John K.
John K.

7 Common Mistakes to Avoid in APA Formatting

11 min read

Published on: Aug 21, 2023

Last updated on: Sep 7, 2023

Common Mistakes to Avoid in APA

The APA format is widely used in academic writing for formatting and citations. However, mastering the APA style is challenging, and even tiny mistakes can significantly impact your work. 

In this blog, we'll explore seven common APA formatting mistakes and provide simple solutions to avoid them. 

So read on to ensure that your papers meet the highest academic standards.

Mistake #1: Inconsistent Page Formatting

The APA format is not just about citations and referencing. It also lays out rules for the page layout.

It sets specific guidelines for font size, margins, line spacing, headers, and various other elements. Consistency ensures that your paper looks visually appealing and reflects professionalism. 

Here are some common areas where inconsistencies can occur:

  • Font Size and Type

APA recommends using a standard 12-point Times New Roman font. Inconsistency in font size or type, such as using different fonts for headings or sections, can disrupt the flow of your paper.

  • Headings

APA formatting includes specific guidelines for different levels of headings (e.g., Level 1, Level 2, Level 3). Inconsistent formatting of headings can confuse readers about the hierarchical organization of your content.

  • Line Spacing and Indentation

APA requires double-spacing throughout the paper and first-line indent for new paragraphs. Inconsistent line spacing or indentation can make your paper look uneven.

  • Header

Headers include a running head and page numbers. Inconsistent page numbering or its absence can make it challenging to follow the order of your paper.

Ways to Avoid this Mistake

To avoid inconsistencies in formatting and ensure a professional-looking paper, consider the following strategies:

  • Use Pre-Formatted Templates

You can use a pre-formatted APA template that automatically sets the correct font size, margins, line spacing, and other formatting elements. Utilizing these templates can save you time and guarantee adherence to APA guidelines.

  • Learn the Rules

Inconsistencies often occur because students confuse the rules of APA and MLA or other formats. Familiarize yourself with the APA style guidelines thoroughly and understand the differences between APA and MLA.

  • Use APA Format Checklist

Use an APA format checklist to review your paper systematically. A checklist covers all the essential formatting elements, ensuring you haven't overlooked any details.

  • Seek Expert Help

If you're uncertain about APA formatting or are struggling to maintain consistency, seek guidance from professors, writing centers, or academic writing experts. They can provide valuable feedback and suggestions to improve your paper's formatting.

Mistake #2: Not Using Citation Management Software

One of the most common but silly mistakes students make is not using citation management software. They prefer to do it manually just because they don't know about these programs or how to use them. 

However, manually managing references and citations is time-consuming and prone to errors. It often results in inconsistencies, which can impact the credibility of your work.

Not using citation management software can lead to various problems, including:

  • Inconsistent citations

The citation formatting can be inconsistent if you don't use an automated tool.

  • Missing or inaccurate information

A reference entry includes a lot of information. Such as author names, doi numbers, URLs, etc. Doing it manually leads to a higher chance of missing some details.

  • Difficulty in adding, editing, or reformatting references

If you need to add, remove, or edit a citation, doing it manually is not the best way. It can lead to misformatting, which reduces the credibility of your paper.

How Citation Management Programs Can Help

To avoid these problems and ensure accurate, consistent, and well-structured citations, you should use citation management software. Some popular citation management tools include Zotero, Mendeley, and EndNote. 

Citation management software can help you avoid these mistakes by:

  • Organizing references in a database
  • Generating citations in APA format
  • Ensuring consistency with APA style guidelines
  • Easily editing and reformatting citations

Mistake #3: Incorrect In-text Citations

In-text citations serve as signposts that guide readers to the exact sources of information you've used in your paper. When these citations are not properly structured, it can lead to several issues, such as:

  • Confusion

Improperly formatted in-text citations may not clearly indicate which information comes from which source, leaving readers uncertain about the origin of the ideas presented. This confusion can undermine the coherence and logic of your paper.

  • Plagiarism Concerns

If you fail to give proper credit to the original authors of the ideas or information you're using, that could be plagiarism. Plagiarism is a severe academic offense and can result in serious consequences.

