Format and Style for Written Assignments

This is a concise introduction to writing well and preparing an acceptable college paper. It discusses
physical format
writing style
citations: footnotes, endnotes, bibliography.
You will not need to include every feature mentioned here in every paper. Nor will your word processor necessarily allow you to duplicate everything that you see here exactly. Nevertheless, by following these guidelines as closely as possible, your writing will have a professional appearance and a clarity of presentation that will reflect well on you and help you get your ideas across more clearly and more convincingly.
It is especially important to follow footnote and bibliography formats exactly. Doing so may seem a nuisance, but by following the formats described here you will be assured that you have presented all necessary in a way that any reader can follow. Footnote and endnote formats are given below under the heading Notes. Bibliographic formats, which differ from footnotes and endnotes, come at the end of the file under “Bibliography.”
All rules can be broken, and you might for good reason disregard anything below. But it is best to understand the rules and their reasons for having been adopted before you decide to break them. Not all of your questions will be answered by this brief discussion. For further guidance you might consult Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th edition, revised John Grossman and Alice Bennett (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). For a guide used by professional editors that covers almost every imaginable situation that can arise in a piece of writing, see The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

Physical format

All written assignments should be printed on good paper and dark black ink. Use “high” or “letter” print quality, not “draft” or “low” quality, and replace the printer cartridge if it is not printing evenly or darkly.
Proofreading is a vital step in any writing project. You should proofread at least twice, both onscreen and after you print your paper. It is a mysterious fact that some errors remain invisible until printed on paper. Do not rely on grammar and spelling checkers, since they cannot catch all mistakes. Errors of grammar, spelling, and format are unacceptable and make your writing less persuasive; they also reflect poorly on you personally. It is okay to make a small number of neat hand-written corrections in any copy submitted for a class assignment; you don’t have to reprint the entire paper because of one or two spelling mistakes that you catch while proofreading. (You should reprint the paper if you plan to submit it for a grad school application, however.)
Except for tables and outlines, all text, including notes and bibliographies, should be double spaced (this makes it easier to mark corrections). Please leave one-inch margins on each edge of each page. Do not justify the right margin; leave it “ragged.” There is no need for a separate title page, but the first page of each assignment should begin with the title, followed by your name on a separate line. Both title and name should be centered, near the top of the page. On each subsequent page, please include a header in the top right corner giving your name and the page number. Subdivisions within a paper may bear italicized subheads, set flushleft like the heading “Physical Format” above. Please do not staple or clip pages together, and do not enclose papers in plastic binders.
Please use the tab key to indent the beginning of each paragraph. Do not leave extra blank lines between paragraphs.
Instead of true footnotes, use endnotes. These should begin on a new page, with the heading “Notes” centered at the top. Use the note forms illustrated below under “Citations.”
Bibliographies are not always necessary, especially in short papers, unless the assignment specifically calls for them. A bibliography is useful for listing the works that you consulted in writing your paper. Such a list can be very helpful not only for the reader but for your own future reference. The bibliography, if included, should begin on a new page, headed “Bibliography.” Use the forms illustrated below. If, in addition to writings about music, your bibliography includes editions or recordings of music, list each type of source in separate sections under appropriate subheadings.

