Formatting and presenting your assignments

Formatting and presenting your assignment correctly is important - this page explains what this means and how to do it.

Presenting assignments - looks do matter!

Good presentation really is important:

  • The reality is that before lecturers read assignments, they’ve already formed an initial impression based on appearance. And you want your assignment to create a favourable first impression.
  • Almost all assignments include marks for presentation – marks are given for aspects such as formatting and layout, word count, APA referencing, writing style, grammar and spelling. So if you get the presentation right, you can often pick up a few easy marks.

Here’s what you need to do:

Before you start writing, find out what’s required

  • Check your learning materials, the online course page, emails from your lecturer, and the assignment question - your lecturer may have included guidelines for presenting your assignments in any (or all) of these places.
  • If you're studying a blended or online course and haven’t received any emails from your lecturer, check:
    - 'My Open Polytechnic' (on the Online Campus) to make sure that we have your current email address.
    - your course page to make sure that you’re subscribed to all forums. To subscribe to the forums, open your course page, click on ‘Forums’, in the ‘Activities’ block and then click on ‘Subscribe to all forums’.
  • Read the instructions, make quite sure you understand them and follow them exactly - this isn’t the time to be creative.
  • If you’re not clear about what’s required, ask: either post to a forum on the online course page or email your lecturer. (You could phone but it’s better to have a record of the answer.)

What if I'm not told what's required?

  • Some lecturers assume that students will know how to present work of the required standard or quality and don’t give specific instructions.
  • If this is the case, follow the general guidelines below.

Formatting and layout

Assignments are either submitted online or electronically (a soft copy) or by post (a hard copy).

Guidelines for soft copies (i.e. digital documents for electronic submission)

File format

  • Most assignments are written using MS Word (you can use the live version that's provided via My Open Polytechnic) or Open Office.
  • Assignments can be submitted one of the following file formats: .doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx or .rtf.
  • Do not submit html files, web pages, CAD files, Visio (.vsd), PowerPoint (.ppt), PDF s (.pdf) or zip files unless these are specifically required for a particular course.
  • If you're not sure about the file format required, call or email your lecturer/tutor, or post to the course forum.


  • Select a clear, readable, sans serif font such as Verdana, Calibri, Tahoma or Arial and be consistent, i.e. stick to the same font throughout.
  • Select black text on a white background. Avoid coloured backgrounds or text in a colour other than black unless you have special permission to use them (e.g. if you're dyslexic).
  • Use a 12 or 14 point font for headings and 11 or 12 point for the body of your assignment.


  • Use 1.5 or double spacing and fairly wide margins (so that there’s room for the marker’s comments).
  • Leave a blank line between paragraphs.
  • If the questions are short, leave a blank line between each question; if they are long, start each question on a new page.
  • Left-justify your work (also known as left-aligned, or flush left, ragged right); block-justified (flush left and right) might look neat but it’s much harder to read as it can result in gaps between words.


  • Use bold for headings, not underlining or italics.
  • Essays do not usually require subheadings; reports usually do.

Title page

  • Most assignments require a title page. If you're not sure about this, call or email your lecturer/tutor, or post to the course forum.
  • Include the following information on the title page:
    - the title and number of the assignment
    - the course number and name
    - the due date
    - your full name and student number.
  • Centre the information, starting approximately one third of the way down the page.


  • Number all pages except the title page.
  • Number your questions.
  • Tables and figures must be numbered and clearly labelled. Note that:
    - the caption for a table is placed above the table
    - the caption for a figure goes below the figure.
  • Don't number the items in a reference list.

Headers and footers

  • Insert a header or footer on each page (except the title page).
  • The header or footer should contain the following information:
    - your name (last name, first name/s)
    - student number
    - course number
    - the assignment number, and
    - the page number.

Word count

  • Include a word count (the number of words in your assignment).
  • The title/title page, reference list and appendices are not included in the word count.
  • Your assignment should be within 10% of the required number of words, i.e. not more than 10% under or over the prescribed word count.
    Word count calculator - Massey University (opens in a new window)
  • The word count is usually included directly after the assignment, i.e. before the reference list or appendices.
  • Microsoft Word can do the word count for you.
    How use the word count feature in MS Word - Office Blogs (video; opens in a new window)

Reference list

  • The reference list comes at the end of the assignment.
  • Start the reference list on a new page.
  • Label the page References.
  • References are arranged alphabetically; they aren't numbered.
  • For help with formatting individual items in a reference list, go to the Short guide to APA referencing on the Online Campus (PDF, 70 KB; opens in a new window).


  • Start each appendix (if applicable) on a new page.
  • If there's just one appendix, label it Appendix, without a number.
  • If there's more than one appendix, label them Appendix A, Appendix B, etc.
  • In the main text, refer to the Appendix by the label, e.g. Appendix A.

Tops and bottoms of pages

  • Check the top and bottom of your pages.
  • Avoid
    - widows - single lines of text at the top of a page.
    - orphans - first lines of paragraphs at the bottom of a page.
    - tombstones - headings or subheadings alone at the bottom of a page.
    - split lists – lists that are divided between two pages. (This may not always be possible)

Guidelines for hard copies (i.e. printed or hand-written documents for postal submission)

Most of the guidelines above apply to hard copies as well. There are also a few additional things to note:

Handwritten submissions

  • Some courses allow handwritten answers – check first with your lecturer to make sure this is acceptable.
  • Write legibly: if a marker can’t read what you’ve written, your answer might as well be wrong.
  • If you make a mistake, use correction fluid (white-out or Twink) or draw a neat line through the mistake.
  • If there are too many mistakes and your work looks messy, rewrite it.
  • Use a ruler for tables and graphs - remember, looks matter when it comes to assignments and you want to create a good impression.

Pen and paper

  • Print or write on white A4 paper; use one side only.
  • Use a blue or black pen for handwritten answers; avoid other colours.
  • Don't use pencil for writing assignments.


  • Use bold for headings if your assignment is printed
  • Underline headings if it’s handwritten – use a ruler, it looks neater.

Stapling your assignment

  • Staple multi-page assignments in the top left corner only.
  • Don’t put your assignment in a plastic folder, they’re slippery and difficult to handle.
  • Attach an Assessment Return Sheet (coversheet) to you assignment. (If you don't have an Assessment Return Sheet, call 0508650 200 and ask for one.)