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Writing is fun for some, torment for others… Why does this happen so? The problem mostly arises for those who don’t know the ways of proper text organization, paper formatting, and evidence search. But don’t fall in despair! These skills may be trained and acquired, and any person has a chance for strong writing skills’ development, no matter how poor a writer you are now. Covering all writing skills is definitely not within the scope of this article – even a book will be not enough to embrace all writing intricacies. However, paper formatting is what you can master quickly and without extra trouble – read on to learn the bits and bolts of this writing aspect.

Why is Paper Formatting Important?

Imagine a situation – you are buying a pack of chips and open it, but don’t see chips there. Instead, there are rice balls, or an apple, or anything else but not chips. Will you be surprised? Sure you will! The same is about formatting. Your tutor, when giving you an assignment for a 3-page essay in an MLA format, is definitely expecting to see something concrete. It is probably a paper with a proper header, a title, then goes the text – double-spaced, with 1-inch margins on all sides of the page… But what if he gets something different? If you have a wrongly formatted title page, the title of the paper is not centered, the text is single-spaced and margins are less or larger than 1 inch… This will surely look very strange, and the tutor will note it at once, as he or she is used to a certain appearance of the paper. If it differs, the grade for the paper (and overall impression from your text) will be irreversibly spoilt.

In fact, formatting of the paper should never be neglected as it is graded as 10-20% of the paper’s mark. If you spend hours reading materials in a library or online, then put all your talent and creativity into writing of that paper, you want to get a good grade, right? In other way, what is all this effort for? However, if formatting is wrong, no matter how brilliant your content is – you will never get an A, and that’s the trouble. So why risk your grade and neglect this vital aspect of writing? Learn some basic formatting skills and minimize your chances for unfairly low grades.

Essentials of Formatting 

Two most popular formats for essays are APA and MLA, so knowing them will already save you from much of the trouble with formatting. Here are the most important facts you should know about correct formatting to apply in your paper:

  • Use the Word processor’s document settings and set all requirements at once, not to forget about them at the end of writing. Here, everything is quite simple: set 1-inch margins on all sides of the page, use the 2.0-line height for text, set the 12-point typeface, select an intelligible font (Times New Roman or Arial are usually the academic standard), and indicate that no extra spacing between paragraphs is needed. This is an ideal page for the MLA (and APA) formats.
  • Create a page header at the top of every page – use the “page header” function in Word (or another program you are using) and add the automatic page numbering. In the MLA format, the page number should be accompanied with your name, while in the APA format, it should follow a short title of the paper (all in caps)).
  • Cite all sources you are using for substantiation of your claims. In the APA format, it should be the author-date system (Johnson, 2009), while in the MLA format, please follow the author-page number system (Johnson 25). These are the basic rules for citing evidence, but different types of sources may be formatted differently (for instance, multiple sources by one author, sources without a date or with an unknown author, etc.). To learn the bits and bolts of proper formatting, you may use the sources of your university or consult a reputable writing consultation source online – OWL Purdue.
  • Make sure to avoid plagiarism by all means. You cannot cite all sources directly, as it will spoil the look of your paper and will cause a reduction of the grade. Use only concepts, ideas, and opinions of the authors but write about them in your own way. This is a major skill for competent, quality writing. But keep in mind that paraphrased material should also be referenced – for the format of references, please check the point above.

Overall Appearance of a Paper

While keeping the aforementioned rules in mind, you will surely raise the quality of your paper and will make it look much better. But what about the general appearance of the paper besides the Word processor properties we already discussed? Here is a simple and effective checklist for you to use before submitting the paper, covering major formatting rules and requirements:

  1. A title page (all papers except for the MLA format require it)
  2. Margins (1-inch, maximum 3 cm all round)
  3. Paragraphs (double-spaced or 1.5-spaced, with a 0.5-inch indentation for each first line of a new paragraph. Long quotes are entirely indented 0.5 inches, without quotation marks)
  4. Pagination (placed on the page header at the top right corner)
  5. Reference page (all works you used and cited should be included and properly formatted on the last page of the essay)
  6. Appendices (if you have any, they should follow the reference page and come the last in the paper)
  7. Proper format of headings (check guidelines of each referencing style for the formatting of headings. They may be bold or italicized, capitalized or not).

As you can see, rules differ and there is no universal list to follow for guaranteed success of a paper. APA, MLA, Harvard, and other referencing styles have their own distinct sets of requirements, but here is the secret: consistency is key! Even if you fail to meet the professor’s format to the point, stick to one style and make all formatting correctly, that will definitely be a plus to your grade.