College Level Essay Formats

Essay format has nothing to do with the actual content of the essay, it is how you organize and present it. Essay format gives the physical look of your essay as the eye scans the pages without reading the words.


MLA Essay Format with Example

APA Essay Format with Example

Chicago Essay Format


Why Is Formatting Important?

It is estimated that essay formatting can account for at least ten percent of your overall grade. This can be the difference between getting an "A" or a "D." Thus, paying close attention to your formatting is a relatively easy way to improve your grade.

Since formatting is often done after all the research and writing is accomplished, many students are too tired to give formatting the proper attention. They may also be rushed for time since this is the last task they do. For these reasons, you may want to start your essay assignment early enough that you can do your formatting on a different day than you actually research and write your essay. You can also enlist professional services like ours to help you format your essay perfectly and perhaps proofread your final draft as well.

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What Formatting Styles Are There?

Most common formatting styles are MLA, APA, Harvard & Chicago. MLA is the most typical one, and if you are unsure how your essay should be formatted, use MLA as the default formatting style.

The essay formatting rules depend only on the formatting standards, as prescribed by MLA, APA or Chicago style guides. Many styles erroneously think that academic (or complexity) level of your paper will influence the overall essay format. This is obviously a myth: if you need to write an MLA style essay, it will look same for high-school, college or university level. The Same statement is also true for APA & Chicago formatting styles.

What Are the Differences in Formatting Styles? 

Each formatting style sets its own requirements towards a number of things, including:

  • Title pages
  • Spacing between lines
  • Paragraphs
  • Page numbering
  • Margins
  • Font size
  • Indentation
  • Binding
  • Proofreading etc. 

Every formatting style has its respective formatting guide that can be easily purchased as a soft copy or a hard copy. There is, however, a great deal of information on each of these styles that is available online. Here are some useful links: 

Numbering Pages and Paragraphs

Always number every page of your essay in consecutive order. Put the number for each page in the upper right-hand corner half an inch from the top and flush with the right margin. It is a good practice to include your last name before each number in case the pages get jumbled up with other essays. An example would be: Smith, 2.

Keep your numbers very simple. Do not put periods after page numbers and do not underline them. Do not put quotations marks around them. Do not use a fancy font or embellish them with graphics of any kind. Use Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3) instead of Roman numerals (I, II, III).

The Importance of Double Spacing and Leaving Wide Margins

Part of the purpose in writing an essay in an academic environment is to obtain constructive feedback from your teacher or professor. This allows you to improve with each re-write and with each subsequent essay you write.

In order to leave enough room for your teacher or professor to leave his or her comments, be sure to double space between each line of text. Be sure to also leave a one-inch wide margin on all sides of the paper.

Spacing Between Words and Sentences

Always leave a single space between each word in a sentence. You should also leave a single space after each comma, semicolon, and colon. Never leave a space in front of the punctuation at the end of a sentence. It is traditional to leave two spaces between sentences. However, it is has become increasingly acceptable to include only one space between sentences. If in doubt, ask your teacher or professor for his or her preference.

Indentation of Paragraphs and Quotes

Traditionally, the first line of a new paragraph was always indented. However, many teachers and professors now prefer that students start new paragraphs flush with the left margin of the paper. For this reason, if your instructor does not offer guidance on this when they give an essay assignment, you may want to ask them what they prefer. Whether you indent or not, be sure to be consistent throughout your entire essay.

If you do indent paragraphs, it is traditional to indent seven spaces or half an inch from the left margin. For quotes, it is traditional to indent ten spaces, or a full inch from the left margin, to set them apart more distinctly than paragraphs.

Spacing Between Paragraphs

Since you are double spacing between lines, it is best to insert four spaces between paragraphs so the eye can more readily distinguish between paragraphs.

How to Handle Titles in Your Essay Format

There should be a formatting distinction made between longer full-length works and shorter works such. Longer works should be underlined. These include books and plays. Shorter works should be placed inside quotation marks. These include newspaper articles, magazine articles, book chapters, essays, and blog posts. When in doubt, use quotation marks or consult the MLA Handbook.

The first letter of each word in a title should be capitalized with three exceptions. First, do not capitalize articles ("a", "an", "the"). Second, do not capitalize prepositions ("on", "of", "in", "over", "under"). Third, do not capitalize conjunctions ("and", "because", "but").

Never Write in All Capitalizations

Capitalization should be used sparingly or it will tend to irritate the reader and detract from your overall points. Although you may be tempted to capitalize every letter in an important headline, resist this temptation and add your emphasis in the words you choose.

Table of Contents Guidelines

Essays are much shorter than books. Therefore, most do not require a table of contents. However, if your essay is lengthy, or your instructor suggests it, you may want to include one.

For most essays, you'll want to include the following sections in your table of contents:

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited

You can also provide subsections for the body since this is the lengthiest part of your essay. Beside each section and subsection, include a page number, in a simple format, for easy reference.

How to End Your Essay

Many students feel it necessary to embellish the end of their essay with a fancy graphic. This is not necessary and may even annoy your teacher or professor. Simply end your essay with the last period of your last sentence and leave it at that. Similarly, you do not need to write "The End."

Be Sure to Bind Your Essay

You should always bind together all the sheets of paper in your essay because it is quite easy for loose sheets to become scrambled or even lost. If you use a stapler, be sure to staple the upper left corner so the page numbers on the upper right corner still show. The same is true if you use a paper clip. You may also want to take your essay to a business center and have the left edges bound.