Some points of style

Before you begin any piece of writing, consider for whom you are writing and what level and style of writing will be appropriate for the intended reader. In papers written for class assignments, it is often helpful to imagine that you are writing for other members of the class. Please bear in mind, however, that a university paper is a formal piece of writing: it need not be heavy and dull, but its primary purpose is to convey information or ideas. An unduly personal or flippant tone will suggest that you or your writing is not serious.
Always write in clear, concise, grammatical English, using complete sentences. Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that identifies the subject of the paragraph, and avoid writing paragraphs that are shorter than three sentences or longer than one full page. Most writers find it helpful to start with an outline that lists the topic of each paragraph (or, in a longer paper, each section or group of paragraphs).
The opening paragraph should give a clear idea of the topic of the paper as a whole and may also provide a preview of its organization or of the main points you will be making. The next paragraph or two might describe your sources or summarize what previous writers have written about your topic. Often, something that you have found in a source–an interesting fact, an intriguing point of view or quotation–can serve as a jumping-off point for the further development of your paper. Or you might use each subsequent paragraph to respond to a different question raised by one or more of your sources. Your concluding paragraph can summarize your main points. But avoid simply repeating statements made in the body of the paper, and do not begin your final paragraph with a cliché such as the phrase “In conclusion.” Sometimes it is effective to save your strongest point for the end, stating it and elaborating upon it in the final paragraph. At other times your closing paragraph might suggest how you or someone else could pursue your topic further.
In general, please include only material that is directly relevant to your topic. If you are writing about Beethoven’s piano sonatas, you might begin by explaining which ones you are going to discuss and what issues or questions concerning them you will address. You probably should not digress into a biography of Beethoven, a general history of the piano sonata, or the like, although you might mention an important event in Beethoven’s life relevant to your chosen sonatas or describe the significance of the latter to the history of the piano sonata.
Avoid the passive voice. Instead of “Both works are considered too long,” write “Joseph Kerman considers both works too long,” indicating in a note where Kerman wrote this (see below). If you are giving your own opinion, just give it; omit such phrases as “I think that” or “it appears that.”
More generally, avoid unnecessary verbiage. For instance, don’t write: “You” [or “we”] hear the violins playing an ascending motive.” It is usually better to be simple and direct: “The violins play an ascending motive.” By the same token, try to make smooth transitions from one sentence to the next, but avoid phrases like “Turning to…” or “Thus we see.” Often just “thus” will do.
One way to connect two closely related sentences is with a semi-colon or a conjunction such as “and” or “but,” preceded by a comma. Do not use the word however as a conjunction, as in: “Tom loves Mary, however Mary despises Tom.” Rather, write “Tom loves Mary; Mary, however, despises him.”
Be careful in using the present participle (a verbal form usually ending in “-ing”). The following is incorrect: “Regarding sonata form, the first theme is always in the tonic.” The sentence states that the first theme is regarding (looking at) sonata form, which is nonsensical. Instead write: “If we now consider sonata form, we find that the first theme is always in the tonic.”
Strong writing employs well-chosen nouns and verbs. Adjectives and adverbs are indispensable for description, but they should not proliferate to the point that you are writing purple prose. Be especially wary of using nouns as adjectives; rather than “style considerations,” speak of “considerations of style.” Likewise, avoid hyphenated words like “fugue-like” or “fugal-sounding” when you mean “fugal.”
Punctuation should follow standard American English rules. Use double quotation marks except for quotes within quotes: “He told me, ‘Don’t do it.'” Notice that periods and commas come within the quotation marks, “like this,” or “like this.” Only in England does one write ‘like this’. Exceptions are made for colons and for note numbers, both of which are placed outside quotation marks, “like this”: place your “footnote number here.”1 (Because this is a webpage and not a printed paper, there is no actual footnote in this case. Notice however, that the note number is placed outside the quotation marks.)
Leave a single space after most marks of punctuation, including periods. This includes periods at the ends of abbreviations: thus, write K. 471, not K.471. Exception: if a note number follows the period, leave space only after the note number.2 (Place the space after the footnote number.) Note numbers can also follow commas and other marks of punctuation, but avoid placing them within3 a clause. (This footnote would be better placed at the end of the sentence, however.)
The hyphen is used to form certain compound words and to break up long words at the ends of lines (most word processors can insert hyphens automatically at the ends of lines). Use two hyphens to form a dash–for parenthetical statements like this–but avoid doing this too often.
Use italics for: foreign words and expressions; special terms when introduced for the first time; and titles of books, periodicals, plays, operas, and other larger works. Also use italics for the occasional emphasized word. But do not do so too often, and do not use italics for material already placed within quotation marks, such as song titles or direct quotes in a foreign language. Also do not use italics for standard musical terms or for generic titles of musical works (see below).
Underlining in a typed paper is equivalent to the use of italics in print. Underlining is also used to mark links in a hypertext document (webpage), and for this reason you should avoid using it for other purposes.
Write out all words except for standard abbreviations (e.g., “e.g.,” “BWV”). Do not use contractions (such as “don’t”) except where you are aiming at a colloquial tone.
Use American spelling: “realize,” not “realise.” Exception: in direct quotations, quote exactly.
In foreign words, include all necessary diacritical marks (accents, etc.). Add them by hand if your typewriter lacks them or you cannot figure out how to make your word processor print them. In German words it is permissible to substitute the letter “e” for the Umlaut; thus the word meaning “for” can be written either für or fuer. Similarly, the Esszed used in the word Baß is the equivalent of “ss,” so the latter word can also be writtenBass. But you should avoid these shortcuts if at all possible. Note that all German nouns are capitalized.
Quotation marks should be used mainly for titles (where appropriate) and for direct quotations from a cited source. References to actual English words (such as the word “for” in the preceding paragraph) are also set within quotation marks. But do not place an expression within quotation marks simply because it seems colloquial or cute: Bach’s music is “nifty.” Choose a more precise word if possible.
When quoting, always double-check that you have quoted exactly. If there is an error in the original, point this out with the Latin word sic(meaning “thus”), as in the following: Smith stated that Handel “could not spel [sic] his own name.” Note the use of brackets to insert an editorial comment within the quotation.
If a direct quotation runs for more than three full lines of your document, place it in a separate block of text indented by an extra five spaces from the left margin. Many word processors have a command for doing this automatically. In such a case, omit quotation marks but be sure to place a note at the end of the quotation to indicate its source.
There are various standard ways of referring to specific musical compositions. Certain types of work, such as operas and ballets, usually have given titles, such as Don Giovanni, which should be capitalized and italicized. Shorter works, such as songs, may also have titles which are usually capitalized and placed within quotation marks, as in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Other works, including most instrumental works, have generic titles that are merely capitalized, such as Concerto No. 5 in E-flat for Piano and Orchestra. Naturally, the key, instrumentation, and composer’s name should be included, where known; in addition, you should give any standard catalog number (K., BWV, op., etc.). Many instrumental works also have given titles or nicknames, which should follow in italics or in quotation marks, respectively: Haydn’s Symphony in D,Le matin, Hob. I: 6; Schubert, Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, “Unfinished,” D. 759.
Notes (that is, footnotes or endnotes) are used most frequently to cite sources (see below). Endnotes are preferred in material submitted for review or publication, since they are easier to edit than footnotes. You can also use notes for brief comments that for one reason or another do not belong in the main text of the paper, but these should rarely be longer than a sentence or two; if they grow longer, consider incorporating them into the main text.


