Writing a College Paper: Outline, Format & Helpful Hints

Once you step into college, you should prepare yourself to write some research papers before you finally graduate as part of your course study. If you are a beginner at writing such academic papers, you will likely experience some challenges, especially when you have to present a perfect college paper format. However, with time, you will realize that crafting such papers is an easy task and that you can always present your ideas logically when you follow some guidelines.

In this write-up, we highlight all the elements you should consider when writing a college paper to meet the professor’s requirements.

College writing formats: how to write a college paper format

In academic writing, tutors not only look at the information you have presented in the paper but also at how you have presented the information itself. That is why every academic assignment comes with specific formatting requirements and how you should present the college paper layout.

Having different formatting approaches, it is significant for a student to research and understand the basis of all the formats in order to present a desirable paper. It will never make any sense for a student who gives incredible ideas and supporting evidence in their writing, only to miss out on the formatting guidelines, which call for harsh penalties.

Generally, the common college paper formats include:

APA academic paper format

APA - better known as the American Psychological Association, is a formatting strategy that calls for the following guidelines:

  • Double-spacing option in the entire paper
  • A 1-inch margin on all sides
  • Use of active voice
  • Left alignment
  • Use a font of Times New Roman of size 12
  • Double spaces after every punctuation at the end of each sentence
  • The page orders include: title page (your name, institute’s details, and author’s notes), abstract, body, references, appendices, footnotes, tables, and figures
  • Include page numbers, one inch from the right corner of each page

Note: under APA style, cite the sources within the body and include full references at the end of the paper.

MLA style of writing

Better known as the Modern Language Association, this formatting style suits the best humanitarian and liberal arts papers. Always ensure you take note of the latest edition to cite the paper appropriately. The guidelines under MLA include:

  • Include only one space after every punctuation
  • When using longer titles, make sure you use italics
  • Include an indentation of ½ inch in each paragraph from the left
  • Use 1-inch margins on all sides
  • Use double-spacing option
  • Avoid including the title page unless it is a requirement
  • Use any legible font with a size 12
  • Your name, instructor, course, and date details should appear in the upper left corner of the paper.
  • Use standard capitalization in the title and center it without using italics or underlying it.

Chicago - manual style CMS format

This format style is best for fine arts, history, and business topics. This style usually comes with specific requirements in the manuscript.

However, this style will require you to use notes and bibliography styles. The referencing is always done through endnote and footnote citations.

The bibliography comes before the index, where you should present it in alphabetical order after you include all the sources.

How to format a paper for college: pro tips

Once you know how to format college paper using different styles, you can apply the following tips to ensure you stay on the right track:

1. Always write a college research paper outline

The outline will help you understand how to present your ideas in a flowing manner based on the required formatting style.

2. Take note of how to head a college paper

Each formatting style has specific requirements about how you should present the headings of your research paper. Make sure you review some examples to get a clear picture of what you need to present.


Writing a research paper is one thing, and formatting is another. Make sure you master the MLA, APA, and Chicago formatting styles as you prepare to write the best research paper.