How to Format an Essay – APA, MLA, Chicago Styles


How to Format an Essay – APA, MLA, Chicago Styles

Knowing how to write an essay is critical for any student. However, writing a good essay is not just about presenting arguments or ideas in any way a student feels. Instructions or guidelines are given in the essay format that should be followed. Usually, different institutions have their different formats that they follow. The most common essay formats given to students include; APA essay format, MLA essay format, Chicago paper style. These formats can be used at any level of study from high school to university. Our essay writing service can help you write a paper in any format required or organize your paper following the required guidelines.

What is an Essay Format?

An essay format is a set of guidelines that determines how your paper should be arranged to conform to set academic requirements. It is about the presentation of the text in a legible and easy to follow manner. For the essay format to conform to required guidelines, the following issues are looked at;

  • The title page
  • The structure of the essay
  • The outline of the essay
  • The font used
  • Pagination of the essay
  • The in-text citations
  • The references page or works cited page

Essays are inherently linear, meaning they provide one point at a time. It is the writer’s job to present the points logically to make sense to the readers. Formatting an essay means considering the essay’s appearance while also having the logical flow in mind.

The outline of an essay

To have a logical essay, outlining is important. Outlining the essay helps you to check the completeness of the text so that nothing is left out. It also helps you check the essay’s logical flow, ensuring that you are taking the reader from one concept, idea, or argument to the next one.

Developing an essay outline is also important because it helps you to check for the repetition of ideas. You can also see the connection of the different ideas to determine which ones should be bundled together in the discussions and which ones can stand on their own.

As you outline, you can also check on the three aspects of the essay structure – the introduction, body, and conclusion. Which brings us to;

The Essay Structure

A good essay must have an introduction, the body, and a conclusion. These three elements of the essay are presented in paragraphs. The most common essay structure is the 5 paragraph essay, which has an introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs, and one conclusion paragraph. However, the college essay format or university can change and have more body paragraphs depending on the required word count. It also doesn’t matter what type of essay you are writing or what discipline; this format still holds true.

Each element of the essay structure has its requirements that should be achieved to make your essay great. When you deal with your essay one part at a time and meet the requirements and guidelines for that part, you can achieve a quality wholesome essay for good grades.

The introduction

Here provide background information about what you are writing about and include the thesis statement. A thesis statement is the core idea that the rest of your essay will focus on.

The body paragraphs

In the body, you are going to present your ideas or arguments one at a time. Each body paragraph should start with a topic sentence. A topic sentence is the main argument presented in each paragraph that supports or argues the thesis statement. Each paragraph should present just one idea or argument clearly and concisely, and deal with it exhaustively based on the paper’s scope. There should also be a proper transition and logical flow from one idea to the next.

The conclusion

In the conclusion, the thesis statement is reinstated but highlighted in light with the key points discussed in the essay.

Other essay structure elements differentiate between the different academic writing styles like APA, MLA, and Chicago. These elements also need to be considered in academic writing. Some of these elements might only be required in professional papers but not in student papers. The details in each section also vary between professional and student papers. These other elements to be included in the essay structure are;

The title page

The title page is the first page of your essay, which displays general information about the paper. The information to be included usually includes; the author’s name (byline), the title of the paper, running head, name of the lecturer, name of the school, due date, and the page number. The information to be included differs from one writing style to another.


An abstract may be required with your paper, but it is not common. It is the page that follows the title page. An abstract is a summary of your essay, usually about 250 to 300 words written in a single paragraph.


The references page appears at the end of the essay on a separate page. There are guidelines to follow when writing the references page that vary from one style to another.

Your final paper should therefore have a format that looks like this;

  • Title Page
  • Abstract
  • The main body of the essay. This one contains;
    • Introduction
    • Main paragraphs
    • Conclusion
  • References page

Some professional papers might have a table of contents with the page numbers, making it easier to navigate the essay, especially for the big essays. For a simple 5 paragraph essay or any short essay, a table of contents is not required.

APA Essay Format

APA stands for American Psychological Association. APA essay format is one of the most common college essay formats. It is therefore advisable for students to become familiar with this format. Here is a simplification of the guidelines of the APA format of writing an essay based on the 7th Edition (APA 7).


