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If you are used to writing essays that are similar to the five-paragraph essay (one claim and then three points that support that claim), it can be daunting to think about how to structure your ideas in a longer essay. Once you’ve established your thesis, you need to think about how you will move your reader through your argument. In some courses, you will be expected to provide a roadmap in your introduction that explicitly tells readers how your argument is organized. But even when you don’t provide a roadmap, your reader should be able to see the connections between your ideas. As you think about how your ideas fit together, try these three strategies:
Strategy #1: Decompose your thesis into paragraphs
A clear, arguable thesis will tell your readers where you are going to end up, but it can also help you figure out how to get them there. Put your thesis at the top of a blank page and then make a list of the points you will need to make to argue that thesis effectively.
For example, consider this example from the thesis handout : While Sandel argues persuasively that our instinct to “remake”(54) ourselves into something ever more perfect is a problem, his belief that we can always draw a line between what is medically necessary and what makes us simply “better than well”(51) is less convincing.
To argue this thesis, the author needs to do the following:
- Show what is persuasive about Sandel’s claims about the problems with striving for perfection.
- Show what is not convincing about Sandel’s claim that we can clearly distinguish between medically necessary enhancements and other enhancements.
Once you have broken down your thesis into main claims, you can then think about what sub-claims you will need to make in order to support each of those main claims. That step might look like this:
- Evidence that Sandel provides to support this claim
- Discussion of why this evidence is convincing even in light of potential counterarguments
- Discussion of cases when medically necessary enhancement and non-medical enhancement cannot be easily distinguished
- Analysis of what those cases mean for Sandel’s argument
- Consideration of counterarguments (what Sandel might say in response to this section of your argument)
Each argument you will make in an essay will be different, but this strategy will often be a useful first step in figuring out the path of your argument.
Strategy #2: Use subheadings, even if you remove then later
Scientific papers generally include standard subheadings to delineate different sections of the paper, including “introduction,” “methods,” and “discussion.” Even when you are not required to use subheadings, it can be helpful to put them into an early draft to help you see what you’re written and to begin to think about how your ideas fit together. You can do this by typing subheadings above the sections of your draft.
If you’re having trouble figuring out how your ideas fit together, try beginning with informal subheading like these:
- Explain the author’s main point
- Show why this main point doesn’t hold up when we consider this other example
- Explain the implications of what I’ve shown for our understanding of the author
- Show how that changes our understanding of the topic
For longer papers, you may decide to include subheadings to guide your reader through your argument. In those cases, you would need to revise your informal subheadings to be more useful for your readers. For example, if you have initially written in something like “explain the author’s main point,” your final subheading might be something like “Sandel’s main argument” or “Sandel’s opposition to genetic enhancement.” In other cases, once you have the key pieces of your argument in place, you will be able to remove the subheadings.
Strategy #3: Create a reverse outline from your draft
While you may have learned to outline a paper before writing a draft, this step is often difficult because our ideas develop as we write. In some cases, it can be more helpful to write a draft in which you get all of your ideas out and then do a “reverse outline” of what you’ve already written. This doesn’t have to be formal; you can just make a list of the point in each paragraph of your draft and then ask these questions:
- Are those points in an order that makes sense to you?
- Are there gaps in your argument?
- Do the topic sentences of the paragraphs clearly state these main points?
- Do you have more than one paragraph that focuses on the same point? If so, do you need both paragraphs?
- Do you have some paragraphs that include too many points? If so, would it make more sense to split them up?
- Do you make points near the end of the draft that would be more effective earlier in your paper?
- Are there points missing from this draft?
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How to Write a College Essay | A Complete Guide & Examples
The college essay can make or break your application. It’s your chance to provide personal context, communicate your values and qualities, and set yourself apart from other students.
A standout essay has a few key ingredients:
- A unique, personal topic
- A compelling, well-structured narrative
- A clear, creative writing style
- Evidence of self-reflection and insight
To achieve this, it’s crucial to give yourself enough time for brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.
