(I don't know if this question is appropriate here. I'm going to take a chance.)

If you're writing a paper according to the APA (American Psychology Association) standard and you need more than five levels of headings, what is the appropriate way to solve this?

According to the APA manual (Sixth Edition, page 63), there are five levels of headings that you can use. However, there is nothing mentioned about what to do if you need more than this.

  • I do not know if APA is what I think it is, but maybe this link helps you: blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2009/07/… Aug 20, 2011 at 16:05
  • @John Smithers I edited the main text to make it more clear. Yes, that's the APA I'm talking about. The link doesn't give me any more information though.
    – Speldosa
    Aug 20, 2011 at 16:42

4 Answers 4


I am really having a hard time imagining a paper that would need more than five levels, so my first suggestion would be to give a hard look at the structure of your paper to make sure you're presenting the information as clearly as possible. If you've done this and decided that you do need more levels:

The OWL suggests that APA also allows numbered seriation, bullet points, and letters within paragraphs.

If that doesn't work for you, from my own head, I wonder if you could add categories to the other end of the spectrum via chapters, or parts. I know that's not typical for APA papers, but I don't think it's typical to need more than five levels, either!

Alternatively - if you're writing this for school, ask your teacher/prof. If you're writing it for publication, contact the publisher and see what they'd prefer.

Good luck with it!


The link provided by @John Smithers Five Essential Tips for APA Style Headings which is sourced directly from the APA style blog indicates that a student paper or lengthy article might require two or three levels of headings. However, only something on the scale of a dissertation would require use of a fourth or even fifth level heading. The article is dated July 2009, but it pertains to the APA Publication Manual, Sixth Edition, which remains the most current version as of August 2011.

So if you were writing a paper according to the APA guidelines, you should not use more than three levels of headings, unless writing a lengthy research paper or thesis. Only in that instance would five levels be appropriate. There is no need for a sixth or higher heading according to APA guidelines.


Frustrating. Im editing a friends 400+ Page dissertation, and it requires 6, perhaps 7 levels. Older versions of APA style defined more than 5 levels.

I think I will revert to chapter headings using the old ALL CAPS, BOLD, CENTERED, for level 1.... If I have to force another, then the old Upper and Lower Case, Centered, Underlined might be pressed into service for level 4.

Of course, I'm not asserting this is approved practice, but rather contemplate forcing the issue, and banking on the hope that this won't be a problem. This is for submission of final revisions.


APA Style uses a unique headings system to separate and classify paper sections. There are 5 heading levels in APA.

The 6th edition of the APA manual revises and simplifies previous heading guidelines - regardless of the number of levels, always use the headings in order, beginning with level 1.

The format of each level is illustrated below:

APA Headings (level, format)

  • 1 : Centered, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Headings
  • 2 : Left-aligned, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading
  • 3 : Indented, boldface, lowercase heading with a period. Begin body text after the period.
  • 4 : Indented, boldface, italicized, lowercase heading with a period. Begin body text after the period.
  • 5 : Indented, italicized, lowercase heading with a period. Begin body text after the period.

Thus, if the article has four sections, some of which have subsections and some of which don’t, use headings depending on the level of subordination.

Section headings receive level one format. Subsections receive level two format. Subsections of subsections receive level three format. For example:

                    Method (Level 1)

Site of Study (Level 2)

Participant Population (Level 2)

          Teachers. (Level 3)

          Students. (Level 3)

                    Results (Level 1)

Spatial Ability (Level 2)

          Test one. (Level 3)

          Teachers with experience. (Level 4)

          Teachers in training. (Level 4)

          Test two. (Level 3)

Kinesthetic Ability (Level 2)

In APA Style, the Introduction section never gets a heading and headings are not indicated by letters or numbers. Levels of headings will depend upon the length and organization of your paper.

Regardless, always begin with level one headings and proceed to level two, etc.

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