How to Format an Academic Paper

The tips below are designed to help you format your academic paper in the correct way.

Adding Section and Page Breaks

It may be that you have attempted to create a new page by hitting your ‘enter’ key several times. There is no need to do this because most word processing systems have a convenient ‘Page Break’ feature! This feature takes you directly to the next page. Even if you want to add additional text before the break, you will not have to worry about removing all those extra spaces!

Useful hint: It is possible to create page breaks by pressing the CTRL key and the ENTER key together in MS Word.

In MS Word, the section break features recognizes new sections. The benefit here is that it is possible to change a section’s formatting without impacting other sections unless you want the system to do so. If, for example, you want a combination of landscape and portrait pages in a document, the section break feature allows you to easily do this. The system offers different section break types with much dependent on your objectives.

Adding Numbers to Pages

The pages in a dissertation or other type of paper may need to be numbered, some in Roman-style numbers and even some without numbers.

To do this, ensure all pages are in their appropriate sections. Then, double-click in a space near the top or at the bottom of your page to open the ‘Header and Footer’ window. Add the number of the page; choose whether you want this at the page’s top, bottom, or in the margin. Now, choose the ‘Format Page Numbers’ option. Choose your preferred numbering format. Additionally, from this point, you can change where page numbers start. Should you want a number that differs from the automatically generated one, enter your preference in the option labelled ‘Start At.’

If you want to use a different format in other sections, deselect the Word option that allows you to link to earlier sections. Otherwise, all sections will be changed. Now you can change the page numbers to any or as many formatting styles as required!

Adding Headers to Pages

The ‘Style Formats’ option helps maintain consistency in a document, and this can be used for referencing or creating a contents page, which are discussed later.

In Word, styles are pre-set so choose those that are relevant to you. For instance, you can select from titles, headings, quotes, and even normal.

If you do not like a predefined style, it is easy to change it. In MS Word 2013, there is a ‘Design’ option (this differs in other Word versions), which provides the user with other pre-set options, or allows them to change font size/style, line spacing, colors, and so on.

It is also possible to manually change individual styles. To do this, right-click on the required style, select the ‘Modify’ option, and edit it to suit your needs. All existing text will then be updated to your new format.

Additional information is provided on’s website for creating and distinguishing appendices.

Creating a Contents or Table of Contents Page

If you are in the habit of manually typing pages or tables of content, you should find this automated feature a great time-saver.

To begin, make sure all headings are formatted as described above.

Now, look for a tab labelled ‘References’ and choose the option entitled ‘Table of Contents’ to start inserting content. You will find a couple of pre-set options and the opportunity to add a new customized contents list.

The system is pre-set to add (indented) Headings 1, 2 and 3 automatically. If there is anything you want to change about this, select the option labelled ‘Custom Table of Contents.’ Now you will see a button labelled ‘Options.’ Click this and choose your desired headings and levels.

The main benefit of an automatically generated table of contents is that you just need to choose ‘Update Title’ if your sections or chapters move to differently numbered pages. Choosing this option will automatically update all page numbers without any manual effort whatsoever on your part!

Clear Unwanted Formatting

If you have done a lot of formatting, it may have made your document look messy. You may have copied and pasted text from somewhere else that looks totally different. All formatting can be quickly removed from a text using the convenient ‘Clear Formatting’ option.