In this comprehensive guide, we walk you through every step in the process of writing a college admissions essay.
Table of contents
Why do you need a standout essay, start organizing early, choose a unique topic, outline your essay, start with a memorable introduction, write like an artist, craft a strong conclusion, revise and receive feedback, frequently asked questions.
While most of your application lists your academic achievements, your college admissions essay is your opportunity to share who you are and why you’d be a good addition to the university.
Your college admissions essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s total weight一and may account for even more with some colleges making the SAT and ACT tests optional. The college admissions essay may be the deciding factor in your application, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.
What do colleges look for in an essay?
Admissions officers want to understand your background, personality, and values to get a fuller picture of you beyond your test scores and grades. Here’s what colleges look for in an essay :
- Demonstrated values and qualities
- Vulnerability and authenticity
- Self-reflection and insight
- Creative, clear, and concise writing skills
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It’s a good idea to start organizing your college application timeline in the summer of your junior year to make your application process easier. This will give you ample time for essay brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.
While timelines will vary for each student, aim to spend at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing your first draft and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Remember to leave enough time for breaks in between each writing and editing stage.
Create an essay tracker sheet
If you’re applying to multiple schools, you will have to juggle writing several essays for each one. We recommend using an essay tracker spreadsheet to help you visualize and organize the following:
- Deadlines and number of essays needed
- Prompt overlap, allowing you to write one essay for similar prompts
You can build your own essay tracker using our free Google Sheets template.
College essay tracker template
Ideally, you should start brainstorming college essay topics the summer before your senior year. Keep in mind that it’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic.
If you want to write about a common essay topic, such as a sports injury or volunteer work overseas, think carefully about how you can make it unique and personal. You’ll need to demonstrate deep insight and write your story in an original way to differentiate it from similar essays.
What makes a good topic?
- Meaningful and personal to you
- Uncommon or has an unusual angle
- Reveals something different from the rest of your application
You should do a comprehensive brainstorm before choosing your topic. Here are a few questions to get started:
- What are your top five values? What lived experiences demonstrate these values?
- What adjectives would your friends and family use to describe you?
- What challenges or failures have you faced and overcome? What lessons did you learn from them?
- What makes you different from your classmates?
- What are some objects that represent your identity, your community, your relationships, your passions, or your goals?
- Whom do you admire most? Why?
- What three people have significantly impacted your life? How did they influence you?
How to identify your topic
Here are two strategies for identifying a topic that demonstrates your values:
- Start with your qualities : First, identify positive qualities about yourself; then, brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities.
- Start with a story : Brainstorm a list of memorable life moments; then, identify a value shown in each story.
After choosing your topic, organize your ideas in an essay outline , which will help keep you focused while writing. Unlike a five-paragraph academic essay, there’s no set structure for a college admissions essay. You can take a more creative approach, using storytelling techniques to shape your essay.
Two common approaches are to structure your essay as a series of vignettes or as a single narrative.
The vignette, or montage, structure weaves together several stories united by a common theme. Each story should demonstrate one of your values or qualities and conclude with an insight or future outlook.
This structure gives the admissions officer glimpses into your personality, background, and identity, and shows how your qualities appear in different areas of your life.
Topic: Museum with a “five senses” exhibit of my experiences
- Introduction: Tour guide introduces my museum and my “Making Sense of My Heritage” exhibit
- Story: Racial discrimination with my eyes
- Lesson: Using my writing to document truth
- Story: Broadway musical interests
- Lesson: Finding my voice
- Story: Smells from family dinner table
- Lesson: Appreciating home and family
- Story: Washing dishes
- Lesson: Finding moments of peace in busy schedule
- Story: Biking with Ava
- Lesson: Finding pleasure in job well done
- Conclusion: Tour guide concludes tour, invites guest to come back for “fall College Collection,” featuring my search for identity and learning.
