How to Format an Essay: Best Complete Guide for All Students

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All students have to write academic papers. Some assignments can be informal. For example, teachers may ask students to answer questions or make up prompt dialogs with only content requirements. If a student needs to write an essay, a dissertation, a course paper, or any other written task, there surely will be formatting requirements.

What is the Essay Format?

It is the way students have to reflect on their content on a paper. In other words, it is the ‘appearance’ of formal writing. Spacing, margins, font, word order, and other visual details matter.  If your task is to format your essay properly, you should be aware of the five most popular formatting styles.

What is MLA Format for an Essay?

When one starts writing a paper, it is essential to use a good writing tool. As a rule, Google Docs or Microsoft Word suits you best. They let students set the required parameters and create an assignment without the need to keep in mind all MLA details.

Speaking about the page layout, one should provide the following settings.

  1. The first parameter to set is one-inch margins. They should surround the text from all sides.
  2. The second thing to choose is Times New Roman and tick size 12.
  3. The spacing to choose is doubled.
  4. Select the left-side orientation of the text. Moreover, don’t forget that the right side must be ragged. This requirement is for the main text. The title page has other text orientations.
  5. The indent of the first word in a paragraph must be 0.5-inch for the text and the Works Cited section for all lines. Another requirement is 1 inch for quotes.
  6. Page numeration must be on all pages and placed in the top right corner. Students need to type their surname before the number.

Note! Tutors should mention whether a student can print the paper on one or both sides of an A4 paper. Another detail to specify is the title page. Traditionally, it is not required.

MLA paper format template:

MLA paper format template
MLA Format for Essay

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The next tip to remember is citations. Learners must use in-text quotes at the end of the sentence and put a full stop after the last word. There is no need to mention the author in parentheses if you have already used it in the sentence. Nevertheless, it is necessary to mention the cited page.

Another section is the bibliography page. It goes after the main text, and students number it. The text requirements are the same. The used literature should be ordered alphabetically. If a source has no author, one should pay attention to the title. No need to create a separate list.

As it has been said, there is no title page. So, students type their first and last names, people or companies who will check the paper, subjects, and dates (for example, 4 June 2022) in the top left corner. The heading of the paper is center-oriented with all words being capitalized.

MLA reference sample:

MLA reference sample

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APA Format Essay Example

If a student’s task is to prepare APA information essay format, there will be three things to regard:

  • a title page,
  • content page(s) of an essay,
  • a list of used literature.

The first elements to regard are fonts, spacing, page numbering, and margins.

Margins are standard. As a rule, Office Word and Microsoft Word already have the pre-set 1-inch margins that correspond to most college requirements, including APA formatting.

The font differs depending on the chosen essay elements. Speaking about the presentation of the core information (content), a student should use either Times New Roman 12 or size 11 of Calibri, Georgia, or Arial. It is important to use only one font and size for one essay. If a student writes footnotes, the font size will be 10. Students need font sizes 8, 10, 11, 12, or 14 to write captions for figures and tables.

Spacing is also traditional. It is doubled. The only extra thing to do is to delete extra spacing before or after paragraphs if the writing tool has them in standard settings.

Page numbering is done in the upper right corner for all essay parts.

APA sample to study:

APA Format for Essay
APA Format Example

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What is the difference between the three structural format parts?

  1. A title page. The essay title is center-oriented, 3-4 spaces from the top, and in bold capitalized letters. Then, one uses an extra space after the title and adds information about the performer and the addressee such as personal name (co-writers should be mentioned in separate lines with the conjunction ‘and’ between them), departments, discipline or course details, tutor’s name, and the date (for example, June 4, 2022).
  2. Abstract (not obligatory in many cases). A student writes a maximum of 250 words on a separate page after the title page. One writes an Abstract in the middle of the line and then writes a text without an indent.
  3. Essay content. One writes a capitalized bold-letter title in the middle of the line and starts the text with an indented paragraph. Other paragraphs are indented as well.
  4. Reference list. A student writes References in the middle of the line and creates a list of used sources. First, one mentions the author’s surname, then goes the year of publication, the title of the source, and publication details.

