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Guide to the Marking of Written Assignments
by Ian Johnston
[This document is in the public domain and may be used, in whole or in part, by anyone.  Released July 2000]


SECTION 9: BASIC FORMAT FOR ESSAYS AND RESEARCH PAPERS


9.1 Work prepared on a word processor should use a standard font style and size, with the customary default settings for the margins. Normally, this will mean a font size of 12 in Times New Roman, Garamond, or Courier.

9.1.1 Do not write essays in non-standard fonts or in italics or bold or capital letters. Do not use a font size of 8, 10, 11, or 14. Stay with 12.

9.1.2 The settings should have 1 in. margins on the left and right side, and 1 in. spaces at the top and the bottom. Normally the default settings on a college computer will have the correct margin settings. Do not leave large blank spaces at the top of bottom of the page, except (if necessary) on the last page.

9.1.3 The essay should be printed on standard white paper (8.5 in. by 11 in.), unless you are specifically instructed otherwise.

9.2 An essay or research paper should have a title page separate from the text of the paper. The title should precisely define the subject matter of the paper. Avoid vague titles like "An Essay on Shakespeare's Hamlet." Such a title is too uninformative. Rewrite it to provide a clearer sense of the purpose of the essay, as in some of the following examples:

The Role of Polonius in Hamlet: A Study in the Politics of Duplicity
The Importance of the Supernatural in Hamlet
Hamlet's Fear of Women

9.3 The title page should include also (in order after the title) the following information: the name of the person who wrote the paper ("Prepared by . . . "), the instructor for whom the paper has been written ("Prepared for. . . ."), the name of the course (with the section number, if appropriate), and the date. If the paper is a revised (second) draft, then indicate that. Centre all this information on the page. Do not have a page number on the title page. Double space all lines on a title page.

9.4 All work prepared on a word processor should be double spaced, including all quotations and the List of Works Cited or the Bibliography at the end. There should be no additional line(s) between paragraphs, but the start of the new paragraph must be indicated by an indent in the first line of the new paragraph (four to six spaces, or one default tab stop).

9.5 Number the pages clearly starting with the first page of the writing (not the title page). Place the numbers, without the word page, in either the top centre, the top right corner, or (most commonly) the bottom centre of the page. Do not have more than one number per page. Use Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, and so on), not words.

If you are following strict MLA formatting (usually essential in upper-division English courses), then your surname should appear, along with the page number, in the top right corner of each page of the text, commencing with the first page of writing (i.e., not including the title page): e.g., Johnston 3. There should be no other indications of the page.

9.6 In preparing your work on a word processor, follow these basic principles for your text:

9.6.1 Make sure you leave two spaces after the final punctuation mark in a sentence (usually a full stop, question mark, or double quotation mark, and one space after commas, semi-colons, and colons.

9.6.2 There should be no spaces between words joined by a hyphen or a dash (a dash is two consecutive typed hyphens) and no spaces after an opening quotation mark or bracket or before a closing quotation mark or bracket.

9.6.3 Normally, you should not end the sentence with two consecutive punctuation marks, unless one of them is a quotation mark or a bracket.

9.7 If you have to print foreign characters in your own text, then use the word processor special characters function to supply them. Here are some ways to type up the more common ones.

For common French and German characters, you can supply them with the following keyboard commands directly. First you strike the appropriate combination of two keys (Control key and one other, as indicated below) and then you strike the appropriate letter key. Here are some common examples:

Control key and ` key struck together, then the letter (e or a) will produce or
Control key and ' key struck together, then the letter (e or a) will produce or
Control key and ^ then the letter (e, a, u, i) will produce , , , or
Control key and the : key struck together, then the letter (e, a, u) will produce , , .

This quick method for acute accents, grave accents, and umlauts is useful if you require these characters frequently. For occasional use, you can turn on the Num Lock function (on the right of the keyboard, so that the light at the right hand end comes on). Then holding down the Alt key and typing a three-number sequence will produce a number of foreign characters, as follows

Alt-129 =
Alt-130 =
Alt-131 =
Alt-132 =
Alt-133 =
Alt-135 =
Alt-136 =
Alt-137 =
Alt-138 =
Alt-139 =
Alt-140 =
Alt-141 =
Alt-142 =
Alt-143 =
Alt-144 =
Alt-145 =
Alt-146 =
Alt-147 =
Alt-148 =
Alt-149 =

Alt-150 =
Alt-151 =
Alt-153 =
Alt-154 =
Alt-160 =
Alt-161 =
Alt-162 =
Alt-163 =
Alt-164 =
Alt-165 =
Alt-168 =

 

9.8 If you need special mathematical characters or scientific symbols, then check the special characters function in the word processor program (consult the Help menu). And if you are going to present mathematical equations, then use the equation function in the word processor. Do not write equations in by hand.