Single story structure
The single story, or narrative, structure uses a chronological narrative to show a student’s character development over time. Some narrative essays detail moments in a relatively brief event, while others narrate a longer journey spanning months or years.
Single story essays are effective if you have overcome a significant challenge or want to demonstrate personal development.
Topic: Sports injury helps me learn to be a better student and person
- Situation: Football injury
- Challenge: Friends distant, teachers don’t know how to help, football is gone for me
- Turning point: Starting to like learning in Ms. Brady’s history class; meeting Christina and her friends
- My reactions: Reading poetry; finding shared interest in poetry with Christina; spending more time studying and with people different from me
- Insight: They taught me compassion and opened my eyes to a different lifestyle; even though I still can’t play football, I’m starting a new game
Brainstorm creative insights or story arcs
Regardless of your essay’s structure, try to craft a surprising story arc or original insights, especially if you’re writing about a common topic.
Never exaggerate or fabricate facts about yourself to seem interesting. However, try finding connections in your life that deviate from cliché storylines and lessons.
Admissions officers read thousands of essays each year, and they typically spend only a few minutes reading each one. To get your message across, your introduction , or hook, needs to grab the reader’s attention and compel them to read more..
Avoid starting your introduction with a famous quote, cliché, or reference to the essay itself (“While I sat down to write this essay…”).
While you can sometimes use dialogue or a meaningful quotation from a close family member or friend, make sure it encapsulates your essay’s overall theme.
Find an original, creative way of starting your essay using the following two methods.
Option 1: Start with an intriguing hook
Begin your essay with an unexpected statement to pique the reader’s curiosity and compel them to carefully read your essay. A mysterious introduction disarms the reader’s expectations and introduces questions that can only be answered by reading more.
Option 2: Start with vivid imagery
Illustrate a clear, detailed image to immediately transport your reader into your memory. You can start in the middle of an important scene or describe an object that conveys your essay’s theme.
A college application essay allows you to be creative in your style and tone. As you draft your essay, try to use interesting language to enliven your story and stand out .
Show, don’t tell
“Tell” in writing means to simply state a fact: “I am a basketball player.” “ Show ” in writing means to use details, examples, and vivid imagery to help the reader easily visualize your memory: “My heart races as I set up to shoot一two seconds, one second一and score a three-pointer!”
First, reflect on every detail of a specific image or scene to recall the most memorable aspects.
- What are the most prominent images?
- Are there any particular sounds, smells, or tastes associated with this memory?
- What emotion or physical feeling did you have at that time?
Be vulnerable to create an emotional response
You don’t have to share a huge secret or traumatic story, but you should dig deep to express your honest feelings, thoughts, and experiences to evoke an emotional response. Showing vulnerability demonstrates humility and maturity. However, don’t exaggerate to gain sympathy.
Use appropriate style and tone
Make sure your essay has the right style and tone by following these guidelines:
- Use a conversational yet respectful tone: less formal than academic writing, but more formal than texting your friends.
- Prioritize using “I” statements to highlight your perspective.
- Write within your vocabulary range to maintain an authentic voice.
- Write concisely, and use the active voice to keep a fast pace.
- Follow grammar rules (unless you have valid stylistic reasons for breaking them).
You should end your college essay with a deep insight or creative ending to leave the reader with a strong final impression. Your college admissions essay should avoid the following:
- Summarizing what you already wrote
- Stating your hope of being accepted to the school
- Mentioning character traits that should have been illustrated in the essay, such as “I’m a hard worker”
Here are two strategies to craft a strong conclusion.
Option 1: Full circle, sandwich structure
The full circle, or sandwich, structure concludes the essay with an image, idea, or story mentioned in the introduction. This strategy gives the reader a strong sense of closure.
In the example below, the essay concludes by returning to the “museum” metaphor that the writer opened with.
Option 2: Revealing your insight
You can use the conclusion to show the insight you gained as a result of the experiences you’ve described. Revealing your main message at the end creates suspense and keeps the takeaway at the forefront of your reader’s mind.
