How to Use Heading Styles for an APA Dissertation

APA style is very particular about formatting for headings and subheadings. I personally love structure, so I prefer APA’s style requirements over the Chicago Manual’s loosey-goosey, “do-what-you-want-just-be-consistent” requirements.

Here’s what APA style calls for from its headings:

Heading Level 1

Heading Level 2

Heading Level 3

            Heading Level 4. Then keep writing, starting on this line.

Heading Level 5. Then keep writing, starting on this line.

Notice that all of the APA headings are boldfaced, which I love because it looks so incredibly neat. It’s also helpful to remember that they’re all in title caps (meaning that most of the words are capitalized), and they switch off between being italicized. The primary difference between heading levels in is their position on the page: first centered, then aligned left, then tabbed over.

Whichever style guide you’re using, applying Microsoft Word styles will speed up the formatting process for you–after a bit of a learning curve.

If you don’t have time for any extra learning right now, you can use my document instead. This link will take you to a Google Drive document; download it as a Microsoft Word document instead, and you’ll be ready to start writing.

How do you use Microsoft Word styles?

1. Start by finding the style bar. 

Microsoft Word's styles formatting bar, with all of the heading styles listed.

Your Word document may look different from mine; I have the 2010 version of Word.


2. The easiest way to modify a style, in my opinion, is to modify the text first. Start by creating sample headings on your page.

Heading Level 1 is bold and centered. Level 2 is bold and left aligned. Level 3 is bold and italicized. Level 4 is indented and bold. Level 5 is indented, bolded, and italicized.

3. Highlight the first heading level. Right click on Heading 1. Choose “Update Heading 1 to match selection.” 

Right-click on the heading style and select "Update Heading 1 to Match Selection" from the drop-down menu

4. Congratulations! Your heading is almost done. You just need to fix one more thing. Start by right clicking again on Heading 1.  Select “Modify” from the drop-down menu.

Right click on the heading style and select Modify from the drop-down menu

5. At the bottom of the options box, click “Format” and then select “Paragraph.”

Click the format button. From the list, select Paragraph.

6. Choose the “Line and Page Breaks” tab on top. Then, click “Keep with Next” and “Keep Lines Together.” Doing so will prevent headings from being separated from their text.

Select "keep with next" and "keep lines together."


You have now convinced Microsoft Word to work for you! All of your formatting, especially your table of contents, will now be a hundred times easier.

If you don’t want to go through all of that yourself, (you can hire me, or) you can simply click the link below to get a ready-to-go Word document will all of the styles already configured. When you click the button, Google Drive will prompt you to make a copy of the doc. Once you’ve clicked “make a copy,” download it as a Word document, and it will be ready to use.

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