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Formatting Academic Papers

Basic Rules for Formatting Academic Papers

General Review

This document provides information on formatting papers in the Microsoft Word program. If you look it through, you will learn to format your pieces of academic writing according to the established educational rules described in APA and MLA guides. The presented rules are applied to the majority of academic papers submitted in different educational establishments. However, professors may ask you to adhere to specific instructions that may differ from the ones given below. Thus, before you begin preparing your work, make sure that you know what directions to follow.

If you use the imposed formatting rules when carrying out your curricular projects, it means that you are aware of academic standards. On the other hand, if you use some special formatting features that make your work different from the others, it means that you have not been prepared for the university appropriately and you cannot organize your papers in the right way. What can be wrong with extraordinary formatting? It will capture professor’s attention whose reaction may not be a positive one. Such an unusual format may be considered as a way to lengthen your paper.


Rule: academic works that are submitted for grading or review should have 1” margins on all sides. This option should be set as a default one if you work in MS Word. However, if your default settings differ from the indicated ones, you should change them. Remember that 1” margins is an academic requirement that have to be met.

Guidelines: Check the “Format” section, go down to “Document”, alter the margins, and press the Default tab. After that, accept the made changes. Be certain that the gutter set indicates 0”. Otherwise, your formatting will be wrong.


Rule: There should be an automatic indentation for the first line of every paragraph.

Directions: Though this option should be a default one when dealing with Word, the Normal style can be changed. Use the above-mentioned steps. In order to alter the indents of the document “Select All” from the “Edit” unit. Then, choose the “Format” section and move down to “Paragraph”. Check the “Special” drop-down section in the “Indentation” category and pick “First Line”. Thus, the first line in every paragraph will be indented automatically. You will not have to change it manually.


Rule: Academic papers are to be formatted in a standard way, i.e. either in Times New Roman or Cambria, 12 pt.

Guidelines: 12 pt. font Cambria or Times New Roman should be an automatically set option if you use Word. In case of another font, you need to change the default settings. Choose the “Format” menu and move down to the “Style” category. Look at the styles list, choose “Normal” and press “modify”. Pick an appropriate size and font form the “Formatting” section. Press “OK” to save the default settings.


Rule: Your paper text should be aligned to the left and not justified. It is complicated to read a justified text especially if it is typed unprofessionally. Do not change the left alignment default.

Title Page Formatting


Rule: Your name, topic, course, date and the type of paper should be typed in the upper left corner of the first page. Each of these points should be typed on a separate line. When submitting a revised or final copy, change the work version and date.

“Headers” option from the “header/feature” section should not be used when creating a complete heading. In this case, it will appear on each page and it does not correspond to academic standards. Title page should be created only if it is stated in your instructions.


Rule: Crate a great title that will reflect your topic. Place it in the center of the page below the heading. There should be one space between the heading and a title. Headings should not be italicized, underlined, capitalized, or bolded (unless it is a book title or that of a periodical).

Numbers of Pages

Rule: Page numbers should be automatically inserted in the upper right corner on every page except the first one. Use the “Header/Footer” tool for this purpose.

If you follow the MLA format, a page number and your last name are to be placed in the upper right corner. Page numbers, short version of the title (instead of your last name) should be inserted in the upper right corner when you deal with the APA format.

Guidelines: Select “Header and Footer” in the “View” menu. A header box is at the top while a footer box is at the bottom. Click the header box and type your last name/title, make it right aligned, and choose “Page Numbers” from the “Insert” section.

Then, press the “Close” button under a “Header” view. Now, a page number should be displayed on every page of your paper in the upper right corner. It will upgrade automatically in case any changes are implemented in the document. When the “Header and Footer” section is inactive, it will be of grey color.

If you do not want your page numbers to be displayed on the first page, you should change the settings. In order to do it, move to the “Format” menu. Then, go down to the “Document”, and press the “Layout” tab. After that, check the box that is next to “Different First Page.” Press “OK.” You may also delete the header from the first page, if needed. Insert it on the second page and it will be automatically presented on the following pages.


Document Spacing

Rule: Double spacing should be applied to the whole work, bibliography and heading included.

Guidelines: Go to the “Edit” section and pick “Select All.” Then, move to the “Format” menu, go down to “Paragraph”, and select the “double” option from the “line spacing” category in the “Spacing” section. The following keyboard shortcuts can be used as well: press Cmd-2 to set double spacing and Cmd+A to select all if you use Mac. When dealing with a PC, press Ctrl-2 to make double spacing and Ctrl-A to select all.

Paragraph Spacing

Rule: No additional spacing is to be made after each paragraph. This is a default option when working in Word. However, if you need to make a 10 pt. spacing after each paragraph, you need to change the default.

Guidelines: Move to the “Format” menu and go down to “Style”. Choose “Normal” in the styles list and press “modify.” In the lower corner on the left, choose a drop-down menu which begins with “Format”. Go down to “Paragraph”. In the pop-up menu, change the spacing settings for “Spacing After to 0pt”.

Creating a New Page

Before you start preparing your bibliography, you need to create a new page by sticking to these guidelines: move to the “Insert” menu, go down to “Break”, and click “Page Break”.

Blocked Quotes

Rule: A quotation that exceeds more than four lines of the paragraph should be separated by blocks and indents. A blocked quotation has to be cited appropriately. Additionally, it should be implemented by the phrase that leads up to it. Note that there are special requirements for blocked quotations. Quotation marks are replaced by blocking. Instead of the inside of the final period, the parenthetical citation goes outside of it (a blocked quotation may include a few sentences).

Guidelines: A quotation should be typed in its paragraph. There should not be quotation marks. The first line indent should be deleted. The source is to be typed in parentheses after the last period of the last sentence. Then, choose the quote from the first word to the end of parenthetical citation, and press the “Increase Indent” tab in the “Paragraph Formatting” section.