Margin (Composition Format) Definition

Margin Alignment
 By Bhikkhu Pesala (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The part of a page that's outside the main body of text is a margin

Word processors let us set margins so that they're either aligned (justified) or ragged (unjustified). For most school or college writing assignments (including articles, essays, and reports), only the left-hand margin should be justified. (This glossary entry, for instance, is left justified only.)

As a general rule, margins of at least one inch should appear on all four sides of a hard copy. The specific guidelines below have been drawn from the most commonly used style guides. Also, see:


From the Latin, "border"


  • APA Guidelines on Margins
    "Leave uniform margins of at least 1 in. (2.54 cm) at the top, bottom, left, and right of every page. Combined with a uniform typeface and font size, uniform margins enhance readability and provide a consistent gauge for estimating article length."
    (Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed. APA. 2010)
  • MLA Guidelines on Margins
    "Except for page numbers, leave margins of one inch at the top and bottom and on both sides of the text. . . . If you lack 8½-by-11-inch paper and use a larger size, do not print the text in an area greater than 6½ by 9 inches. Indent the first word of a paragraph one-half inch from the left margin. Indent set-off quotations one inch from the left margin."
    (MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed. The Modern Language Association of America, 2009)
  • Turabian's Chicago-Style Guidelines on Margins
    "Nearly all papers in the United States are produced on standard pages of 8½ x 11 inches. Leave a margin of at least one inch on all four edges of the page. For a thesis or dissertation intended to be bound, you may need to leave a bigger margin on the left side--usually 1½ inches.
    "Be sure that any material placed in headers or footers, including page numbers and other identifiers . . ., falls within the margins specified in your local guidelines."
    (Kate L. Turabian et al., A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, 8th ed. University of Chicago Press, 2013)
  • Guidelines on Margins in Business Letters and Reports
    "Use a 2-inch top margin for the first page of a business letter printed on letterhead stationery. Any second and succeeding pages of a business letter have 1-inch top margins. Use left justification.
    "Select the side margins according to the number of words in the letter and the size of the font used to prepare the letter. Set the margins after keying the letter and using the word count feature of your word processing program. . . .
    "Reports and manuscripts may be prepared with either 1.25-inch left and right margins or 1-inch left and right margins, depending upon the preference of the originator. If the report or manuscript is to be bound on the left, allow an additional 0.25 inch for the left margin.
    "The first page of major parts (title page, table of contents, bibliography, etc.) and the opening page of sections or chapters require a 2-inch top margin, 2.25 inches for top-bound documents."
    (James L. Clark and Lyn R. Clark, How 10: A Handbook for Office Workers, 10th ed. Thomson/South-Western, 2003)
  • The New Typography
    "In the New Typography margins often almost entirely disappear. Of course, type cannot in most cases be set right up to the edge of the paper, which would hinder legibility. In small items of printed matter, 12 to 24 points are the minimum margin required; in posters 48 points. On the other hand, borders of solid red or black can be taken right up to the edge, since unlike type they do not require a white margin to achieve their best effect."
    (Jan Tschichold, "The Principles of the New Typography," in Texts on Type: Critical Writings on Typography, ed. by Steven Heller and Philip B. Meggs. Allworth Communications, 2001)

Pronunciation: MAR-jen

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Margin (Composition Format) Definition." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Margin (Composition Format) Definition. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Margin (Composition Format) Definition." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 30, 2023).

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