73 Why Do We Use Professional Formats?

Kara Blizzard; Sarah Bailey; and Doris Wagner

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the reasons and rationale for requiring students use a professional format


In our experience, students have many questions about formats, but the most common one we hear is, “Why?”

Why format? It takes time, attention to detail, leading to lost points on the finished product if a student does not commit to doing a good job. With these negatives, students might wonder why they must format in addition to working on the substance of a paper.

Essentially, formatting a paper frees up the reader’s attention so that they are not having to search for a page number or figure out how students decided to show internal documentation. If 100 students each used a different font, reading through the papers would be more difficult. The smoother the reading goes, the smoother the grading goes, which amounts to a net benefit for the professor and student.

Why, then, a student might ask, do we need so many different types of formatting? That’s a great question, because there are multiple formats, all of them much alike. The short answer is that different formats are tailored for the needs of the discipline. For example, American Psychological Association (APA) requires the date of an articles publication as part of the internal documentation, whereas the Modern Languages Association (MLA) format does not. Timeliness is important for the sciences, but less so for humanities papers–a critique of Shakespeare’s Hamlet might be just as trenchant now as it was in the 1950’s. Thus, date of publication is less pertinent for the English papers.

The formats also differ in the style in which they want the author to write. For example, in MLA, quoting from a primary source such as Hamlet is much more important than quoting from a scientific paper. In science-oriented writing, the substance is more important than the way the authors phrase it. Thus, paraphrasing is more the norm with APA. Thus, the amount and length of quotations can change a student’s paper substantially. A student is not just making sure to keep up with documentation but must also write in the style the format requires. Being able to pivot from one format to another and to be flexible about format is a useful skill.

The following chapters delve more deeply into why we use specific formats and how to use them.

MLA Style Citation Tutorial, 9th ed. by Sarah Bailey; Kara Blizzard; and Doris Wagner, CC BY-SA 4.0


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Why Do We Use Professional Formats? Copyright © by Kara Blizzard; Sarah Bailey; and Doris Wagner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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