How to Write a Research Paper Format

Research Paper Format

Mastering a research paper format might be difficult but if you avoid the rules of this format, you risk having your paper not being considered seriously or even being penalized. A format is a style of doing something. It is a plan for arranging and organizing a given production. In academic writing, there are different formats for writing research papers but MLA format and APA format are the most used and accepted by most learning institutions.

Although the guidelines of these formats differ, there are common important points for each format that should be considered while writing research papers in different academic fields. For instance, most research papers have an appendix section in which data, calculations and figures are included without interfering with the main body’s flow. While reading the paper, scientists will not be interested in the details but the results only. However, the appendix allows readers who are interested in the results to check them in a more thorough way.

Why you should follow the rules of the research paper format specified by your instructor

Although writing papers requires mainly writing skills, academic writing entails aspects that are not involved in personal writing. It is for this reason that there are formats for writing academic research papers. When your instructor asks you to write a research paper in APA or MLA format, make sure that you follow the practices and rules of that format.

Following the rules of the specific format for writing a research paper is important because:

  • The practices and rules of any format for writing a research paper are organized around a specific structure or order in which ideas should be presented apart from ensuring that the author supports the ideas using literature citations.
  • It enables you to present your academic research paper in a way that differs from that of personal writing since academic writing entails the causes and theories that govern practices and processes of the daily life while exploring the alternative explanations of these events.
  • Following the specified format of writing a research paper enables you to adhere to the set traditional conventions of grammar, punctuation and spelling as well as the tone which indicates that you are knowledgeable about academic writing.

Therefore, while writing research papers always remember that the format and the process of writing a research paper are important.

General aspects of a research paper format

Title Page

In most cases, instructors specify the guidelines for writing the title page of a research paper. However, a title page should generally have a maximum of 20 words. It should be descriptive but short without abbreviations. Among the information that should be included in the title page includes your name as the author and course name.


Your research paper should have an abstract. This should provide a summary of the results or contributions of your research in a single page. It should be a brief description of the content of the research paper. In some cases, the abstract is called an executive summary.


In the introduction section, a research paper should provide background information on the selected topic. This includes references to past works on the topic and the context of the research paper. The introduction should also justify your reasons for being interested in the research paper’s topic while preparing readers for what will be included in the other sections. It should also summarize your major contributions and/or findings. The introduction of a research paper should be short because more details should be included in the body.

The body

The body of a research paper should have sections in which different aspects of the investigation should be dealt with or addressed appropriately. Such sections can discuss theory, literature review, design, evaluation, comparisons, methods and experiments among others. There is no specific rule that applies to how the body of a research paper should be written. However, the subdivision ought to have a reasonable length and it should be coherent. You should also avoid having extremes of single paragraphs or having a section with up to ten pages. If you have a long section, divide it or move some information to the appendix.


Every research paper format requires the author to include a conclusion of the presented argument, ideas or information. The conclusion is a summary of the information or data that is presented in the other sections of the paper. It should be brief, including a few sentences. Apart from wrapping up the presented information, the conclusion should emphasize the importance of the paper while showing readers how the paper accomplished its purpose or how thesis statement was defended or developed. It can also emphasize the disadvantages or advantages of a proposed technique, approach or design. Additionally, the conclusion section should include a discussion of possible extension of the study.


In this section, a research paper should provide comprehensive bibliographic information for the used references. A general rule is to include between 5 and 20 references although some instructors specify the number of the references to include.

Specific aspects of a research paper format

Some aspects are specific to different formats of writing research papers.

They include the following:


For both APA and MLA formats, research papers should be written in 12 points font size. For MLA, an easily readable font type should be used while APA papers can be written in Courier or Times Roman font type. However, a sans serif font like Arial should be used for figures.


Both MLA and APA format requires research papers to be double-spaced.

Paragraph Indentation

For APA format papers, paragraphs should be indented 5 to 7 spaces. For MLA format, papers should be indented ½ inch or five spaces.

Page numbers

For MLA format papers, the last name of the author should be included at the top of the upper right side of every page followed by a page number. For APA format papers, the paper should have a running head or a few words from the paper title put on each page except for the figures at the upper margin on the right side, ½ an inch from the upper section. The running head should appear 5 spaces to the page number from the left. Page numbering should start from the title page.

Title page

For MLA format paper, the title page should have the name of your teacher, your name, course number or name and date. These details should be placed at the upper corner on the left side of the page. The paper should be double spaced with regular capitalization for the title but without underlining. For APA format, the title page should have the name of the author, paper title and name of the school. This information should be centered and written in lower and upper case.

Illustrations and tables

For MLA research paper format, illustrations and tables should be placed close to their corresponding text. Each table should be labeled and given a specific number. A caption and a label should appear above each table and capitalized like any other title. Flush the title left with notes and sources appearing below each table. Graphs, diagrams, charts, and photos should have a label and a specific number. Flush the titles, sources and labels appearing underneath the figures left in a block, continuous text instead of a single element.

For APA format, illustrations and tables should appear at the end of a paper unless instructed otherwise. Every table should be in its separate page with a specific label and flushed left below the number of the page. The title of the table should be double spaced and italicized using lowercase and uppercase letters. Captions of the figures should appear on the page with the last number in the paper. In that case, Figure 1 label should usually be italicized while the caption should not. Regular capitalization of the caption is used with figures following in every page.

Reference page

The page of the cited work should be labeled clearly at the center of the page at the top. All sources used in writing the research paper should be included in an alphabetical order using the last name of the author. First names of the entries should be flushed to the margin with the consequent lines being indented 5 spaces. All entries in the page ought to be single-spaced but there should be a double space between the entries.

To know more about research paper format, you might need to review a research paper sample written in a way that adheres to the right format. Find such a research paper sample here.

We can help you in formatting your research paper

If you encounter difficulties while formatting your research paper, get in touch with us any time for immediate assistance. You can also visit the homepage of our website for additional information about our professional, academic writing services. Alternatively, continue reading for information about research paper format and guidelines how to format your research paper as well as sample papers on our blog.