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Writing essays is an essential task for every college student. It requires specific skills and an excellent level of organization. An essay format is a guideline that helps you keep your essay structured, which makes your argument much easier to navigate and understand. 

The essay format is not only about the length of your essay or the structure of your argument but also the overall presentation of your work. To help you achieve a proper structure for your essay, several institutions require that you follow a standard format for essay paper writing.

They assist you in presenting your ideas logically and professionally. A typical essay format maps the presentation of your information from start to finish. 

How will you know how to format an essay? What does essay formatting require? 

This article will answer these questions and give detailed guidelines for formatting your essay. 

What Is an Essay Format Structure?

There are different types of formats for essays. All formats have established guidelines that help you in your writing. These guidelines are called the essay format structure. The structure dictates how you design your entire paper. 

It determines certain qualities of your essay, such as the heading, font size, page layout and spacing, capitalization, and indentation. The guidelines used in these formats are similar in some ways.

  • There is a specific font style, which is Times New Roman 12pt. 

  • Similar indentation: All essay structures recommend at least half an inch of spacing on all four corners of your page layout. 

However, they also have some fundamental differences that you have to note to avoid confusion. Following your instructor's preferred essay writing format is essential, as failure to do so might attract penalties, leading to poor grades. 

What Are Types of Essay Formats?

Essay formats are regarded as the standard way of writing academic papers. However, their application can range from high school assignments to college dissertations. 

What are essay writing formats? Essay writing formats are structures with specific guidelines that determine how you organize your paper. These formats were introduced to help writers deliver professional papers that are easy to understand. 

There are three major formatting styles used in writing academic essays. These include:

  • APA 
  • MLA 
  • Chicago

Though there are some similarities between these formats, each has specific guidelines. 

How to format an essay

A formatted essay should have a clear structure. You must follow the standard essay formats to get a perfect result. However, there are specific guidelines that you can follow to make sure your essay looks professional and is easy to read. These guidelines include the title page, adequate spacing, appropriate capitalization, font size, e.t.c.

Below, we have provided a step-by-step guideline on some college-specific formatting styles. These steps will help on how to format an essay like a pro.

How to Write an Essay in MLA Format 

MLA is an abbreviation of Member of the Legislative Assembly. This essay formatting style mainly cites sources in arts, language, and humanities disciplines. There are rules to follow to know how to format an essay in MLA. 

The following rules apply in an MLA format for an essay paper. 

  • Font: Use a standard font such as Times New Roman or Arial and ensure the font size is 12pt.

  • Spacing: Double-space your entire essay, including the Works Cited page.

  • The header and title: These are found on the first page of your paper and are left-aligned. The header contains these elements. 
  1. Your full name. 
  2. Name of instructor or supervisor. 
  3. Course code. 
  4. Submission date. 

  • Title page: Some instructors do not require a title page for an MLA format. Therefore, unless stated otherwise, do not include a title page in this format. However, if you are required to write a title, center it on the next line after the header. Note that you must not italicize, bolden or underline the title. 

  • Margin: Use 1-inch margins on all sides of the page.

  • Page number: write your last name and page number on the right-hand corner of each page. 

  • Indentation: Indent each paragraph using five spaces or half an inch.

  • Align: The first line of all new entries should align with the left margin of the paper. 

Essay in MLA Format Example

MLA is one of the major formats for essays. Below is an MLA essay writing format. 

How to Write an Essay in APA Format 

The abbreviation APA stands for American Psychological Association. The association established its guidelines in July 1892. This format is frequently applied in the fields such as social sciences, nursing, education, and psychology. 

Here are some things to note if you want to know how to format an essay using the APA guidelines. 

APA uses four main sections; title page, abstract, main body, and reference page. 

Title page

Unlike MLA, the APA must have a title page. This page starts with a shortened title on the top left corner and a page number at the top right. 

The title page should also include:

  • A full form of your title
  • Your name
  • The name of your institution
  • The name of your instructor
  • Due date

In APA writing format, all headings must be in bold title case. 


An Abstract is a paper summary and comes after the title page. It should be only 250 words in a single paragraph.


The body is the central part of the essay. Here, you present your argument logically and systematically.


This is a section that cites the sources of your paper. 


Several complex topics use this format. So, knowing what essay format in APA helps clarify complex topics. 

Essay in APA Format Example 

The APA writing format is one of the major formats for essays. Here is an example of an essay writing format using an APA structure.                                                            

MLA Versus APA

Apart from the popular questions, what is an essay format, students also struggle to know the similarities and differences between these formats. There are many similarities between the MLA and APA formatting styles. These similarities include the following. 

  • Both writing formats use the same font, text style, spacing, and margins.
  • The parenthetical citation system in both formats are similar
  • Alphabetical listings on both formats are similar. 

To know how to format an essay, it is also important to note the differences between these two writing formats.

  • APA format is used mainly in psychology, social sciences, and fields in education. In contrast, MLA format is used in humanities subjects such as languages and media studies. 
  • APA requires a title page, while MLA does not.
  • The display of the name of the original content differs. (MLA - Tim, Millan. APA - Tim, M.)
  • In-text styling on each format is different. APA follows this pattern; Jane believes that the suicide rate among youth is higher in society. While the MLA format follows this pattern: According to Jane, youth have a higher suicide rate in society. 

Chicago Style

The Chicago style essay formatting is similar to APA and MLA. It is used in business, history, and fine arts. 

Here is how to format an essay in Chicago style

  • Spacing and margins: Chicago format for essay paper does not require a specific font style but a 12pt font size. Times New Roman is also recommended. Double spacing between the lines and margins of one inch on the four sides of the page applies. 

  • Title page: This style does not require a title page. If your instructor tells you to include one, the text on this page should be center-aligned, and headings should be in capitalization. You can also place the page number on either the top right or the bottom center of each page. The following details should come much later on this page.
  • Your name
  • Your instructor's name
  • Due submission date 

Numbering in the Chicago format is not recommended. This style prefers writing in words rather than numerals. For example, write "one hundred men" instead of "100 men." Using lettering is only allowed for specific measurements. 

  • Footnotes: This format uses footnotes on quoted passages. 
  • Bibliography: When citing, begin with the author's name and title of the source. Then follow it up with important publication details. 

What Is an Ideal Essay Structure? 

Regardless of your chosen format, all essays have a fundamental structure. The structure outlines three main parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. 

The introduction presents your topic, provides a background for your argument, and gives your thesis statement. 

The second part of your essay is the body. It is the most important part of the essay. It includes the main arguments and presents facts to support your points. The structure of the body is flexible. However, this aspect requires the most critical thinking and organization. 

Last, the conclusion wraps everything up and shows why your argument matters. Citations and references follow the conclusion. 

Many students struggle with how to format an essay. They structure their introduction and conclusion well but get stuck in how to structure the body. Since the body presents the main idea of your argument, this is where your structure is needed the most.

Knowing an essay format and following the stated guidelines help you navigate the body and put your arguments in order.