APA reference sample:

APA sample reference

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Chicago Style Paper

Just like the previous styles, it has general and specific requirements. Speaking about the whole paper, a person should use the following formatting elements:

  • Times New Roman, size 12
  • 1-inch margins from all sides or larger if a tutor requires
  • space between lines is doubled
  • each new paragraph starts with a 0.5-inch indent
  • page numbering can be done in two ways: in the bottom center or top right corner

Note! Sometimes, instructors ask students to use another spacing, margins, or font type. That is why it is significant to read college requirements first and follow them. Consequently, classic guidelines work only for assignments without specific format demands.

Chicago paper sample:

Chicago Style Paper
Chicago format for essay

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The text should be left-oriented, and its right side must be ragged.

The title page is not obligatory for the Chicago style. Instead, one can add a title of an essay before the text. If the college requires it, one should create a separate page and write center-oriented data. The space between lines should be doubled and stick to the chosen font type and size. All title words must be capitalized and bold. If the essay has a subtitle, it will be necessary to separate a title and a subtitle only with colons and place them in different lines. Moreover, one should add the following information:

  • first and last name;
  • personal code;
  • code and name of the course;
  • the date (for example, June 4, 2022)

It is necessary to introduce each piece of information in a new line. This page is printed without a number, but the total page count includes it.

Quotes and a reference list are things students should know first. If a student needs to introduce a long quote, it will be necessary to highlight it in a separate paragraph and not to double-space it. Quotation blocks do not require quotation marks. Besides, one should add an additional 0.5-inch indent from the top and the bottom. One should mention the list of used sources at the end of the paper. They are not double-spaced, but a person used extra space between each reference. If one reference takes several lines, the first word is not indented, but the others are.

Chicago bibliography sample:

Chicago bibliography example

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Harvard Format Essay

As a rule, students on the economics faculty use this formatting style. One can hardly find an official guideline, though there are several distinctive requirements.

Cover Page

The title should be given in the middle of the page. All words should be capitalized. Students mention their names three lines lower. Then, students write down the name of the class and one line down – a professor’s name. The following lines will be information about the school, its location, and the date (for example, 4th June 2022).

Page Numbering

The numbers of the page should be in the top right corner. Besides, the heading should go before each number on every page. If a title is too long, you should make a short description of it to provide the essay idea. It is also necessary to add five spaces between the heading and the page number.

Heading

Before one starts writing the plot of the essay, it will be necessary to mention the heading in the center. Every word starts with a  capital letter. If the essay is too long, it will be better to use italicized subheadings (all words start with a capital letter as well).

Harvard essay sample:

Harvard essay sample
Harvard Format for Essay

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In-text citations

Essays are impossible without citing sources. If you cite someone, do not forget to mention the author’s last name, the first initial of his/her name, the publication date, and the page (for example, King, S. 1977, 45).

Font, margins, and spacing

The font selection depends on a college tutor. It can be Times New Roman, Helvetica, Arial, Times, Courier for Mac, and Courier New for Windows. The size is the same for all types, and it is 12. If a student mentions titles of sources, it is necessary to italicize them. Quotation marks are used for the names of TV episodes, poems, short plays, and short stories. What concerns margins and spacing, the requirements are the same as for all the previous styles. The text must be double-spaced, left-oriented, and with ragged margins on the right.

The reference page

Everything is given in the ABC order and with double spaces. The first line is used without indents, the rest lines of the same source should be 0.5-inch intended. Referencing includes the author’s surname and the first initial of the name, publication year of the source, italicized title of the book, publication city, and the publisher.

Harvard referencing sample:

Harvard referencing sample

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IEEE Citation Format

This formatting style perfectly fits periodicals. One can see a typical IEEE text in a magazine or a newspaper. It differs from the previous formatting styles a lot. Let’s spot the most distinctive features of this essay writing format.

