How to Format a Research Paper Correctly

College students can format research papers correctly by learning the different parts of a research paper and following these simple guidelines.

When it comes to formatting requirements, although occasionally an instructor might give specific instructions that differ from the norm, most instructors have similar expectations, so if you follow the guidelines below, you will be assured of submitting papers that are formatted correctly. That said, however, you should always ask for clarification if there is any uncertainty regarding a particular instructors requirements.

The Different Parts of a Research Paper

There are several parts to a research paper, some standard, others optional, including the following:

  • Title or cover page: The information required on the title or cover page sometimes varies from institution to institution or even class to class; usually, however, it includes the title of the paper, your name, the name of the class, your instructors name, and the date; and this information is centered on the top half of the page, not the exact center.
  • Abstract: An abstract is a brief summary, normally around 100 words, of your subject, research methods, findings, and conclusions (Aaron, 2001). Abstracts, though, are not always required, so check with your instructors regarding their expectations.
  • Body of the paper: This section contains your thoughts, findings, arguments, suppositions, interpretations, etc. It should begin with an introduction that provides a thesis statement and lets the reader know the topic of the paper and the main points you intend to make. It should also provide a conclusion that restates the thesis statement, albeit in other words, and summarizes the main points.
  • References or works-cited page: In APA, the list of references is called the reference page, in MLA, the works-cited page. Regardless of which formatting method you are using, though, this page should provide full bibliographical information about all utilized sources. Moreover, for every source listed on this page, there should be at least one corresponding internal citation within the paper, either in the form of a direct reference or a parenthetical citation. And please note: Do not list any sources that you did not actually use in writing the paper, regardless of how many you might have read.

Basic Formatting Requirements for a College Research Paper

Before submitting a paper, prepare the final copy on a good quality standard 8-by-11-inch paper of a common weight and thickness, for example, 16-20 pound bond paper (Barnwell & Dees, 1999). Moreover, use a font style and size that are readable, and in both APA and MLA, the only acceptable font styles are Times New Roman, Arial, and Courier, while the only acceptable font size is 12-point, except in certain rare circumstances explained in the APA and MLA manuals. Finally, use only black ink, not blue, purple, or, heaven forbid, chartreuse, and make certain the printed copy is legible, not smeared or the text so light as to be unreadable.

How to Format Margins on Research Papers

Unless a paper is intended to be bound, in which case the left margin should be 1-inch, margins should be 1-inch on both sides and at the top and bottom of all pages. Additionally, text in the body of the paper, other than the papers title on the first page, which is centered, should be aligned left, not justified or aligned right.

How to Format Page Numbers on Research Papers

Number all pages, beginning with the tile or cover page, which is page one. Whats more, page numbers should be inserted into the header, along with a shortened form (two to three words) of the papers title. For example, if the title of your paper is An Examination of T. S. Eliots Wasteland, you might use Eliots Wasteland in the header.

How to Format a Reference or Works Cited Page

According to John Langan, author of English Skills (2001), students should keep these guidelines in mind when formatting a list of utilized sources:

  • Organize all entries alphabetically according to the authors last names, and if no author is provided, alphabetize that entry by title.
  • Double-space all text with no extra spacing between entries.
  • After the first line of an entry, indent any subsequent lines five spaces (Use the TAB key).

Additional Formatting Guidelines for College Papers

Some other guidelines to keep in mind when formatting college papers are these:

  • Double-space the entire paper with no extra spacing between paragraphs.
  • Block quotes of 40 or more words and indent them ten spaces.
  • When citing a quotation from a source to which the author refers, use the abbreviation qtd. in the parenthetical citation, for example: According to Dr. Mason Brown, professor of humanities at Bowling Green * University, The study of the arts is imperative for the development of a civilized populace (qtd. in Fiedler, 2002, p. 23).
  • If you use more than one work by the same author, include an abbreviated version of the title within the parenthetical citation, for example: (Smith, Musings, 2008).
  • Place a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence it is referencing and before the period, not after it. However, when using only one source for all information contained within an entire paragraph, place the parenthetical citation after the period in the final sentence, not before it. Note: A parenthetical citation is one enclosed in parentheses.
  • Leave only one space after all punctuation, including commas, colons, semicolons, and periods.
  • Use an ellipsis mark (spaced periods) to indicate omitted words, phrases, sentences in a direct quote. Use three periods to indicate an omission within a sentence and four periods to indicate an omission between sentences.
  • Include headings (in APA) to identify each section of the paper. Main headings are level one, subheadings are level two, and sub-subheadings are level three.
  • On the cover page, include a running head only if the paper is intended for publication. The running head should not exceed 50 characters, should be in all capital letters, and should be positioned flush left below the header (Aaron, 2001).

In summary, all students can learn to format research papers correctly as long as theyre willing to make the effort, and if they are willing, in the end that effort will pay off in the form of higher grades.

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