Paper Style Guide

Below is a brief guide about things you need to keep track of when you write a paper. If you check all of these things, it will bring your style in line with the expected format of a good academic paper. In the examples below "O" indicates proper usage and "X" indicates improper usage.

General Tips

  1. Use descriptive names: People will often use names like "Method 1" and "Method 2" or "Experiment 1" and "Experiment 2." If you use these names, the readers will have to think back and remember which method was 1, 2, or 3, which is not always an easy task. Instead use names like "NoLDA" and "WithLDA," which will make it easy for users to remember which is which.
  2. Avoid hedge words: Words like "probably," "may," and "might" indicate that you do not want to be held responsible for the statement. It is OK to use these when you are generally unsure and have no way of checking, but if you can easily support or disprove the claim with experimental results, do so.
  3. Figure text should be at least the size of paper text: Often, people will create figures with text that is so small that it can't be read. In general, text in figures should be the same size as the normal text in your paper (or only slightly smaller).

English Style

  1. Mis-spellings: Mis-spelled words are the most common mistake in papers. The great majority of these can be found with a spell checker, so use one! They are included in almost every editor software (word, vi, emacs).
  2. Always put a space after punctuation: Often, people will forget the spacing after punctuation:
       X This is a (bad)example of punctuation.Don't learn from it.
       O This is a (good) example of punctuation. Learn from it.
  3. Punctuation should go inside quotes: Periods and commas ending a quoted segment should be placed before the final quote:
       X He is called "Bob", and she is called "Mary".
       O He is called "Bob," and she is called "Mary."
  4. Do not capitalize regular content words: Often, people capitalize terms that correspond to important concepts:
       X This paper discusses Elephants, Dogs, and Cats.
    These words should not be capitalized unless they are proper names, so the correct form is:
       O This paper discusses elephants, dogs, and cats.
    One exception is when the words are directly followed by an abbreviation, in which case either form is acceptable:
       O This paper discusses Hidden Markov Models (HMMs).
       O This paper discusses hidden Markov models (HMMs).
  5. Distinguish that and which: In general, that is used to mark information that central to the sentence's meaning and is not preceded by a comma. Which is used to mark supplementary information and is preceded by a comma.
       O Penguins are birds that can not fly, which is an exceptional case.
  6. Beware of Informal words: Here is a list of words that should be avoided in academic papers:
    • a lot -> many, much, a large amount
    • basically -> essentially
    • but (at the beginning of a sentence) -> however
    • means -> indicates
    • really -> very, extremely
    • since (meaning because) -> as, because


  1. Make sure reference format is consistent: The best way to ensure that reference format is consistent is to use a reference manager. If you are using LaTeX to write your paper, using BibTeX and the \cite command should solve this problem.
  2. Make sure no information is missing: Check all of your references to make sure they contain the minimum information (at least author name, title, publication venue, and publication year).
  3. Citations must use the author's last name: All references should use the author's last name. For example, if the author's name is "James Bond," the reference should be "(Bond, 2007)," not "(James, 2007)."
    Make sure that you get the order correct, especially for names of people from foreign countries.