  1. As a rule, no title page is required. One just uses a 24-size font to introduce the title in the center of the line at the top of the page.
  2. Information about the author should be given in font size 10 Times or Times New Roman. This part includes the following details:
  • a student’s name,
  • information about college and faculty,
  • the official address of the college,
  • e-mail address.
  1. The most distinctive feature of the IEEE format is that its main text must be presented in Times New Roman 10 and in two columns that must be equal. If there is not enough text to make the columns equal, one can use a break.
  2. All papers begin with index terms (specific vocabulary) and abstracts. Abstracts have not less than 150 but not more than 250 words. The abstract does not demand specific formatting and visual elements.
  3. Students should read the college requirements carefully to check whether they need to introduce one of the following sections:
  • nomenclature (abbreviations used in the paper)
  • note to practitioners (practical application of the introduced knowledge that does not repeat the one given in the abstract)
  • appendices (pictures, graphs, tables, etc.)
  • acknowledgments (people and organizations that helped students to create their papers)
  1. All tables and graphs should be enumerated and given in the center of the corresponding column.

IEEE Essay Format Template:

IEEE Format
IEEE format for essay

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If a paper has subsections, a student should keep in mind essential details. See the examples below to know what the four different headings and subheadings look like.

  1. THE FIRST TYPE
  2. The Second Type
  3. The Third Type
  4. The fourth type

Such subheadings are essential only for essays with a complex structure. One should also use headings for nomenclature and appendix. They are created like primary headings without numbers. If there is more than one appendix, students should number and name them. For example, instead of numbers, a student can mark this section the following way:

Example: APPENDIX C. THE SELECTION CRITERIA OF WORM TYPES

How to Format a College Essay: Simple Explanation to Follow

Students often confuse two significant notions – structure and format. For example, a short essay consists of 500 words. Its structure includes a title (if necessary), an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Sometimes, a reference section is required as well, especially for informative and expository writing. A short essay format deals with the font, spacing, and margin selection. Moreover, a student must know how to introduce in-text citations, footnotes, tables, graphs, illustrations, and a reference list.

To format a paper properly, you should read the requirements for your assignment. As a rule, tutors ask their students to introduce essays in MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard, or IEEE format. The three less popular formatting styles are AMA, Bluebook, and ASA.

  • One usually uses AMA to write papers on Nursing and Healthcare.
  • Sociologists and psychologists usually use ASA in essay writing.
  • Bluebook is a traditional essay format for students who study law.

There are general and specific formatting recommendations. The general ones include font type and size, spacing, and margins. Specific requirements concern headings, titles, in-text citations, quote blocks, footnotes, and bibliography sections.

To be honest, it is hard to keep all this information in one’s head. That is why students should have guides that describe everything in detail at their fingertips. One can add sites with manuals to favorites and use them when getting writing assignments.

Speaking about the reference list, students feel not only puzzled but also annoyed when creating it. They have to search for so many details that this part takes more time than the essay creation. Fortunately, smart people have invented generators of citations. The most popular tools are CiteThisforMe and Scribbr. How to use them? Both tools are easy to navigate. Below, you can find an instruction.

  1. Visit the website.
  2. Choose the format (APA, Harvard, MLA, etc.)
  3. Select the type of source you need to reference (website, magazine, book, etc.)
  4. Fill in the required information or insert the link if your task is to introduce a website or an e-book.
  5. Click Cite the source.
  6. Copy the created reference and insert it in the list of used literature after the text of the essay.

Note! One should stick to one format. The font size can differ only for the title, footnotes, and quote blocks.

Conclusion

Formatting styles are significant in academic writing. Academic essays have nothing to do with freestyle writing, so every space, margin, and font type matters. Generators of citations are great tools, but they will not help with the formatting of the whole text. So, students should set a paper format in writing tool settings to guarantee the best research outcome.  If students feel massy about everything, professional editors will help.

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Author: Patricia Jenkins

Patricia Jenkins is the senior writing advisor at FastEssay blog for international students that seek quick paper assistance. In her blog, Patricia shares useful tips on productivity, writing, research, references. Sometimes Patricia goes off topic by sharing her personal experience peppered with lively humor and healthy irony.