Revise your essay before submitting it to check its content, style, and grammar. Get feedback from no more than two or three people.
It’s normal to go through several rounds of revision, but take breaks between each editing stage.
Also check out our college essay examples to see what does and doesn’t work in an essay and the kinds of changes you can make to improve yours.
Respect the word count
Most schools specify a word count for each essay , and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit.
Remain under the specified word count limit to show you can write concisely and follow directions. However, don’t write too little, which may imply that you are unwilling or unable to write a thoughtful and developed essay.
Check your content, style, and grammar
- First, check big-picture issues of message, flow, and clarity.
- Then, check for style and tone issues.
- Finally, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.
Get feedback from 2–3 people who know you well, have good writing skills, and are familiar with college essays.
- Teachers and guidance counselors can help you check your content, language, and tone.
- Friends and family can check for authenticity.
- An essay coach or editor has specialized knowledge of college admissions essays and can give objective expert feedback.
The checklist below helps you make sure your essay ticks all the boxes.
College admissions essay checklist
I’ve organized my essay prompts and created an essay writing schedule.
I’ve done a comprehensive brainstorm for essay topics.
I’ve selected a topic that’s meaningful to me and reveals something different from the rest of my application.
I’ve created an outline to guide my structure.
I’ve crafted an introduction containing vivid imagery or an intriguing hook that grabs the reader’s attention.
I’ve written my essay in a way that shows instead of telling.
I’ve shown positive traits and values in my essay.
I’ve demonstrated self-reflection and insight in my essay.
I’ve used appropriate style and tone .
I’ve concluded with an insight or a creative ending.
I’ve revised my essay , checking my overall message, flow, clarity, and grammar.
I’ve respected the word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.
It looks like your essay ticks all the boxes. A second pair of eyes can help you take it to the next level – Scribbr's essay coaches can help.
Colleges want to be able to differentiate students who seem similar on paper. In the college application essay , they’re looking for a way to understand each applicant’s unique personality and experiences.
Your college essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s weight. It may be the deciding factor in whether you’re accepted, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurricular track records.
A standout college essay has several key ingredients:
- A unique, personally meaningful topic
- A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
- Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
- Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
- Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
- A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending
While timelines will differ depending on the student, plan on spending at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing the first draft of your college admissions essay , and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Don’t forget to save enough time for breaks between each writing and editing stage.
You should already begin thinking about your essay the summer before your senior year so that you have plenty of time to try out different topics and get feedback on what works.
Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay.
You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, don’t write too little, as it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a detailed and insightful narrative about yourself.
If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.
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College Essay Format: Writing & Editing Tips
A good college essay format, with the right topic, goes beyond your academic accomplishments and extracurriculars.
You want to stand out in a crowd, particularly when you’re applying to the college of your choice. As part of the application process, many schools ask for an essay to accompany the standard academic and personal information they require. So it’s important to make it a good one.
Your college application essay is essentially a story you tell that offers a glimpse into who you are, beyond your admissions application, grades, activities, and test scores.
A college essay, often called a personal statement, is your opportunity to reveal your personality. It's a way for the admissions department to get to know you as a person and get an idea of the kind of student you'll be.
So how should a college essay be formatted? This article covers formatting best practices, how to choose a compelling topic for your essay, and writing and editing tips to help you craft an essay that captures the attention of the reader, gets your point across, and is free of errors.
Decide on a topic.
You'll often have a choice of topics for your essay provided by the college or university. Choose a topic that allows you to best highlight what you want the college to know about you.
A good start is to list three positive adjectives that describe you. Then, see if you can write two or three real-life examples of each trait that demonstrates that you possess that characteristic.
Also, think about the stories other people tell about you or the words they use to describe you. Ask people who know you well:
What do you think sets me apart from others?
What are my strengths?
How would you describe my personality?
What are my quirks?
These ideas can become the inspiration to develop material for a good college essay.
