10 Solid Tips on How to Format a College Paper

Your college paper format can easily be the difference between a successful semester and a terrible one. It allows you to effectively show how far you have come in your general studies and how much you understand your research topic.

College essays can be a new type of writing for new students. For that reason, several fresh students are usually confused about proper formatting and essay writing structures. Do you need a title? What kind of writing style is best suited for writing a paper for college? Do you double-space or single-space?

In this post, we’ll answer these questions and go over ten solid tips on how to format a college paper. But first, let’s get into exactly what formatting entails.

What is paper formatting?

The main purpose of academic writing is to communicate research and study ideas effectively. Proper formatting ensures clear communication, and it enables the reader to properly digest the contents of the written paper.

Paper formatting is simply the style in which research papers, articles, journals, essays, and any other form of academic writing is structured. The style or format of writing can differ with the location or nature of writing undertaken.

College writing format

If you often think, how do I write my college paper? Then this section is for you. In college paper writing, how you present your information is as significant as the ideas you are putting forth. Proper structuring, quoting, citing, and referencing of source material allows you to pass information in a language commonly used by others in your discipline.

You must follow the rules like every other student, and writing for any academic purpose carries with it certain formatting consistencies. Failure to properly understand why you cite your sources in a particular way can negatively affect your written projects and communications.

In learning how to write a paper in college, you will use the three major writing formats. The APA, MLA, and CMS formats.

  • APA (American Psychological Association)
  • Chicago – a common style used in magazines, newspapers, and books
  • MLA (Modern Language Association) for English, literature, arts, and humanities

How to format a college research paper

College research papers come with different style expectations, so here are some tips on how to format your college research paper.

1. Note the style of formatting given for your paper

Before writing your paper, you must completely understand the style you’ve been instructed to use. For college papers, the APA and MLA are the most common. Each of them has its own unique writing format.

2. Follow citation and format guidelines

Following proper citation and formatting steps will help ensure that your work is acknowledged and taken seriously. Remember to credit other authors for their work and provide meaningful information to readers.

3. In APA style, format articles and books in sentence case

This is the first thing to remember when formatting your paper in APA style. Your titles for books and articles should not be formatted in title cases but sentence cases. Sentence case means that only the initial word is capitalized and any proper nouns.

4. Work ahead and take time to cite sources correctly

Working ahead and carefully citing each source can save you a lot of time as a writer. You don’t have to be wrapped up in things like the header for college paper or the abstract sections when starting. Focus on doing your research and citing all the required sources.

5. Take note of the slight difference in component formatting styles

Components of writing like the abstract, title, body, conclusion, and more are expressed in different structures depending on the formatting. Knowing these slight differences enables avoiding confusion when favoring one style over the other.

6. Your abstract can be a quick summary of your paper

Depending on your study field, you may write research papers that require extensive primary research, such as a survey. In your abstract, it would be best to summarize your research question and findings, indicating how your study relates to previous research in your field. This is predominant in the APA format of writing.

7. Read various research materials writing in different formatting styles

Reading other articles and research papers in the format you’re asked to write will help you develop a unique understanding of how you should structure your paper.

8. Understand what differentiates in-text citations from references

In-text citations give basic information such as the author’s name, the publication date, and the page number if required. In comparison, the references section provides more extensive bibliographical information.

9. Use standard fonts like 12 pt Times New Roman or 11 pt Arial

When formatting your college paper, you will often use APA or MLA formats. The standard font sizes and types are acceptable in both formats. However, the MLA format used only the Times new Roman font.

10. Double line spacing is your friend

A double line space structure is necessary for the MLA, APA, and Chicago paper formats. So try to remember this common feature across most writing styles to help you understand their more distinctive features.


Depending on your discipline, there may be only one type of style that you need to master. However, the guidelines for properly citing resources and references may change over time, so you always have to understand your options.

When writing, as a college or postgraduate student, you will always want your work to stand out positively. So, you have to know all the tips that will help you properly style and format your papers.

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