An Easy Guide to APA-Style Headers

If you’re new to APA style, the requirement of a different header text on the first page of the manuscript[1] might seem a bit daunting, at least on a technical level. We can help. Read on for the step-by-step, or click through for the TL;DR

Often, students solve this problem with a lot of manual twiddling of the “just hit enter a bunch and then tab over” variety. While this sometimes comes out looking okay, it makes things a lot more difficult when it comes to revising. Ultimately, this results in teachers seeing a lot of papers where, because of a minor change on page two, every header from page three onward actually shows up on the fifth or sixth line of the paper.

Eww. Nobody wants that. 

Fortunately, talking Microsoft Word into using a different header for the first page of the document isn’t quite as hard as you might expect. There are lots of ways to do this, but this is a fairly easy, step-by-step guide to setting up an APA-style header in Microsoft Word 2010. I’m assuming here that you’ve already started on your paper, and are adding the title page as a last step.

Step 1: The Regular Header

For many of us, this part is familiar. At the beginning of your paper (again, assuming you haven’t added the title page yet–we’ll do that in a bit), click on “Header” under the “Insert” section of the Banner.[2] For APA style, the easiest option to choose is the “Blank (Three Columns)” layout, as it makes it easy to separate your running head from your page number.

Insert → Header → Blank (Three Columns) 

This will give you something that looks more or less like this. You can go ahead and delete the middle box, since APA style doesn’t require anything in the center of your header.

Lo and behold, a header of three columns. 

Type in your running head on the left, and make sure to set your font correctly–whenever you change the header, Word will go back to the default font for its theme, which is probably not the font you’re trying to use. Remember, we’re setting up the header for the paper right now, not the title page, so you just want the actual short title for your paper here.

A Running Head. Sounds a little bit like something from a horror movie, doesnt it? 

Next, click on the box on the right, where your page number should go. In the “Insert” section of the Banner you’ll find a dropdown for “Page Number.” Click “Current Position,” then “Plain Number.” This means to put the current page number wherever you have the cursor right now–which should prevent Word from “helpfully” messing up the rest of the stuff you’re doing in the header. (This will also be in some wacky font, so make sure to clean that bit up too.)

Insert → Page Number → Current Position → Plain Number 

Cool. So at this point, we’ve got a header for our main document that looks about like it should!

So now for that pesky title page.

Step 2: Setting Up the Title Page.

One common problem that people have with title pages is that what feels natural is, again, just hitting Enter a bunch of times. But what we really want is for the beginning of our paper to always be on the beginning of a new page, no matter what we do on the title page.

Most word processors have an easy way to do this, called a Page Break. Click on the very beginning of your document, and click on “Page Break” in the Insert section of the Banner.

As you can see, you can also press Ctrl+Return 

Now you’ve got a shiny new page for your title page. Go ahead and set up your title page.[3]

Step 3: The First Page Header

So the problem now is that the header for your title page looks just like the header for the rest of your document–which is, after all, kind of the point of headers, right? But because APA asks us for a different header on the first page, we have to tell Word that.

If you click on your header on that first page, you’ll get a banner section that says “Design” under “Header & Footer Tools.”

The Design Banner. (Only available when the cursors in the header.) 

Right under that is a checkbox that says “Different First Page.” Go ahead and click it.

Congratulations! Your header has disappeared. Try not to panic.

If you scroll down to page 2, you’ll see that your header is still there, safe and sound, just like you made it. But your first page now has a different header. In fact, you’ll see where the little blue box used to say “Header” on that first page, now it says “First Page Header.”

Oh crap! My header disappeared! 

Type in your first page header (including the “Running head: ” part). Just like before, Word has probably decided that in fact, you really really want to be writing in Calibri 11, no matter what you’ve told it a bazillion times before. Make sure to change it.

On the weekends, Word goes door to door asking people if theyve accepted Calibre into their hearts as their personal typeface. 

Now, hit tab. Your header is automagically set up so that if you hit tab twice (or once if your running head is super long), it’ll take you over to the right margin.

Once you’re there, insert the page number again the same way as above.

Insert → Page Number → Current Position → Plain Number 

And lo! We’re done. Now, no matter what happens to the rest of your paper, your first page header will always be right. Here’s how it looks when all is said and done.

Oooh. Pretty. 


The magic option is “Different First Page” in the Design section of the Banner, which only appears when you’re working in a document’s current Header. Click it, and you can set up a different header for the first page of the document.

Thanks to Bacon Ipsum for being the most flavorful
Greeking generator on the web.

  1. APA style states that, on the title page, the manuscript’s running head should be prefaced with the identifier “Running head: ”. We don’t know why either.  ↩

  2. Called the “Menu” in simpler and saner times.  ↩

  3. A dirty, shameful secret: while there are fancier ways to do it, even I usually just hit Enter a bunch to get the vertical centering right.  ↩

Last Updated: 6/3/2015 11:32 AM