  • Reduced Credibility

Inaccurate or missing in-text citations can cast doubt on the reliability and credibility of your research. It suggests a lack of attention to detail and adherence to scholarly standards.

How to Avoid Incorrect Citations

To avoid the pitfalls of incorrect in-text citations, it's essential to familiarize yourself with the APA guidelines for in-text citations. Here are some tips to help you create accurate and properly formatted in-text citations:

  • Learn the APA Guidelines

Consult the official APA format checklist and reputable online resources to understand the proper format for in-text citations based on the type of source you are referencing.

  • Use Signal Phrases

Use clear signal phrases to indicate when a source is cited. Signal phrases provide context and clarity, telling the reader that you are referencing someone else's work.

  • Utilize Citation Management Programs

Make use of citation management software to automatically generate accurate in-text citations. These tools can help you organize your references and ensure that your in-text citations are error-free.

Expert Tip

Want to learn how to cite correctly in APA? Check out our beginner-friendly guide to APA in-text citations.

Mistake #4: Misformatting the Reference Page

The References page is a crucial component of any academic paper. However, misformatting this section is a common mistake that can have serious consequences. 

A disorganized or incorrectly formatted references page diminishes the credibility of your paper. It also reflects poorly on your attention to detail and adherence to academic standards. 

Misformatting your reference page includes:

  • Inaccurate Information 

Misformatting may result in missing or incorrect information for each entry. Such as omitting an author's name, providing an incorrect publication year, or not including the full title of a source.

  • Disorderly Presentation

A disorderly presentation may involve listing sources in an inconsistent order (e.g., alphabetical order is not followed), using irregular indentation, or failing to separate each entry properly.

  • Formatting Errors

Misalignments, inconsistent font styles or sizes, and improper spacing are all formatting errors that can negatively impact the readability of your references page.

How to Format Reference Page Correctly

To avoid misformatting the References page and ensure a polished and credible paper, follow these tips:

  • Use Templates or Checklists 

Utilize APA reference templates or checklists to ensure you don't miss any essential details when creating your References page. These resources can guide you through the proper formatting process and help you organize your references systematically.

  • Utilize Citation Management Software

These tools are designed to generate correctly formatted reference entries, reducing the chances of errors and saving you time.

  • Proofread Carefully

After completing your References page, proofread it thoroughly to check for any mistakes or inconsistencies. Look for missing information, incorrect order, or formatting errors. Pay attention to small details like capitalization and italics.

  • Seek Feedback

If possible, ask a peer or instructor to review your References page. A fresh set of eyes can help catch any overlooked errors or formatting issues.

Mistake #5: Mishandling Quotations and Paraphrasing

Mishandling quotations and paraphrasing is a common issue in academic writing, especially when it comes to APA formatting. Misusing quotations or failing to paraphrase properly can have serious consequences, including unintentional plagiarism.

Such mistakes include:

  • Unacknowledged Quotations

Failure to use quotation marks or properly attribute the source for direct quotations can lead to unintentional plagiarism. 

  • Patchwriting 

Patchwriting occurs when a writer tries to paraphrase a source but ends up closely replicating the original wording, resulting in unintentional plagiarism. 

  • Missing In-text Citations

Whether you use a direct quote or paraphrase, it is vital to include an in-text citation that attributes the information to the original source.

How to Avoid This Mistake

You should clearly indicate whether a source you are referencing is direct or paraphrased. Here is what you can do to avoid this common mistake:

  • Clearly Distinguish Quotations and Paraphrasing 

Differentiate between direct quotations and paraphrased content by using quotation marks for direct quotes and signpost words for paraphrases. This clarity shows readers when you are using an author's exact words and when you are expressing the ideas in your interpretation.

  • Provide Accurate Page Numbers

When using direct quotes, always include the page number(s) from the source. This information helps readers locate the specific passage in the original text.

  • Paraphrase Thoughtfully

When paraphrasing, make a conscious effort to rephrase the original text in your own words while preserving the author's intended meaning. Avoid merely substituting synonyms or rearranging sentence structure.

Order Essay

Paper Due? Why Suffer? That's our Job!

