What Is A Running Head?

There are various formatting styles that your professors will require you to apply to your college papers, from MLA to Chicago, Turabian, APA, and more. When you write reports or other social science papers, you will use the APA format, developed by the American Psychological Association. One seemingly small formatting guideline set forth by the APA that can cause some confusion is the running head.

What is the running head?

If you arenΓÇÖt familiar with this header, itΓÇÖs a shortened version of the title of your paper that appears at the top of every page along with a page number. It helps to identify and organize the proper order of your paper and will assist the reviewer if youΓÇÖre submitting your paper for a blind review.

Shortening a title can seem like a simple task, especially in an age when the truncated text on Twitter has become a common language for many college students. However, itΓÇÖs also an opportunity for losing points on your paper due to formatting errors or weak word choices for your header.

How do you write a great running head?

ItΓÇÖs likely that the title of most of your papers will be more than the 50-character limit for a running headset by the APA. If your title is less than the limit, you will include the full title in the header. If it exceeds the limit, make sure you choose words that best summarize the primary focus of your paper.

For example, letΓÇÖs say youΓÇÖre writing a paper titled, ΓÇ£Contributions to the Research and Development in Clinical Nursing Practice.ΓÇ¥ This has a total of 74 characters. So how would you shorten its length and still make it relevant? One possible suggestion could be ΓÇ£CONTRIBUTIONS TO DEVELOPMENT OF CLINICAL NURSING.ΓÇ¥ At 48 characters, it falls within the acceptable APA limits while providing a synopsis of the focus of your paper. But donΓÇÖt feel like you have to use as many characters as allowed. Two or three words is satisfactory, so in the above example, ΓÇ£CONTRIBUTIONS TO CLINICAL NURSINGΓÇ¥ is sufficient.

Formatting Software

Even though you now have an understanding of what a running head is and how to condense it, you still need to verify that you adhere to the formatting guidelines for proper spacing, justification, capitalization, and so forth. You could manually edit your paper and double-check it to make sure that it meets the latest APA formatting standards. However, this can take quite a bit of extra time. Would you rather spend your time formatting your paper or focusing on the quality of your content?

Your other option is to make a small investment in a big time-saver and point-saver by using formatting software. Not only will the software guarantee that your headers are correctly formatted, but it will format other aspects of your paper, including citations, footers, tables, and other references.

For more information about APA or MLA formats, contact us today.


David Plaut is the founder of Reference Point Software (RPS). RPS offers a complete suite of easy-to-use formatting template products featuring MLA and APA style templates, freeing up time to focus on substance while ensuring formatting accuracy. 

Reference Point Software is not associated with, endorsed by, or affiliated with the American Psychological Association (APA) or with the Modern Language Association (MLA).

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