Style format

Most reference styles provide guidelines regarding the details of layout, text structure, the use of headings and other formatting aspects. Since format also depends on departmental guidelines (for students' writings) and publishers' preferences, we have not included any format details in the AWELU information about reference styles. However, the aspects listed below should generally be considered in scholarly writing and publication.

Language format

Reference styles and publishers' guidelines often state preferred language use. For instance, a journal may stipulate whether British English or American English spelling is to be used, or which is the preferred spelling of words that have alternative spellings.


Style manuals often bring up the danger of bias, that is the risk of letting personal judgement affect research results and the presentation of results. From a writer's perspective, one issue of importance regards gender-neutral language.

The following guidelines for unbiased language (for instance regarding gender, racial and ethnic identity, and disabilities) are published as a supplement to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. The information in the document below is of a general nature and thus applicable to several fields and styles.

Manuscript format

The way in which a text is structured will depend both on the type of text and on the discipline. Many fields follow the IMRD structure (Introduction - Method - Result - and - Discussion), but, depending on discipline and type of text, the structure may vary.

In some fields, an essay format consisting of three main parts (Introduction - Body - Conclusion) is employed. For more information, see

Writing for publication

Requirements regarding text structure format are usually stated in the publisher's guidelines for authors. If not, writers wishing to submit an article to a particular periodical can gain information about preferences by studying articles previously published by that periodical.

Templates provided by the publisher
Writers using LaTeX often use templates provided by the publisher. Read more here:
  • LaTeX

General features of the text

Titles and Heading / Sub-heading
The format of titles, headings and sub-headings varies between disciplines and between reference styles, for instance regarding use of capitalisation and use of numerals in headings. Note punctuation practices for headings; a heading can include comma, semicolon or colon and it can end with a question mark, if appropriate, but not with a full stop. Read more about titles here:
Capitalisation refers to the use of capital, or upper-case, initial letters (A, B, C), compared to lower-case letters (a, b, c). As a general rule, when titles and headings are capitalised in English, all words of the title or heading are capitalised except for articles, conjunctions, or prepositions, unless they are the first word of the title. Read more about capitalisation in English here:The practice of capitalisation of book and article titles differs between reference styles. For more information about style-specific conventions, see
Footnote / Endnote

Notes are referred to as footnotes if placed at the bottom of the page and endnotes if placed after the end of the text. Apart from being used for references in some reference styles, so-called explanatory footnotes/endnotes are sometimes also used for additional information that is relevant but does not fit smoothly into the running text. A general caution is in place here: Some publishers urge writers to keep explanatory footnotes to a minimum. As practices vary, writers need to make sure that notes for providing additional information are appropriate within the discipline and text format.


In order to mark the start of a new paragraph, the first line is sometimes indented, which means that it starts further to the right than the rest of the text within the paragraph (the alternative way of indicating paragraphing is to leave a blank line in between paragraphs, as in this text). Block quotations are also indented. Here, practices vary, however. Some styles and publishers stipulate that block quotes are indented only from the left margin, whereas other styles prefer indentation both from the left and from the right margins. For indentation, use the tab key, not the space bar, and make sure that you do not indent too much or too little (study guidelines for publication or ask your supervisor for advice, if you are a student).

Line spacing
'Line spacing' refers to the space between the lines of a text. Commonly, the line spacing used in manuscripts is 1.5 or 2 (the latter is also referred to as 'double spacing').
Typeface / Typefont 

Many reference styles and publishers require a serif typeface (such as Times New Roman), in which italics are clearly contrasted from regular style. Serif typefaces have short lines at the top and bottom of vertical lines of letters, whereas sans-serif typefaces (such as the one used on this platform and on most webpages) lack those lines.

Word count

The number of words stated in instructions is usually not a recommendation but an actual requirement which the writer must comply with as closely as possible. In essay writing at university, keeping a text within a certain number of words is in itself part of the assignment, and texts that are to be published can usually not exceed the stipulated number of words for reasons of space within the journal.

Mechanics of writing

The mechanics of writing involves aspects such as punctuation, spelling and ways in which to write numbers and abbreviations. Some reference styles offer detailed guidelines on these matters. For a general survey of these aspects from an academic writing in English perspective, see:

Tables, figures, typographical emphasis and typographical symbols

The use of graphics, such as tables, figures and photographs varies greatly betweem disciplines. Similarly, the use of typographical emphasis varies. Below we list some terms and features of general use.


There are different kinds of brackets and they are used somewhat differently, depending on reference style and discipline. The forms commonly used are ( ) parentheses (or round brackets, open brackets) Note the spelling: parenthesis (singular form), parentheses (plural form)). Concerning the use of parentheses in English writing, see

[ ] square brackets (or box brackets).

Square brackets are used in numbered styles to set off the reference numerals from the running text. They can also be used in quotations, to indicate an explicatory addition or that something has been changed within the quotation. Read more about that here:

{ } curly brackets (or braces) and < >angle brackets

Curly brackets and angle brackets are used in some disciplines in the writing of equations, for instance.

Caption & legend
A caption is an explanatory text that accompanies an illustration. It is placed outside of the illustration (usually below). Reference manuals usually give information about how to write captions. A legend (or key) is a text that is integrated in a figure (table, illustration, etc.), explaining the symbols that are used, for instance.
Numerals in headings and references, for instance, can be given in Arabic or in Roman format.
Arabic numerals = 1, 2, 3, etc.
Roman numerals = i, ii, iii, etc. / I, II, III, etc.
Subscript / Superscript

Text that appears in subscript is placed below the rest of the text in the same line. In chemical formulas, for instance, the number of atoms of an element is indicated in subscript:

H2O     CO2    

Text in superscript appears above the rest of the text. Superscript is often used for the numeral which points to a footnote/endnote.

Typographical emphasis

Practices vary in the use of typographical emphasis - writers need to make sure they follow guidelines received from departments or publishers.

Boldface /Bold

Words in boldface (bold) stand out from the text by being thicker and darker than standard text. Bold is sometimes used to mark entries in lists (for instance in dictionaries) or to emphasise certain words in running text.


Italics refers to a style of writing or printing in which the letters lean to the right: These words are in italics. Italic font is used to indicate emphasis in running text and is sometimes also used to mark non-English words in running text (although foreign words that have been incorporated into the English language will not be italicised). Italics are also used for linguistic examples in the running text.

There are discipline-specific variations in the use of italics; many reference styles stipulate that book and journal titles are written in italics, for instance:

  • The article was published in Nature.
  • Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels was published in 1726.
Typographical symbols

Some typographical symbols are common in writing. A few of them are listed below:

& is called an ampersand and means and. The ampersand is not used in running text but sometimes in between names in references, for instance.

* is an asterisk. The asterisk can be used to indicate reference to a footnote (instead of a numeral), or to exchange letters in names to preserve anonymity, or in foul language in order to avoid writing offensive words.

Another use of the asterisk is seen in the Grammar & Words section of AWELU; it can be used to mark an example as ungrammatical or unacceptable.

© is the copyright symbol. For more information about copyright, see

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