look for the line showing Characters (with spaces).
  1. If the number is 50 or less, you are golden. If not, you will have to condense your text so that it falls within the character limit.
  2. Click Close to exit. Your running head should now be … up and running. (Aren’t we punny?)

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