Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Style sheet

Posted: Nov 19, 2006 00:11;
Last Modified: Jan 03, 2015 17:01


Note: This is an archived policy. For my current policy, please see Essay style: Some basics.


  1. Introduction
  2. General
  3. Main body
    1. Page and paper
    2. Font
    3. Alignment and spacing
    4. Quotations
    5. Citation and Documentation
    6. Spelling and punctuation
  4. Works Cited list
  5. Penalties


This document outlines minimum expectations for style and documentation for essays submitted in my classes. Exceptions occasionally do apply for special types of work such as creative projects and research projects on certain advanced topics. Be sure to ask if you think such exceptions may apply in your case. In most cases, these guidelines will apply.

These guidelines exist because writing humanities papers requires precision: your quotations must be accurate, your bibliography traceable, and your intellectual debts acknowledged. Submitting work that does not meet these standards is like doing microbiology with dirty equipment: the results are of little use to anybody.

Just as importantly, submitting poorly proofed, poorly documented, and poorly formatted work shows disrespect for your ideas and the work of your fellow students. If I must continuously point out obvious and trivial errors of layout, punctuation, and style, I am being distracted from, and have less time to devote to, your ideas and arguments. In my experience a badly proofed and documented paper can take more than twice as long to mark as a more conscientious one.

So although it is tempting to see proof-reading and compiling a list of references as last minute tasks to be completed just before submission, I strongly recommend you devote real time and attention to this work.


I require most essays to be submitted electronically. If I require hard-copy submission, I will give specific additional instructions. Sometimes, aspects of your work can make electronic submission difficult or impossible. If something about your work prevents it from being submitted electronically or other otherwise following these guidelines, please see me in advance.

Your paper should have two main parts:

  1. Main body
  2. “Works Cited” list

The main body contains your title and the principal text of your essay. The Works Cited list contains a list of all works referenced in the main body.

Note: Your name should not appear anywhere in either the main body or the Works Cited list. The electronic submission software I use keeps a separate record of your name and I prefer to mark essays without knowing the name of the author.

Main body

I have prepared a sample essay to illustrate most of these points.

Page and paper

  1. Set your word processor to use the standard, U.S. Letter-Size page. If you are required to hand in a hard copy, print your essay on one side on regular white photocopy/laser-printer quality paper.
  2. Your margins should be set to 4 cm (1.5”) on all sides. Headers and footers should have a top and bottom margin (respectively) of 2 cm.
  3. All pages should be numbered using arabic numerals (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4). The first page of the main body of your essay is page 1. Do not put your name beside the page number; your name should not appear anywhere in the main body or Works Cited list.


  1. Use a 12 or 13pt roman-style (serifed) font for the main body of your essay and “Works Cited” list. Examples of suitable fonts include Times New Roman, Times, or Bitstream Charter. Do not use a non-serifed font such as Arial or fancy fonts that mimic handwriting and the like.

Alignment and spacing

  1. All text should be double-spaced.
  2. Paragraphs should be indented style (not block style). The first line of a each new paragraph should be indented approximately 1 cm (usually equivalent to one tab or five spaces). You should not put a blank line between paragraphs, except in very long papers, where a blank line indicates the beginning of a discrete section or sub-argument.
  3. Notes (if present) should appear at the bottom of the page, not at the end of the essay. If they are present, they should be numbered using arabic numerals (i.e. 1, 2, 3, etc.). Notes should not be used for basic bibliographic citation, and modern style discourages their use unless absolutely necessary.
  4. Block quotations, when required (see below), should be double-spaced. Their left margins should be indented 1cm from the usual left margin of the main body of your essay. If you need to indicate paragraph division in a block quotation, indent the first line of the new paragraph a further centimetre. You only should indent block quotations if they start with the beginning of a paragraph in your source or if your source quotation contains two or more paragraphs.


  1. Quotations of less than three lines of prose or two lines of poetry should be presented in-line between quotation marks.
  2. Quotations of four or more lines of prose or three or more lines of poetry should be presented as block quotations (see above for formatting details).
  3. Block quotations of poetry should reproduce the lineation and any special spacing and punctuation of the original.
  4. In-line quotations of poetry should use a solidus (i.e. / ) to indicate the break between lines.
  5. Be sure to check your quotations carefully for accuracy.

