Formatting and presenting your assignments
Formatting and presenting your assignment correctly is important because almost all assignments include marks for presentation.
This may include marks for things such as formatting and layout, word count, APA referencing, writing style, grammar and spelling.
Before you start your assignment:
- Check your learning materials, the course page, emails from your lecturer or the assignment question for how it should be presented.
- Read the instructions carefully, and make sure you understand them and follow them exactly.
- If you’re not clear about what’s required email your lecturer. You could phone but it’s better to have a record of the answer.
Some lecturers assume that students will know how to present work of the required standard or quality and don’t give specific instructions. If this is the case, follow the general guidelines below.
General guidelines for electronic submissions
- Most assignments need should be written using MS Word. If you don’t have MS Word go to Office 365 in My Open Polytechnic to download and access your free version.
- Assignments can be submitted one of the following file formats: .doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx or .rtf.
- Do not submit html files, web pages, CAD files, Visio (.vsd), PowerPoint (.ppt), PDF s (.pdf) or zip files unless these are specifically required for your course.
If you're not sure about the file format required contact your lecturer.
- Use a clear, readable, sans serif font such as Verdana, Calibri, Tahoma or Arial, and be consistent and use the same font throughout.
- Use black text on a white background. Avoid coloured backgrounds or text in a colour other than black unless you have special permission to use them (for example, if you're dyslexic).
- Use 11 or 12 point for the body of your assignment.
- Use 1.5 or double spacing and fairly wide margins. This leaves room for the marker’s comments.
- Leave a blank line between paragraphs.
- If the questions are short, leave a blank line between each question. If they are long, start each question on a new page.
- Left-justify your work (also known as left-aligned). Block-justified (flush left and right) might look tidy, but it’s harder to read as it can result in gaps between words.
- Use bold for headings. Not underlining or italics.
- Essays do not usually require subheadings; reports usually do.
Most assignments require a title page, which should include the following:
- the title and number of the assignment
- the course number and name
- the due date
- your full name and student number.
This information should be centered, starting approximately one third of the way down the page.
- Number all pages except the title page.
- Tables and figures must be numbered and clearly labelled. Table captions are placed above the table, while captions for a figures go below the figure.
- Don't number the items in a reference list.
Headers and footers
Insert a header or footer on each page (except the title page). It should contain:
- your name (last name, first name/s)
- your student number
- the course number
- the assignment number
- the page number.
Include a word count (the number of words in your assignment) at the end of the assignment, before the references and appendices. Your assignment should not more than 10% under or over the prescribed word count. Remember that the title/title page, reference list and appendices are not included in the word count.
Word count calculator - Massey University website (opens in a new window)
The reference list comes at the end of the assignment, and should start on a new page labelled 'References'.
Referencing and avoiding plagiarism
Appendices are used for information that:
- is too long to include in the body of your assignment, or
- supplements or complements the information you are providing.
Start each appendix (if applicable) on a new page. If there's just one appendix label it ‘Appendix’ without a number, but if there are more than one label them Appendix A, Appendix B, etc. In the main text of your assignment, refer to the Appendix by the label, e.g. Appendix A.
Tops and bottoms of pages
Check the top and bottom of your pages to ensure they avoid:
- widows - single lines of text at the top of a page
- orphans - first lines of paragraphs at the bottom of a page
- tombstones - headings or subheadings alone at the bottom of a page
- split lists – lists that are divided between two pages (if possible).
General guidelines for hard copies
Most of the guidelines above also apply to hard copies (printed or hand-written documents). There are also a few additional things to note.
Some courses allow handwritten answers, but make sure you check with your lecturer to make sure this is acceptable. When submitting a handwritten assignment:
- Print or write on white A4 paper on one side only, using a blue or black pen.
- Write legibly – if a marker can’t read what you’ve written, your answer might as well be wrong.
- If you make a mistake, use correction fluid or draw a neat line through the mistake.
- If there are too many mistakes and your work looks messy, rewrite it.
- Use a ruler for tables and graphs.
- Underline headings.
Stapling your assignment
- Staple multi-page assignments in the top left corner only.
- Don’t put your assignment in a plastic folder.
- Attach an 'Assessment Return Sheet' (coversheet) to you assignment. (If you don't have one Contact us).
Submitting your assignments
Types of assignments
What lecturers want in your assignments
Formatting and layout
Assignments vary in their requirements for formatting and layout. Check for formatting requirements in your course materials or with your course co-ordinator. Aim for consistency in your formatting.
The most common format is as follows:
- Print the assignment on A4 paper, one-sided.
- Do not put the assignment in a folder unless instructed to; simply staple pages together.
- Use a clearly legible font and font size (12 point is the most common size).
- Give the assignment a left margin of around 3 centimetres so that markers can insert comments.
- Use 1.5 or double line-spacing.
- Keep the space between paragraphs consistent. Two styles are:
- Do not indent paragraphs, and leave a blank line between paragraphs. (This is the most common style.)
- Indent the first line of each paragraph, but leave no spaces between paragraphs.
Always double-check for the formatting requirements of your individual paper.
If one has been provided, attach a cover sheet to the front of the assignment. Distance assignments use a standard cover sheet; internal assignment cover sheets are often provided by your department or course co-ordinator.
Most assignments do not require a title page - all the necessary information is already included on the cover sheet. However, title pages are sometimes needed for longer assignments, postgraduate assignments, or certain types of report.
The format of these title pages varies according to the specific requirements of the assignment, but typically contain:
- The title, centred, approximately one third of the way down the page
- The date of the assignment's submission
- The author's name and ID number
- The marker's name
- The paper number and name
Some assignment types require headings and sub-headings, whereas others do not use any.
Essays, for example, do not usually use sub-headings unless you have specific instructions that they can be included. The only sub-heading common in essays is ‘References’, for the reference list. Instead of headings, the first sentence of each paragraph should signal the topic to the reader (see essay body paragraphs for more on this).
Reports, on the other hand, often require specific headings such as ‘Introduction’, ‘Discussion’, and so forth.
If you are unsure whether to use headings or not, ask your course co-ordinator for clarification. If you do use headings and sub-headings, keep the style consistent throughout the assignment.
Most assignments do not use appendices, but sometimes you need to include additional information, transcripts, questionnaire details, or raw data. These should go in an appendix.
If there is only one appendix, it is given the title “Appendix”. If there are several appendices, each is given a letter (follow the same order that they are mentioned in the body of the assignment): “Appendix A”, “Appendix B”, “Appendix C”, etc.
The title is used to refer to the appendix in the body of the assignment:
The analysis shows that the mean was well above expected (see Appendix B for details).
Style guides differ on whether the appendices should come before or after the reference list / bibliography.
APA style (the style most commonly used at Massey University) and Massey University's Thesis Presentation Guide put the appendices after the reference list / bibliography.
Page authorised by Director, CTL
Last updated on 25 October, 2012