How to Actually Paginate an Essay

The guidance about page number placement in the Student Supplement for the SBL Handbook of Style is mostly clear.1 But some of it takes some guesswork.

General Guidance

The Student Supplement gives the following advice for presenting page numbers:2

Overall: Assign each page a number. Arabic numbers are used for the main text of the paper. Roman numerals are used for material prior to the body of the text.

Title page: Do not print the roman numeral “i” on the title page.

Body: On the first page of the main text, place the page number at the bottom center. For subsequent pages, place the page number at the top right corner.

Back matter: On the first page of each appendix and the bibliography, place the page number at the bottom center. For subsequent pages, place the page number at the top right corner.

Then, if you’re writing a “term paper[] of fifteen pages or more,” you’ll also have a “contents page” (Student Supplement §2.7). And for this section, the Student Supplement advises (§2.3),

Contents: The front matter after the title page should be numbered beginning with “ii.” Page numbers should appear without any punctuation marks such as periods or parentheses.3

Placement of Front Matter Page Numbers

Strictly speaking, however, the Student Supplement doesn’t specify a location for Roman numeral page numbers.

Searching for an Answer

This information is also lacking from the SBL Handbook itself and doesn’t appear yet to have been clarified via the SBL Handbook of Style blog.

So for the position of page numbers in Roman numerals, we need to consult Turabian.For a summary of the order in which you should consult authorities for SBL style, see “How to Master SBL Style in 7 Simple Steps.” But when we do so, what we find there is not as direct an answer as we might hope.

Turabian’s Advice

If we line up the Student Supplement’s advice to Turabian, it’s pretty clear that the Student Supplement wants what it calls “term papers” to use a page numbering scheme like Turabian describes as being “traditional[ …] for theses and dissertations.”4

In this scheme, page numbers go “in the footer” on “all front matter pages.”5

But we still don’t have definitive guidance about whether the Roman numeral page numbers go in the bottom center or bottom right, both of which Turabian indicates as options.6 The full Chicago Manual of Style seems likewise silent on this point.

A Guess at an Answer

Pending further clarification about this point from SBL Press, we’re left with some guesswork based on two observations:

  1. Per Turabian’s “traditional[]” scheme, page numbers go “in the footer” on “all front matter pages.”7
  2. The Student Supplement nowhere advises that any page number should go in the bottom right. When the bottom margin has a page number, the number always appears bottom center.

Therefore, the most stylistically consistent placement for page numbers in Roman numerals in front matter is bottom center.

This includes subsequent pages in the same front matter section. Thus, for example, if your table of contents runs into more than one page, its Roman numeral page numbers will always appear bottom center.

Based on what the Student Supplement and Turabian say, this guess seems pretty probable.

But a guess it remains pending further guidance not weighed in here.


Based on these instructions, what you have are either two or three different page numbering statuses (none, Roman, Arabic).

For pages with numbers, you have two different locations (bottom center, top right).

And how you format the page number and where you put it depend on what kind of page it is where that number appears.

  1. Header image provided by Patrick Tomasso 

  2. I’ve excerpted this material from the Student Supplement §2.3, but I have adapted somewhat for ease of reference and presentation here. 

  3. If your paper has an abbreviations section, it will follow the same pagination rules as the contents section. See the Student Supplement §§2.3, 2.7, for more information. 

  4. Manual for Writers, 9th ed., §A.1.4.2. 

  5. Manual for Writers, 9th ed., §A.1.4.2. 

  6. Manual for Writers, 9th ed., §A.1.4.2. 

  7. Manual for Writers, 9th ed., §A.1.4.2. 

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