Essay Formatting Survival Guide
Proper formatting of academic papers plays the same important role as proper grammar or vocabulary choice. As the main purpose of an essay is to call to action, persuade or inform someone, proper formatting enables the target audience to understand the message clearly.
Reasons Why It Matters What Your Academic Paper Looks Like
- Adequate formatting ensures your paper is readable. If the paper is properly structured in terms of distinct body paragraphs and logical structure, your readers will comprehend the content of the paper more easily.
- Proper formatting is an indicator that you thoroughly follow paper instructions. It is not enough just to write a paper according to the topic. It is equally as important when you are consistent in the structure, essay layout, indentions, fonts, etc.
- The time you devote to formatting develops your concentration and eye for detail. Formatting is not an easy thing to do: you should be attentive to different formatting styles and their peculiarities as well as pay attention to how different source types are cited or quoted.
- Your formatting skills directly influence your overall impression on professors who read your academic papers. You know that the initial impression is really important, right? Therefore, pay significant attention to formatting papers that you are going to submit for evaluation or present to someone.
Do’s and Don’ts in Formatting Papers
In this section, you will more closely investigate essential rules of formatting and will get more comprehensive understanding how to implement this knowledge on practice. The guide contains some of the core principles of the basic formatting styles, such as MLA, APA, and Chicago, and general tips on how to format the paper is no style was specified.
Margins refer to the empty space surrounding the text of the paper. Children are usually taught that margins refer to little fences that prevent letters-animals from escape J
- Do: leave at least 1-inch margins in your text. In such way, the text of the essay will not seem crammed and you will not need to strain your eyes.
- Don’t: increase the margins just to make your paper seem longer. Your professor will definitely notice it and he/she will not approve such “diligence” of yours. Anyway, your words will be counted – not the way your paper looks like in length.
Known in other words as typeface, font is one of the basic and crucial elements of the paper as it has a direct influence on readability and comprehension of text. Fonts are classified into serif and sans serif.
- Do: Choose a clear and legible font that will make the text readable both as a hard copy and as a soft copy. According to the standards and recommendations of APA, MLA, and Chicago, Times New Roman 12pt is preferred. Among the alternatives of serif fonts are Palatino and Georgia and among sans serif Calibri, Arial, and Helvetica.
- Don’t: use flowery and decorative fonts (yes, yes, yes, here we mean Comic Sans or Bradley Hand). Such fonts will hardly make a good impression on your readers as everything they will pay attention to will be decorations and symbols. Instead of focusing on the paper content, your readers will be distracted by the font. Therefore, use your creativity in areas not related to paper formatting.
Indention of Paragraphs
To ensure better comprehension of the text, it is important to provide indentions. Besides ensuring readability, it also breaks the text into logical parts. There are two ways how you can break the paper into paragraphs or sections: 1) indent the first line of each new paragraph or 2) align the text to the left and leave a blank line between the paragraphs. The former option is more preferable and widely used in style guides. The latter became obsolete over the recent years.
- Do: always indent body paragraphs unless you have any other paper formatting requirements. As a standard, the indention should be 0,5 inch (which equals to approximately five or seven spaces).
- Don’t: use a mixture of styles in one papers: if you have a space between paragraphs, then there is no need to add indentions.
This is the space you leave between the lines of text. If you use single-spaced format, it means that there is no free space between the lines (which often makes it hard to read the text and makes your eyes strained and tired), whereas double-spaced writing ensures there is one full space between the lines.
- Do: provide double-space unless you have any other requirements and recommendations. It will make your paper more legible and easier to comprehend. Besides, there will be enough space for any corrections or comments that your professor will want to make.
- Don’t: provide additional spaces between the lines if the paper is already double-spaced. There will be too much unnecessarily blank space.
You justify the text in relation to the margins. For example, if you left-justify the essay, you align the text to the left side, while when you right-justify it, the text aligns with the right margin. If the text is justified, it is level between the left and the right margins.
- Do: align the text to the left side unless you have any other specific instructions.
- Don’t: fully justify the text unless you are recommended to do so.
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