Despite the fact that most research papers have similar requirements, some instructors have their own preferences. You should always check with your instructor or with any guidelines you were given before you assume that you can use a normal format. If your instructor has no preference, you should use the generally accepted standards as explained here.
Use only white, letter-size paper—that is, 8½ × 11 inches. You should type or write on only one side of this paper. Each side of the page, and the top and bottom, should have a one-inch margin. Most word processing programs will default to this margin anyway, but you will need to remember it yourself if you are writing your paper by hand. The reasoning behind this is twofold. The margin adds to the visual appeal of the paper, and it gives the instructor room to write comments about your work.
Usually paragraphs will be indented; however, this is an area where your instructor may differ. Some prefer to see all the text aligned to the left margin with an extra space between paragraphs to set them off.
All research papers should be double-spaced. Again, this is both for visual appeal and for your instructor's comments.
Number your pages and include your last name in case the papers come apart and get mixed up, either within your own report or with others’. The page number and last name should always appear in the top right-hand corner of each page, aligned to the right and top margins. So, for example,
Spalding 1, Spalding 2, Spalding 3, and so on, should appear in the top right-hand corner of consecutive pages. Some word processing programs include a function to automatically add the page numbers to each page. You can customize this function to show your last name as well.
If your paper includes headings for separate sections, make sure that these are clear. They often stand out better if they are in bold type and if they include an extra blank line before and after the heading. Never switch to a different font for a heading. The style guide you are using should specify how to treat headings; in any case, make sure they are consistent throughout.
Type your paper in a regular font such as Times New Roman or Arial. A font size of 12 is the easiest to read. If you write your paper by hand, use black or blue ink, never any other colors, and never pencil.
Most instructors like to follow the presentation guidelines in the MLA Handbook. There are specific instructions for margin widths, paper size, spacing, page numbering, and citation requirements. Some of your instructor's requirements may vary slightly from these guidelines, so don't just assume that you can follow them all.
How a research paper should be bound together is still a matter of some debate. The only consensus seems to be that a paper should be bound. Some people just staple or clip the pages together. Others like to use report covers or binders, though some instructors discourage those. If they are allowed, be sure to pick one that fits the papers as closely as possible, not one that is oversized or bulky. Avoid anything overly fancy; it will only detract from the otherwise professional presentation of your paper.
Organizing Your Paper
Make sure that the pages of your paper are in the correct order before you hand the paper in. You numbered your pages, so this should be easy. If you are handing in other components of your research, perhaps because your instructor has asked to see your first draft, he or she might ask you to include these items at a certain place in your paper or to hand them in separately. You are always required to include the bibliography, and it is always placed at the very end of the research paper. Make sure that your drawings, maps, figures, and photos are in the appropriate spot in your paper, and that the cover sheet is at the beginning.