Guide for Written Work

You will need to undertake a wide variety of different types of written work in History, including essays, project proposals (including research proposals for the MA dissertation), dissertations, and handouts for oral presentations.  At undergraduate level you are also expected to write source commentaries, portfolios, and learning logs. This guide is designed to help in the preparation and presentation of all written work and to inform you of the general stylistic conventions that we follow in the History Department. There are no universally accepted conventions for writing, references and bibliographies, as you will see if you look at any range of books, articles or newspapers. Different countries, and even different publishers, have their own ‘house styles’. Therefore the following guide represents the main conventions that we use as a department and to which we expect every piece of written work to conform as far as possible and upon which part of the mark for each piece of work is judged. Our style guide is a modified form of the one used by Cambridge University Press and is particularly designed for academic writing. While you should follow this guide in preparing your written work, some kinds of written work (i.e. dissertations) may have features not dealt with fully here or for which there is no set system (such as the referencing of archival sources). In such cases you should consult tutors or supervisors as to what is most appropriate. Remember that the main priority is always clarity and consistency in the writing and presentation of written work

Overall presentation

• All written work should be word-processed, using 1.5 or double line spacing throughout. Leave a generous margin of at least 3 cm or 1.25 inches on the left hand side of the page to allow for the tutor’s and marker’s comments. You may need to leave even wider margins for dissertations which need to be bound.

• Use a plain font (Times New Roman and Garamond at 12 point and Arial at 10 point are the most used for academic purposes). Be consistent and do not change point size or font.

• Text should usually be normal throughout; there is no need to change text for quotations. Italics indicate the title of a published work (book, article etc) and should only be used to indicate such works. Do not use italics to add emphasis or for quotations, unless the original text you are quoting is italicized. Likewise, do not use bold text, unless in particular circumstances, such as in a quotation where the original uses it, or for chapter headings in a dissertation.

• Pages should be numbered throughout, using Arabic numerals (i.e. 1, 2, 3 not i. ii.iii), placed at the bottom of the page (as in this guide).

• You should always include references, in footnotes at the bottom of each page (do not use endnotes). References allow someone else to see from where you gained information and ideas. They should always be used for any quotations, for arguments and ideas that you have gained from elsewhere, and for facts and figures that are not generally known. They should be numbered consecutively in Arabic numerals throughout the essay or dissertation chapter, with the numbers appearing in superscript at the end of a sentence (never in the middle) after the full stop, as here.

• A number of different citations to sources can be grouped together in the same reference, as long as they are all relevant to the same point you are referencing. You do not always have to put one source per reference. How to format and lay out references is shown below.

• References do not count towards the word limit for the piece of work, but they should not be used to add extra information (‘padding’ is what we call it) that is not in the main body of the essay or dissertation. If you do so, the additional words will be added to the word count by tutors and may bring the work over length.  This norm supersedes the advice given in the College handbook.

• Each piece of written work should have a bibliography at the end, starting on a new page. The bibliography does not count towards the word-limit for the piece of work. Bibliographies should list all the materials (books, articles, websites etc) that you have used to complete that particular piece of work. They should be organized in alphabetic order by surname of author or by the name of the particular work if there is no author. See below for further information on how to lay out a bibliography.

Do not put your name on any piece of written work, as we operate an anonymous marking system. However, it is a good idea to put your student number on the work as well as on the coversheet, just in case the two become detached.

• You will normally submit written work electronically through the eBART system operated by the College with a submission deadline of 10am, but some pieces of work (e.g. work for Sources and Skills modules and presentation coversheets) are submitted directly to tutors.  Dissertations at both BA and MA level will have a BART sheet but should be printed on A4-sized paper and two copies should be submitted to the Humanities Amory Education Team. Module guides will indicate the dates of submissions and whether they are via BART or not.

Writing conventions

Spelling, punctuation and capitalization

• You should consistently use British spelling (except in quotations from other sources, where the spelling convention of the original should be retained). In British style either -ise or -ize may be used, but one form should be used throughout e.g. organise or organize.

• Punctuation systems should consistently follow British usage (except in quotations from other sources, where the punctuation convention of the original should be retained). British style uses single inverted commas, except for quotations within quotations (which have double inverted commas) e.g. According to A. N. Historian, ‘the study of history is of central importance to our understanding of the here and now, and not, as E. R. Whig suggested, “pointless and irrelevant”’. Punctuation should follow closing inverted commas except for grammatically complete sentences beginning with a capital e.g. ‘The study of history is of central importance to our understanding of the here and now.’ (A. N. Historian)

• The use of capitals should be kept to a sensible minimum. However, all proper nouns should be capitalized (names of people, places, and organizations). Thus the Church (an organization) and the church (a building). Similarly, the Socialist Party (an organization) but socialism (an ideology) or socialist (someone or something pertaining to the ideology. Likewise, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, but the king.

Contractions, abbreviations and acronyms

• In British style contractions have no full points (e.g. Mr, St, edn), though abbreviated words, which do not end with their final letter, and their plural forms, will (e.g. vol.,vols., ed., eds.)

• Acronyms and abbreviations in capitals should have no stops: NATO, USA, EU, BC. On first use the full name of the organization should be given with the acronym in brackets e.g. United States of America (USA) and then only the acronym used thereafter.

Numbers and dates

• Numbers should be written out up to 100, except in a discussion that includes a mixture of numbers above and below this, in which case all of them should be in figures (e.g. 356 walkers overtook 72 others, as 6 fell back, exhausted). Numbers with units should always be given in figures, with a space between the number and the unit (e.g. 4 cm).

• Dates should be written in the form: 20 December 1148; 20 December; AD 245-50. Centuries should be written out (twenty-first century) and 1920s etc. should be written without an apostrophe.


• Quotations should be kept to a minimum and lengthy quotations should be avoided.

• As a general rule, quotations of more than about sixty words should be set off from the main text (indented with extra space above and below). Those of fewer than sixty words should run on in the text inside inverted commas.

• Quotations of prose passages from a foreign language should be given in English only, using either an established translation or a new one of your own.

• When quotation in a foreign language is essential (e.g. of poetry), it should be followed directly (not in the notes) with an English translation, placed in square brackets.

• All quotations should be typed in 1.5 or double-spacing (just like the text, the notes, and the bibliography).