Reference Page Format For Essay Paper

If your instructor has specific requirements for the format of your research paper, check them before preparing your final draft. When you submit your paper, be sure to keep a secure copy.

The most common formatting is presented in the sections below:


Except for the running head (see below), leave margins of one inch at the top and bottom and on both sides of the text. If you plan to submit a printout on paper larger than 8½ by 11 inches, do not print the text in an area greater than 6½ by 9 inches.

Text Formatting

Always choose an easily readable typeface (e.g., Times New Roman) in which the regular type style contrasts clearly with the italic, and set it to a standard size (e.g., 12 points). Do not justify the lines of text at the right margin; turn off any automatic hyphenation feature in your writing program. Double-space the entire research paper, including quotations, notes, and the list of works cited. Indent the first line of a paragraph half an inch from the left margin. Indent set-off quotations half an inch as well (for examples, see 76–80 in the MLA Handbook). Leave one space after a period or other concluding punctuation mark, unless your instructor prefers two spaces.

Heading and Title

Beginning one inch from the top of the first page and flush with the left margin, type your name, your instructor’s name, the course number, and the date on separate lines, double-spacing the lines. On a new, double-spaced line, center the title (fig. 1). Do not italicize or underline your title, put it in quotation marks or boldface, or type it in all capital letters. Follow the rules for capitalization in the MLA Handbook (67–68), and italicize only the words that you would italicize in the text.

Do not use a period after your title or after any heading in the paper (e.g., Works Cited). Begin your text on a new, double-spaced line after the title, indenting the first line of the paragraph half an inch from the left margin.

A research paper does not normally need a title page, but if the paper is a group project, create a title page and list all the authors on it instead of in the header on page 1 of your essay. If your teacher requires a title page in lieu of or in addition to the header, format it according to the instructions you are given.

Running Head with Page Numbers

Number all pages consecutively throughout the research paper in the upper right-hand corner, half an inch from the top and flush with the right margin. Type your last name, followed by a space, before the page number (fig. 2). Do not use the abbreviation p. before the page number or add a period, a hyphen, or any other mark or symbol. Your writing program will probably allow you to create a running head of this kind that appears automatically on every page. Some teachers prefer that no running head appear on the first page. Follow your teacher’s preference.

Placement of the List of Works Cited

The list of works cited appears at the end of the paper, after any endnotes. Begin the list on a new page. The list contains the same running head as the main text. The page numbering in the running head continues uninterrupted throughout. For example, if the text of your research paper (including any endnotes) ends on page 10, the works-cited list begins on page 11. Center the title, Works Cited, an inch from the top of the page (fig. 3). (If the list contains only one entry, make the heading Work Cited.) Double-space between the title and the first entry. Begin each entry flush with the left margin; if an entry runs more than one line, indent the subsequent line or lines half an inch from the left margin. This format is sometimes called hanging indention, and you can set your writing program to create it automatically for a group of paragraphs. Hanging indention makes alphabetical lists easier to use. Double-space the entire list. Continue it on as many pages as necessary.

Tables and Illustrations

Place tables and illustrations as close as possible to the parts of the text to which they relate. A table is usually labeled Table, given an arabic numeral, and titled. Type both label and title flush left on separate lines above the table, and capitalize them as titles (do not use all capital letters). Give the source of the table and any notes immediately below the table in a caption. To avoid confusion between notes to the text and notes to the table, designate notes to the table with lowercase letters rather than with numerals. Double-space throughout; use dividing lines as needed (fig. 4).

Any other type of illustrative visual material—for example, a photograph, map, line drawing, graph, or chart—should be labeled Figure (usually abbreviated Fig.), assigned an arabic numeral, and given a caption: “Fig. 1. Mary Cassatt, Mother and Child, Wichita Art Museum.” A label and caption ordinarily appear directly below the illustration and have the same one-inch margins as the text of the paper (fig. 5). If the caption of a table or illustration provides complete information about the source and the source is not cited in the text, no entry for the source in the works-cited list is necessary.

Musical illustrations are labeled Example (usually abbreviated Ex.), assigned an arabic numeral, and given a caption: “Ex. 1. Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 6 in B, opus 74 (Pathétique), finale.” A label and caption ordinarily appear directly below the example and have the same one-inch margins as the text of the paper (fig. 6).

Paper and Printing

If you print your paper, use only white, 8½-by-11-inch paper of good quality. If you lack 8½-by-11-inch paper, choose the closest size available. Use a high-quality printer. Some instructors prefer papers printed on a single side because they’re easier to read, but others allow printing on both sides as a means of conserving paper; follow your instructor’s preference.

Corrections and Insertions on Printouts

Proofread and correct your research paper carefully before submitting it. If you are checking a printout and find a mistake, reopen the document, make the appropriate revisions, and reprint the corrected page or pages. Be sure to save the changed file. Spelling checkers and usage checkers are helpful when used with caution. They do not find all errors and sometimes label correct material as erroneous. If your instructor permits corrections on the printout, write them neatly and legibly in ink directly above the lines involved, using carets (⁁) to indicate where they go. Do not use the margins or write a change below the line it affects. If corrections on any page are numerous or substantial, revise your document and reprint the page.

