Chapter 4. Format for a Research Paper

1. Paper

Use clean, good quality 8 1/2" x 11" white paper, one side only.

2. Margins

Leave margins of your essay 1" (2.5 cm) at the top, bottom, left and right sides of each and every page. 1" is about 10 typed spaces.  Exception is made for page numbers which are placed 1/2" (1.25 cm) from the top upper-right hand corner, flushed to the right margin.

3. Title Page

A title page is not essential for a research paper unless specifically requested by your teacher. The MLA Handbook provides a general guideline on writing a research paper and documenting sources. In case of conflict, you should always follow guidelines set down by your teacher.

If you don't have a title page, you may begin 1" from the top of the first page of your essay and start typing your name flush against the left margin. Then under your name, on separate lines, double-spaced, and flush against the left margin, type your teacher's name, your course code, and the date.

If your teacher prefers that the first page of your essay not be numbered, you will begin numbering with page 2.

Double-space after the date. On a new line, center the title of your essay. If you have a long title, double-space between lines of the title.

Example:

Jones 1

Tracy Jones

Ms. K. Smith

NRW-3A1-01

16 January 2006

 

Gun Control: Pros and Cons

Do not type your title all in capital letters. Do not put quotations marks before and after the title. Do not underline the title, or put a period at the end of the title. Proper names of people and places as well as important words are capitalized in the title, but prepositions and conjunctions are normally shown in lower case letters, e.g. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The same rule applies to headings and subheadings as well.

Follow the same capitalization rules for acronyms as you normally would in writing the text of the essay, e.g. FBI would be all in capitals as it is the acronym for Federal Bureau of Investigations. When using an acronym, especially an uncommon one, you must indicate what the letters stand for at the first occurrence in your essay. Example: The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is nearly finished converting from using standard desktop PCs to blade PCs.

If a Title Page is a requirement for your assignment, begin on a new page. Use a format preferred by your teacher. Otherwise, center each line and double-space every line on a blank page: name of school (optional), title of paper in upper and lower case, course code, course name (optional), teacher's name, your first and last name, and date.

Your separate title page should appear as follows:

Gun Control: Pros and Cons

NRW-3A1-01

Ms. K. Smith

Tracy Jones

16 January 2006

The following example shows what NOT to do for a title page:

TITLE OF ESSAY: “GUN CONTROL: PROS AND CONS”

COURSE CODE: “NRW-3A1-01”

TO MY TEACHER: “MS. KATIE ELIZABETH SMITH”

FROM YOUR STUDENT: “TRACY MARIA CHRISTINA CARMELA JONES”

ASSIGNMENT DUE DATE: “MONDAY, JANUARY THE SIXTEENTH, IN THE YEAR 2006”

It is not necessary to describe or explain the title page by adding the words: Title, Course Code, To, From, or Due Date. More is not better. Minimal information providing simple identification is adequate.

4. Numbering Pages and Paragraphs

Number your pages consecutively throughout the essay in the upper right hand corner, flush with the right margin and 1/2" from the top. The MLA Handbook recommends that you type your last name just before the page number in case the pages get misplaced (134). On page 4 of your essay, for example, your top right-hand corner should show: Jones 4

Page numbers must be written in Arabic numerals. Do not add anything fancy to decorate a page number. Do not underline it, enclose it between hyphens, parentheses, asterisks, or precede it with "Page", "Pg.", "P.", or add a period after the number. In other words, DO NOT use any of the following:

PAGE 4, Page 4, Pg. 4, P 4, pg. 4, p. 4, #4, ~ 4 ~, - 4 -, * 4*, (4), “4”, 4, or 4.

Simply write: 4

Remember, there is no period after the page number.

[1] If you are submitting your essay to your teacher via e-mail, he or she may prefer that you number all your paragraphs consecutively with reference points by adding [1] at the beginning of your 1st paragraph, [2] before your 2nd paragraph, and so forth. Electronic submission of documents is becoming more common as e-mail is being used widely. This system will facilitate the citation of sources by identifying a specific paragraph for reference very quickly.

5. Spacing Between Lines

Whether your essay is handwritten, typed or printed, the entire essay should be double-spaced between lines along with 1" margin on all sides for your teacher to write comments.

   Spacing Between Words

In general, leave one space between words and one space after every comma, semi-colon, or colon. Traditionally, two spaces are required at the end of every sentence whether the sentence ends with a period, a question mark, or an exclamation mark. Although it is not wrong to leave two spaces after a period, it is quite acceptable nowadays to leave only one space after each punctuation. However, NO space should be left in front of a punctuation mark; for example, the following would be incorrect: op  .  cit   . or   "Why me   ?   "

For details on how to place tables, illustrations, figures, musical notations, labels, captions, etc. in your essay, please see the MLA Handbook (134-137).

6. Indentation

If a handwritten essay is acceptable to your teacher, remember to double-space all lines, and begin each paragraph with an indentation of 1" from the left margin. Use the width of your thumb as a rough guide.

If you are using a typewriter or word processor on a computer, indent 5 spaces or 1/2" at the beginning of each paragraph. Indent set-off quotations 10 spaces or 1" from the left margin.

