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Study Aids - Style Sheet (Style sheet pdf)

The following style sheet provides a short, practical overview to the basics of paper style for Prof. Berkhofer’s undergraduate classes. For answers on advanced questions, students should follow the WMU History Departments approved style manual, current edition of the Chicago Manual of Style or Kate Turabian’s Manual which explains the basics of CMS for students (both available electronically on the WMU Library History Subject Guide or in Reference).

Students should review the appearance, form, and content guidelines of their papers using this guide before submitting them.

Appearance Guidelines:

  1. Use one inch margins all around. Do not use larger margins. Exaggerated margins give papers an awkward appearance. More importantly, they do not compensate for brief or incomplete ideas.
  2. Do not use a font larger than 12 point. If you are unable to meet the minimum length do not resort to using size 14, 16 or larger fonts. Large fonts give papers a comical appearance.
  3. Make sure to double-space your paper. Single and 1.5 spacing give a crowded appearance.
  4. Number the pages. Only put your name and class section on the first page, no title page is needed.

Form Guidelines:

  1. A paragraph consists of a topic sentence (the mini-thesis of the paragraph) and at least three other sentences. Topic sentences should link the paragraph back to the main thesis of the paper or explore a sub-theme of your main argument. Indent the beginning of each paragraph a half inch (five spaces/tab).
  2. Proofread your work with care. Spelling errors will weaken your grade significantly. Do not rely on spell checkers, they are of limited value. Spell checkers cannot distinguish between homonyms like "wood" and "would."
  3. Avoid using contractions. Instead of writing "don't" and "won't" write out the words so that they read "do not" and "will not."
  4. You are also responsible for grammatical errors. Poor grammar weakens your message. Some common errors are subject-verb agreement, incorrect use of irregular verbs, and run-on sentences. You can find more information on the Common Errors page.
  5. Avoid first and second person ("I, "you") and stay in third person voice.
  6. Stay in the past tense when discussing historical events.
  7. Write in the active and not passive voice. Instead of overusing "is," "are," and "were" try to write in a different manner. "He was always trying to find gold and he went to new areas where he could find it" versus "Constantly searching for gold, he traveled to new areas to find the precious mineral."
  8. Avoid slang and profanity in your papers. Instead of writing, "he got stiffed by his posse" try something along the lines of "his friends abandoned him." Unless quoting directly, profanity does nothing else but turn off the reader.

Content Guidelines:

  1. Use clear and precise sentences for your thesis statement and the beginning of each paragraph. This will make it easier for your reader to follow your ideas.
  2. Instead of relying solely on your memory use an outline. Clear Outlines make it easier to organize your ideas.
  3. Instead of using lengthy quotations without explanation, incorporate quotations into the text of your essay. The latter method will facilitate analysis. If you must give longer quotations, remember to indent them and provide an explanation of their relevance to your argument before and after the selection. Make sure you correctly cite the source; read the Citing Sources Study Aid.
  4. If you decide to use outside sources, you must cite them using accepted footnote format.
  5. Do not plagiarize the work of others. For further details on what constitutes plagiarism, see Plagiarism and Academic Conduct.

Robert F. Berkhofer
Dept. of History
4301 Friedmann Hall
Western Michigan University
1903 W. Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5334

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All Content © Robert F. Berkhofer
Last Revised:
December 15, 2011