Writing an Academic Paper: General Formatting Rules

Although writing an academic paper has been considered difficult by many, its simplicity lies in some basic formatting rules. There are several important aspects of outlining that you must be aware of before starting your assignment.

In this post, you will be provided with information on how to format academic papers, and some tips on how best to organize your content within these styles.

Academic paper structure

An academic paper is typically structured to contain a title page, an abstract, a body, and a bibliography list.

Title page

This is the 1st page of your document. It contains the title of your study, as well as its author and publishing date. The college or institution that permitted this work can also appear on this page— if they are important enough for inclusion; otherwise, do not incorporate it.


The abstract is a summary of the theme of your paper. It ought to be not more than 250 words, in the third person and an active voice, and it should include an introductory sentence.

Below are some examples of good abstracts:

  • “The purpose of this study was to examine whether student performance on an academic assignment would be affected by gender or ethnicity.”
  • “This study explored whether students’ math grades were affected by their teacher’s use of technology.”


The body of your document is where you present the main points of your essay. It ought to be between one and five pages long, and it should contain a combination of overviewing and paraphrasing (or direct quotes).

Below are some paper writing tips for drafting a good body:

  • Use clear language that is easy for your audience to understand. In other words, avoid using complex sentence structures if they are not needed in conveying your ideas.
  • Keep paragraphs short—no more than 2-3 sentences long.


Bibliographies are written at the end of your paper. They ought to be arranged in alphabetical order by author’s last name, with no punctuation separating each author’s name from the rest. If there are no less than three authors, list them beginning with the first author followed by et al.

How to format an academic paper

The format of academic paper is mainly categorized into two. The MLA format, and the APA format. All of these formats would be highlighted below.

APA format academic paper

An APA academic paper format example follows 7 basic structures.

  • A title page
  • Sans Serif textual style, for example, 11-pt Calibri, 11-pt Arial, or 10-pt Lucida Sans Unicode
  • Double spacing all through the document
  • The bibliography ought to begin on a new page
  • Page numbers: ought to be situated in the top right-hand corner of the document
  • Borders: one-inch borders on all four sides of every page
  • Bibliographies: both in-text bibliographies and a bibliography list

MLA academic paper format

  • Times New Roman 12
  • 1” page border
  • Double line spacing
  • Half-inch indent for paragraphs
  • Title case capitalization for subsections

Structural elements of an academic paper

The basic structural elements of an academic paper include page numbers, borders, fonts and spacing, indentations, sections and subsections, and citations.

  • Page numbers

Page numbers should be in the top right corner of the document, and justified.

  • Borders

Borders, otherwise known as margins, are the space between your text and the edge of a page.

  • Fonts and spacing

Use a font size that matches your paper’s format and tone: if it is very formal and scientific, for example, go with an 11-pt font; if it is more casual or conversational, choose a 12-point type.

  • Indentation

Indentation is the process of creating spaces between paragraphs and sentences. It is crucial to indent the 1st line of your paragraphs.

  • Sections and subsections

Sections and subsections are the titles of headings, subheadings, and subheadings within subheadings. They are all in boldface, centered, and with a different font size than the rest of your document.

  • Citations

Citations are used for referencing other sources. They are also important in maintaining authenticity and giving credit where it is due, especially when you are writing about a topic that has been written about before (for instance, if you are writing about a literature review).


If you follow these rules, you will be well on your way to writing an academic paper that is understandable and simple to study. These rules are designed to ensure that your document looks appealing and professional.  With a little practice, the desire to write academic papers should become second nature.

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