Writing for Academics!

academic_wrting2Heather Harper I Borderline Press I April 26, 2016

When I first transitioned from high school into college academia – in which there was a huge gap in between, I might add – I found that formatting criteria was way more important than it had been before. The two most common formatting styles I had to learn as a new student were the MLA (Modern Language Association, 7th Ed.) and APA (American Psychological Association, 6th Ed.); both are acceptable, but some teachers prefer one over the other. As a student, it is important to know each one, be aware of the differences between them, and understand the purpose of this way.

Let’s begin with the latter. The purpose of these formatting styles is to allow the writer to cite sources properly, avoid plagiarism, and guide the reader to reference information for supporting the thesis. MLA formatting features a style which is designed to be used in the liberal arts and humanities, while APA is a style used in the social sciences. Here is a quick comparison between the two, from the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL):

APA General Guidelines

  • Your essay should be typed, double-spaced on standard-sized paper (8.5″ x 11″) with 1″ margins on all sides.
  • You should use a clear font that is highly readable. APA recommends using 12 pt. Times New Roman font.
  • Include a page header (also known as the “running head”) at the top of every page. To create a page header/running head, insert page numbers flush right. Then type “TITLE OF YOUR PAPER” in the header flush left using all capital letters. The running head is a shortened version of your paper’s title and cannot exceed 50 characters including spacing and punctuation.

MLA General Guidelines

  • Type your paper on a computer and print it out on standard, white 8.5 x 11-inch paper.
  • Double-space the text of your paper, and use a legible font (e.g. Times New Roman). Whatever font you choose, MLA recommends that the regular and italics type styles contrast enough that they are recognizable one from another. The font size should be 12 pt.
  • Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks (unless otherwise instructed by your instructor).
  • Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides.
  • Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch from the left margin. MLA recommends that you use the Tab key as opposed to pushing the Space Bar five times.
  • Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor may ask that you omit the number on your first page. Always follow your instructor’s guidelines.)
  • Use italics throughout your essay for the titles of longer works and, only when absolutely necessary, providing emphasis.
  • If you have any endnotes, include them on a separate page before your Works Cited page. Entitle the section Notes (centered, unformatted).

For more detailed information on formatting and style, visit the Purdue OWL website.


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