The source of any material not your own must be properly cited either in the body of your paper or in notes. In addition, research papers often include a bibliography that lists all sources used or consulted. Naturally, you must cite a source for any direct quotation, but the same is also true for paraphrases and other forms of indirect quotation. An exception occurs in the case of widely known quotations (such as Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death”) and generally known facts (e.g., the year in which Beethoven was born), but when in doubt give a citation.
By “source” is meant anything or anyone from which you have taken facts or opinions. Sources include published books, articles, and editions and recordings of music, as well as public lectures, personal correspondence, and even word of mouth. Standard forms of citation for the most common types of source are listed below; the basic principle is to include all information needed for understanding the nature and location of each source. Usually this information is placed in a note, but often you will mention the name of the author or work in the main text. You should also make clear either in the body of the text or in the corresponding note exactly what material you have taken from your source.
For example, a paragraph (with notes) that describes critical responses to Beethoven’s piano sonatas might read as follows; the notes would appear as footnotes or endnotes in a printed paper:
The musicologist Dana Scully considers Beethoven’s piano sonatas extremely effective in performance.1 Another critic has found them the most “imposing” and “exciting” piano sonatas ever written.2 After American pianist Malcolm Bilson played the Sonata in F, op. 10, no. 2, on a recent recital program at Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island, N.Y., the audience called him back to the stage for two encores.3 For Charles Rosen, the most distinguished sonata is the one that Beethoven designated the Hammerklavier,4 which the composer wrote between 1817 and 1824 according to the British scholar Alan Tyson.5


1. Dana Scully, “Playing Beethoven,” New York Review of Books 45/3 (July 17, 1994): 17.
2. Homer Simpson, “My Favorite Sonatas,” Springfield High School 1994 Yearbook (Springfield: Quickie Publishers, 1994), 17.
3. Buffy Summers, California University at Sunnydale, personal communication to the author, March 4, 2003, referring to a performance on March 3, 2003.
4. Charles Rosen, The Classical Style (New York: Norton, 1973), 78.
5. Dates of Beethoven’s Piano Works (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 56.
Even without consulting the notes, you can readily understand from the above paragraph that the author is conveying both information and critical judgements or opinions that originated with several different authors. Most of these authors are identified not only by name but by a word or two that tells us what they do or where they are from. One author is quoted directly (see the two adjectives within quotation marks). The others are quoted indirectly, but although their statements have been summarized or reworded each one still bears a citation.
In order to write such a paragraph, you must first have taken good notes on your reading, including all of the necessary bibliographic information. The effort is well worth it. Compare the following paragraph:
Beethoven’s piano sonatas are considered extremely effective in performance. It is believed by many that they are the best piano sonatas ever written, and they have been known to bring performers back to the stage for numerous curtain calls. The best sonata is the “Hammerklavier,” which Beethoven composed between 1817-24.1
1. Rosen, Classical Style, 78.
The single note placed at the end of this paragraph gives the reader no idea what portion of the material comes from the work cited. The reader is left wondering whether the statements of opinion are really as widely shared as the author suggests, and it is impossible to determine the source of the dates given by the author. The writing is further weakened by the numerous passive constructions and the misuse of hyphenated dates.
Notice, however, that the single note in this last example cites the same book as note 4 above. In this last case, however, the citation has been shortened, giving just the author’s last name, a shortened form of the book title, and the page number. You should use an abbreviated citation such as this one when you have already given a full citation for a work and are returning to the same item to cite it again.