From the list of essay prompts you receive from the college, choose the topic that will give you the best chance to showcase who you are within the limited word count. You don't have to write about a major life-changing event. It can be a mundane or ordinary situation—like a dinner table conversation, day at school, or conversation with a friend. Often, slightly unusual topics are better than typical ones because they hold a reader's attention.
Regardless of the topic you choose, remember that the true topic of your college essay is you, and the purpose of it is to show how you are unique. It highlights an important piece of who you are and where you want to head in life.
Common college essay prompts
Over 900 colleges use Common App essay prompts, which means you may be able to write one essay for several college applications. Some past Common App college essay prompts—which are announced publicly each year—include the following topics:
Share a story about your background, interest, identity, or talent that makes you complete as a person.
Describe a time when you faced a setback, failure, or challenge and what you learned from it.
Tell about a topic, concept, or idea that is so captivating to you that you lose all track of time.
Write about something that someone has done for you that you are grateful for, and how gratitude has motivated or affected you.
Whether or not the school you're applying to uses Common App questions, it will publish required essay topics in its admissions materials. Or, you may be asked to write on a topic of your choice. Here are some additional common college essay prompts you might encounter:
Describe a person you admire and how that person has influenced your behavior and thinking.
Why do you want to attend this school?
Describe your creative side.
Name an extracurricular activity that is meaningful to you and how it has impacted your life.
Tell about what you have done to make your community or school a better place.
Consult your college application instructions to see how long your essay should be. Be sure to stay within the required word count or essay length, not going over the maximum or under the minimum.
Chances are, you'll be given a word limit. If none is specified, experts on the admissions process recommend you keep your word count between 500 and 650 words. Use the required essay length to help you determine what you will share. You won't be able to tell your life story within these few paragraphs, so choose the most impactful examples as your content.
Create an outline.
An outline helps you plan your essay so you know how it will begin and end and identify key points you want to include in the middle. Use your outline to stay on topic and get the most use out of your word count.
Decide on a logical order.
The most effective outlines are usually the most simple ones. For instance, a good story has a beginning, middle, and end. Likewise, your essay will have an introduction, body, and conclusion.
Unless the college requests a specific admission essay format, use the format you've been using to write essays in high school that you're likely to be the most comfortable with. If you're stuck on how to open your essay, write the middle of your story first. Then, go back and write a compelling introduction and a concise conclusion.
Sample format for a college essay
While the format of your college essay is largely up to you, it can be helpful to have an example as a springboard to give you ideas. Consider the following college essay format as you organize your writing.
1. Think about using a title.
A title for your college essay is not necessary. However, including one can add interest. But if you're low on word count, you can skip it. You can also wait until after you write your essay to decide. It's often easier to come up with a fitting, compelling title after you've told your story.
2. Open with a hook.
Your opening sentence is one of the most important parts of your essay. It's what you'll use to capture the attention of the reader and give them a reason to read on. The start of your essay is your opportunity to make an impactful first impression, so make your opening a good one. Here are two examples of how you can open with an interesting hook:
Start in the middle of your story: Call out the most interesting point of your story, and then backtrack from there. For example, "And there I found myself, surrounded by baby sea turtles on the hazy shores of Virginia Beach."
Make a specific generalization: This is a sentence that makes a general statement on what your essay will be about, but gives a specific description. An example: "Each year on our family vacation out of the city, I contemplate the meaning of life as we cross the Golden Gate Bridge."
3. Continue with your introduction.
While your hook will spark the reader's curiosity, the rest of your introduction should give them an idea of where you're going with your essay. Set your story up in four to five sentences.
4. Tell your story in the body of your essay.
If your introduction and conclusion are roughly 100 words each, your body will end up being about 450 words. Think of that as three to five paragraphs, with each paragraph having its own main idea or point.
Write in a narrative style—more as though you're having a conversation as opposed to writing an instruction manual. While you should pay strict attention to using proper grammar and sentence structure, you have the freedom to make your essay a reflection of your personality.
