How to Decide on the Academic Paper Format

Among the many decisions to be made when writing an academic paper is what format to present your paper in. Aside from the content itself, the format is the biggest determining factor for how well the paper is received. Even the best content in the world can be muddled by a confusing format that doesn’t present the more salient information prominently. When deciding what format to use for your paper, it is important to consider the following five factors.

  • Your Specific Assignment. Don’t overlook the obvious. If you are writing this paper for a specific project or class assignment, the formatting requirements may be determined for you right there in the assignment details. Read through your assignment carefully for any clues or directions as to the best format for the paper.
  • Complexity of the Material. Generally speaking, you want to customize your formatting based on the type of material you are writing about. For simple topics, you can usually stick with regular paragraph formats and just presenting the content in sentence form. If you are dealing with complex material that has a lot of number or statistics, you are better off using bullet points and charts to get your point across. Detail information is better remembered when presented in a way that visually stands out from the blocks of text in the rest of the paper.
  • One Main Point. If your paper centers around one main point, be sure to present it up front. Don’t hold out your big discovery until the end; you might lose the reader before then. Open with your most powerful point, and then follow it up with supporting information.
  • Length. Consider the overall length of your paper when analyzing how to present it. If you are going to be presenting 20-30 pages or more, you will want to vary the format using visual breaks like lists and graphs. If your paper is relatively short, around 10 pages or less, you can probably stick to a plain text format and be just fine.
  • Subject Matter Conventions. Do some research on what the conventional formatting is for the subject you are writing on. There may be a commonly accepted practice within that discipline for writing academic papers. If you are able to locate a standard format that pertains to your paper, follow it closely and you will know you are on the right track.