What Is Essay Format?

Congratulations, you’ve managed it – you’ve written the text! Now what? Don’t rush into sending it as-is to your teacher. First, you’ll need to figure out every peculiarity of essay formatting and edit your text to perfection.

But what exactly is it like in practice? And is there a single, truly best essay format? 

This part of preparing the assignment revolves around how you present the content of your text. It combines two things:

  1. Visual components (font and its size, title capitalization, line, and paragraph spacing);
  2. Structural components (title page, abstract, table of contents, bibliography, or works cited section).

And no, there is no universally “best” among essay formats. What kind of format for essay you use depends on one single thing: the requirements that were set in the task. So, read them carefully and follow them to a T – that’s your priority number one.  

What would you do if your teacher didn’t give you any clear guidelines? Contact them and ask for the guidelines. Maybe, they just forgot to mention it when giving the assignment.

Begin essay format

How to Format an Essay

So, there’s no universally good essay format (or a bad one, for that matter). But there can easily be a confusing one. What if your teacher just sends you “MLA” in response, for example?

What you need to know first is that there are different sets of guidelines. Three of them that you’re most likely to encounter are:

  • MLA (that’s the go-to option for papers in humanities classes);
  • APA (it’s prevalent among scientific papers);
  • Chicago (you’re most likely to encounter it if you write a paper on the origin of something).

Don’t let this fool you: each of them is actually an easy essay format once you wrap your head around it. Besides, these three have a lot in common, like one-inch margins.

But what makes them different, you might wonder? They vary in their guidelines on headers, page numbers, title pages, cited works, and more. So, check the precise requirements to understand what your perfect essay format is in this particular case.

Now, let’s focus on how to get started with formatting an essay and make sure you leave no stone unturned:

  1. Font and spacing. By default, those should be 12 pt Times New Roman and double, respectively. Get rid of any extra spacing between paragraphs, too.
  2. Page margins. As mentioned above, make them one inch – no more, no less.
  3. Alignment. Usually, the text should be evenly distributed (i.e. justified) across a line.
  4. Page numeration. Rules differ here. Most likely, you’ll be asked to add your last name and page number to each page’s upper right corner, like this: “Cornell 1”. Some essay format examples switch the location to the upper left corner, though.
  5. Title capitalization. Each guide has its own rules for it. Under the MLA rules, for example, you’ll have “How to Write about Taxes”. But the APA guidelines would require you to start the word “about” with a capital letter: “How to Write About Taxes”.
  6. Citations in the text. If you mention the author in the sentence, just put the source number (as it’s in the list) in parentheses after the quote. If not, add the author’s last name before the number: e.g., (Brown 13). (This is based on the MLA format of essay writing and will be different under the Chicago guidelines.)

Basic Essay Format

The things listed above are more about visual changes to your paper, so to speak. What about the structural additions and other more substantial changes? Here’s a general essay format that will guide through the most common requirement towards its final structure:

  1. Title page. Here’s how to make one (as based on the MLA writing essay format):
    1. Make a new blank page before the rest of the content. Write the name of the institution where you study there.
    2. Go down about a third of the page and once you’re there, type your text’s title and subtitle (if there is any).
    3. Switch to the lower third of the page. Most probably, you’ll need to write these in the following order there:
      • Your full name;
      • Your teacher’s full name and credentials (like Dr.);
      • The name of the class or course you’ll be submitting it for;
      • Its due date (remember to use DD-MM-YYYY).
  2. Abstract. One proper essay format example may include it and another won’t. Usually, it’s only long scientific papers that require it, especially for publishing. An abstract is typically 300-word-long and contains your thesis or hypothesis and how you are going to prove or test it (your research methods).
  3. Introduction. Whether you opt for a simple essay format or not, you have to have an introduction. It’s typically following this introduction essay format:
    1. Hook;
    2. Background information;
    3. Thesis.
  4. Body. It can’t be one giant wall of text. When it comes to each of the paragraphs in the main body, here’s the formula any body essay format advises you to follow:
    1. Topic sentence (the main point described in the paragraph);
    2. Proofs in its favor and their analysis;
    3. A final sentence wrapping it up and a smooth link to the next point.
  5. Conclusion. When it comes to the conclusion essay format, there’s one key rule: KISS, or Keep It Short and Simple. Don’t introduce new ideas or evidence. Sum up what you’ve already laid out in the main body. Then, highlight why this conclusion matters for the future of the issue or field.
  6. Works cited. There’s no hiding from this section in any common essay format. Add it at the end of the file, on a separate page without a page number. Sort the sources alphabetically from A to Z. How you describe the source depends on its type, so here are a couple of examples:
    1. Books. Last Name, First Name. Book Title. Publisher, Publishing Year. E.g.: Brown, Chris. How Unicorns Come to Be. Awesome Horses, 2018.
    2. Articles. Last Name, First Name. “Article Title.” Journal Name, YYYY, pp. XX-XX, XX, URL (optional). E.g.: Brown, Charlie. “How to Find a Unicorn.” Nature, 2010, pp. 3, 101-104.

As you can see, formatting isn’t just about the line spacing and citations. It’s about how you structure your paper, too – right down to each paragraph!