How to Format an Essay

Essays are focused pieces of writing that aim to convey a writer's main argument by consolidating information about a specific subject, topic, or idea, and bringing this information and evidence together to present it to it's readers. The definition of an essay, however, continues to be a little flexible. Writing work such as letters, academic papers, blogs, or speeches and so on can also be considered to be forms of essays.

Simplistically, essays can be understood to be pieces of writing that address a given subject, topic, or problem to a relative amount of depth. But it is not just about linearly listing points or ideas. Across many essay types, be it academic papers, research papers, or argumentative essays, institutions or publishing platforms require that they follow fixed formatting requirements.

There are a handful of ways you can go about the formatting of your essays. Most commonly, essays adhere to either MLA, APA, or Chicago formatting guidelines. Each of the following formatting guidelines have specific uses and application methods.


  • American Psychological Association is a format mostly adhered to for essays and papers on Education, Psychology, and the Social Science fields


  • The Modern Language Association guidelines for formatting is most commonly used as a guideline for Literature, Arts, and Humanities papers and essays.


  • Chicago style of formatting is commonly seen in the everyday publications, such as newspapers, novels, or books.

Other formatting guidelines that are prevalent outside of academic essays and papers include :


  • The American Medical Association formatting guideline can be seen being adhered to in research papers in the field of Biological sciences, and Medicine and Health.

The Economist Style Guide

  • This style of formatting is used for pieces on economics and finances.


  • The Turabian format is a version of the Chicago formatting guideline, and has been universally applied across multiple academic fields, and writing and publication types. This guideline mostly directs the citing and referencing in research papers.

Associated Press Stylebook (AP Stylebook)

  • This format is used most prevalently in magazine articles and journalism.

American Chemical Society (ACS)

  • The ACS format is adhered to Chemistry students and researchers in their essays and papers.

The Manual of Scientific Style

  • This formatting guide is primarily followed by writers in the physical and biological science fields.

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The MLA, APA and Chicago formatting guidelines are adhered to most prominently amongst academic writers and scholars. The following tables explicate the various requirements for different formatting elements :

MLA Formatting Guidelines

Line-spacingPapers should be double-spaced, including block quotations and references on the bibliography or works cited pages. There should not be extra spaces anywhere, between paragraphs as well.
Page Size8.5 inch x 11 inch
Font-size and Type12pt, in any font that is readable such as Times New Roman, Helvetica, or Arial.
MarginsOne-inch margin on the top, bottom, left and right.
Page numberingTop right-hand corner in the running header
PunctuationPunctuation marks, like periods, commas, semicolons should be placed following parenthetical citations.
HeaderYour essay should have a running head that is aligned to the right throughout pages, with your surname and page numbering. For students submitting assignments, make sure to have a header on the front page in the upper-left corner that reflects your name, your mentor's name, your course/module name and number, and the submission date on separate lines.
Title PageWhile having all the following text centered and double-spaced : 1. Add the name of your institution at the top of the page. 2. Add the title of your paper, in title case, in the middle of the page, without any other formatting (bold, italicize, underline, or all capital letters). 3. Use italicized letter for the titles of any sources in the title of your essay. 4. Include a subtitle on the next line below your title if applicable. 5. On the bottom third of the cover page, add your full name, your mentor's full name, the name and number of your module/course, and the essay's submission date on four distinct lines.
IndentationInsert indentation by clicking tab (1/2 inch)
Headings and sub-headingsNot mandatory, but can be used to help with organizing your essay. If added, they should - Be written in title case - Be aligned to the left - Not end with a "."
In-text Citation- Author's surname, followed by the page number from which the quotation is taken from. For example, "(Smith, 67)". - If the author’s name is being mentioned within a sentence, place the page number where a reference was found at the end of the sentence. For example, "Smith believes that the earth is round. (4).”
ReferencesReferred to as the "Works Cited" page - Double-spaced - Listed alphabetically - "Works Cited" heading to be center aligned and an inch down from the top of the page - Reference to be formatted as : Author's Surname, First name. " Title of Reference." Title of Container, Other contributors, Version, Numbers, Publisher, Publication Date, Location.

APA Formatting Guidelines

Page size8.5" x 11"
Font-size and Type12pt, in Times New Roman
MarginsKeep the margins consistent through the left, right, bottom, and top of your pages. These 4 sides should be the same distance from the edge of the paper. It’s recommended to use at least one-inch margins. The size can vary, but kept to not less than an inch.
Page NumberingNumbering placed at the upper right hand corner.
Essay SectionsEssay should consist of 4 general sections - Title Page - Abstract - Main Body paragraphs - References or Bibliography
Body paragraphsIndented
PunctuationInsert a space after punctuation marks
HeaderPlace headers (running headers) at the top left-hand corner of every page. The header should include a shortened title of your essay (under 50 characters) and your page number Insert justified to the right-hand side (avoid "p." or "pg." in front of your page numbers).
HeadingsIf any, headings should be bold and in title case.
Title Page- Centered, and placed about 3 to 4 lines from the top of the page. - Bold and in both uppercase and lowercase letters (not underlined or italicized). - Other text, apart from the title, should be plain, and not bolded, underlined, or italicized. - Other text, apart from the title, should be plain, and not bolded, underlined, or italicized. - All text on the title page should be double-spaced. - The author’s name should not include titles such as Ms. or Dr. - Include the page header on the title page. - Include the name of any institute affiliated to the author, or the location where the research was conducted for the paper.
ReferencesCalled a "Reference Page" - Should be listed alphabetically
In-text CitationInsert the year in brackets after the author's surname for in-text references. For example, "(Smith, 1997)"

Chicago Formatting Guidelines

Page size8.5" x 11"
Font-size and Type12pt, in Times New Roman
MarginsA one-inch margins on all left, bottom, and top of your pages, at the exception of the right side,
Page NumberingPage number should be in the heading of every page on the top right hand corner. (The cover page is not counted)
Essay SectionsGenerally follows the structure of - Cover/title page - Body Paragraphs - Appendix - Notes - Bibliography
Body ParagraphsJustify text to the left, which will have a ragged right side.
HeaderThe authors surname and the page number should be in the heading of every page on the top right corner.
Title Page- Place the title of your paper in the middle of the page, halfway down the page. - Center your name right under your title. - Center the title of your paper in the middle of the page. - Place your mentor's name, course or module title, and the submission date teacher's name in three lines and centered at the bottom of the page. - Do no bold, underline, o italicize your cover page.
Indentation1/2" indent for paragraph beginnings, block quotes, and hanging (bibliography) indents.
References- Bibliography should start on a separate page, with the new page titled "Bibliography" centered at the top, maintained in Times New Roman and in 12 pt font. - "Hanging indent" for the first line of the citation, and subsequent lines are indented.
FootnotesFootnotes should be present when there is paraphrasing or quoted passages, at the bottom of the page where the reference occurs. Endnotes would be on a separate page after the body of the paper.

Uniformity and organization in writing is highly crucial when writers work towards getting their work published in academic articles, or when students are to submit assignments. It reflects integrity, professionalism, and having had taken pride in your work. While there are multiple schools of formatting styles, choosing the most appropriate school to adhere depends largely on your essay topic, essay style, and on your discretion.