If you are a humorous person, use humor. If you're an eternal optimist or love getting into the minute details of life, let that shine through. Tell your story in a way that’s logical, clear, and makes sense.
5. Wrap up with a conclusion.
Finish your story with a conclusion paragraph, and make sure you've made your main point. What is the main thing you want the college to know about you through this story? Is it what you've learned, a value that's important to you, or what you want to contribute to society? Finally, conclude your essay with the personal statement you want to make about yourself.
Writing tips on how to format a college essay
As you're writing your college essay, keep these tips in mind:
Be authentic. One of the most essential parts of how to format a college application essay is to be authentic. The college wants to know who you are, and they will be reading dozens of essays a day. The best way to make yours stand out is to just be yourself instead of focusing on what you think they want to hear.
Show you can write . While the most important part of your personal statement is showcasing who you are, you'll also be judged on your writing ability. That's because knowing the fundamental principles of writing is important to college success. Show that you understand the structure of an essay and proper use of the English language.
Give the answer right away. If you're using a specific question as your writing prompt, answer the question directly in the opening paragraph. Then, use the rest of the essay to elaborate on your answer.
Stay on topic. Make good use of your word count limit by being concise and coherent. Stay on topic and refrain from adding any information that doesn't add to the main idea of your essay.
Write in your voice. Imagine you’re speaking to an actual person as you write. Be honest and accurate, using words you normally use. Your essay is a personal statement, so it should sound natural to the reader—and to you too.
Use real examples. Add real-life events and vivid details from your life. This adds color and validity to your personal statement. Personal examples will show you embody the characteristics or values you claim to, rather than merely saying you do.
Keep the formatting simple. Opt-out of fancy fonts that can be hard to read. Stick to fonts like Times New Roman or Arial. Avoid using bolding (except for headings), italics, all caps, or exclamation points. Let your words speak for themselves instead.
Save your essay. Instead of writing your essay directly in the online application, draft and save your essay in a document like Google Docs or Word—or start out on paper and pen if that's what you're most comfortable with. That way you can make edits and use helpful online spelling and grammar checkers. And you won't risk losing your essay if the application times out or you navigate away from it by mistake. When you copy and paste your essay into the application, make sure your formatting, such as line spacing and bolding for headings, remains intact.
Follow directions. Read and understand the specific instructions set by the college. Review them again before you submit your essay to make sure you've met all of the requirements.
Editing tips on how to format a college essay
Finally, edit your essay until you’re satisfied it conveys the message you want it to and it’s free of errors. Let your first draft be as messy or pristine as it comes out. Then, go back later—several times if needed—to clean it up. Ask yourself these questions as you edit your essay:
Is my essay free of grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation errors?
Is it the proper word length assigned by the college?
Have I answered the question in the prompt?
Does the introduction make me want to read more?
Are there any vague statements I can replace with more specific details?
Do any parts drone on or feel boring?
Does it feel too formal?
Are any parts or words repetitive?
Have I misused any words (such as there, their, and they're)?
Are my sentences varied in length?
Have I shared with the college what I most want them to know about me?
It can also be helpful to ask someone you trust to read your essay and give you constructive feedback. This might be a trusted teacher, parent, school counselor, or college student. It's best to choose someone who is familiar with the purpose of a college essay.
Ask them to give feedback about your essay using the same questions as above. But they should never try to rewrite your essay. And never let others edit out your voice. Ask them to focus on grammar and mechanics and to give suggestions on items to add in or leave out.
Above all, ask your guest editor what point they think you were trying to make with your essay. If they get it right, you know you've crafted a college essay that reflects you and your intended message.
Enhance your writing skills
Bring out your best in your college essay with a course in Writing a Personal Essay from Wesleyan University. Learn how to find your voice, structure your essay, choose relevant details, and write in a way that pulls in your readers.
Bachelor’s Degree Guide: Resources for Your Undergraduate Education
College Essay Topics and Writing Tips
How Long Should a College Essay Be?