Summary

Writing a good essay takes practice and patience. Don't be too hard on yourself if you don't get an "A" on your first few attempts. If you are not satisfied with your grades, schedule an appointment with your teacher or professor and politely ask them for suggestions on how you can improve. Be sure to ask them about essay format as well as the content of your writing.

If you need more help, or you simply have limited time, contact us for professional help. We have a talented team of experienced writers who can help you with any aspect of your essay(s), including essay format. Our prices are so reasonable, they are affordable on almost any budget.

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Writing an academic essay means fashioning a coherent set of ideas into an argument. Because essays are essentially linear—they offer one idea at a time—they must present their ideas in the order that makes most sense to a reader. Successfully structuring an essay means attending to a reader's logic.

The focus of such an essay predicts its structure. It dictates the information readers need to know and the order in which they need to receive it. Thus your essay's structure is necessarily unique to the main claim you're making. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there are no set formula.

Answering Questions:  The Parts of an Essay

A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often located in specialized parts or sections. Even short essays perform several different operations: introducing the argument, analyzing data, raising counterarguments, concluding. Introductions and conclusions have fixed places, but other parts don't. Counterargument, for example, may appear within a paragraph, as a free-standing section, as part of the beginning, or before the ending. Background material (historical context or biographical information, a summary of relevant theory or criticism, the definition of a key term) often appears at the beginning of the essay, between the introduction and the first analytical section, but might also appear near the beginning of the specific section to which it's relevant.

It's helpful to think of the different essay sections as answering a series of questions your reader might ask when encountering your thesis. (Readers should have questions. If they don't, your thesis is most likely simply an observation of fact, not an arguable claim.)

"What?"  The first question to anticipate from a reader is "what": What evidence shows that the phenomenon described by your thesis is true? To answer the question you must examine your evidence, thus demonstrating the truth of your claim. This "what" or "demonstration" section comes early in the essay, often directly after the introduction. Since you're essentially reporting what you've observed, this is the part you might have most to say about when you first start writing. But be forewarned: it shouldn't take up much more than a third (often much less) of your finished essay. If it does, the essay will lack balance and may read as mere summary or description.

"How?"  A reader will also want to know whether the claims of the thesis are true in all cases. The corresponding question is "how": How does the thesis stand up to the challenge of a counterargument? How does the introduction of new material—a new way of looking at the evidence, another set of sources—affect the claims you're making? Typically, an essay will include at least one "how" section. (Call it "complication" since you're responding to a reader's complicating questions.) This section usually comes after the "what," but keep in mind that an essay may complicate its argument several times depending on its length, and that counterargument alone may appear just about anywhere in an essay.

"Why?"  Your reader will also want to know what's at stake in your claim: Why does your interpretation of a phenomenon matter to anyone beside you? This question addresses the larger implications of your thesis. It allows your readers to understand your essay within a larger context. In answering "why", your essay explains its own significance. Although you might gesture at this question in your introduction, the fullest answer to it properly belongs at your essay's end. If you leave it out, your readers will experience your essay as unfinished—or, worse, as pointless or insular.

Mapping an Essay

Structuring your essay according to a reader's logic means examining your thesis and anticipating what a reader needs to know, and in what sequence, in order to grasp and be convinced by your argument as it unfolds. The easiest way to do this is to map the essay's ideas via a written narrative. Such an account will give you a preliminary record of your ideas, and will allow you to remind yourself at every turn of the reader's needs in understanding your idea.

Essay maps ask you to predict where your reader will expect background information, counterargument, close analysis of a primary source, or a turn to secondary source material. Essay maps are not concerned with paragraphs so much as with sections of an essay. They anticipate the major argumentative moves you expect your essay to make. Try making your map like this:

  • State your thesis in a sentence or two, then write another sentence saying why it's important to make that claim. Indicate, in other words, what a reader might learn by exploring the claim with you. Here you're anticipating your answer to the "why" question that you'll eventually flesh out in your conclusion.
  • Begin your next sentence like this: "To be convinced by my claim, the first thing a reader needs to know is . . ." Then say why that's the first thing a reader needs to know, and name one or two items of evidence you think will make the case. This will start you off on answering the "what" question. (Alternately, you may find that the first thing your reader needs to know is some background information.)
  • Begin each of the following sentences like this: "The next thing my reader needs to know is . . ."  Once again, say why, and name some evidence. Continue until you've mapped out your essay. 

Your map should naturally take you through some preliminary answers to the basic questions of what, how, and why. It is not a contract, though—the order in which the ideas appear is not a rigid one. Essay maps are flexible; they evolve with your ideas.

Signs of Trouble

A common structural flaw in college essays is the "walk-through" (also labeled "summary" or "description"). Walk-through essays follow the structure of their sources rather than establishing their own. Such essays generally have a descriptive thesis rather than an argumentative one. Be wary of paragraph openers that lead off with "time" words ("first," "next," "after," "then") or "listing" words ("also," "another," "in addition"). Although they don't always signal trouble, these paragraph openers often indicate that an essay's thesis and structure need work: they suggest that the essay simply reproduces the chronology of the source text (in the case of time words: first this happens, then that, and afterwards another thing . . . ) or simply lists example after example ("In addition, the use of color indicates another way that the painting differentiates between good and evil").

Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University

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