It’s about the time when many of you will be heading back to college after the summer, or enrolling for the first time. One of the least enjoyable parts of college is learning the proper format for your papers. It’s a tedious process, and no one really wants to wade through the dry-as-dust pages of the APA or MLA style guides. So, for those of you who inevitably put off this important but insipid aspect of education, we’ve prepared a quick cheat sheet that hits the main points you need to keep in mind when you’re getting your magnum opus ready for printing. Be aware, the advice below is based on the standard requirements for the MLA and APA methods of formatting academic papers; your professors may well have their own idiosyncratic approaches and you’ll lose out if you don’t stick to them. Use what follows as a reminder rather than a strict set of rules.
Applicable to All Styles
Don’t be fancy with either your page layout or font choices. You won’t win praise for elaborate design (unless you’re a design student, naturally). Stick to the following:
- Use white A4 paper.
- Use black ink (no colors).
- Use the Times New Roman typeface or a similar serif.
- Set your font at a size of 12pt.
- Set your margins at 1 inch.
- Use double spacing of the text throughout (this lets graders write between the lines).
MLA or APA?
Most college-level classes will be using either the Modern Language Association (MLA) style or the American Psychological Association (APA) style. If you’re not sure which you should be using, humanities course usually use MLA; social science courses generally use APA.
Unless specifically instructed to, don’t make a separate title page. At the top left of the first page enter your name, your professor’s name, the name of the class, and the date, each on their own line, e.g.
Professor Valerie Dull
29th February 2012
Use your word processor to insert a page number at the top right of every page, including the first page.
Citations are the least fun and most necessary part (a combination all too common) of writing a paper. Be careful when doing your citations, getting them wrong can lead to accusations of plagiarism. MLA uses in-text citations within brackets, with the author surname followed by the page number. For block quotes, indent the quotation and add the citation at the end, e.g.
The practitioner of the ancient art of eristics
must endeavor to obfuscate and obscure all sense
in their pursuit of the unsound but persuasive
When paraphrasing insert the citations at the end of the relevant sentence.
It’s best to do the citations as you’re writing the paper. It’s tempting to put them off to the end, but it can be very frustrating to have to go searching for where your quotes and paraphrases came from some time after you wrote them.
At the end of the paper, you then need to create a bibliographic list of the works you have cited. Different source types require different formats. The list should be alphabetically arranged by the author’s last name.
Dull, Valerie. Using Eristics to get Ahead in Academia.
London: Oxford University Press, 1967.
The format is: Surname, First Names. Title of the Book. Location of Publication, Date of Publication.
Solemn, Frank A. "Obscurantism: A Study in Confusion."
The Journal of Rhetoric. 5.4(1982): 100-167. JSTOR.
Web. 29 Feb. <http://www/thisisntaurl.com/obsturantism>.
The format is: Surname, Given Names. “Capitalized: A Subtitle Would Go Here.” Italicized Title of Periodical. Volume or Date.Issue(N.d.): n.pag. Database. Medium. Accessed. <URL>.
Heliobore, Blanche. "Top 300 Bamboozles." Blog Post.
The Seeds of Doubt.n.p., 6 Feb. 2012. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.
The format is: Surname, Given Names. “Name of the Post, Page, or Resource.” Label. Name of the Website. Publisher, Date Published. Medium. Date Accessed. <URL>.
There is a variety of useful tools online to help with formatting citation list entries.
Unlike MLA, APA-styled papers require a title page that includes the title of the paper, the author’s name, and the name of the institution. Each page of the paper should also have a running page header that includes the paper title to the left and a page number to the right of the page. Use the header function in your word processor to create this. As a general rule, the title should be less than 12 words.
APA papers should contain 4 major sections, including the title page, which is followed by the abstract, the main body, and then the references. The abstract should be on its own page and summarize the paper in a single paragraph of between 150 and 250 words.
APA uses bracketed in-text citations, but they differ slightly from the MLA method. Quotations that mention the name of the author in the-text should be formatted as follows:
According to Mokey (1987), "Radishes are finest
when processed by dozers" (p. 97).
Quotations not preceded by an author name also have to include the name within the brackets like so:
He argued, "It's a very great to thing to leave
one's home and see the world" (Matt, 1988, p. 43).
Longer quotations should be made in a free standing block of text with half-inch margins, and with no quotation marks. Paraphrases follow the same citation style.
As with MLA, APA requires a reference list at the end of the paper. Purdue Owl has an excellent guide to the proper formatting of the entries.