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Practical Tips for Formatting an Exceptional Research Paper

Practical Tips for Formatting an Exceptional Research Paper

Published by on 2021-07-14 07:01:18

Your instructor says that a research paper is a great way to look at one problem from different angles. It brings together different viewpoints, evidence, and facts so you could make your own judgments about this or that issue. Sounds like a lot of fun for your educator.

Teachers feel enthusiastic about research papers. Do students feel as excited as their mentors? Maybe some of them, but the majority feels quite the opposite. Taking into account the amount of effort and time you’ve got to put into this written assignment, you have all rights for that. You can be frustrated, unmotivated, and whatnot.

But when you know how to make things right, your level of negative emotions can significantly go down. Thus, you have more chances to work on your paper with a positive vibe.

Keeping all your research paper files neatly formatted and all the resources correctly cited is a major challenge for many students. So, if you think that you are alone, just know that this intellectual undertaking keeps many learners strained. 

If you feel confused because you do not know how to format a research paper, worry no more. We’ve put out a handy guide that would give precise instructions on how to make your paper look appealing and right.

Are There Any Accepted Formatting Styles?

Yes, there are several widely recognized formatting styles instructors use to standardize the works by their students. Educational establishments can also agree on a single formatting style for all the works, regardless of the discipline for paper type.

These formatting guidelines help teachers evaluate papers according to a unified standard. Students also benefit from having some recommendations as all the guesswork is removed and they do not spend their time on finding out how this or that research paper element should look.

Even though a definite formatting style can be accepted, be ready to respond to some changes if they are stated by the teacher. So, always check the task carefully. It will tell you how long should a research paper be for college or how to properly cite sources in a research paper.

There are several popular formatting styles a student can use for their work:

  • MLA (Modern Language Association) applied for writing a literature research papers, papers on humanitarian sciences, and arts;
  • APA (American Psychological Association) is used for social sciences, psychology, business, economics, and more;
  • AMA (American Medical Association) works for medicine, biology, and other health sciences.


What’s the difference between these styles? Mainly, in the citation. So, we’ll give you more insights into the first two styles since they are used by students most of the time.

How to Format Your Paper in APA Style?

Creating a perfectly formatted APA-style paper can be a burdensome task. It requires great attention to detail and the knowledge of all the formatting of this or that paper section. But we’ve done the toughest thing - collected all the recommendations that unite the APA style. Keep this link at hand to check on the things you keep on missing when tidying up your research paper.

The common recommendations for formatting a research paper according to the APA style are the following:

  • font: Times New Roman 12 pt or Arial 11 pt;
  • margins: 1 inch at all sides;
  • line spacing: double;
  • indent: ½ inch;
  • use page pagination at every page (including the title page);
  • use headings to break down the text.


Apply these formatting recommendations to every page of the paper. Below, we’ll guide you through the formatting peculiarities of the most important research paper elements.

Research paper guidelines

Title Page in APA Style

Every title page in the APA formatting style should contain:

  • page number;
  • paper title;
  • writer’s name;
  • name of the college or other institution.


You can also add the header with the title if that’s required by your instructor. But in most cases, this is a mandatory step if you plan to publish your paper. You can also be asked to add the course and the instructor’s name.

Center the title, author’s name, and the institution name for a more appealing look of the page.

Headings in APA Style

Headings are important in the research paper as they guide the reader through the content of the formidable work. The use of the headings is driven by the length of the paper. You should also take its complexity into account. In view of these factors, you may need to divide the paper into smaller sections or even subsections to create the informational hierarchy. 

Every section level should get a heading with different formatting, which will visually divide the long text into smaller parts.

APA style offers 5 different formatting styles for headlines:

  1. Centered bold type with the heading in the title case (specific words are capitalized).
  2. Left justify, bold type with the heading in the title case.
  3. Left justify, italic bold type with the heading in the title case
  4. Left justify, indented, bold type with the heading in the title case. The headline ends with a period. 
  5. Left justify, indented, italic bold type with the heading in the title case. The headline ends with a period. 


Here is an example of how all the levels will look like:

Heading Example for Research Paper - Level 1 

Heading Example for Research Paper - Level 2 

Heading Example for Research Paper - Level 3

Heading Example for Research Paper - Level 4.

Heading Example for Research Paper - level 5.


In-Text Citations in APA Style

To avoid being accused of plagiarism, add a citation if you use a quote or paraphrase the idea of someone else. 

The in-text APA citation should include the name of the author, the year the source was published, and the number of pages in a book. This information should be enclosed in round brackets. For example,

According to APA formatting (Emerson, 2020, p.23), you should cite the resource in this particular way.

Reference Page in APA Style

The guidelines for a research paper that refer to the citation page are probably the most distinguishing ones. When you format your research paper in APA style, you’ll refer to this page type as the reference list.

There are many peculiarities when formatting the reference list. Each source type gets its own rules, but here are the general rules all sources follow:

  1. The author or authors’ name (second name and then the first letter of their name).
  2. The year of publication (in brackets).
  3. The title (for articles - the name of the journal goes first, then follows the article title).
  4. For online books or sources - the URL.


How to Format Your Paper in MLA Style?

Just like the APA formatting style, MLA provides consistency across the whole document. MLA is a common choice for humanities and arts, but you might also be asked to format your paper in this style for other disciplines. So, what’s so special about MLA?

The list of general formatting research paper guidelines is similar to APA:

  • font: Times New Roman 12 pt;
  • margins: 1 inch at all sides;
  • line spacing: double;
  • indent: inch or 5 spaces;
  • use page pagination with your last name at every page in the upper right corner.


The whole fun begins when formatting the title and citation page. So let’s take a closer look at the requirements.

Title Page in MLA Style

You have only one chance to make the first impression, so let it be the right one. When you format a title page in MLA style, you follow the following outline:

  • Full name
  • Professor’s name
  • The course name or number
  • Submission date


This data is usually positioned at the upper left side of the paper. Then, center the title of the paper in the title case in the next line after the writer’s information. Do not bold or italicize the title. Begin your paper on the next line after the heading.

Headings in MLA Style

Headlines that are formatted in MLA style also have 5 levels. They are used to make the text more readable and break it into logical sections. Each level has its own formatting features and they should remain consistent within the whole document.

Here are the recommendations for MLA headlines:

  1. Bold left-aligned text.
  2. Italic left-aligned text.
  3. Bold centered text.
  4. Italic centered text.
  5. Underlined left-centered text.


Let’s see how it will look like:

Heading Example for Research Paper - Level 1 

Heading Example for Research Paper - Level 2 

Heading example for research paper - level 3

Heading example for research paper - level 4

Heading example for research paper - level 5.


Works Cited Page in MLA Style

Do not know how to write a college paper format when you make references to other resources? In MLA, the page with a list of used resources is called ‘Works Cited.’ There might be some differences in formatting the bibliography depending on the source type, but these are the general rules that apply to all cited works:

  • author’s last name, first name; 
  • book title;
  • publication place;
  • publishing company;
  • date of publication.


If you use a website, state the author’s last name, first name. Website title. Publication date (if available). Name of the organization (if available). URL.