Binding a Printed Paper

Pages of a printed research paper may get misplaced or lost if they are left unattached or merely folded down at a corner. Although a plastic folder or some other kind of binder may seem an attractive finishing touch, most instructors find such devices a nuisance in reading and commenting on students’ work. Many prefer that a paper be secured with a simple paper or binder clip, which can be easily removed and restored. Others prefer the use of staples.

Electronic Submission

There are at present no commonly accepted standards for the electronic submission of research papers. If you are asked to submit your paper electronically, obtain from your teacher guidelines for formatting, mode of submission (e.g., by e-mail, on a Web site), and so forth and follow them closely.

Designed to be printed out and used in the classroom. From the MLA Handbook, 8th ed., published by the Modern Language Association.

The following are specific instructions for how to set up a document in APA format. For further and more detailed instructions, please see chapter 2: "Manuscript Structure and Content" in the APA Handbook.


All margins (top, bottom and sides) should be set at a minimum of one inch.  

The default setting for most Microsoft Word programs is one inch margins.  You can set the margins of your Word document by selecting "Page Layout" > "Margins" from the Ribbon Display Options.

Alignment / Line Spacing

All documents following APA guidelines are required to be aligned left and double-spaced throughout the entire document.  Be sure not to include additional spacing between paragraphs, headings, etc.

Font Type and Size

The preferred font type is Times New Roman.  Additionally, APA requires the font size to be 12 point.  

This is an example of 12-point Times New Roman.

Paragraph Indentation

All papers typed in APA format require paragraphs to be indented one-half inch.  This can easily be accomplished by striking TAB on the keyboard at the start of a new paragraph.  

To set the one-half inch tab default in Microsoft Word, under "Home" on the Ribbon Display Options, select "Paragraph" > "Increase Indent", and set to a one-half inch indentation.

Page Header

Beginning on the very first page (title page) and running continually throughout the APA document, a page header is utilized.  

The page header should appear one-half inch down from the top margin.  It includes the running head flush left and the page number flush right.  The running head consists of the words Running head (the R in Running is capatilized) followed by a colon and the title of the paper in all capital letters. There is a maximum of 50 characters (including spaces).  If the title encompasses more than 50 characters, then only major words should be used.

Ex.  Running head: TITLE OF YOUR PAPER

This can be accomplished using the Header and Footer settings in Microsoft Word.  

Levels of Heading

When a document requires the use of headings, the following five levels should be utilized (See sec. 3.03 APA Handbook).

Centered, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading
(Level One)

Flush Left, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading 
(Level Two)

      Indented, boldface, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period.
(Level Three)

      Indented, boldface, italicized, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period.
(Level Four)

     Indented, italicized lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period.
(Level Five)

*NOTE: In levels three, four, and five, capitalize only the first letter of the first word.

*NOTE: In levels three, four, and five, the paragraph begins on the same line as the heading.

Title Page

The title page of the document should include the following:

         * Page header: Running head is flush left; page number is flush right.

         * Title of the paper, student's name, and name of college of university (typed in that order & centered on the title page).

The Running head will appear .5" from the top of the page.  See Page Header for further instructions about formatting a Running head.

Reference Page

A list of references should be given on a separate page(s) at the end of an APA document.  Every reference cited in the text should be listed on the reference page(s), and every reference listed on the reference page(s) should be cited in the text.  However, note that secondary sources are not necessary as an entry on the reference page-- only the original source that cites it.

General 6th edition APA guidelines for the reference page(s) include:

- Margins should be at least one inch all around (top, bottom, left and right) & double spacing should be used.

- The page heading should be centered and called References.  

- References should be listed in alphabetical order by authors (using surname of first author), associations (if the work is authored by an organization), and Anonymous (if work is signed Anonymous). If no author is provided, the title should be moved before the date and alphabetized according to the first word of the title (excluding a, an, the). 

- Underlining should not be used on the reference page.

- Personal conversations, emails, interviews, and letters should not be listed since the reader is unable to retrieve these types of sources (cite as personal communication in text, but do not list on the reference page).

- The first line of each reference entry should start at the left margin with the following lines being indented one half inch (hanging indent).

- Numerals are used to denote numbers ten and above.

- References beginning with numerals should have the numeral spelled out. (ex. "3 times the fun: The joy of triplets" should be listed as "Three times the fun: The joy of triplets")


The word Abstract should be centered, one inch from the top of the page.  The actual abstract, however, should be left justified.  This is the only paragraph of the paper that is not indented.  It should be concise, accurate, and reflect the content of the document.  The abstract should be only one paragraph in length.  No paraphrasing or direct quotations should be included.


Appendices are pages at the end of the paper (after the references) with additional information.  Appendices allow the author to include information that would be distracting to the reader if included in the body of the paper.  Tables or charts more than a half page in length are often placed in the appendices rather than the text of the paper.  The page header continues onto pages containing an appendix.  

* NOTE: If only one appendix is included, it should be labeled Appendix and centered, with uppercase and lowercase letters.  If more than one appendix is included, they should be labeled Appendix A, Appendix B, etc. 

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