When to Use APA Format: Disciplines and Writing Assignments

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The APA format is most often used to write in disciplines within the social and behavioral sciences. If you are a professional writer, student, researcher or professional in a field within these disciplines, you must know how to write under APA guidelines for writing assignments, articles or manuscripts for publication. The following fields usually require writing with APA style:

  • Social sciences
    • Psychology
    • Linguistics
    • Sociology
    • Economics
    • Criminology
  • Business
  • Nursing

Fields outside of those listed above may also require you to write in APA format for certain writing assignments. Regardless of the type of written piece you are asked to write, always follow instructions from educators, bosses or clients when they request the use of APA style.

Types of writing assignments that use APA format

While other assignments may ask for APA style, there are two common types of writing assignments that are done in APA format: literature reviews and experimental reports. In addition, any number of types of papers or written content may require following this format if research and source citation is required.

Literature review—This type of writing assignment is simply a review of the research literature that applies to your topic or proposed question. It is not the same as an annotated bibliography. If you are a student in one of the fields that generally use APA style, you are often given this type of assignment as a precursor to conducting primary research. A literature review shows your knowledge of the topic and generally consists of a title page, an introduction section and a list of references. In some cases, an abstract might also be necessary. Ultimately, the length, scope and requirements are set by the person giving you the writing assignment.

Experimental report—This type of writing assignment has a more complex format than a literature review. An experimental report is the presentation of the results of your primary research. In other words, it lays out your research question, the methods you used to conduct research, your research findings and your interpretation of the results. The APA style for this writing assignment generally includes a title page, abstract, introduction, methods section, results section, discussion section, references and any necessary supplemental information, such as an appendix or any charts, figures or tables.

While these two types of writing assignments are the most common, they are not the only types that call for APA format. For any manuscript that is to be published in a scholarly journal, the APA format is expected. Likewise, different types of papers involving research within the social and behavioral sciences are likely to request the APA format.