Mistake #6: Using Excessive Footnotes

Footnotes can be a valuable tool in academic writing, providing additional context or explanations without interrupting the flow of the main text. However, using footnotes in APA format excessively is discouraged.

When used sparingly, footnotes can enhance the reader's understanding and appreciation of your research. Excessive footnotes can lead to the following issues:

  • Disruption of Reading Flow 

An excessive number of footnotes can interrupt the natural flow of reading. It may cause readers to constantly refer to the bottom of the page for additional information. 

  • Reduced Focus on Main Text 

Overusing footnotes can divert attention away from your main arguments and ideas. Instead of engaging with the core content of your paper, readers may find themselves preoccupied with the footnotes.

How to Avoid Using Excessive Footnotes

Footnotes are usually not essential and can be avoided through these simple strategies.

  • Keep Content Relevant and Simple

Before using footnotes, critically evaluate whether the information is necessary to support your main argument or if it can be omitted. Strive to keep your content relevant and straightforward to reduce the need for footnotes.

  • Integrate Information into the Main Text

Instead of using footnotes for crucial details, consider integrating the information into the main body of your text. This ensures that the content is readily accessible to readers without the need for constant referencing.

  • Consult Your Instructor or Editor

If you are unsure about whether to use footnotes in specific instances, seek guidance from your instructor or editor. Different academic disciplines have varying conventions for footnote usage, so getting input from an expert can help you make informed decisions.

Mistake #7: Not Seeking Professional Help

Writing an academic paper is always a challenging and demanding task. Students and researchers often face difficulties in crafting a cohesive piece of writing that meets high academic standards. 

One common mistake students make is not seeking professional help when they encounter roadblocks or uncertainties during the writing process.

Without recourse to an expert, you can face several consequences. Such as,

  • Quality and Clarity

Without expert guidance, the quality and clarity of your writing may suffer. Professional writers or editors possess the knowledge and experience to ensure that your work is well-organized, coherent, and effective.

  • Plagiarism and Academic Integrity 

Not seeking professional help may increase the risk of unintentional plagiarism. Plagiarism can have severe consequences, including academic penalties and damage to your academic reputation.

  • Time Management

Academic projects often come with strict deadlines. Trying to manage the writing process without professional assistance can lead to time management challenges and stress.  

Seek Professional Help for Your Paper

You can ask your instructor, advisor, editor, and even peers to help you throughout the process. This will ensure that you are on the right track and avoid mistakes along the way, ensuring an excellent paper.

  • Academic Advisors 

Many educational institutions have writing centers or academic advisors who can provide valuable assistance with writing, editing, and formatting. Seek help from these resources to improve the quality and effectiveness of your work.

  • Professional Editors & Proofreaders 

Hiring a professional proofreader can significantly enhance the clarity and coherence of your writing. They can identify weaknesses in your arguments, grammar errors, and formatting issues, helping you present polished work.

  • Peer Review 

Share your work with peers or colleagues who have expertise in the subject area or academic writing. Peer feedback can provide valuable insights and constructive criticism to strengthen your paper.

In conclusion,

By avoiding the seven common mistakes discussed in this blog, students and researchers can elevate the quality and credibility of their work. 

Learning the guidelines, embracing technology, and seeking expert assistance when needed will enhance your papers and also showcase a commitment to academic integrity and professionalism.

Need a professional writer or editor to help you with APA formatting? Look no further!

Our APA paper writing service has a team of expert and qualified writers and proofreaders who can help you write an impeccable APA paper from scratch. We can provide the best assistance regardless of your discipline and topic.

So don't make one of these common mistakes and get expert writing help today.

John K.


John K. (Research)

John K. holds a doctorate in management sciences, making him an expert on the subject matter. John is known for his opinions and knowledge, and he gives keynote speeches and runs workshops on a variety of writing and publishing-related subjects. He has also published articles in several online publications.

John K. holds a doctorate in management sciences, making him an expert on the subject matter. John is known for his opinions and knowledge, and he gives keynote speeches and runs workshops on a variety of writing and publishing-related subjects. He has also published articles in several online publications.

On This Page On This Page

Share this article