Research Paper Format Rules, Examples & Templates

Academic writing begins with research paper format. Ironically, most students don’t give it a second thought: they are focused on picking a topic, doing research, and structuring their paragraphs. This is undoubtedly essential, but proper format plays a huge role as well. If you don’t do it correctly, you risk losing up to 15 points — this could be the difference between C and D or even D and F. Prevent it by learning the rules and understanding formatting styles inside out. Our guide will answer your questions and share clear examples that’ll help you.

How to Format a Research Paper: Three Major Styles

Some students are looking for the best site to buy a research paper instead of working on their own. Others prefer to understand the nuances personally. Both groups will benefit from knowing about formatting: they’ll either be able to check if the company they hired did everything correctly or format their essay independently. There are three major formatting styles almost every college requires. They include MLA, APA, as well as Chicago.

MLA rules in the area of humanities, so if you study English, Literature, or Culture, you’ll likely need this paper writing format in particular. APA covers Social Sciences like Sociology, History, Psychology, Communication, Economics, and others. In turn, Chicago is mainly for Business, Management, Fine Arts, and sometimes History as well. Each of them is unique and has its own requirements. They share some similarities, but they are also different, and if you remember these aspects once, you’ll never have problems using them.

Research Paper Template: What You Need to Know

Now it is time for sharing a template with direct facts about the styles we’ve mentioned. Whether you’re searching for the best college application essay writing service or looking at how to structure research essay, read it at least once. Then try to recreate the same layout in your paper. Save a copy and use it every time you’re working on another task in the future — this could guarantee quick and easy results.

APA template

  • Paper length. This depends on instructions of your professor. Standard college research paper is about 5 pages long, which is 1500 words. In university, papers are longer and could reach 8-10 pages, which would be about 3000 words.
  • Margins. APA research paper formatting requires using 1-inch margins from all sides of your page. If you don’t use American markings, 1 inch is 2.5 centimeters. You can find this in Word settings and pick the correct option once and for all.
  • Title page. It should be present in APA format. Mention the title your essay has, putting it in bold; after two spaces, add your name, institution, course info, instructor’s name, as well as submission date. This is how it should look like:

apa title page template

  • Running head. APA used to have a running head, but starting with 7th edition, you shouldn’t include it. Pay attention to what edition your professor asks for — this could be important.
  • Font choice. There are two common options. The most popular is 12 pt Times New Roman. Most colleges require it because it looks concise and comprehensive at the same time. Another option is 11 pt Arial. Stick to these two styles and never include your own variations. Some students like to make their own fonts, turning them big or even colored. This is a mistake you should avoid at all costs — it’ll only annoy your instructor.
  • Page layout. With this college papers format, you need to include page numbers in the upper right corner. They should be present starting with the first page. Standard papers need double-spacing; some might require single spacing, but it happens rarely.
  • Headings. APA has five levels of headings. You should use them for discussing sections, subsections, mini-points, etc. Owl Purdue offers a great table of these levels.

apa format heading

  • Body. Every essay requires a body. Well-thought-out structure needs ½ inch indents before the start of each paragraph — this makes them look good and easily readable.
  • References. APA requires a page with references. It should be called exactly like that: “References.” The only exception would be if you used one source in your paper. In this case, you’d need a singular form of “reference.”

apa reference page template

MLA template

  • Paper length. MLA asks for similar length of papers as APA. For college, it is about 5 pages; for university, it’s closer to 10.
  • Margins. This is another point of similarity in the research paper setup between APA & MLA. 1 inch margins should be present on every side of your page.
  • Title page. And here comes the first difference. MLA doesn’t need any title page. You should mention your and your professor’s names, course as well as submission date on the left side of the first page. It should look this way:

mla title page template

  • Running head. MLA should have a running head comprising your last name in the right upper corner of the page.
  • Font choice. Here, we are back to similarities in the layout of research paper. MLA essays need 12 pt Times New Roman or 11 pt Arial.
  • Page layout. Put page numbers in the upper right corner, one space away from the running head. Double-spacing is preferable in most papers.
  • Headings. MLA research paper headers are unique in nature. Students could pick between several options, but we recommend the system below — check this table from Owl Purdue website.

mla headings format

  • Body. Include ½ inch indents before every paragraph.
  • References. MLA needs “Works Cited” list. Make it singular when relying on just one article.

mla works cited page template

Chicago template

  • Paper length. Chicago doesn’t differ from APA or MLA in this regard. Follow requirements from professor.
  • Margins. Add 1-inch margins to each side of an essay
  • Title page. Chicago format of research papers often needs a title page. Add title of an essay in all CAPS, out about five spaces, and include your name, course, along due date.

chicago title page template

  • Running head. No need for a running head in this format.
  • Font choice. 12 pt Times New Roman is the ideal option for Chicago.
  • Page layout. Page numbers should be in the upper right page corner; use double-spacing for text.
  • Headings. There are no specific rules for headings. Just make them centered and put them in bold.
  • Body. ½ inch indents are needed before new paragraphs.
  • References. Chicago demands a “Bibliography.” That’s how you need to use it:

chicago bibliography page template

Research Paper Example for References

We're constantly working on personal statement editing services review or posting feedback on various companies. Being useful to students is our main goal, and for this purpose, we’ll share tips on how to format citations + references for three styles we’ve been talking about.


In-text citations. An example of direct citation: “35% prefer eating dishes with cooked fish as opposed to sushi (Smith, 2021).”

Author’s name + publishing date is enough to show where you took info from. Add page numbers only for direct quotes.

Reference list. Smith, D. (2021). Eating habits. Oxford Press.

Last one, is an initial for the first name, publication date, title, and publisher.


In-text citations. Research paper format example for MLA citations is this: “Anna always loved wearing cotton in particular (Anderson 32).”

Last name + page number with no comma between them. Note that you should follow this model every time, no matter if you’re using direct quotes or indirect references.

Works cited. Anderson, Patsy. American Style. Sanguins Publishing, 2020.

First and last names of an author should come in their complete format, with no contractions. Words in a title should start with a capital letter & publishing house as well as posting date come last.


In-text citations. Chicago uses footnotes. This is its biggest difference from other styles. Citation from sample research paper would look similar to this: “The first fire happened in 1997.[1]” Number 1 means the number of a specific footnote. Place it in the lower part of the page where you used this info and provide details there in the following way: “1. Margaret Highs, Forest Fires (Devons, MA: Devlin University Press, 2010), 8.”

Footnote number, first + last name of an author, book name, publishing stuff as well as page number.

Bibliography. Highs, Margaret. Forest Fires. Devons, MA: Devlin University Press, 2010

This entry isn’t like footnote, but it has the same info. Copy it like we pointed out in guideline above and you won’t have any problems.

Become a Formatting Genius by Following Simple Rules

Scientific or personal narrative papers, usually follow the same formatting model. APA, Chicago, & MLA remain the most popular styles, and they are different as much as they’re similar. Check research paper samples and imitate what you see there. For large projects like dissertations, you could try the best dissertation editing services for double-checking your knowledge. If you do something once, the next time will be easier. Experts are always there to help, too, so assess a situation and make the best decision.

Posted by Diana B., March 22, 2022

How to Cite a Research Paper

Discover how to cite a research paper in all academic citation styles. Learn about APA, MLA, ASA, Chicago, and Turabian.

Posted by Chris M., May 30, 2022 Read more
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