A Sample Essay
This sample essay explains and demonstrates the basic conventions for the presentation of academic work. It describes how to set up your page and how to use sub-headings, footnotes, quotations and other conventions.
Begin by setting up your page. You will need margins of at least 2.54 cm on all four sides of the page. Set your line spacing to 1.5 or double and your spelling to “English (Australia)”. Insert page numbers for ease of reference when discussing the work with your lecturer. The font must be easy to read: Times New Roman, Constantia and Cambria are commonly chosen. Font size matters too: use twelve point for text and ten point for footnotes. You will not need a header or front page as Turnitin automatically records details of author, word count and assignment when it converts your word document, rtf or pdf into a format for marking.
Use paragraphs to arrange your ideas. Start each paragraph with a topic sentence to indicate the theme to the reader. When formatting, paragraphs should be aligned left. Begin each paragraph with an indent so that the paragraphs may be easily distinguished.
Headings and sub-headings
Did you notice that the heading at the top of the page was slightly larger and bold? The heading does not need to be stylish, but it is helpful to set it out from the main body of text. Sub-headings should be bold but not larger than the rest of the text. Use them only if they significantly improve reading and comprehending. In a short essay like this you may find that sub-headings impede fluency.
Add a footnote each time you refer to the work of another scholar, whether you quote directly, use the work as a source of information, or critically engage with its ideas. When inserting a footnote, add a superscript numeral outside the quotation mark and after the punctuation. The bibliography lists the sources in the footnotes. Exemplifying good practice, there is a bibliography on a separate page at the end of this essay and the references are listed in alphabetical order by author surname, as per the University’s guidelines and the latest edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. In Chicago, the preference is to place punctuation before the end quotation marks even where it is not part of the quotation (―end,”). The University acknowledges that placing punctuation after the end quotation marks where the punctuation is not part of the quotation makes grammatical sense and has long been used in British English (―end”,). Exercise your judgement, and be consistent with both text and references.
Quotations should be “reproduced exactly” in quotation marks. If you change the first letter or the tense of the verb, indicate this with square brackets so that, “[t]he sentence [is] not interrupted.” But, as illustrated, this practice does interrupt so keep it to a minimum by using shorter quotations instead. Use an ellipsis (…) to indicate words omitted. Do not use an ellipsis at the start or end of a quotation. If you add emphasis with italics, acknowledge the emphasis as your own. Quotations of more than four lines are presented as an indented block, without quotation marks, and single-spaced. There is one other use of quotation marks to consider:
Quotation marks are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard (or slang), ironic, or … special sense. Such scare quotes imply “This is not my term” or “This is not how the term is usually applied.” Like any such device, scare quotes lose their force and irritate readers if overused. [my emphasis]
If the paragraph resumes after the block quotation, make sure that the text is aligned left and not indented as per a new paragraph. Long quotations can add considerably to your word count, so use them sparingly.
Word counts have a tolerance of 10% above or below the total specified. The word count includes footnotes, but not the bibliography. Keep the word count down by writing concisely. Be direct!
There are many other conventions that are useful to know. Use italics for unfamiliar foreign terms, such as telenovelas, but familiar words such as agape and en route do not require such treatment. Dates follow the day-month-year pattern: 1 Jan 1901. Decades do not require apostrophes: 1920s. The word “its” (meaning belonging to it) does not require an apostrophe. Never use the word “it’s” (the contraction of “it is”) as contractions do not belong in formal academic writing. With the exception of dates, spell out numbers from zero to one hundred, multiples of a hundred, and numbers at the start of a sentence. Numbers such as 101 and 3.14159 may appear as numerals. For more details, see The Chicago Manual of Style.
In conclusion, present your assignments clearly, formally and plainly. Allow your ideas to shine through!
The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.
Shaw, I. N. The Scholar’s Integrity: Adequate References Always. Minnamurra, NSW: Forger’s Press, 1998.