Prompts for academic writing: what to know about formatting

How you format your paper can make or break your grade. It is the foundation for the entire look and presentation of your paper. So what do you need to know about formatting in academic writing?

What is Formatting?

Formatting includes anything that impacts the way your paper looks. It includes the font used, the size of the font, the spacing of the paper, how headers, footer, and cover pages are used. It also includes the style used for citations. It is the visual presentation of your paper.

Why does formatting matter?

On a basic level, formatting greatly impacts the readability of an academic paper. If the font is too large or too small or is an odd cursive font, or similar visual issues, your paper can become very difficult to read. No matter how well the paper is written, if it is hard to physically read, your reader will get frustrated and it will negatively impact the perception of the paper.

Formatting also matters because it shows the instructor that you have followed the directions. If you are told to use twelve point Times New Roman font and you use Comic Sans, you have demonstrated to the instructor that you didn't follow basic instructions. This can negatively impact your grade.

Finally, different areas of studies require specific formatting guidelines for the overall look as well as citations. For example, social sciences most often use APA format for the style guides. The format is used in order to keep consistency throughout the field of study. If you are required to use such a style guide and you do not, your paper can lose credibility.

How do you know how to format?

The easiest way to know the expectations as to formatting is to check with your instructor. Ask them what their expectations are and what has an impact on your grade. If they do not give you guidance, then look for a style guide within your field of study and use those guidelines. If you are unsure what style guide to use, an Internet search or a trip to your writing lab would be helpful.

Once you know what style guide to use, finding the guide is easy. There are several online resources for most style guides. Additionally, the guides are usually available in print either for purchase or from check out from your library.

Formatting has a significant impact on the overall presentation of your paper. Make sure to know what formatting is required for your paper and keep practicing it to become an expert in proper formatting.

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