Your instructor may give you a choice to indent or not to indent your paragraphs. Whichever one you choose to use, you must be consistent throughout your essay.

If you are NOT indenting, you will start each paragraph flush to the left margin. It is essential that you double-space between lines and quadruple-space between paragraphs. When paragraphs are not indented, it is difficult for a reader to see where a new paragraph begins, hence quadruple-space is called for between paragraphs. Set-off quotations should still be indented 10 spaces or 1" from the left margin.

7. Right Justify and Automatic Hyphens:

Do not right justify your entire essay and do not automatically format hyphens if you are using a word processor to type your essay. Left justify or justify your essay and type in the hyphens yourself where needed. Left justification is preferred as it will not leave big gaps between words.

8. Titles of Books, Magazines, Newspapers, or Journals

When used within the text of your paper, titles of all full-length works such as novels, plays, books, should be underlined, e.g. Shakespeare's Theater.

Put in quotation marks titles of shorter works, such as newspaper, journal, and magazine articles, chapters of books, or essays, e.g.: "Giving Back to the Earth: Western Helps Make a Difference in India."

For all title citations, every word, except articles ("a", "an", "the"), prepositions (such as "in", "on", "under", "over"), and conjunctions (such as "and", "because", "but", "however"), should be capitalized, unless they occur at the beginning of the title or subtitle, e.g.: "And Now for Something Completely Different: A Hedgehog Hospital."

Look it up in a dictionary whenever you are not sure whether a word is being used as a preposition, a conjunction, a noun, a verb, or an adverb. The word "near", for instance, may be an adverb, an adjective, a verb, or a preposition depending on the context in which it is used.

For complicated details on how to cite titles and quotations within titles, sacred texts, shortened titles, exceptions to the rule, etc. please consult the MLA Handbook (102-109).

9. Writing an Essay All in Capital Letters:

DO NOT WRITE OR TYPE EVERYTHING ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS EVEN THOUGH THIS SAVES YOU TIME AND EFFORT NOT TO HAVE TO USE THE SHIFT KEY REPEATEDLY OR TO HAVE TO FIGURE OUT WHEN OR WHEN NOT TO USE CAPITAL LETTERS.SOME PEOPLE WRITE EVERYTHING IN CAPITAL LETTERS BECAUSE THEY HAD NEVER LEARNED TO WRITE SENTENCES IN UPPER AND LOWER-CASE LETTERS PROPERLY WHEN THEY WERE IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.OTHER PEOPLE WRITE ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS BECAUSE THEY WANT TO MAKE WHAT THEY WRITE APPEAR IMPORTANT.READING A PAPER ALL WRITTEN IN CAPITAL LETTERS,ESPECIALLY ONE WITHOUT SPACES AFTER PUNCTUATION MARKS,SLOWS DOWN READING SPEED AND MAY EVEN REDUCE READER COMPREHENSION,BESIDES BEING EXTREMELY ANNOYING TO THE READER.REMEMBER THAT THE PURPOSE OF WRITING ANYTHING IS TO COMMUNICATE.MOST OF US ARE NOT CONDITIONED TO READ ALL TEXT IN CAPITAL LETTERS.WORD PROCESSORS ALSO TREAT WORDS STUCK TOGETHER WITHOUT SPACES AS SINGLE WORDS CAUSING OTHER PROBLEMS.

10. Table of Contents

A short essay or research paper requires no Table of Contents.

If your written report or research paper is extremely long, it may be helpful to include a Table of Contents showing the page number where each section begins.

For those writing a lengthy document, i.e. a book, here is the suggested order for placing items in a Table of Contents:

Acknowledgements, Foreword, Introduction, Body (Parts I, II, III), Summary or Conclusion, Afterword, Explanatory Notes, Appendices, Contact Organizations, Glossary, Endnotes (if not using Footnotes or Parenthetical citations), Bibliography, Index.

A less involved Table of Contents may include simply the following sections: Introduction, Body (use main section headings), Conclusion (or Summary), Works Cited (or References), along with the corresponding page number where each section begins.

Example:

CONTENTS

Introduction ...........................................................................  1

Government ...........................................................................  3

Economy .................................................................................  6

Arts and Entertainment ........................................................ 10

Conclusion ............................................................................. 14

Works Cited .......................................................................... 15

11. End of Essay

No special word, phrase or fancy symbol is needed to mark the end of your essay. A period at the end of your last sentence is all that is needed.

12. Keeping Essay Together

Sheets of paper should be stapled at the upper left-hand corner. Use a paper clip if no stapler is available. Do not use a pin or fold the paper. Unless specifically requested by your teacher, do not hand in your paper in a folder, a binder, a plastic jacket, rolled up with an elastic band around it, or tied with a ribbon or a string. Do not spray perfume or cologne on your paper or use scented paper. And NEVER hand in your research or term paper in loose sheets even if the sheets are numbered and neatly placed in an envelope or folder.

The condition of the paper you hand in is an indication of the respect you have for yourself and the respect you have for your teacher. Before handing in your paper, ask yourself, "Is this the VERY BEST that I can do?"