The sample note formats below are the most commonly used American types, but there are many variations. Footnotes and endnotes take the same form, differing only in their position within the paper. Each note comprises a one-sentence paragraph, indented and ending with a period. Feel free to adapt these formats for types of sources not listed below. If a work is a reprint or facsimile of an older work, give information for the original as well as the edition you used. Any special features of the work cited can be explained in an additional sentence. All of these formats can be shortened if the same work is subsequently cited in a later note.10
Important: If you accessed an article through an online database such as Proquest, you should still cite the article in its original paper version, using one of the formats below. An exception is made for publications that appear only in electronic form, or for those such as Grove Online, whose electronic version differs from the paper one. In those cases follow the special format listed below.
For a page in a book:

1. Charles Rosen, Sonata Forms (New York: Norton, 1972), 19.

Here is the same entry for a revised edition of the same book:

1. Charles Rosen, Sonata Forms, rev. ed. (New York: Norton, 1989), 19.

For a page in an article in a journal, include volume number, date, and page number:

2. Bonnie Blackburn, “On Compositional Process in the Fifteenth Century,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 40 (1987): 255.

For a page in a multi-volume encyclopedia–note the inclusion of the editor’s name, publication information, and volume and page numbers:

3. Christoph Wolff, “Bach, Johann Sebastian,” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan, 1980), 1: 447-9.

For a page in a collective work (a set of essays by different authors):

4. Mary Oleskiewicz, “The Trio in Bach’s Musical Offering: A Salute to Frederick’s Tastes and Quantz’s Flutes?,” in Bach Perspectives, Volume 4: The Music of J. S. Bach: Analysis and Interpretation, ed. David Schulenberg (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), 82.

For an edition of music (note the inclusion of the editors’ names):

5. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Don Giovanni, ed. Georg Schünemann and Kurt Soldan (Leipzig: C. F. Peters, 1941).

Here is a note for a reprint of the same edition:

5. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Don Giovanni, ed.Georg Schünemann and Kurt Soldan (Leipzig: C. F. Peters, 1941; reprint, with translation of editorial commentary, New York: Dover Publications, 1974).

For an edition of music from a multi-volume series, the title of the series and the volume number follow the editor’s name, in roman (not italic) type:

6. Johann Sebastian Bach, Das Wohltemperierte Clavier, ed. Alfred Dürr, Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke, vol. V/6 (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1989).

For a book review in a periodical:

7. Joseph Kerman, review of The Classical Style, by Charles Rosen, Musical Quarterly 16 (1986): 54.

For a CD, include the label, label or catalogue number, and date of publication, as well as the actual dates of the recording session or sessions if possible:

8. J. S. Bach: Harpsichord Concertos, Christophe Rousset, harpsichord; The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood, dir. (London: Oiseau-Lyre no. 448, 1997; recorded 1982, 1997).

For a program note packaged with a CD:

9. David Schulenberg, program note to J. S. Bach: Harpsichord Concertos, Christophe Rousset; harpsichord; The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood, dir. (London: Oiseau-Lyre no. 448, 1997; recorded 1982, 1997).

For a website, include author, title, and URL, as well as date of the most recent update (if provided). You should also attempt to identify the author and the sponsor of the website; this helps the reader judge whether information on the website is dependable:

10. Yo Tomita, Bach Bibliography <>, last updated March 13, 2001. Tomita is a faculty member in the Music Department of Queen’s University, Belfast (Northern Ireland).

For an article in an electronic journal (that is, a journal that exists only in an online version; do not use this format for print journals that you access through an electronic database such as Proquest). Note that in this particular journal, each section and paragraph are numbered, so in place of a page number one can use a paragraph number (“para.”) to locate a specific passage in the article.

11. David Schulenberg, “Some Problems of Text, Attribution, and Performance in Early Italian Baroque Keyboard Music,” Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music 4/1 (1998) <>: para. 5.6.