Citation and Documentation

  1. Unless otherwise specified, your essays should follow the MLA style guide in matters of citation and documentation. The library has a list of on-line references and guides; print copies (which have more detailed information and information on more obscure types of material), are available in the library’s reference collection (Call Number: LB 2369 G53 2003). See the section on the Works Cited list (below) for instructions on what to do if you don’t know how to cite a particular source in MLA format.
  2. References to sources in the main body of your essay should be parenthetical and follow the recommendations of the MLA Style Guide. Pay particular attention to positioning of final punctuation such as commas, periods, colons, and semi colons when using parenthetical documentation: such punctuation goes after the closing parenthesis of the citation.
  3. Be sure to document the source of all ideas, paraphrases, quotations, and arguments you are adopting from other sources. Be particularly careful that you do not forget to cite sources or indicate debts to material you have copied from the Internet. Remember that you must cite the source for all facts, arguments, and ideas in your paper that are not the direct result of your own work with primary material—and that you must do so even if you do not directly quote from or paraphrase the source you used. I use plagiarism detection software and will fail anybody who neglects to indicate specific intellectual debts in their essay. My usual penalty for plagiarism of this sort is a grade ‘F’ on the course with a letter to the Dean for inclusion in your student file.
  4. I place no restrictions on the sources you can use in your work. You are responsible, however, for choosing sources that are reliable and suitable for the topic on which you are writing. As a rule, encyclopaedias, including the Wikipedia, Encarta, or Encyclopaedia Britannica, are good places to start research and are acceptable as sources for incidental facts and details. But they generally should not be your sole source for important facts or arguments in your essay. If a fact or argument is crucial for your argument, you usually should do some secondary research to check the current state of knowledge. If an encyclopaedia remains your primary source for something in your essay, however, make sure you cite it: you may not do as well on your paper if better sources exist; but the penalties for plagiarism are far more serious than the penalties for using a poor quality source.
  5. There is no reason for using non-scholarly dictionary and “word-finder” sites in most types of essays. The University subscribes to online versions of high quality, academic dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary (this also can be accessed from the library catalogue). The library’s reference room contains many more print dictionaries. Once again, if you do use a non-scholarly dictionary as a direct source anyway, make sure you cite it: you may not do as well on your paper; but the penalties for plagiarism are far more serious than the penalties for using a poor quality source.
  6. In some types of essays, working directly with non-standard, tertiary, or sub-scholarly resources is either unavoidable or to be encouraged due to the nature of the argument or topic. If you are worried about whether a resource is of acceptable quality, feel free to consult with me.

Spelling and Punctuation

  1. Carefully proof-read your essay for spelling and punctuation errors. I deduct a full letter grade from essays after the third typographic, spelling, style, or formatting error. I will return essays ungraded if there are more than five such mistakes. Errors you should pay particular attention to include:
    1. Spelling mistakes (decide on a single spelling system and use it consistently throughout your essay. Unless you have strong reasons for doing otherwise, you should use Canadian or British English)
    2. Missing words
    3. Words a spelling checker has replaced with an incorrect form (e.g. “tea” for a misspelling of “the”)
    4. Missing or extra apostrophes (by the time you reach University, you should know the difference between it’s and its and you should know not to use apostrophes to indicate plurals; if you are unsure of how to use apostrophes, seek remedial help from the writing centre)
    5. Missing spaces between quotations and parenthetical citations
    6. Punctuation placed before and not after parenthetical citations
    7. Misspellings of an author’s name or a book’s title
    8. Incorrect (and especially inconsistent) treatment of capitalisation
    9. Lack of agreement between subjects and verbs, between pronoun and antecedents, and between articles and nouns (If you do not know what these terms mean, seek remedial help from the writing centre)
    10. Repeated words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs
    11. Mistakes in the use of commas, periods, semi-colons, and colons (If you are unsure of the differences between these punctuation marks, seek remedial help from the writing centre)

Works Cited List

  1. Include a Works Cited list with all essays unless prior arrangements have been made.
  2. Start this list on a separate page and give it the title Works Cited. Do not call it Bibliography unless you have been instructed to do so.
  3. Your Works Cited list only should contain entries for works referred to in the course of your essay. You will lose a letter grade for each work mentioned in your Works Cited list that does not have a corresponding citation in the main body of your essay.
  4. Make sure that all works cited in the main body of your essay appear in the Works Cited list. You will lose a letter grade for every work cited in the main body of your essay that does not have a corresponding entry in the Works Cited list.
    1. If you used a source in your essay but do not have a reference to it in the main body of your essay and your Works Cited page, then you are committing plagiarism. Remember that you can provide citations for more than quotations and paraphrasing: if an idea, fact, or argument in a sentence or paragraph was directly influenced by some other source, you should include a citation. The penalty for plagiarism is a grade of ‘F’ on the course.
  5. Unless you have been given explicit instructions otherwise2, all works in your Works Cited list should be in MLA format. If your Works Cited list contains significant errors or omissions of bibliographic material, your essay will be returned to you ungraded.
  6. Do not use citation systems you may have learned in other departments instead of the MLA style. Essays that use sequential numbering systems (such as the “Vancouver System” common in Physics) or other systems (such as the APA system common in the Social Sciences) will be returned to you ungraded.
  7. If you can’t find an example of how to cite a particular type of work on web-based guides to MLA style, student handbooks, or library handouts look up the correct way of citing the source in the print Handbook in the library (Call Number: LB 2369 G53 2003). The print version of this book tells you how to cite almost every conceivable type of document in every conceivable situation. Much of this information is available only in print copies of the Handbook. Few if any websites or handbooks have the full set of MLA citation formats.
  8. Do not ask me for help in formatting a reference until after you have consulted a print copy of the MLA Handbook (Call Number: LB 2369 G53 2003). If you still need to see me after you have done this, be prepared to show me how you looked for help in the print Handbook.


Failure to follow these guidelines will result in your work receiving a lower grade than it otherwise might. As of Fall, 2009, I intend to follow these guidelines in assessing penalties for mistakes of format or proofing:


1 Some students report that some instructors tell them “not to cite” sources such as Wikipedia. This does not mean that they want you to plagiarise from them! When an instructor tells you “not to cite” something, they mean that they do not want you to use it as a sole or principal source for facts and arguments in your paper. This is usually because the source is of a nature they consider unsuitable to university-level work. In such cases you need to follow up any leads you get from a source like the Wikipedia in primary or secondary sources such as scholarly articles and books. If in the end your primary source of information remains the Wikipedia, you are committing an academic offence if you do not document your intellectual debt o the source anyway.

2 In some advanced or specialised fields (such as medieval literature or the digital humanities), different citation standards and formats may be applicable. Please ask if you think this may apply in your case.





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