How to Format a Research Paper

The work that goes into publishing a research paper spans across multiple requirements. Together with producing sound research material being an intellectual challenge in itself, the detailed and strict citation and formatting guidelines also needs to be taken into consideration by writers.

Writers and academics need to be privy towards the list of formatting requirements that abide by professional research paper publication standards. These includes elements such as font size, line-spacing, page numbering, titling, font or typeface, headers, foot noted, endnotes, cover page, contents page, appendix, bibliography and resources, and so on.

Why is Formatting Important?

Adhering to formatting guidelines has multiple purposes. First and foremost, it reflects a standard of professionalism, and compels readers to take your work seriously; for academics and scholars publishing articles and research papers for other academics in the field and for students to use in their research and school material, and for students for submission and school requirements. These works are also a part of the knowledge contribution to academic and research fields, making it vital that they follow a quality and standard guideline.

It also reflects that you respect other individuals' work and that you hold them in high regard. This is especially prevalent if time is taken to properly credit other writers and their work in your references or bibliography sections. This in turn also helps your readers find more material through your work if they wish to read more.

Producing a research paper may be tedious, but it does not need to be burdensome. Keeping these formatting guidelines in mind while you work on your paper, and after, will aid you in successfully paying attention to the details and producing high quality work.

Types of Formatting

There are a handful of ways you can go about the documentation and formatting of your research papers. These formatting and citation styles have their specific uses and application methods. Amongst all, some of the major formatting styles that are commonly used in academic journals and research papers include the following :

APA - American Psychological Association, a format mostly adhered to for papers on Education, Psychology, and Social Science fields

MLA - Modern Language Association, for the fields of Literature, Arts, and Humanities

AMA - American Medical Association, a formatting guideline that research papers in the field of Biological sciences, and Medicine and Health

Other formatting guidelines that are prevalent outside of academic papers include :

Chicago - Commonly seen in everyday publications such as newspapers and books or novels

Turabian - Universally applied across multiple fields, writing, and publications

How to Format a Research Paper

The two formatting guidelines that are mostly adhered to in research papers for publication purposes are the APA and MLA formats. The following outline some general rules that should be adhered to all research papers, and is not specific to any set of guidelines :

  • Margins

Sufficient margins ensure readability ad organization on your pages. Leave margins of 1 inch or 2.5 cm at the top, bottom, left and right sides of each page. As a rough gauge, a 1″ inch margin is roughly 10 typed spaces.

  • Page and paragraph numbers

Numbering should be done consecutively and consistently throughout your paper. Page numbers are to be placed 1/2 an inch, or 1.25 cm, from the top upper-right hand corner, and flushed to the right margin.

Page numbers are often written in Arabic numerals. Take note to not stylize or precede it with other symbols to your page number, such as hyphens, asterisks, or a period. If you were to follow the MLA guidelines, it requires writers to include their last name right before the page number

  • Line-spacing

Your work should be double-spaced between lines. This ensures readability and flow for your readers.

  • Section Headings

Main sections in your paper should be indicated with clear section headings. Each main section of your paper begins with a heading that is to be capitalized, aligned to the center, and double spaced from lines both above and below it.

  • Sub-headings

Sub-headings are equally as important as your main headings as they add to the organization and clarity of your paper. The first letter of each word in the sub-headings are to be capitalized, with the entirety of the heading justified to the left. You can choose to bold, italicize, or underline these.

  • Title

Your title should effectively and concisely describes the main crux and contents of your paper. Before drafting this, think about some descriptive words that you can strongly associate with the subject matter of your paper. Other academics and readers would most likely come across your work through e-database searches, making crafting your title important. If you have effective and accurate words in your titling, search engines should be able to pick up on this and display them for readers to click on and read.

Your title page should include the following key information :

  • Title of the paper

  • Author’s full name

  • Name of institution with which the author is affiliated, or other institutional affiliations

  • Header (containing the paper title in capitalized letters)

  • Abstract

An effective abstract explains and summarizes the predominant subject matter and aspects of your paper. Some of the things an abstract should have include :

  • Your investigative question

  • The purpose of your investigation

  • Any experimental or research design you may have employed

  • Information on the basic methodology used

  • Key findings : These could be in the form of quantitative results or trends

  • A detailed, but relatively brief summary of your interpretations and conclusions

  • Implications of your results

While your title is a simple, all-encompassing statement about your main investigation or research, the abstract gives you the space to delve into more detail and to elaborate on the main aspects of your paper. Your abstract should not exceed 200 to 300 words. The succinct length allows readers to skim through this section and decide if they would like to continue reading the entire paper.

Embarking on a full-fledged research paper as a student, academic or scholar requires your fullest attention and energy. Apart from the research and writing aspects, these starting guidelines on how to format your paper will guide you through the intricacies of the required formatting , but will also help you to create finished paper that not only reads like it was professionally written – but also looks like it.