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5 things to know about college term paper format

The unfortunate fact of the matter is, students are ill prepared for college level writing in nearly all cases, and their first term papers typically demonstrate this. Here are five things every student should know before going into their first term paper writing experience.

  1. Academic Formal Styles Matter--Citations
  2. In high school, you probably followed some basic rules in terms of citing things in your papers, or simply provided a bibliography. Even if your teachers did in fact make you follow a style guide, they were likely quite forgiving about mistakes and departures from it. Your college professors won’t be, and they’ll also be highly irritated that you’re not respectful enough to follow simple rules. Always follow the instructions, and cite everything. Your professor might get a bit of a chuckle out of it if you’re overly citing information, but they’ll be happy you’re not flirting with plagiarism. They won’t get a chuckle out of seeing insufficient citations. It’s better to overdo it until you have a better feel for it.

  3. Your Paper Will (And Should) Look Boring
  4. Different formal style guides have different rules about fonts, headings, etc. You need to follow these. Students in high school often want to jazz up the appearance of their paper with different sized fonts, different typefaces, colors, and fancy covers. Don’t do this. It’s painfully unprofessional and your professors will think it’s childish. They’re not interested in how pretty your paper is, and attempts to fancy it up look like you are overcompensating for lack of real content.

  5. Get a Good Word Processing Program and Use it
  6. Yes, free word processing programs can do almost everything the top programs do and they’re more than sufficient for almost any task you need—but not term papers. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and headaches by using one which has style guide formatting built in.

  7. You’ll need a day to format your paper.
  8. If you don’t format as you go (probably a mistake), don’t expect to format your entire paper to style guide standards in ten minutes. It’s far better to do it as you go along, but if you’re already in the process and haven’t, expect to spend at least several hours getting it right.

  9. You’ll get used to it.
  10. The first time or two, it’s a huge headache, but it’ll become second nature soon. Just form good habits and soon you won’t notice the hassle.