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Clear and Detailed Term Paper Format and Structure Guidelines

Standard Term Paper Format and Outline

Standard Term Paper Structure and Optional Sections

Outlining is a crucial prewriting step for any college assignment, especially research and term papers. If you don’t know how to structure a term paper, use our template below and keep the sections pertinent to your class and topic. If you’re unsure which elements are non-negotiable, consult your TA or professor.

  1. Title Page (optional). Suppose you use the APA term paper format. In that case, the paper’s cover should list identification information, such as your name, class name and identifier, professor’s name, school name, the title of the paper, and date.
  2. Abstract. The summary is never longer than one page and includes a short paper outline and each section’s core points. Add a list of keywords at the bottom.
  3. Introduction. The first section should include a broad overview of the background information on the topic, the purpose and goals of the assignment, expected results, etc. Explain why your topic is important and what problems it can solve.
  4. Literature review. Analyze credible sources and synthesize the information to highlight gaps in knowledge, contradictions, and outdated data. The review should be detailed enough to introduce the topic to a person unfamiliar with it. You can merge the literature review and introduction into one section.
  5. Methodology (optional). If your term paper deals with hands-on research, describe the methods you use. Cite standard methodology and detail sampling specifics, statistical analysis approach, etc. This section should give readers a chance to reproduce your results. 
  6. Results and Discussion. List and analyze the results achieved. Evaluate the hypothesis, theorize potential issues, and suggest practical applications of the results.
  7. Conclusion and Recommendations (optional). If your results have practical application, recommend their potential uses, and offer improvements or further research avenues. 
  8. Reference list. Alphabetize and list all sources used in the paper. Use appropriate formatting style (APA, MLA, etc.). Double-check each entry to ensure the software accounts for the latest guidelines if you rely on automatic citation generators. 
  9. Appendices (optional). If writing a term paper requires a lot of additional information or results in visual media (tables, graphs, charts, images) that interrupts the flow of the paper, use appendices to corral this information. Remember to give each appendix a letter and a name and list them in the table of contents.

Additional term paper sections may include acknowledgments to specify any third parties involved in your research. The acknowledgment page usually follows the title page. The professor may also request you include a list of tables and images if you do not wish to put them in appendices. The lists come after the table of contents and include table and image names and page numbers.

How to Format a Term Paper

Unless there’s a school-wide directive, your assignment prompt should include the appropriate citation and formatting style requirements. If you’re unsure which style format to use for term paper, double-check with your TA or professor. The most common APA and MLA styles have enough differences to make reformatting the term paper a time-consuming and painful process. 

We recommend addressing the format of term paper as the last step of the post-writing routine. Editing and proofreading should come before formatting, as new changes may disrupt your formatting efforts.

How to Write a Term Paper in APA Format

Nursing and Medical schools and STEM programs usually rely on the APA term paper format. For detailed instructions, check the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th edition), available in most libraries and writing centers. 

For quick reference, here are some APA style term paper highlights:

  • Each page should include a running head (a shortened version of the paper title), typed in capital letters (flush left), and a page number (flush right).
  • Recommended fonts include 12 pt Times New Roman, 11 pt Arial, and others.
  • The body of the page should be double-spaced and aligned left.
  • All page margins are 1 inch. The first line of paragraph indents are ½ inch from the margin.
  • Five levels of headings are possible. Level 1 headings are centered and bold. Level 2 headings are left-aligned and bold. Level 3 headings are left-aligned, bold, italics. Level 4 headings are indented, bold, and ending in a period. Level 5 headings are indented, bold, italics, and ending in a period.  

How to Write a Term Paper in MLA Format

Humanity majors are familiar with the MLA term paper format, as it’s considered standard for soft sciences. For detailed formatting guidelines, check the MLA Handbook (9th edition). But here are a few highlights to get you started:

  • Double-space body text should be in a legible 12 pt font.
  • Page margins are 1 inch on all sides. First-line indents are ½ inch from the left margin.
  • Italics are only used for longer work names and emphasis.
  • Do not create a title page; provide your name, professor’s name, class, and date in the upper left corner of the first page above the paper title.
  • Five levels of headings are possible. Level 1 headings are flush left, bold. Level 2 headings are flush left, italics. Level 3 headings are centered, bold. Level 4 headings are centered, italics. Level 5 headings are flush left, underlined. 

Format of Term Paper FAQs

What Is a Typical Format for a Term Paper?

The term paper format depends on your major, school, the class you’re taking, and your professor’s preferences. The most common formats are MLA (9th edition) and APA (7th edition).

How to Format a Date in a Term Paper?

The 7th edition of the APA Handbook recommends one date format: Month Day, Year (August 10, 2020).

The 9th edition of the MLA Handbook allows for two date formats: Month Day, Year (August 10, 2020) and Day Month Year (10 August 2020). Notice that the comma is only present if you list the month before the date. Pick one of the two options and use it consistently throughout the paper. 

How to Format a Book Reference in Term Paper?

In APA, the book reference template is:

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of Book. Publisher Name.
Gleick, J. (1987). Chaos: Making a New Science. Penguin.

In MLA, reference books according to the template:

Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Publication Date.
Gleick, James. Chaos: Making a New Science. Penguin, 1987.

How to Format Term Paper Bullets, Numbers, Lists?

In APA, use numbered and bulleted lists for complete sentences or paragraphs that end in a period. The first word after the Arabic number starts with a capital letter. Bulleted lists can include sentence fragments ending in a semicolon. You can also list items within a sentence by adding letters in parenthesis before each item and separating them with semicolons.  

In MLA, vertical lists should follow a colon. Full-sentence points should start with a capital letter and include appropriate punctuation. Sentence fragments should follow sentence capitalization rules, be numbered or bulleted, and end in a semicolon. The article before last must have “and” or “or” after the semicolon.