The Power of Academic Paper Formatting
College students, freelance writers, bloggers, and journalists all have one thing in common. Their world revolves around the written word and the word processing program. It's tempting just to click the Microsoft Word icon and start typing away using all of the default settings, but that isn't always the best option. The font you choose, as well as your formatting and even the number of words on each page, are all representative of your professionalism as a writer or student. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you put your best foot forward, so to speak.
Choose Your Font
Some fonts are obviously more professional than others. You wouldn't write a resume in Comic Sans, for example, and you shouldn't write a paper or blog in it either. Even if you ignore the fact that Comic Sans has an awful reputation of being immature and childish, it simply does not look professional.
Serif vs. San-Serif Fonts
There are two primary classifications of font: Serif and Sans-Serif. You're probably familiar with most of them, even if you're not familiar with the name of the classification.
Serif fonts, like Times new Roman, Calibri, Antiqua, and Georgia are the most commonly used Serif fonts and are considered more formal. If your boss or professor has a font preference, it will most often be one of the fonts from this category.
San-Serif fonts, such as Arial and Tahoma, are slightly easier to read than their serif counterparts, and are often used in things like newspapers, presentations, and other similar venues (including dissertations).
This is a very tricky choice to make, because there are so many schools of thought on the proper font size for papers or blogs.
As a general rule, most professional applications will require 12pt fonts. Unfortunately, this does not cover all possible uses. If you're writing a blog or website that may be read on a mobile device, you might want to opt for a larger font.
Choosing a font size is also important when you're limited to a certain number of pages for a paper or blog. Usually, if you're not using too many headlines and/or paragraphs, you can fit 500 words or so per page using, for example, an 11pt Calibri font. Switch that up to 12pt and you've gone into 2 pages.
Essay Formatting Tricks
Microsoft Word is one of the most commonly used word processing programs in the world, and it offers an enormous variety of formatting tools to help you make your paper look perfect and more importantly, help you create something that will impress your instructors or coworkers.
Adjusting your line spacing is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Some professors prefer that your work be automatically double spaced because it makes it easier to edit. Others may prefer that your papers are single spaced, have 1.5 spaces between lines, or something even stranger.
If you need to make your paper look longer, try increasing your line spacing from 1 to 1.5. This will stretch your work out over a couple of additional pages, without making it look like you're trying to. Double spacing is, at times, painfully obvious and can make it look like you're padding your work.
This can be a little tricky, especially if you overdo it, because it can make your papers look like they were formatted by a chimpanzee. Increasing your character spacing by 1-2 points can make your paper look longer, while actually making it a little easier to read.
Don't overdo it though. If you add too many spaces it will make your paper look like your spacebar was stuck the entire time you were writing.
Word Count vs. Words per Page
Your assignments, whether you're a college student or a professional journalist, will usually vary. Some will be assigned based on word count, while others may be assigned based on the more limiting but visually more appealing words per page.
Word count is an easy measurement to follow, especially if you're using Microsoft Word which has a handy word counter in the bottom left hand corner right next to your page counter. It can be little trickier if you have a word count AND a page limit, but overall, a word count is one of the easiest ways to measure the length of your work. Most bloggers and freelance writers charge for their work based on word count.
Words per Page
This can be a little harder to manage, especially if you have a lot of information that needs to be conveyed in a very limited space. Thankfully, there are some tools available online to help. These tools can determine your overall word count based on the words per page, your font choice, and the assigned words per page.
Other Things to Know
While the aforementioned tools are going to be your most commonly employed techniques, there are some other tricks you should store away to help you manage the overall length of your projects.
Use Bullet Points
Keep in mind; this will not work for every project. Some information simply cannot be translated to bulleted information. These take up more space than traditional text and can help you to lengthen your project while still providing the required information. Numbered lists work too and fall under this category.
Remember That These Rules Are Not Set in Stone
While following these rules may help you through most situations where writing is required, they are not golden rules. Each employer, teacher, editor, or professor may have his or her own preferences where formatting is concerned. If you insist on sticking to your own preferences, you may find yourself with a poor grade or without a job. Be flexible.
Proper document formatting is power. Learning just a few simple tricks can go a long way toward making your academic writing appear more professional, even if you're in an academic setting.
And remember, if you're not sure of a professor or editors preferences, ASK. It's better to ask and find out that your research and writing style is the same than not to ask and have everything you write sent back to you for alteration.