Research Papers

Guidelines for Writing a Research Paper

General Information

The purpose of a research paper in literary or cultural studies is to present your own critical approach to a topic and a persuasive presentation of your own argument, along with proof for the validity of that argument. This genre of writing does not primarily focus on gathering information (as an encyclopedia entry would do), but rather on defending a certain understanding, reading or interpretation of particular texts/issues/events. This is done with the aim of uncovering aspects that might not be apparent at first sight or establishing connections that might enable you to present the material you discuss in your paper in a new light.

All research papers must be written in English. They need to be submitted on time, in printed and electronic form (for example *.doc, *.docx, *.pdf) . If you encounter questions or problems not covered by this guide, please refer to the MLA Handbook (8th edition).

Click here for a detailed guide on how to write your research paper (including examples on how to cite different kinds of publications, as well as a table of contents and a sample title page).

Ask your lecturer if you are unsure or if your question is not covered by this guide.


Formatting your Paper

  • Page margins: 3 cm on the left, 2.5 cm on the right side, bottom and top of the page

  • Font: 12pt Times New Roman for the text, 10pt for the footnotes

  • Line spacing: 1.5 in the main body of the text, 1.0 in footnotes

  • Spacing before and after headings: same spacing for headings of the same text level, e.g. two 12pt spaces before 2, 3, 4, etc., but only one 12pt space before subsections (such as 2.1 and 2.2)

  • Your paper must be written in justified print ('Blocksatz'). If needed, use a hyphenation programme or hyphenate manually at the right-hand margin to avoid loose lines; please avoid leaving the first line of a new paragraph at the bottom of a page, or the last line of a paragraph at the top of a page

  • Indention: The first paragraph after a heading ist not indented; all other paragraphs begin with a 1.5 cm indent which sets them apart from the previous paragraph (use 'tab stops')

  • Page numbers: The page count should start with the introduction (i.e. chapter 1); there are no page numbers on the cover page, the table of contents or the declaration of originality ('Versicherung an Eides Statt und Selbstständigkeitserklärung')

  • Length of paper: Please refer to your specific 'Prüfungsordnung' which gives you the required number of pages (please click here for further information)

Structure of your Research Paper

Your paper should always be structured as follows:

  • Title Page: Contains the title of your paper, title of the seminar you took as well as the semester, name of the lecturer, your name, matriculation number and university e-mail address.

  • Table of Contents: Lists all chapter headings with the corresponding page numbers; use Arabic numerals and avoid more than three structural levels per chapter, e.g. 3.2.1.

  • Main Text: Consists of introduction, main body and conclusion. Generally speaking, the main body of the text comprises about 80% of the whole paper; introduction and conclusion account for about 10% of the paper's length each.

  • Works Cited: starts on a separate page; contains any books, articles, and other sources you have quoted or referred to in your paper in alphabetical order; please refer to the MLA Handbook for the citation format.

  • 'Versicherung an Eides Statt und Selbstständigkeitserklärung': Must be included with your original signature; without it, your paper will not be accepted.                                                                      -> Click here for more information. Feel free to use that model document if you are unsure.

Documenting your Sources and Plagiarism

  • Every source that you refer to in your paper/thesis must be documented in the 'Works Cited' section.

  • Be transparent in your use of sources and always double-check your citations. Your paper will be thoroughly checked for any cases of plagiarism. In general, we assume that you do not plagiarize on purpose, but any case of plagiarism must be investigated nevertheless and will have consequences for you (at the very least, you will not pass an exam).

  • Do not use footnotes for documenting sources. Use parenthetical documentation of sources and make sure you are using the appropriate style (i.e. literary style; there is also a linguistic style which is also favoured in TEFL). It is not that important whether you use the style outlined in the 6th, 7th, or 8th edition of the MLA Handbook; make sure you are using the same style consistently throughout your paper. You can also refer to this MLA guide (provided by Purdue University) if you are unsure about the citation style.

  • General format of an MLA citation in your 'Works Cited' section:

    • Author’s last name, first name: “Title of a part of the book (i.e., short stories, articles, poems, etc.).” Title of the Book. Name(s) of the editor(s), translator(s), and/or compiler(s). Edition used; Number(s) of the volume(s) used. Place of publication (only the first one is necessary): name of the publicist, date of publication. Page numbers.


  • General format of an in-text reference (examples):

    • Thoreau believes that most governments are a burden. As he writes in “Civil Disobedience,” he considers them to be as useless as “a sort of a wooden gun” (713). [to be used when both the author and the cited work are discernable from your text]

    • Several Transcendentalists believe that most governments are a burden. One of them writes that governments are as useless as “a sort of a wooden gun” (Thoreau 713). [to be used when the author is not directly discernable from your text and if you are using only one text from that particular author in your bibliography]

    • Several Transcendentalists believe that most governments are a burden. One of them writes that governments are as useless as “a sort of a wooden gun” (Thoreau, “Civil” 713). [to be used when neither the author nor the work you are quoting are discernable from your text and if you list more than one work from that particular author in your bibliography]

  • A full guide on how to properly quote within your text and how to structure your bibliography ('Works Cited' section) can be found here.

  • All papers at the Institute of Anglophone Studies must be handed in with a "Eidesstattliche Versicherung". Please also consider looking at the guide on "Gute Wissenschaftliche Praxis" of the University of Duisburg-Essen here and the notes on plagiarism here.

Miscellaneous/Useful Links

  • If you are unsure or have any questions concerning  the style of citations, please refer to this MLA guide (provided by Purdue University).

  • Please avoid superfluous 'background chapters' (e.g. containing plot summaries or the author's biography): assume that your audience already has the required knowledge about your material!

  • When consulting online resources, please check their scholarly credentials, e.g. is the author of a specific text discernable?

  • Always double-check the format of your paper before handing it in!

  • If you have questions that are not covered by this guide, please contact your lecturer if you are unsure.