To make a paper readable:
- Use a 12 point standard font; the most common used for research papers is either New Times Roman, Calibri, Georgia, or Garamond.
- Text should be double spaced on 8 1/2" x 11" white paper with one inch margins on all four sides.
- Number pages consecutively but never number the title page as page 1.
General mistakes to avoid:
- Start each new section on a new page--avoid orphan headings [insert a page break!].
- Dividing a table or figure--if possible, confine non-textual elements, such as a table or chart, to a single page.
- Submitting a paper with pages out of order.
- Not adhering to recommended page limits.
General stylistic and grammatical mistakes to avoid:
- Use normal prose with appropriate articles ["a," "the," "an"].
- Spell checkers and grammar checkers are helpful, but they don’t catch everything. Always proofread and, if possible, get someone to do it for you before submitting your final paper.
- Indent the first line of each paragraph.
- If a paragraph is nearly a page or more longer, then it is probably too long for the reader to contemplate and should be divided into smaller paragraphs.
- Write in active voice when possible but note that some professors prefer a passive voice.
- Write out all abbreviations the first time they are used with parentheses around the abbreviation [i.e., International Monetary Fund (IMF)]. Do not use too many abbreviations; they shorten the text but make it more difficult to read because the reader has to repeatedly think about what each means. Never start a sentence with an abbreviation.
- Do not use contractions in academic writing and do not start sentences with conjunctions (and, but, or) or numerals.
- Avoid informal wording, addressing the reader directly, and using jargon, slang terms, or superlatives unless they appear in direct quotes from other sources.
In all sections of your paper:
- Stay focused on the research problem you are investigating [follow the steps in this guide].
- Use paragraphs to separate each important point.
- Present your points in a logical order.
- Use present tense to report well accepted facts [e.g., "The Prime Minister of Bulgaria is Boyko Borissov."]
- Use past tense to describe specific results from your study [e.g., "Evidence shows that the impact of the invasion was magnified by events in 1989."]
- Avoid the use of superfluous non-textual elements [images/figures/charts/tables]; include only those necessary for presenting or enhancing an understanding of the results.
NOTE: These are general guidelines that apply to almost every paper you write in college. However, the specific format of your paper--how you arrange the title page, headings, subheadings, non-textual elements, citations, appendices, etc.--will be dictated by the writing style manual you are asked to use [e.g., APA, Chicago, MLA, or other]. If your professor has not stated which style to use, be sure to ask.
The Guide to Grammar and Writing. Capital Community College Foundation; Grammar. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Tips. Writers Workshop. University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign; Handouts. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina.