Writing Guidelines
for Engineering and Science Students

Appendix A: Sample Professional Format

Format is the layout and typography of a document. Typography includes the style and size of type for a document. Layout includes the type of paper, margins, line spacing, paragraphing, and pagination. This appendix presents a sample professional format [Sandia, 1990] to give you a framework for your assignments. Understand, though, that no universal formats exist in engineering and science. Each company or journal has its own format that suits the needs and desires of that company or journal.


Typography includes the size and style of type for a document. Type sizes are measured in points. In general, twelve point type is used for the text portion of most documents. Larger sizes may be used for headings and titles, and smaller sizes may be used for footnotes and illustration call-outs. As far as the styles of types, two main classifications exist: serif and sans serif. Which typestyle should you use? Here, much depends on the situation, but a serif font of 12 points is generally accepted for the text portion of formal documents such as reports and correspondence. An example of a serif typeface is Times. Why are serif typefaces generally used for the text? The reasons are historical as much as anything. For the headings and illustration call-outs of documents, professionals use both serif and sans serif typefaces such as Helvetica. One reason that professionals use sans serif typefaces for these situations is that they contrast nicely with the serif text.

Another aspect of typography is the use of initial capitals in titles and headings. One convention, but not the only one, for using initial capitals is that you capitalize the first letter of the first and last words--no matter what the words. Then, you capitalize the first letter of every included word except for articles, conjunctions, and prepositions that have fewer than four letters: a, an, and, as, but, for, in, nor, of, on, or, out, the, to, up, and yet.

Besides type sizes, type faces, and initial capitals, there are other typography guidelines that vary from institution to institution. For instance, the following list presents one recommended way to format unusual plurals: IBMs, CDs, 1970s, and 1900s. (Back to top of page)


Layout includes such things as the type of paper chosen, the margins, the line spacing, the pagination, and the incorporation of equations, illustrations, and references. Table 1 presents general specifications for the page layouts.

Table 1. Specifications for Page Layout

Margins standard (about 1 inch)
Line spacing single space (unless other requested)
Indentations (optional) standard tab for all paragraphs (about 0.4-0.5 inches)
Paragraphing lineskip between paragraphs (optional)
Pagination centered page numbers (about 0.5 inches from bottom)

Headings. A format for headings, subheadings, and sub-subheadings follows the pattern shown below. In this pattern, all headings, subheadings, and sub-subheadings are in initial capitals. In a short report, the major heading is the report's title. In a formal report, the major heading serves as the name of each section--for example, the "Introduction" or "Conclusion." Note that in a long report (more than 50 pages), these major headings begin a new page, while in a shorter report, these major headings follow one another in a continuous fashion. (Back to top of page)


Title of Major Heading


For a major heading, skip three carriage returns from the top margin (or previous section) and place the heading. Use a font larger than the text (14 or 18 points), initial capitals, and boldface. For minor reports, the major heading serves as the report's title.


First Subheading


Subheadings are 12 or 14 points, flush left, and boldfaced. For all subheadings, skip two lines before and one line afterwards. Use initial capitals.


First Sub-Subheading. Sub-subheadings are in 12 point type, boldfaced, and followed by a period. Skip one line before the sub-subheading. Begin the sub-subheading's text one space after the period. Use initial capitals for sub-subheadings.


Second Sub-Subheading. If you have one sub-subheading, you must have a second. Otherwise, the first sub-subheading has nothing to be parallel with.


Second Subheading


If you have one subheading, you must have a second. Otherwise, the first subheading has nothing to be parallel with. Note that the subheadings "Introduction" and "Conclusion" are inherently parallel with other types of subheadings: noun phrases, participial phrases, or questions. "Introduction" and "Conclusion" are also descriptive because the audience expects particular kinds of information from them.


Incorporation of Illustrations. There are two classes of illustrations: figures and tables. Illustrations should appear below the end of the paragraph in which that illustration is first introduced. If not enough space is available below the end of the paragraph, then continue the text and place the illustration on the next page. When placing an illustration into a document, leave a space between the illustration and the text (one line skip both above and below the illustration).

Captions for figures appear below the figure. Use Arabic numerals to number figures. A figure caption includes a phrase that identifies the figure and a sentence or two that explains important details in the figure. See the example shown in the Figure 1. When referring to figures, call them by their names: Figure 1, Figure 2, Figure IS-1, Figure A-1, and so forth. Note that Figure IS-1 would appear in an informative summary and Figure A-1 would appear in an Appendix A. Unlike figures, titles for tables appear centered above the table. Number tables using Arabic numerals. Use initial capital letters for table titles. In the text, call tables by their names: Table IS-1, Table 1, Table A-1, and so forth.

Figure 1. Eruption of Mount St. Helens [Smith, 1993].

Unlike figures, titles for tables appear above the table. For an example, see Table 2. In the text, call tables by their names: Table 1, Table 2, and so on. Note that another common table format has the title centered above the table. (Back to top of page)

Table 2. Physical characteristics of planets [Handbook, 1969].

Planet Diameter
(earth ratio)
(earth days)
Mercury 5,100 0.40 88 700
Venus 12,600 0.90 225 700
Earth 12,800 1.00 365 350
Mars 6,900 0.40 687 320
Jupiter 143,600 2.70 4,333 150
Saturn 120,600 1.20 10,759 138
Uranus 53,400 1.00 30,686 90
Pluto 12,700 ??? 90,885 80

References. When incorporating the opinions, data, and illustrations of other sources into your writing, you must give credit to those sources. For information of how to paraphrase and quote sources, see Appendix B. In these writing guidelines, the format for bestowing that credit is an author-year referencing system. Within the text of the article or report, references should be cited by giving in brackets the last name of the author(s) and the year of publication of the reference. The year should always be enclosed in brackets; whether the name of the author(s) is enclosed depends on the context. The two possibilities are illustrated as follows:

Recently, a new chemical process was developed for eliminating nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel engines [Perry and Siebers, 1986].

Recently, Perry and Siebers [1986] developed a new chemical process for eliminating nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel engines.

For three or more authors, just list the first author's name as follows: [Lee and others, 1972]. If there is no author listed, give the first word (not articles, conjunctions, or prepositions) of the document: [Manual, 1983] or ["Plastic", 1989]. If you have two documents with the same author and year (for example, two documents by Jones in 2003), then assign the reference listings as follows: [Jones, 2003a] for the citation that alphabetically appears first at the end, and [Jones, 2003b] for the citation that appears second at the end.

The full reference citations will appear in an alphabetical list at the end of your document. Given below are examples of the listings. (Back to top of page)


Author, Title in Initial Capitals and Italics, edition # (City of Publication: Publisher, Date of Publication).

Fox, R.W., and A.T. McDonald, Introduction to Fluid Mechanics (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978).

A Manual of Style, 12th ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1969).

McElroy, W.D., Cell Physiology and Biochemistry, 3rd ed., Foundations of Modern Biology Series (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971).


Author, "Title in Initial Capitals and Quotation Marks," Journal Name in Italics, vol. #, no. # (Date), page #s.

Owyoung, A. "High Resolution Coherent Raman Spectroscopy of Gases," in Laser Spectroscopy IV, ed. by H. Walther and K. W. Rothe (New York: Springer- Verlag, 1979), pp. 175-182.

Perry, R.A., and D. L. Siebers, "Rapid Reduction of Nitrogen Oxides in Exhaust Gas Streams," Nature, vol. 324, no. 2 (August 1986), pp. 657-659.

Steeper, R.R., "Reducing Nitrogen Oxides With Ammonia Injection," Phys. Rev., vol. 13, no. 2 (1983), pp. 132-135.


Author (if known), "Title in Initial Capitals and Quotation Marks," Newspaper Name (Date), section #, page #s.

Luoma, J.R., "U.S. Hunts New Ways to Clean Up Wastes," New York Times (3 January 1988), pp. 15, 18.

"Plastic Explosives Blamed for Airline Disaster," New York Times (3 January 1989) sec. 2, p. 11.


Author, Title in Initial Capitals and Italics, Report # (City of Publication: Publisher (Company or Agency), Date).

Borcherdt, R.D., Results and Data From Seismologic and Geologic Studies Following Earthquakes of December 7, 1988, Near Spitak, Armenia SSR, vol. 1, USGS OFR 89-163-A (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Geological Survey, 1989).

Guide to Operations, IBM Personal Computer Hardware Reference Library #1502490 (Boca Raton, Florida: IBM Corporation, 1984).

Spent Fuel Storage Requirements, DOE RL-88-34 (Richland, WA: Department of Energy, 1988).

Sheldon, K.E., Analysis Methods to Control Performance Variability and Cost in Turbine Engine Manufacturing (Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Tech, 4 May 2001), pp. 156-158.


Patent Holder, Patent # (Date of Patent).

Lyon, R.K., U.S. Patent No. 3,900,554 (August 1975).


Author, "Title in Initial Capitals and Quotation Marks," brochure (City of Publication: Publisher (Company or Agency), Date).

Cheng, D., "Chemtronix XT Manometer," brochure (Asheville, NC: Chemtronix Corporation, 1974).


Speaker's Name, Speaker's Affiliation (City of Interview: Date of Interview), type of interview.

Lee, R., Engineer at Apple Corporation (San Jose: 5 June 1987), phone interview.


Author, Affiliation (City: Date of Letter), recipient of letter.

Alley, C.D., Plant Manager of Mason-Hanger Pantex Plant (Amarillo, TX: 3 March 1989), letter to Amarillo Globe News.


Author, "Title," web listing in italics (City: Publisher, Date).

Bassett, Vicki, "Causes and Effects of the Rapid Sinking of the Titanic," http://writing.eng.vt.edu/uer/bassett.html (Blacksburg, VA: Undergraduate Engineering Review, November 1998).

Varian Corporation, "Smithsonian Researchers Use High-Tech Digital Imaging Device to Study Collections," http://www.varian.com/ (Palo Alto, CA: Varian Corporation, 13 February 2002).

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Content Editor: Michael Alley