It’s the little things: Formatting your paper

by Brooke Engel

As a writing tutor and an all-around lover of writing, I encourage all my friends to visit the writing tutors for help on their assignments. The thing is, most of my friends believe that they don’t need help from a writing tutor. However, when they get their assignments back they often get lower grades than they hoped for because of small formatting mistakes.

It may seem frustrating that a professor would mark off points for something as small as an incorrect cover-page or a missed placed heading, but in reality it’s their job to ensure that students are prepared to succeed in an academic setting—and in academia, how you format your paper is just as important to your grade as the thoughts you express!

Here are some tips I’ve learned when it comes to making sure my paper is clean and polished:

  1. Figure out what format or style guide you’re required to use. This is the most important step because it impacts everything from where you write your name on the page to how your sources need to be formatted. Your professor will have specified this requirement in the assignment—if it’s not there, it’s most likely in the syllabus. Always ask your professor if you are uncertain!
  2. Find a trusted resource. The Principia Library website has everything you need to know about citation and formatting, and usually even has course guides tailored to your specific class! The “Cite Site” in the library also contains a lot of information you may need in regards to your formatting style. Lastly, check out Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), my personal go-to source for all things writing. Purdue OWL can answer many of the questions you may have about the finer formatting requirements that are unique to each style type—including things like page numbers, cover pages, and block quotations.
  3. Come see a writing tutor! We can work on formatting your paper together, or we can help look over your paper to make sure you’ve followed the proper formatting for your required style. It’s less likely that you’ll miss formatting errors if you have someone like a writing tutor look at your paper with you, so don’t miss out on the extra, free help!

Don’t lose out on significant points towards your assignments for something as small and easy to fix as page numbers. There are plenty of resources to turn to, and you can always ask a writing tutor if you’re unsure where to go next!

Brooke Engel is a junior studio art major who loves playing with dogs, writing essays with dogs, and taking naps with dogs. She has enjoyed meeting all the dogs at Principia and considers them to be her best friends.

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