What is a running head?

A running head is a short title, no more than 50 characters, that appears in the header on each page of an APA Style paper. It serves a few purposes:

  • It highlights at a glance the key idea or content under discussion.
  • It identifies the manuscript while also hiding the author’s identity, which is important during peer review of journal articles.
  • If a printed copy gets mixed in with other documents, then the reader can use the running head to identify the manuscript.

Five do’s and don’ts

Follow our five do’s and don’ts when creating your APA Style running head:

1. Do position it flush left in the header—all the way to the left margin. The page numbers go flush right. (Check out our related post on how to add page numbers.)

2. Do TYPE IT IN UPPERCASE LIKE THIS. Shout out your awesome research to the world!

3. Don’t let your running head exceed 50 characters, including spaces.


The uppercase text above totals 44 characters, so that gives you an idea of how long it can be. Exceeding the character limit is one of the most common mistakes we see with running heads.

Later in this post we show you how to count characters to be sure you’re within the limit.

4. Do repeat your entire title if it’s short enough. You don’t need to shorten it more.

5. Don’t just use the first few words of your title by default. The first few words often work well, but not always. Pick the best words to communicate your key idea.

Consider this title: “‘What, Me Worry?’ The Cultural Legacy of Alfred E. Neuman.” We could use the quippy first three words, but “THE CULTURAL LEGACY OF ALFRED E. NEUMAN,” although less original, provides more information.

The title “Do Traffic Calming Measures Have an Impact on Residential Burglary?” doesn’t pack much punch when reduced to the first few words: “DO TRAFFIC CALMING MEASURES HAVE AN IMPACT.”

Thus, a better choice might be, “IMPACT OF TRAFFIC CALMING MEASURES ON BURGLARY.” Focus on conveying the heart of your research, not presenting words in the same order as the title.

How to insert a running head in MS Word

In the APA 6 guidelines, the trickiest bit about inserting a running head is that the words “Running head:” precede it on the first page it appears—and only on that page.

This guideline has been simplified in APA 7. In APA 7, the same text appears on every page of the manuscript. As a result, no label is needed on the first page.

Follow our steps to get it right!

1. In your paper, double click near the top of the page to open the header. The cursor will move into it automatically. This action also opens the Header & Footer Tools Tab.

If you are using APA 6, be sure Different First Page is selected:

Header and Footer Tools Tab

If you are using APA 7, you will not need a different first page unless there’s a special consideration for the title page, such as not needing a page number. (See our post on page numbers for details.) Jump down to #4 below.

On page 1, type “Running head:” (note the colon!) followed by your shortened title in all caps. You want the text to be positioned on the left side of the page. If the title of your paper was “Editarians Resources as a Pathway to Nirvana,” your running head on the first page would look like this:

Example of APA 6 Running Head
  1. In the Header & Footer Tools Tab, click Next to jump to the header on page 2.
Jump to Next Header or Footer
  1. On this page, type the shortened title in all caps without “Running head:” preceding it, like this:
Example of Running Head

Hey, APA 7 peeps! This is what your running head should look like on every page, no exceptions.

5. Keep the formatting like this on every page of the paper, including the references and appendices.

You can exit the header by clicking the Close icon in the Header & Footer Tools Tab or by double clicking in the file anywhere outside the header.

Follow our five do's and don'ts when creating your APA Style running head. Share on X

How to check character count in MS Word

Curious to know how to check your character count to be sure you have not exceeded the 50-character limit?

  1. Using your cursor, select the text of your running head. On the Review Tab, click on the Word Count icon:
Word Count Icon in MS Word Ribbon
  1. A dialogue box will pop up. Look for the line showing Characters (with spaces).
Show Characters with Spaces

3. If the number is 50 or less, you are golden. If not, you will have to condense your text so that it falls within the character limit.

4. Click Close to exit. Your running head should now be … up and running. (Aren’t we punny?)


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