How to format an academic paper - website version

1. Formatting

Name of Student
Name of Instructor
Name of Course

How to Format a Paper for GCS Classes

When we are with friends, we have a conversational style. When we give a speech or sermon, we are more formal. Many of us have been in formal speech clubs. Although the formality was a bit artificial and seemingly unnecessary in the club, it nevertheless helped us learn to conduct ourselves well when a formal situation did arise. Style is actually part of the message: it communicates an attitude toward the topic and toward the audience.

Just as a public speech is different than an informal conversation, an academic paper is different than an email. Although the same ideas might be communicated with either format, it is important for graduate students to learn to work in the more formal writing style of academic papers. Although content is much more important than style, an academic style indicates that you are approaching the subject with a certain level of expertise and discipline.[1] Writing style is an important part of a graduate education, and stylistic matters do affect your grade.

Different theological schools and different instructors have slightly different preferences on style. Most of what we describe here is acceptable in a wide variety of graduate academic settings.

Use one inch margins all around, and use font Times New Roman 12. The main body of the paper should be double spaced (block quotes, footnotes, and bibliographies are single-spaced). The first line of each paragraph should indented ½ inch, and there should be no extra space between paragraphs. (The default for Microsoft Word is wrong, so you'll need to change it.) At the top of the page is a “header” containing the page number.[2] To get all these formatting details correct in Microsoft Word, we suggest that you use the Academic Paper Template at Also on that page are instructions on how to use Microsoft Word’s features.[3]

Begin the paper in the upper-left corner of page 1 with a brief description of the occasion: student, instructor, course and date. In a thesis, we should put that information on a more formal “title page.” But for a short paper, a separate title page is not necessary. After the details of occasion, give the title of the paper, which is boldfaced and centered. Then comes the main body of the paper.


In a one-page paper, subheads are not needed. In a longer paper, they can help a writer organize the ideas, and can help readers follow the sequence of thought. Leave a blank line above the subhead to help it stand out. The subhead touches the left-hand margin (“flush left; no indent”) and is boldfaced.

Occasional paragraph breaks also help the reader see how you have grouped your thoughts. If you have a paragraph that is one page long, break it into two or three paragraphs to help make your paper easier to read. Avoid excessive colloquialisms, and write in complete sentences. Each sentence should have a subject and a verb.


[1] Using the wrong style is like showing up at a church wedding in your beach clothes. Proper style conveys the message, “I know what I am doing, so there’s a good chance that this paper is worth your time.”

[2] For more information on formatting, see

[3] Other word processing programs will be different; we have given detailed instructions for Word because it is the most widely used program. Several good free programs are also available: Google Docs, LibreOffice, and Kingsoft.

To get the page and paragraph formatting correct, you may find it helpful to use the Word template we provide. Click here to download it.