Research Papers and Essays: Formatting and Citing Sources
Not only does a good research paper include thorough research and thoughtful analysis, it should also follow specific rules for citing your sources and formatting. This brief guide will illustrate how to correctly reference your sources and set up your paper.
Connections Academy students should use Modern Language Association (MLA) style for citing sources and formatting. MLA style is commonly used in many middle and high schools, as well as in colleges and universities across the country.
The MLA publishes the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. This is a very useful book, as it goes into great depth explaining the steps for writing a paper. The book is available at most bookstores, and your local library likely has copies. If you run into an issue, such as citing a source that is not covered in this guide, it is best to find the proper way of citing your source by finding it in the MLA Handbook or by asking your teacher.
This guide covers the basics for formatting and citing sources. However, you should always follow the specific guidelines presented by your teacher. If you want to incorporate pictures or other images into your paper, ask your teacher about the best way to do this. Depending on your teacher’s preference, images can be included within the body of the paper or in an appendix.
Formatting Your Paper
Here are some basic steps for setting up your paper.
1. Paper Size and Margins—Your paper should be set to 8 ½ inches by 11 inches. This is standard letter format. Your page margins should be set at 1 inch on all sides.
To set your margins: Select Page Setup from the File menu, and select the Margins tab. Set the top, bottom, left, and right margins at 1 inch.
To set your paper size: Select Page Setup from the File menu, and select the Paper tab. Set the paper size to “Letter.” (This should be the default setting, so this step may not be necessary.)
2. Fonts and Font Size—Choose a font and size that is easy to read; Times New Roman and
Courier are preferred. Choose a size no smaller than 10 and no larger than 12. The text color should always be black when writing research papers and formal essays.
Times New Roman 10
Times New Roman 12
3. Punctuation and Spacing—Use only one space after periods and punctuation marks, and double-space the lines in your paper. This makes it easier to read and allows your teacher to easily write notes, comments, and feedback. When you review your drafts, you can also use this extra space to write notes for revisions and edits. Your text, with the exception of the title of your paper, should be aligned to the left. Also be sure to indent the first line of all paragraphs by ½ inch. You can do this by pressing the Tab key.
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To set your paper for double-spacing: Select Paragraph from the Format menu. In the spacing section, select “Double” from the pull-down menu. If you have already written parts of your paper, you will need to select all text before changing the spacing. You can select all text by pressing Ctrl+A.
4. Headers and Page Numbers—On the top right of your paper, you should have a header (text at the top of the page) that includes your last name and the page number. You can use the
Header and Footer function to automatically place this on all your pages.
To set your header: Select Header and Footer from the View menu. The Header text insert box will appear at the top of your paper. Select Paragraph from the Format menu, and set the alignment to
“Right.” Type your last name and one space. Then select Page Numbers... from the Insert menu.
Make sure the alignment is set at “Right,” and then click OK.
5. Italics and Underlining—Titles of books, plays, magazines, newspapers, and many other works should be italicized or underlined. Note that