Essay Format

Updated: Jul 21, 2016

Correct essay format can make up to 10% of the grade, thus making a difference between an A and a B, or a D and an F.

What is Essay Format? 

Essay format has nothing to do with the actual content of your essay. Rather, it is how you organize and present your content and ideas. It involves with issues like spacing, indentation, capitalization, and punctuation. It also involves with the sequence of ideas in your essay. Essay format gives the physical look of your essay as the eye scans the pages without reading the words.

Essay format

What Formatting Styles are there?

Most common formatting styles are MLA, APA & Chicago (check out respective samples: MLA Essay SampleAPA Essay SampleChicago Essay Sample).

Your teacher or professor may tell you to specifically use one of these standard formats. However, if he or she does not give specific instructions on format style, you should use the MLA style as it is the most commonly used.

MLA is the most typical one, and if you are unsure how your essay should be formatted, use MLA as the default formatting style.


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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. Same statement is also true for APA & Chicago formatting styles.

Essay format sample: margins, font size, indentation, numbering, title page

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.

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: 

MLA Guide | APA Guide | Chicago Guide | Harvard Guide ]

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, semi-colon, 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").

In titles some words are capitalized and some are not. You should always capitalize nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and subordinationg conjunctions. Articles, prepositions, coordinationg conjunctions and the to in infinitives are not capitalized

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 lengthly, 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 simple format, for easy reference.

Example:

CONTENTS

Introduction ................................................................................................1
Body. Subtopic 1...........................................................................................3
Body. Subtopic 2...........................................................................................6
Conclusion .................................................................................................14
Works Cited ...............................................................................................15

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.

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