Research Papers

Guidelines for Writing a Research Paper


1. 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 or ask your lecturer if you are unsure.


2. 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)


3. Structure of your research paper

In general, your paper should 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 one possible 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.


4. Miscellaneous

  • 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!
  • Be transparent in your use of sources and always double-check your citations. Your paper will be thoroughly checked for any cases of plagiarism.
  • Every source that you refer to your paper/thesis needs to be documented in the 'Works Cited' section.
  • 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.
  • 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!