Formatting Style: Types & Examples

Instructor: Mary Firestone
Learn about the different formatting style used in academic papers. Find out the basic rules of three formatting styles, and then take a quiz to test your knowledge.

Formatting Style

A formatting style is a standardized approach to creating an academic paper. It gives a paper a recognizable appearance. When you see a paper written in APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association) or CMS (Chicago Manual of Style) style, you can tell which one it is just by looking at the way it's formatted. Formatting style includes things like where the paper's title and author's name will go, the spacing between lines, and how sources are cited in-text, among other things. Formatting styles are important because they provide consistency, as well as information about the sources used in the document.

APA Style

APA style formatting is used for writing papers in the social sciences. The APA formatted document begins with a title page, which should be followed by an abstract unless you have a one or two page document. The paper should be double spaced throughout, including the title, block quotes (for quotes longer than forty words), and sources on the References page, which is alphabetized and goes as the last page of the document.

All quotes and paraphrases should receive credit with in-text citations. Citations in APA style use the author-year format (Jones, 20XX). If no date is available, then use the abbreviation n.d. for 'no date' (Jones, n.d.) If you quote the source directly, always include the page number in the citation. For example:

  • 'When the result came in, we published it immediately,' Dr. Smith (2012) stated yesterday (p.21).

APA style requires a running head, which should begin on the title page, with the title in all caps.

MLA Style

MLA style formatting is used in the humanities, which include topics about literature, philosophy, art, music, among others. Instead of a title page, the student's name, professor's name, course name and date are in a double-spaced, left-justified block of text on page one. The student's last name and page number appear in a running right-justified header, and the title is centered two spaces below the date.

All quotes and paraphrases should receive credit with in-text citations, with full information about the sources on the final, alphabetized 'Works Cited' page. In-text citations in MLA style use the author-page number format (Olson 24). The page number is never excluded in an MLA style citation, unless it's not available. Web articles should be cited just like print articles. If author names aren't available, then the article title should be used instead. Web articles should use paragraph numbers since page numbers can vary with web content, and titles should appear within quotation marks. For example: ('American Life', par. 2).

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