How to Write a Personal Statement
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.
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Essay Writing Guide
Essay Format: A Basic Guide With Examples
10 min read
Published on: Sep 24, 2017
Last updated on: Oct 19, 2023
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Are you having trouble making your essay look just right? Lots of students find formatting tricky, so you're not alone.
This guide is here to help you figure out how to format your essay. We've got examples of essays in APA, MLA, Chicago, and other styles to make it easier for you to learn.
So, keep reading – we've got you covered!
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What is an Essay Format?
An essay format refers to a set of guidelines that decides how the elements of your paper should be arranged. No matter what type of essay you’re writing, formatting is an essential step in the essay writing process.
The format guidelines cover the essay structure, title, citations, and the basic outline of the essay.
When formatting a paper, there are certain things that you need to pay attention to. These include the structure of an essay, title page, works cited page, and citation styles .
Here is a basic essay format template:
How To Format Essay in MLA Style
Formatting an essay in MLA style is a common requirement in many academic settings, particularly in the humanities.
MLA provides guidelines for various aspects of your essay, from font and margins to citations and bibliography. Here’s an essay format MLA you can use as a reference:
MLA Essay Format Template
- Title Page: MLA does not typically require a separate title page. Instead, place your title at the top of the first page, centered, and do not use bold, italics, or underline for the title. Below the title, include your name, the instructor's name, the course name and number, and the due date, each on a separate line, left-aligned.
- Header and Page Numbers: Create a header with your last name and page number in the upper right corner of every page, half an inch from the top, and flush with the right margin. For example: Smith 1.
- Margins and Spacing: Set all margins to 1 inch, and use double-spacing throughout the essay.
- Font and Size: Use a legible font like Times New Roman or Arial, size 12.
- Indentation: Indent the first line of each paragraph by 0.5 inches, which can be done automatically using the "Tab" key.
- Paragraphs: Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks within sentences.
- Title: Place the title of your essay (centered) at the top of the first page. Do not use bold, italics, or underlining for the title. Capitalize major words.
- Citations: MLA uses in-text citations to acknowledge sources. When quoting or paraphrasing, include the author's last name and the page number (e.g., Smith 45).
- Works Cited Page: At the end of your essay, include a separate page titled "Works Cited." List all sources alphabetically by the author's last name. Follow the specific MLA citation style for different types of sources (books, articles, websites, etc.).
Sample MLA Essay
How to Format Essay in APA
Formatting an essay in APA style is commonly used in the social sciences and psychology.
APA provides a set of guidelines for various elements of your essay, including formatting, citations, and references. Here’s how to format essay in apa:
APA Essay Format Template
- Title Page: The title page in APA includes: Title of the Essay (centered, bold, and in title case) Your Name (centered) Institutional Affiliation (centered) Running head: [Shortened Title] (flush left, in uppercase) Page Number (flush right)
- Header and Page Numbers: Create a header with the title of your essay in all capital letters, followed by a colon and a shortened version of the title (up to 50 characters), in the upper left corner of every page. The page number should be in the upper right corner.
- Font and Size: Use a clear and readable font like Times New Roman or Arial, size 12.
- Paragraphs: Indent the first line of each paragraph by 0.5 inches. Use a hanging indent for references on the reference page.
- Citations: Use in-text citations to acknowledge sources. Include the author's last name and the publication year (e.g., Smith, 2023) when quoting or paraphrasing.
- Title: Use bold and title case for the title of your essay on the title page. On subsequent pages, use a shortened version of the title (in uppercase) as the header.
- References Page: At the end of your essay, create a separate page titled "References." List all sources alphabetically by the author's last name. Follow the specific APA citation style for different types of sources (books, articles, websites, etc.).