The essay should be typed on a standard-sized paper (8.5″ x 11″) with 1″ margins on all sides. The paper should have a running head included at the top of every page. The page number is included in the header for professional papers.


Use a clear font that is easily legible for all readers. Such fonts can include times new Romans, Calibri, and Arial. However, check the instructions given by your teacher to see which font they prefer. If none is indicated, you can use any. The font should be consistent in the entire paper. The font size should be anywhere from 10 to 12, depending on the font chosen.


Double space the paper.

Title Page

There are different title page directions given for a professional paper and a student paper. A professional paper is one intended for scholarly publication while a student paper is one submitted in school to get a grade. The title page should include the school details, details of the student, lecturer’s name, and the due date. For a professional paper, it should have the author’s notes.


The abstract page is a separate page from the title page. The word abstract is centered and bolded.

Main body

The main body of the essay should contain the running headers and page numbers. The indent first line of each paragraph 0.5″ from the left margin.

References Page

Appears at the end of the essay on a new page. Type the word references and center on the page. Indent all lines of each entry after the first line 0.5″ from the left margin. Sources are double-spaced and listed in alphabetical order.

MLA Essay Format

MLA stands for Modern Language Association. This style of formatting essays is also very common in many institutions. Here is how you should format your MLA essay with guidelines borrowed from the MLA 8th edition.


The essay should be typed on standard 8.5 x 11-inch paper with margins set at 1″ all around. The paper should have a header that numbers all pages and includes the student’s first name before the number separated with space. The first sentence should be indented in every paragraph, half an inch from the left margin. Further, MLA recommends using the tab key instead of pressing the space bar five times when indenting. 


Use a font that is legible and clear. The regular and italic styles of the font should contrast enough, so they are easy to identify. The font size should be 12 pt.


The paper should be double spaced.

Title Page

For MLA papers, do not create a title page unless you are specifically asked to by the lecturer. The personal and institution details are included in the upper left corner of the document’s first page. Here list your name, lecturer’s name, the course, and the date.


Write a short abstract, usually 100 to 300 words long, giving readers a taste of the essay. Make your abstract impactful and avoid copying and pasting what is in the essay. No footnotes and citations are needed in an abstract. The word abstract is typed on a new page and stays flushed left following the headlines guidelines given in the MLA format of writing. 

Main body

Just like with any other essay, the text’s main body should include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Works Cited page

This page is the reference page where the sources used are listed. Instead of giving a set of rules that should be followed when listing sources, MLA gives a list of core elements included in each cited entry. Here is a list of the nine core elements to have in mind, followed by the punctuation mark used after the element has been used.

  • Author.
  • Title of source.
  • Title of container,
  • Other contributors,
  • Version,
  • Number,
  • Publisher,
  • Publication date,
  • Location.

Chicago Style Essay Format

The third most common essay format is called the Chicago manual of style (CMOS) formatting and citation style. Here are the general guidelines of the latest Chicago style essay format.


Type your essay on a standard-sized paper (8.5 x 11 inch) and set the margins all-around at 1-inch minimum or 1.5″ maximum. The paper contains a header with page numbers. The title page is excluded from pagination.


Use a single font throughout the paper. Choose a readable font like Times New Romans (12 pt) or Arial (10 pt).


Double-space the entire main text of the essay. Single space captions, table titles, table of contents, footnotes, and bibliography.

Title Page

The title page should include the title of the paper, name of student, course, and due date.


For a Chicago style paper, an abstract is not required unless the paper is a dissertation or a thesis. However, some professors might require you to add an abstract to your paper. Ensure that you always check the given guidelines for that particular paper.

The main body

It should have the three components of an essay – intro, main paragraphs, and the conclusion. Notes can be used in the main text to cite sources or to give more information. The numbers used in the text notation are superscripted, while in the footnote, they are used as complete numbers.


The references page is titled bibliography. Each entry in the bibliography page is flush with the left margin, and all other lines in the same entry are indented. (Hanging indent). All core elements in each entry are separated by a period. All entries in the bibliography are listed in alphabetical order.

Need Help Formatting Your Paper?

Do you need someone to format your paper? At, we can help you format a paper you have written to follow the guidelines required for that particular style. We can also write a complete paper for you. We do it all from research papers, dissertations, thesis papers, case studies, and term papers.



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