Basic Format of Academic Paper: Rules and Examples

Academic papers are a staple assignment for high school and college students. Unfortunately, many learners struggle with academic writing, with most having a challenge with the structure and rules for academic papers.

This article aims to discuss the format of an academic paper, helping you overcome various challenges you might face along the way. The academic writing format guide should help you determine how to format a research paper, ensuring that you organize your work for maximum coherence.

High school research paper format

The short paper format comprises an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Often, tutors recommend the hamburger format comprising three body paragraphs, hence the popular five-paragraph essay.


Your essay introduction comprises a hook, a statement of your paper’s purpose, background information, and a transition sentence. The hook brings your reader’s attention to the topic, at times, supporting your stand on a topic. 

The thesis statement is a summary of your paper, highlighting your key argument. When transitioning to the idea in your first body paragraph, give a gist of the idea or mention an argument that the idea will cater to.


The body of a short paper often comprises three to four paragraphs. Each paragraph should carry a unique point that contributes to your overall topic. The body paragraphs comprise a topic sentence that states the key idea of the paragraph, evidence for the claim, and transition to the next paragraph.


The conclusion of a paper offers a summary of your main arguments. You may start this section by restating your thesis to relate it to your key arguments. Avoid introducing new ideas to this chapter as it may render your work incomplete, costing you some marks. 

College paper format

Unlike a high school paper, a college research paper has more paper sections, each containing unique information. These sections include an abstract, an introduction, the methods, results, a discussion, and a conclusion.


The abstract is often a summary of the paper’s purpose, methods, and results. This summary should contain your thesis and highlight your key findings and results from your research. 

Unlike the body, your abstract should be free of citations. Also, limit your abstract to five hundred words, only presenting information that is relevant to your study.


The introduction to a research paper entails the background information to highlight a research gap that warrants your study. This section should highlight the key problem your paper intends to tackle and other research objectives you intend to tackle through your experiment.


The methods section bears much importance in the scholarly paper format. This section lays down the variables in your research and your research approach allowing for replication of your study by fellow researchers. 

Also, the methods section allows you to cover the approaches that are unique to your study and justification for why these results will yield results that are of scientific value.


The results section outlines the findings of your experiment in form of graphs and summaries. Unlike other research paper sections, results do not have any evidence but rather require you to express your findings.

Your summary should highlight any relationship between variables but refrain from any arguments for the relationship between variables. Any calculations should go to the appendices section to condense your results to meaningful data that’s easy for a reader to interpret. 


The discussion relates your data with the hypothesis and refers to various sources you encountered during the literature review. Here, you can suggest the reasons for the relationship of data and make deductions on how the results prove/ disprove various claims.


Your research paper conclusion summarizes your research findings and recommends tips for future studies on a given topic. This chapter should highlight your key arguments and stay clear of new ideas that were not investigated in your work. 

Rules for formatting an academic paper

Besides the paper structure, academic papers follow various rules depending on the referencing style recommended by your tutor. APA is the most common style and dictates that your paper:

  • Style all sheets to 8.5″ by 11″.
  • Apply a 1″ margin on all edges.
  • Indent each paragraph by 0.5″.
  • Use double space after each phrase.
  • Place the page number flush right and the running head flush left.
  • Each section should begin on a new page.