Apa Chapter Headings Dissertation Topics

By David Becker

Dear APA Style Experts,

Is it okay for a heading to be alone at the very bottom of a page while the first paragraph of that section begins at the top of the next page? I checked page 62 in the Publication Manual where it talks about levels of heading, but I couldn’t find any answers to this question. Please help!

—Keith T.

Dear Keith,

Yes, in an APA Style manuscript, it’s perfectly fine to have a heading at the bottom of one page with the body of the section starting on the next page. In fact, you can see examples of this at the beginning of Sample Paper 2 (see pp. 54–55 in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual; the sample papers are also accessible online via our “Best of the APA Style Blog” post).

Lonely headings like these are sometimes called orphans in typesetting. An orphan can also mean the first line of a paragraph that’s left all alone at the bottom of a page. When the last line of a paragraph appears by itself at the top of the page, typesetters may refer to it as a widow. Widows, like orphans, are acceptable in APA Style manuscripts.

However, if you’re a student writing a class paper or a dissertation, your professor or university may have standards that differ from APA Style. They might prohibit widows and orphans. Universities have particularly precise criteria for dissertations and theses that often address widows and orphans—sometimes even specifying the minimum number of lines of text that can appear on the same page as a table. Your professor or a dissertation committee will be the ones evaluating your work, not APA, so their standards supersede those in the Publication Manual. You should therefore ask your professor or dissertation advisor about whether widows and orphans are acceptable.

You may be wondering why the Publication Manual doesn’t discuss widows and orphans. This is because the guidelines in the manual were designed with draft journal articles in mind. They don’t directly address issues that are more relevant to a final article’s appearance and composition, including widows and orphans, which are sorted out during typesetting. Publishers generally determine what their articles will look like when they go to print, so they establish their own typesetting standards. Although the Publication Manual doesn’t weigh in on these issues, section 8.06 (pp. 239–240) briefly addresses an author’s responsibilities during typesetting, which includes sending the manuscript files to the publisher in an acceptable format and double-checking the typeset page proofs for any errors.

Although some aspects of a draft manuscript carry over into the typeset version—the reference list follows the same APA Style guidelines, for example—the appearance and composition of the article will change drastically. The font type and size, the margins, and the line spacing are all typically very different after typesetting. Some articles will also be formatted so that the text is split into two columns. And, the tables and figures that appear at the end of the manuscript will be embedded close to their first mention in the text. All this rearranging and redesigning means that what were once widows and orphans in a draft manuscript will likely be in completely different places in the final version. There’s no reason to be too concerned about these lonely lines of text during the draft stage if they will be reunited with their lost relatives during typesetting and appear together in the final article.

If you’re a student, your schoolwork won’t go through this whole process before it’s finalized. Your paper is considered “final” when you submit it to your professor. For example, a dissertation, once submitted, becomes the final, published version of record. Therefore, it’s important to consider the final appearance of your paper during the draft stage. Some formatting issues not covered in the Publication Manual will need to be addressed while you’re writing your paper. When in doubt, always check with your professor or university to see if they have their own preferred standards.

And, in case you were wondering, APA Style doesn’t have any guidelines concerning bears. I doubt your professor or university will have any either.

In addition to guidelines for citations and references, the APA also has rules related to formatting documents. This includes five levels of heading styles and specific requirements for lists.

Heading styles

A dissertation is usually divided into chapters (level 1), which are then further divided into sections (level 2) and subsections (levels 3 through 5). The correct heading style should be used for each of these levels, in the following order:

1Centered, bold, title case capitalization*
2Left-aligned, bold, title case capitalization*
3Indented, bold, sentence case capitalization,** a final period. The body text begins immediately after the period.
4Indented, bold, italics, sentence case capitalization,** a final period. The body text begins immediately after the period.
5Indented, italics, sentence case capitalization,** a final period. The body text begins immediately after the point.

* Capitalize the first word of the title and all major words (including anything that has four letters or more). An example: The Effects of Autism on Listening Skills.
** Capitalize the first word of the title and any proper nouns (just like you would capitalize a sentence). An example: Teenagers with autism in the Netherlands.

The headlines in your paper will then look like this:

Methodology Used (level 1)

Study Participants (level 2)

Children and teenagers. Body text starts here (Level 3)

Adults. Body text starts here (Level 3)

Results (level 1)

Recognizing emotions (level 2)

Experiment 1. Body text starts here (level 3)

Children without autism. Body text starts here (level 4)

Children with autism. Body text starts here (level 4)

Asperger. Body text starts here (level 5)

PDD NOS. Body text starts here (level 5)

Experiment 2. Body text starts here (level 3)

Recognizing body language (level 2)

Using Word’s “Styles” feature will allow you to specify what level applies to each heading, which makes it easy to then automatically create a table of contents.


The APA allows authors to use bullets to organize information and present key ideas in the main body of their document. Sometimes it’s important to number a list – for instance, when a particular hierarchy or sequence needs to be conveyed. The following is an example of a numbered list.

Each workshop was run in the same manner:

  1. Welcome by the moderator
  2. Introduction to the topic
  3. Discussion in small groups
  4. Small group presentations to the larger group
  5. Wrap-up

In other circumstances, you can just use bullet points. The following is an example of a bulleted list.

The participants identified a number of possible ways to increase attendance, including:

  • Creating a website to promote the event;
  • Identifying new commercial partners;
  • Submitting a press release to local media outlets; and
  • Distributing flyers at cafes and restaurants in the area.

It is also okay to include citations for different bullet points, as shown below.

Several studies have shown that developing an app has many benefits, including:

  • The possibility to use new technology helps to attract younger clients (Yang, 2006);
  • Recurring advertising outlays can be decreased (Jabbar, Smith, Le Breton, & Shah, 1999); and
  • Customers are more likely to access their accounts more frequently (Tomassi et al., 2002; Rodriguez, 2005).

If you include a list as part of the running text, you can use lower case. For example:

The goals of this study were to identify a) the extent to which consumers buy organic apples in Croatia, b) the factors that most influence these decisions to buy organic or regular apples, and c) what Croatian organic farmers can do to improve their sales in the domestic market.

Formatting the reference list

When compiling a reference list, it’s important to take the specific requirements for each type of source into account. The list should be compiled alphabetically by author name.

More information about formatting your reference list

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