Sometimes, I just get so tired of telling students the same thing over and over, so I'm thinking of handing out a basic checklist. Here's the first draft.
1) Name. Put your name on the paper. Don't put just your first name, but also your surname. If you want to put the instructor's name, the class, and the date, too, yay you.
2) Title. Your paper should have a title, and that title should not be "Essay #2" or "Title of a Famous Piece of Art." Think of a title that communicates something about your paper. Unless otherwise instructed, center your title near the top of the page, not too far below your name. Don't put your own title in quotations marks, or italics, or in 24 point font.
3) Format. Use reasonable margins. 1 inch is good. Number your pages. Left justify your paper unless otherwise instructed.
4) Font. Use a reasonably sized font, say a 10, 11, or 12. Use a readable font, one that will inspire confidence in your reader.
5) Paragraphs. Indent paragraphs.
Don't add an extra space between paragraphs. If you have the latest version of Word, and it's set to add an extra space, change the setting.
Here's how to change that setting:
a. Open Word. (I start at the beginning.)
b. Click the "Page Layout" tab at the top.
c. About 2/3rds of the way to the right, find the "Paragraph" box. Set the "before" and "after" spacings to 0 pt.
d. Celebrate with me!
6) Sources. When you use a source, introduce it in some way, even if you're paraphrasing. Cite your sources at the end of the paper, in foot or end notes, or in whatever way is appropriate to your class. If you're in a literature class, it's likely that you need to use MLA. If you're in a social or natural sciences class, it's likely that you'll need to use APA. If you're not sure, ask your instructor!
Cite any source you use; give people credit for their ideas, words, and cultural productions (art, graphs, and so on).
If you didn't know something before the term began, then figure out how you know it now, and cite that. You can cite your textbook or a lecture.
7) Titles. In typescript, use underlining or italics for the titles of journals, magazines, newspapers, books, plays, films, TV series, long poems. Use quotation marks for the titles of articles, short stories, television series episodes, short poems. The general rule is that if something is published in a stand alone format, it gets underlined or italicized. If it's published as part of something else, it gets quotation marks.
Your own title doesn't get either.
8) Punctuation. If you're in the U.S., periods and commas go inside quotation marks, and we use double quotation marks unless we're quoting within a quotation.
9) Staple. Staple your paper in the upper left hand corner unless otherwise instructed. (With thanks to MommyProf [see comments]. See, even on a blog you can acknowledge other peoples' ideas!)