9.9 If you are using headings and sub-heading in an essay or a report, then observe the following guidelines:

9.9.1 Follow the basic rules for capital letters in a title in any heading. See 2.45 ff. Do not put a hyphen or a colon or both (or a full stop) at the end of a heading.

9.9.2 The style of heading should be consistent. Headings of equal importance should have exactly the same format and come in the same position on the page. For example, if you write the first main heading in capital letters and centred on the page, then the next main heading should also appear in capital letters in the centre of the page. Sub-headings should have a different (and less emphatic) format than main headings and appear with a consistent position and style. The reader should be able to tell from the appearance of the heading or sub-heading where it belongs in the scheme of the essay.

9.9.3 Do not leave a heading standing by itself alone at the bottom the page. If you cannot leave a line of text underneath it, then move the heading to the start of the next page.

9.9.4 Normally you should include a line or two of text between a heading and a sub-heading. The text should indicate what the series of sub-headings deals with.

9.9.5 If you are preparing a report with a special format (e.g., for a particular journal or government agency), you should work very closely from examples of appropriate headings, either in a style manual or in a sample report like the one you are preparing.

9.10 If the essay or the report contains illustrative material (photographs, maps, sketches, diagrams, tables, graphs, and so on), the please observe the following guidelines:

9.10.1 Put each illustration in the body of the essay if the reader requires it to understand more easily what you are talking about. If the reader does not need the illustration, but you want to include it in the essay or report, then put the illustration in a special appendix at the end of the report. If you are in doubt as to whether the illustration will be useful or not, then leave it out of the main text.

9.10.2 Do not cram the essay or report with unnecessarily detailed illustrative material. Make the illustration only as detailed as your discussion requires. For example, do not use a detailed topographical map if you are using the illustration only to indicate the location of a place. Do not use a map of Canada to explain to a BC readership the location of Clayoquot Sound. If you need only a small part of a large photograph, then cut the photograph to include only what is relevant to your text.

9.10.3 Put the illustration where it will be most helpful to the reader, so that she does not have to flip pages back and forth between the appropriate text and the illustration. Do not put the illustration in too early or too late.

9.10.4 Label each illustration clearly with a number and a simple, coherent title. You may add an explanatory comment if you want after the title to indicate to the reader what he should particularly notice: e.g., Figure 3: Map of Malaspina University-College Campus. Notice the Arts and Sciences building to the west of the Library. Such comments are often necessary to point out to the reader why the illustration is there or to call attention to a particular feature of the illustration.

9.10.5 Where necessary, provide neat labels for various parts of the diagram or map. In particular, make sure you have a clear label, which includes an explanation of the units, for each axis of a graph or for each column in a table. If the illustration is a map, then it should contain an indication of the scale and a North arrow.

9.10.6 Provide sufficient room for proper illustrations. Do not cram them into insufficient space. It is better to have too much room than too little. Do not, in order to save space, make the diagram too small, especially if it is a complex picture.

9.10.7 Do not draw geometrical figures free hand. Use a ruler, compass, and, if necessary a protractor. Learn to use the word processing diagram and table functions. For geometrical diagrams provide neat an unambiguous alphabetical labels for the key points (e.g., the apexes of a triangle, the ends of lines, the centre of a circle, and so on).

9.10.8 If you are taking photographs to include in a report, it is really helpful to include in the picture some object or person whose size the reader can recognize. Thus, the unknown objects in the photograph will have a recognizable scale. This principle is particularly important for close-up pictures in scientific reports (e.g., in a picture of a rock face, place a hammer or a ruler in the photograph).

9.10.9 Where the illustrative material is photocopied material from a secondary source (e.g., a table or diagram or map photocopied from a book), remove the figure number from the original, and substitute an appropriate one for your report. Always include a normal reference for such borrowed material.

9.10.10 With photographs you should normally include the angle of the picture (e.g., Figure 3: The North End of Paha Lake. The picture was taken directly from the south-east). And indicate who took the picture (e.g., Photo by Ian Johnston).

 


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