Some journals or style guides require papers to have a running head. A running head is a short version of the paper title that is printed as a heading at the top of each page. If your document includes page numbers at the top, the running head can precede the page number or appear on the opposite edge of the page. In APA style, the running head is placed in the upper left.
The publisher often requests running heads for practical reasons. It is desirable to have every page clearly labeled as being part of the paper. If your paper is printed as a hard copy and the various pages fall to the floor or are mixed up, having a running head and page number on each page helps the reader to put all the pages back in the correct order. Even readers who are viewing an electronic version of the paper may appreciate the clear labels, especially if they are sorting through many documents simultaneously.
What are the requirements?
The specific requirements for running heads vary. In general, running heads should be brief. APA guidelines require that running heads be a maximum of 50 characters (spaces count as characters).
The running head is usually written in all capital letters. (For style purposes, the examples in this article use regular title case.)
It is placed in a header at the top of the page. Check the journal or style guidelines for any specifics on margins, spacing, or font.
Related: Ready with your running head and looking forward to manuscript submission? Check these journal selection guidelines now!
In APA, the running head is introduced on the first page by the phrase “Running head” and a colon, i.e., in the following format: “Running head: SHORT VERSION OF TITLE.” Subsequent pages have only the running head itself. In other formatting styles, the running head may be introduced in this way as part of the information that appears on the title page.
How do I write one?
If your paper title is already within the character limit, simply use the full title as the running head—no special changes are needed. However, if your paper title is over the limit, then you need to create a distinct running head that fits within the style guidelines.
First, identify the main part of your title. For example, if the paper is called “The Effects of Running on Heart Health in Elderly Patients,” consider using only the first part, “Effects of Running on Heart Health,” or the second part, “Heart Health in Elderly Patients.” Make the choice based on which ideas and concepts are most prominent in the paper.
If it does not make sense to take part of the title to serve as the running head, try making a few tweaks or even paraphrasing the title entirely. For instance, with the title mentioned above, the running head could be “Running and Heart Health in Elderly Patients.”
Second, eliminate articles such as the words “the” and “a.” The title “Re-examining the Literary Traditions in Ancient China” can be shortened to “Re-examining Literary Traditions in Ancient China.” In this case, simply removing the word “the” from the title creates a running head that fits within the APA’s 50-character limit.
Practical tips for writing running heads in Microsoft Word
How to get a character count?
If you are typing your paper in Microsoft Word, use the “Word Count” function to count characters: To do this, highlight the running head and then go to the Review menu and click on “Word Count.” The results box will show the number of “Characters (no spaces)” and “Characters (with spaces).” Read the journal or style guidelines carefully to know which number you should look at. In APA, it is the second option that is relevant, as spaces are counted as characters.
How to add the running head as a header on each page?
Create a header by going to Insert and selecting “Header” under “Header & Footer.” A header will be created at the top of each page. Modifying the header on any page changes it on every page. If you wish to have the phrase “Running head” appear on only the first page, as required in APA style, check the option “Different first page” that appears under the Design menu when the header is inserted or edited. Checking this option allows you to edit the header on the first page independently while maintaining the headers on the second, third, and all other pages as the same.
Hume-Pratuch, Jeff. May 10, 2012. “Mysteries of the Running Head Explained.” American Psychological Association website. http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/running-heads/ (access March 13, 2017)
Lee, Chelsea. Nov. 11, 2010. “Running Head Format for APA Style Papers.” American Psychological Association website. http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2010/11/running-head-format-for-apa-style-papers-.html (access March 13, 2017)
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If your instructor has specific requirements for the format of your research paper, check them before preparing your final draft. When you submit your paper, be sure to keep a secure copy.
The most common formatting is presented in the sections below:
Except for the running head (see below), leave margins of one inch at the top and bottom and on both sides of the text. If you plan to submit a printout on paper larger than 8½ by 11 inches, do not print the text in an area greater than 6½ by 9 inches.
Always choose an easily readable typeface (e.g., Times New Roman) in which the regular type style contrasts clearly with the italic, and set it to a standard size (e.g., 12 points). Do not justify the lines of text at the right margin; turn off any automatic hyphenation feature in your writing program. Double-space the entire research paper, including quotations, notes, and the list of works cited. Indent the first line of a paragraph half an inch from the left margin. Indent set-off quotations half an inch as well (for examples, see 76–80 in the MLA Handbook). Leave one space after a period or other concluding punctuation mark, unless your instructor prefers two spaces.
Heading and Title
Beginning one inch from the top of the first page and flush with the left margin, type your name, your instructor’s name, the course number, and the date on separate lines, double-spacing the lines. On a new, double-spaced line, center the title (fig. 1). Do not italicize or underline your title, put it in quotation marks or boldface, or type it in all capital letters. Follow the rules for capitalization in the MLA Handbook (67–68), and italicize only the words that you would italicize in the text.
