Friday, July 2, 2010

Research, the Eighth of Eight Parts: Formatting

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.

Last week, I compared the research paper process to a complicated jigsaw puzzle. This week, a better comparison for the research paper format is the fine print of any legal document. It is never interesting to read, there is more information than you want, and every word is important to you. So prepare to read about detailed rules and requirements.

Stationery. On May 2, 2010, when explaining the résumé, I mentioned the quality of the paper (5th bullet point) as a factor in your success. I offer the same advice for the documented research paper. Stationery sold for manuscripts or résumés is thicker and more textured. It feels heavier, and it will make a great first impression. If you can, spend the extra pennies and invest in quality paper for researched writing tasks.

Margins. Both MLA and APA require one-inch margins on all four edges of the paper. Computer word processing programs are set correctly for this task. As long as your margins are at the default setting, you will not need to do anything about margins.

Spacing. Both MLA and APA styles require double spacing from the first line through the list of resources (entitled Works Cited in MLA and References in APA). Simply change the default line spacing from one or 1.5 to 2, then begin.

Fonts. Both MLA and APA style formats limit the maximum font size to 12. Many software default settings are now 11. This is acceptable, but you should avoid anything smaller. Remember that your reader has many pages before him, usually many pages from many writers, so be kind. Similarly, be thoughtful when choosing the font itself. Times New Roman is most often suggested because it is easy to read, but Cambria, Calibri, and Arial are other options.

Headers. Both MLA and APA require that every page, from 1 through the last, be numbered in the upper right corner. Insert a header and do the following for each style. (As always, refer to the manuals published by each organization or online resources such as for additional help.)

1. For APA set the page number flush right. Against the left margin, set a shortened version of the paper’s title. These two pieces of information—the shortened title and a page number—appear on every page from page 2 to the last page. The challenge is that on page 1 the title also includes the introductory words, “Running head:” followed by the shortened title that will appear on every other page.
2. MLA requires nothing on the left in the header, but preceding every page number is the last name of the writer of the research; e. g., Last 1, Last 2, Last 3, etc.

First Page. MLA does not require a title page; APA does. Be sure you know what each style format expects of you, and remember one of the most valuable online sources for this information can be found at

1. APA’s title page lists the full title, your name as the author of the researched essay, and the name of the institution for which the essay has been prepared. These are double-spaced and centered on separate lines in the upper half of the first page. You may use two lines for the title, but the title should not exceed two lines.
2. MLA’s first page requires four pieces of information in a double-spaced, four-line heading set flush with the left margin and in the following order: your name, the name of the teacher/professor who required the task, the course for which the paper was written, and the date. Please note that the order of date information is day month year without any punctuation between each item; e. g., 2 July 2010.

Abstract. APA requires an abstract, and it is the second page of the paper. Below the standard required header and centered on the first line of text will appear the word “Abstract.” The abstract is, of course, a detailed summary of your paper—its thesis, its main points, and its inferences or conclusions.

In-Text Citations. The rationale for in-text citations and their connection to the Works Cited list was explained on June 6, 2010 and referenced again on June 11, 2010. Please review these entries for additional information about in-text citations.

What appears below is the most basic information for in-text citations. Before submitting your essay, be sure to read closely the requirements in the manuals for sources with two or more authors, for articles with no author, etc.

1. APA requires the author’s last name, the year of publication, and a page number if quoting directly from the original. Each of these three items, placed inside parentheses, will be separated by a comma, and the page number will be preceded by the abbreviation for page, “p.” If paraphrasing and not quoting directly from the original source, you may omit the page number but APA encourages its use.
2. MLA requires the author’s last name and the page number, separated by a space only, not punctuation, and the page number is not preceded by an abbreviation.

List of Resources Used. Again, I suggest that you review the earlier entries and study the manuals because what follows is basic information.

1. Each list has a title, centered on the first line of text, below the automatic header. For APA, that title is “References.” For MLA, that title is “Works Cited.”
2. Alphabetize the list, using the author’s last name or the first word of the title if there is no author.
3. The first line of each item in the list is set flush with the left margin. If an item requires a second or third line, it begins one tab from the left margin (also known as a hanging indention).
4. Each entry in the list will be double-spaced and the entire list will be double-spaced (in other words, there is no extra spacing between entries).
5. Punctuation requirements differ so you must study MLA’s or APA’s style manuals to be sure that you include all the necessary information, in the right order, and punctuate correctly.
6. Only works cited (quoted, paraphrased or summarized) in the essay will appear on the References or Works Cited pages. For MLA, if you have read extensively and that reading influenced the final paper but you did not cite from that reading, you may create a separate Works Consulted page. Its format is identical to the Works Cited page and it appears as the last page of the entire paper.

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics):

Indented quotations for MLA deserve attention. For prose quotations, the text quoted should type into your paper as three or more full lines. When it does, you must return to the beginning of your quotation to reformat it. First, remove the quotation marks. Second, set the quoted text two tabs from the left margin. Every line of the indented text should line up under the one above; i. e., each indented line should be set in two tabs from the left margin. The right margin is the same for the entire paper, including indented quotations; it is set in one inch from the right edge of the paper.

The punctuation to close the indented quotation appears BEFORE the parenthetical citation. Unlike any other in-text (parenthetical) citation, the punctuation appears in front of the opening parentheses for the source citation.

For APA, indent quotations that exceed 40 words, but indent only one tab from the left margin. Omit quotation marks, and double space the quotation. Also, insert punctuation before the parenthetical.

Reading Challenge:

Using Turabian, MLA’s or APA’s style manual, or the online Purdue University site, double-check every in-text citation and Works Cited (or References) entry. Ask your proofreader to scan your essay for format.

Writing Challenge:

Write something fun, something just for you or reflect upon the entire research paper process, using any level of language that comes to mind. This is your opportunity to vent.