A Guide to Style for Course Papers

N. Sivin
B. Lewenstein
Draft 7

The goal of style is communication. Once you are used to a consistent style and use it habitually, you do not have to fuss with mechanical details as you concentrate on presenting your ideas clearly and concisely. The minimal set of standards outlined below will still be useful when you are ready to put your ideas and research results into publishable form. They are not meant to supersede any form that you have already mastered.

Any current word processor, including Word, is an remarkably powerful tool which few students learn to fully use. If you have never learned to use styles and templates, doing so will save you endless hours of setting up course papers (or any other form you regularly use). If you don’t have a manual for yours, buy or borrow one and read up on these (and many other) time-saving features.

1. Term papers should be printed double-spaced in 12-point type on plain white paper of sixteen-pound or heavier weight. If you cannot write your papers on a computer, write them by hand plainly; to facilitate editing and marking up, skip a space between lines and make sure your margins are ample (see #2).

2. Set margins one and a half inches at the left, and at least one inch at top, right, and bottom. This white space keeps the page from looking crowded, and leaves adequate space for the instructor to add minor revisions and comments. Learn how your word processor lets you adjust margins. Number all pages. If possible, provide each with a running head, except on the first page of text (or of each chapter), and the first page of endnotes and of the bibliography if you provide them.

I also suggest that you give your paper a title. Titles are extremely useful for letting readers know right away what your topic is.

3. If you are not sure about punctuation_for instance, whether commas and periods go inside quotation marks, or how to use semicolons_check a style manual or see how it is done in a book published in the U.S. (national styles vary).

4. Use footnotes or endnotes to document what you take from your sources. If your paper is about an article or book, cite all other sources. Successive references to the same source should be consolidated if possible. Work for the smallest number of footnotes that fully document your argument without ambiguity. If you use endnotes, begin them on a new page and double-space them.

5. You can use any standard style, so long as you follow its forms uniformly and consistently. For course papers, provide a full citation adequate to lead the reader to the source. The appended examples of citations are no more than suggestions. They are simplified from the style of Isis, the international history of science journal. For general writing, the Isis style is a good standard, or follow a style manual that you like. For scholarly writing, use the style sheet of the journal in your own field that you would like to publish in. Your faculty advisor or department office can tell you if there is a standard form in your discipline.

6. A separate bibliography is not necessary if your footnote citations are complete. If you provide a bibliography, abbreviate footnote citations within the limits of easy intelligibility. See the examples of both approaches below. A bibliography is no contribution to knowledge unless annotated to show the relevance and value of each item for which this information is not obvious from the title.

7. Quotations in the text should be double-spaced and indented slightly left and right if more than nine lines long. Begin them on a new line, begin what follows on a new line, and omit quotation marks. This paragraph is an example.

8. Proofread the finished paper carefully and enter last-minute corrections readably in black ink. Pencil or blue ball-point will not do. No matter how much you care about the quality of your writing, and how much effort you put into it, typographical errors will convince some readers that you can't be bothered to do your best.



1. Nakayama Shigeru, "The Empirical Tradition. Science and Technology in China," pp. 131-150 in Arnold Toynbee (ed.), Half the World. The History and Culture of China and Japan (London, 1973), p. 142.

2. Joseph Needham & Lu Gwei-djen, "Medicine and Chinese Culture," pp. 263-293 in Clerks and Craftsmen in China and the West. Lectures and Addresses on the History of Science and Technology (Cambridge, England, 1970).

3. Orleans, Leo (ed.), Science in Contemporary China (Stanford, 1980), ch. 2.

4. Needham, Joseph, et al., Science and Civilisation in China (7 vols. projected; Cambridge, England, 1954- ), III (1959), 201.




1 . Nakayama 1973: 142.

2 . Needham & Lu 1970: 271.

3 . Orleans 1980: ch. 2.

4 . Needham 1954- : III (1959), 201.


(note hanging indentation, set with paragraph formatting)

Nakayama Shigeru. The Empirical Tradition. Science and Technology in China. In Half the World. The History and Culture of China and Japan, ed. Arnold Toynbee, pp. 131-150. London, 1973. A comparative study of educational values and institutions in East (China and Japan) and West (Europe and Islam). For a fuller statement see Nakayama's Academic and Scientific Traditions in China, Japan, and the West (Tokyo, 1984). [Note that in the annotation you use footnote citation form, not bibliography citation form, since the latter’s periods would be confusing.]

Needham, Joseph, et al. Science and Civilisation in China. 7 vols. projected. Cambridge, England, 1954- . A monumental survey; 22 large tomes to date. Good starting point for almost any topic.

_______. Clerks and Craftsmen in China and the West. Lectures and Addresses on the History of Science and Technology. Cambridge, England, 1970. Includes several valuable essays on medicine.

_______; Lu Gwei-djen. Medicine and Chinese Culture. In Needham, Clerks and Craftsmen, pp. 263-293.

Orleans, Leo A. (ed.). Science in Contemporary China. Stanford, 1980 (published 1981). Articles on all aspects of physical science and engineering, based on publications and personal experience. Includes essays on history and science policy.



A brief guide to the main types of citation (newsgroups, WWW pages, etc.) is at


For a detailed guide that covers a number of major style guides consult


Copyright reserved by Nathan Sivin. Please email nsivin@sas.upenn.edu with comments and corrections.

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Last Modified 2003.8.22