For an article in Grove Music Online (note: this format is adapted from the one recommended on the Grove site; it includes section numbers locating a specific passage in the article):

12. Oliver W. Neighbour, “Schoenberg, Arnold,” Grove Music Online, edited by Laura Macy (accessed October 22, 2001) <>, section 4 (ii).

For a class handout or other unpublished material, include the author, date, and any other information necessary to describe what the item is and to indicate how you came upon it:

13. David Schulenberg, coursepack for MU 241 (Bach and Handel), Wagner College, spring 2003.



bibliography is a list of sources. Normally it is the last element of a research paper, following the notes. The most common ordering system is alphabetical by name of author. In the sample bibliography below, writings and editions of music are listed separately, by author’s name in each section. Unlike notes, entries in a bibliography give the author’s last name first (to facilitate alphabetization), and each element of the entry ends with a period instead of a comma. In addition, all pages of each article are listed, not just the one or ones cited. Each entry is “undented,” all lines except the first indented. The following sample bibliography lists the works cited in the notes above. Note the use of a long dash for a second entry by the same author.
Each entry in a bibliography is normally “undented,” meaning that the first line begins at the left margin but subsequent lines are indented. There seems, however, to be no HTML code for formatting a paragraph in this way, and therefore no lines are indented in the bibliography below.
When you take bibliographic information from an online database such as JSTOR or Expanded Academic, you must convert that information into an appropriate format from the list below. JSTOR is an index to articles originally published in scholarly journals, so you would most likely follow the format of the first item below. It is not necessary to give the URL for an article accessed through an electronic database. Exception: if the article exists only in electronic form, then use the appropriate format shown below for online material.
for an article in a journal:
Blackburn, Bonnie. “On Compositional Process in the Fifteenth Century.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 40 (1987): 246-71.
for a book review in a periodical:
Kerman, Joseph. Review of The Classical Style, by Charles Rosen. Musical Quarterly 16 (1986): 54.
for an article or chapter in a collective work, that is, a book whose articles and chapters are by different authors:
Oleskiewicz, Mary. “The Trio in Bach’s Musical Offering: A Salute to Frederick’s Tastes and Quantz’s Flutes?” In Bach Perspectives, Volume 4: The Music of J.S. Bach: Analysis and Interpretation, ed. David Schulenberg, 79-110. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.
for a book:
Rosen, Charles. Sonata Forms. New York: Norton, 1972.
for the same book in a revised edition:
—–. Sonata Forms. Revised edition. New York: Norton, 1989.
for a liner note for a CD recording:
Schulenberg, David. Program note to J.S. Bach: Harpsichord Concertos, Christophe Rousset; harpsichord, The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood, dir. London: Oiseau-Lyre no. 448, 1997. Recorded 1982, 1997.
for a website:
Tomita, Yo. Bach Bibliography. <>. Accessed Sept. 3, 2025. Last update: Jan. 18, 2015.
for a Wikipedia article:
Anonymous. List of Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes. <>. Accessed May 20, 2003.
for an article in an electronic journal:
Schulenberg, David. “Some Problems of Text, Attribution, and Performance in Early Italian Baroque Keyboard Music.” Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music 4/1 (1998) <>
a signed article in a dictionary or encyclopedia; see below for the online version of Grove:
Wolff, Christoph. “Bach, Johann Sebastian.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie, 1: 421-98. London: Macmillan, 1980.
for an article in Grove Music Online (= Oxford Music Online):
Neighbour, Oliver W. “Schoenberg, Arnold.” In Grove Music Online, edited by Laura Macy <>. Accessed October 22, 2001.
Editions of music
for a volume in a collected edition of the composer’s works:
Bach, Johann Sebastian. Das Wohltemperierte Clavier. Edited by Alfred Dürr. Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke, vol. V/6. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1989.
for an edition of an individual work:
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Don Giovanni. Edited by Georg Schünemann and Kurt Soldan. Leipzig: C. F. Peters, 1941.
for a reprint of an edition of an individual work:
—–. Don Giovanni. Edited by Georg Schünemann and Kurt Soldan. Leipzig: C. F. Peters, 1941. Reprint, with translation of editorial commentary. New York: Dover Publications, 1974.
Recordings of music
for a CD:
Bach, Johann Sebastian. Harpsichord Concertos. Christophe Rousset, harpsichord; The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood, dir. London: Oiseau-Lyre no. 448, 1997. Recorded 1982, 1997.
for the same recording as a music download:
Bach, Johann Sebastian. Harpsichord Concertos. Christophe Rousset, harpsichord; The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood, dir. Downloaded Sept. 3, 2010, from London: Oiseau-Lyre, recorded 1982.