Highlighting the Main Points: Choosing a Term Paper Format


Do you have another term paper to write and have some doubts about its format? It is easier said than done, but try to spend some time learning the main points about how to choose a work style first. It is a big mistake when students write their papers and then find out that the formatting is wrong. Changing it is time consuming, so visit your supervisor and use the style they prefer. Professors often choose one of the following styles:

  1. American Psychological Association (APA).
  2. Modern Language Association (MLA).
  3. Chicago Manual of Style (CMS).

The first style is popular among behavioral and social scientists. The second one is often used during literature and numerous language courses. And the third format is widely accepted in humanities and fine art disciplines. However, instructors may change the requirements and give additional guidelines. If you are allowed to choose by your own, it is better to pick the one you are familiar with. For example, chemists frequently use American Chemical Society (ACS) format for their works.

The formats are different and help to highlight different aspects of a term paper. The APA style is very popular in geography and business courses. It is important to connect the citations with the dates, e.g. all the cited sources are written with a year of publication. The quotes are mentioned in past tense. The present tense is always used to demonstrate your personal research outcomes. The format requires preparing a summary or an abstract. The cited sources are called “References”, some of them may be put down as footnotes.

MLA format outlines the authors of the literature sources instead of books or articles themselves. Names of authors are widely mentioned in the text, and citations are made in present tense, e.g. “As Newton mentions”. Normally MLA does not apply footnotes, so all the references compose a list of references or a works cited list at the end of a term paper. This is the only format that does not require a title page.

CMS style is not so widely accepted as the two previously mentioned styles, but its guidelines are more general and it seems easier to follow. Though it was not created for a particular discipline, it is commonly used in philosophy and history. Footnotes replace the bibliography, so the reader can find all the details at the same page bottom. Some instructors accept so-called endnotes. You can choose yourself what tense to use since everything remains clear.

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