Do not use a period after your title or after any heading in the paper (e.g., Works Cited). Begin your text on a new, double-spaced line after the title, indenting the first line of the paragraph half an inch from the left margin.
A research paper does not normally need a title page, but if the paper is a group project, create a title page and list all the authors on it instead of in the header on page 1 of your essay. If your teacher requires a title page in lieu of or in addition to the header, format it according to the instructions you are given.
Running Head with Page Numbers
Number all pages consecutively throughout the research paper in the upper right-hand corner, half an inch from the top and flush with the right margin. Type your last name, followed by a space, before the page number (fig. 2). Do not use the abbreviation p. before the page number or add a period, a hyphen, or any other mark or symbol. Your writing program will probably allow you to create a running head of this kind that appears automatically on every page. Some teachers prefer that no running head appear on the first page. Follow your teacher’s preference.
Placement of the List of Works Cited
The list of works cited appears at the end of the paper, after any endnotes. Begin the list on a new page. The list contains the same running head as the main text. The page numbering in the running head continues uninterrupted throughout. For example, if the text of your research paper (including any endnotes) ends on page 10, the works-cited list begins on page 11. Center the title, Works Cited, an inch from the top of the page (fig. 3). (If the list contains only one entry, make the heading Work Cited.) Double-space between the title and the first entry. Begin each entry flush with the left margin; if an entry runs more than one line, indent the subsequent line or lines half an inch from the left margin. This format is sometimes called hanging indention, and you can set your writing program to create it automatically for a group of paragraphs. Hanging indention makes alphabetical lists easier to use. Double-space the entire list. Continue it on as many pages as necessary.
Tables and Illustrations
Place tables and illustrations as close as possible to the parts of the text to which they relate. A table is usually labeled Table, given an arabic numeral, and titled. Type both label and title flush left on separate lines above the table, and capitalize them as titles (do not use all capital letters). Give the source of the table and any notes immediately below the table in a caption. To avoid confusion between notes to the text and notes to the table, designate notes to the table with lowercase letters rather than with numerals. Double-space throughout; use dividing lines as needed (fig. 4).
Any other type of illustrative visual material—for example, a photograph, map, line drawing, graph, or chart—should be labeled Figure (usually abbreviated Fig.), assigned an arabic numeral, and given a caption: “Fig. 1. Mary Cassatt, Mother and Child, Wichita Art Museum.” A label and caption ordinarily appear directly below the illustration and have the same one-inch margins as the text of the paper (fig. 5). If the caption of a table or illustration provides complete information about the source and the source is not cited in the text, no entry for the source in the works-cited list is necessary.
Musical illustrations are labeled Example (usually abbreviated Ex.), assigned an arabic numeral, and given a caption: “Ex. 1. Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 6 in B, opus 74 (Pathétique), finale.” A label and caption ordinarily appear directly below the example and have the same one-inch margins as the text of the paper (fig. 6).
Paper and Printing
If you print your paper, use only white, 8½-by-11-inch paper of good quality. If you lack 8½-by-11-inch paper, choose the closest size available. Use a high-quality printer. Some instructors prefer papers printed on a single side because they’re easier to read, but others allow printing on both sides as a means of conserving paper; follow your instructor’s preference.
Corrections and Insertions on Printouts
Proofread and correct your research paper carefully before submitting it. If you are checking a printout and find a mistake, reopen the document, make the appropriate revisions, and reprint the corrected page or pages. Be sure to save the changed file. Spelling checkers and usage checkers are helpful when used with caution. They do not find all errors and sometimes label correct material as erroneous. If your instructor permits corrections on the printout, write them neatly and legibly in ink directly above the lines involved, using carets (⁁) to indicate where they go. Do not use the margins or write a change below the line it affects. If corrections on any page are numerous or substantial, revise your document and reprint the page.
Binding a Printed Paper
Pages of a printed research paper may get misplaced or lost if they are left unattached or merely folded down at a corner. Although a plastic folder or some other kind of binder may seem an attractive finishing touch, most instructors find such devices a nuisance in reading and commenting on students’ work. Many prefer that a paper be secured with a simple paper or binder clip, which can be easily removed and restored. Others prefer the use of staples.
There are at present no commonly accepted standards for the electronic submission of research papers. If you are asked to submit your paper electronically, obtain from your teacher guidelines for formatting, mode of submission (e.g., by e-mail, on a Web site), and so forth and follow them closely.
Designed to be printed out and used in the classroom. From the MLA Handbook, 8th ed., published by the Modern Language Association.