Sample APA Essay
How to Format Essay in Chicago Style
Formatting an essay in Chicago style, often used in history and some other humanities disciplines, requires specific guidelines for citations and formatting. Here are the guidelines to format your essay in Chicago style:
Chicago Essay Format Template
- Title Page: The title page in Chicago style includes: Title of the Essay (centered, in headline-style capitalization) Your Name (centered) Course Name and Number (centered) Instructor's Name (centered) Date (centered)
- Margins and Spacing: Set all margins to 1 inch. Use double-spacing throughout the essay.
- Page Numbers: Number pages in the upper right corner of each page, beginning with the first page of the main text (usually page 1). Page numbers should be in Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.).
- Paragraphs: Indent the first line of each paragraph by 0.5 inches. Use a block paragraph style with no extra space between paragraphs.
- Citations: In Chicago style, you have two citation options: footnotes and endnotes. In your text, place a superscript number (e.g., ^1) at the end of the sentence containing the cited information. Corresponding footnotes or endnotes should provide full citation details.
- Title: Use headline-style capitalization for the title of your essay (e.g., "The History of Ancient Civilizations").
- Bibliography: At the end of your essay, include a separate page titled "Bibliography." List all sources alphabetically by the author's last name. Follow the specific Chicago citation style for different types of sources (books, articles, websites, etc.).
Sample Chicago Essay
Formatting In-Text Citations: APA, MLA, and Chicago Styles
An in-text citation is a brief reference within the body of your essay or research paper that indicates the source of information you have incorporated into your writing.
Each of the formatting style have a unique way for adding in-text citations:
In APA style, remember to include the author's last name, the publication date, and the page number (if applicable) within parentheses.
Example: "The impact of climate change on biodiversity is a growing concern (Smith, 2020, p. 27)."
In MLA style, provide the author's last name and the page number without any punctuation between them.
Example: "The impact of climate change on biodiversity is a growing concern (Jones 42)."
Chicago Style Format
The Chicago Manual of Style offers two distinct options for in-text citations:
- Author-Date Style: In this approach, you place your citations within parentheses directly within the text. This style involves citing the author's last name and the publication date within the body of your text. Example: (Smith 2021) or "According to Smith (2021),..."
- Notes and Bibliography Style: This style utilizes numbered footnotes or endnotes to provide citations. Instead of placing citations within the text, you include a superscript number at the end of the relevant sentence, which corresponds to a full citation located in a footnote at the bottom of the page (or endnotes at the end of the document). Example: Johnson argues that "the data is unconvincing."¹ Nevertheless, Smith contends that the study makes "a compelling case" for this plan of action.²
Each of these Chicago citation styles has its unique advantages and is chosen based on the requirements of the assignment or the preferences of the writer.
How to Determine What Format to Follow
Selecting the appropriate citation format for your academic writing is essential to ensure that your work meets the expected standards. To make an informed decision, consider the following factors:
Subject and Discipline
- APA Style: Primarily used in the social sciences, such as psychology, sociology, and education. It is also common in business and nursing disciplines.
- MLA Style: Commonly employed in humanities disciplines, including literature, languages, and cultural studies. It's widely used for papers related to literature and the arts.
- Chicago Style: Used in history, some social sciences, and certain humanities disciplines. Chicago offers both author-date and notes and bibliography styles, making it versatile for various subjects.
Always adhere to your professor's specific instructions regarding citation style and writing convention . Professors may have preferences or requirements based on the nature of the course or assignment.
For instance, an English professor might prefer MLA for literary analysis, while a psychology professor may opt for APA to encourage familiarity with research norms. However, when formatting styles are not specified by the instructor, you can follow whatever is appropriate for your subject.
Your educational institution may have established guidelines or standards for citation formats.
Check your institution's style guide or consult with academic advisors to ensure compliance with their specific requirements.
By considering the subject matter, your professor's preferences, and your institution's guidelines, you can confidently choose the appropriate citation style to enhance the clarity and professionalism of your academic writing.
Now that you've gained a solid understanding of the basics for three major formatting styles, you're well-prepared to tackle your essay formatting with confidence.
Whether you're crafting an essay, a research paper, or any academic document, these formatting principles will help you present your ideas professionally.
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