This article was co-authored by Carrie Adkins, PhD and by wikiHow staff writer, Aly Rusciano. Carrie Adkins is the cofounder of NursingClio, an open access, peer-reviewed, collaborative blog that connects historical scholarship to current issues in gender and medicine. She completed her PhD in American History at the University of Oregon in 2013. While completing her PhD, she earned numerous competitive research grants, teaching fellowships, and writing awards.
There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
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You’re opening your laptop to write an essay, knowing exactly what you want to write, but then it hits you—you don’t know how to format it! Using the correct format when writing an essay can help your paper look polished and professional while earning you full credit. There are 3 common essay formats—MLA, APA, and Chicago Style—and we’ll teach you the basics of properly formatting each in this article. So, before you shut your laptop in frustration, take a deep breath and keep reading because soon you’ll be formatting like a pro.
Part 1Part 1 of 3:Setting Up Your Document Download Article
- 1Read over the assignment’s guidelines before you begin. The majority of the time, a teacher or professor while specifically state how they want the essay to be formatted. Carefully read over the essay prompt or your course syllabus to check for any mentions of MLA, APA, or Chicago Style. Chances are, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for!
- If you can’t find information on the style guide you should be following, talk to your instructor after class to discuss the assignment or send them a quick email with your questions.
- If your instructor lets you pick the format of your essay, opt for the style that matches your course or degree best: MLA is best for English and humanities; APA is typically for education, psychology, and sciences; Chicago Style is common for business, history, and fine arts.
- 2Set your margins to 1 inch (2.5 cm) for all style guides. Whether you’re writing in MLA, APA, or Chicago Style, guidelines state that an essay’s margins should be at least 1 inch (2.5 cm). Check your margins under "page setup" or "layout," depending on your word processor.
- Most word processors default to 1 inch (2.5 cm) margins.
- 3Use Times New Roman font. This standard, easy-to-read font is acceptable for all formatting styles. Change the font in your word processor by using the menu on the toolbar along the top of the page.XResearch source
- Do not change the font size, style, or color throughout your essay.
- 4Change your font size to 12pt. This is the standard font size across all formatting styles. Locate the font size next to the font style, and change it using the pull-down menu.XResearch source
- 5Set your spacing to double-space. This will create space between each line of text that makes your essay easier to read and gives your instructor space for notes and/or corrections.XResearch source
- Change the spacing on Google Docs by clicking on , and then selecting "Line spacing."
- Click on in Microsoft Word, and then click the arrow at the bottom left of the "paragraph" section.
- 6Put the page number and your last name in the top right header for all styles. To do this, select the tab on your word processor. Select "page numbers," then click the option for the right corner of the page. Place your cursor in front of the number and type in your last name.
- Using the page number function will create consecutive numbering.
- When using Chicago Style, don’t include a page number on your title page. The first page after the title page should be numbered starting at 2.XResearch source
- In APA format, a running heading may be required in the left-hand header. This is a maximum of 50 characters that’s the full or abbreviated version of your essay’s title.XResearch source
- 7Use a title page with APA or Chicago Style format. This page serves as a brief introduction to your assignment, stating the title of the essay, your name, and any other relevant information. Title pages are commonly used in college and university courses and are formatted like this:
- For APA formatting, place the title in bold at the center of the page 3 to 4 lines down from the top. Insert one double-spaced line under the title and type your name. Under your name, in separate centered lines, type out the name of your school, course, instructor, and assignment due date.XResearch source
- For Chicago Style, set your cursor ⅓ of the way down the page, then type your title. In the very center of your page, put your name. Move your cursor ⅔ down the page, then write your course number, followed by your instructor’s name and paper due date on separate, double-spaced lines.XTrustworthy SourcePurdue Online Writing LabTrusted resource for writing and citation guidelinesGo to source
- 8Create a left-handed heading for MLA Style essays. Since an MLA paper doesn’t typically have a title page, your information will need to be put on the first page of your paper above the title. Click on the first line of your paper and left-align the text using the word processor’s menu bar. Type out your first and last name, and then go to the next line and type out your instructor’s name. Hit "Enter" again and write out the name and number of your course. Lastly, on the following line, type the due date of your essay as day, month, year.XResearch source
- Double-space the heading like the rest of your paper.
Part 2Part 2 of 3:Writing the Essay Body Download Article
- 1Center the title of your paper in all style formats.Give your essay a title that’s engaging, interesting, and tells the reader what the paper is about. Place it after the heading but before the main text.
- Use standard capitalization rules for your title.
- Do not underline, italicize, or put quotation marks around your title, unless you include other titles of referred texts.
- 2Indent the first line of each paragraph by 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) for all styles. Whether you’re writing in MLA, APA, or Chicago Style, always use a 0.5 in (1.3 cm) indent. This signals to the reader that a new paragraph is beginning. The easiest way to indent your essay is to press the tab key.
- 3Open your essay with an introduction.Write your introduction with a "hook" that grabs your reader’s attention. Keep the information in your introduction general. Provide enough details to summarize what you’ll be talking about in your essay, but don’t give too much away—all those details will be provided in the body of your paper.XResearch source
- A good hook might include a quote, statistic, or rhetorical question.
- For example, you might write, "Every day in the United States, accidents caused by distracted drivers kill 9 people and injure more than 1,000 others."
- 4Include a thesis statement at the end of your introduction.Writing a good thesis statement is crucial to any essay. The thesis statement is your main idea, argument, or point. It’s a single sentence that sums up the entirety of your essay. Think of it like this: What would you say if you could express your opinion or position in one sentence to a stranger?XResearch source Here are some examples to get you started:
- "Action must be taken to reduce accidents caused by distracted driving, including enacting laws against texting while driving, educating the public about the risks, and giving strong punishments to offenders."
- "Although passing and enforcing new laws can be challenging, the best way to reduce accidents caused by distracted driving is to enact a law against texting, educate the public about the new law, and levy strong penalties."
- 5Present each of your points in 1 or more paragraphs. The body of your essay should support the information given in your introduction and back up your thesis. Write a paragraph for each main point of your argument. Include a topic sentence, supporting details and/or quotes, and a concluding sentence in each paragraph.XResearch source
- Use transitions between paragraphs so your paper flows well. For example, say, "In addition to," "Similarly," or "On the other hand."XResearch source
- 6Complete your essay with a conclusion.Start your conclusion by restating your thesis. Then, provide a general summarizing statement. End with a statement of impact or a call to action.XResearch source
- A statement of impact might be, "Every day that distracted driving goes unaddressed, another 9 families must plan a funeral."
- A call to action might read, "Fewer distracted driving accidents are possible, but only if every driver keeps their focus on the road."
Part 3Part 3 of 3:Using References Download Article
- 1Create parenthetical citations for MLA or APA formatting. Place sourcing information in parentheses at the end of quotes or sentences that paraphrase a quote or statistic. This way, readers know you’re sourcing credible information and can seek it themselves if they’d like.
- In MLA format, citations should include the author’s last name and the page number where you found the information. If the author's name appears in the sentence, use just the page number.XTrustworthy SourcePurdue Online Writing LabTrusted resource for writing and citation guidelinesGo to source
- For APA format, include the author’s last name and the publication year. If the author’s name appears in the sentence, use just the year.XTrustworthy SourcePurdue Online Writing LabTrusted resource for writing and citation guidelinesGo to source
- If you don’t use parenthetical or internal citations, your instructor may accuse you of plagiarizing.
- 2Use footnotes for citations in Chicago Style. Footnotes are an alternative to parenthetical citations. To insert footnotes, place your cursor after the punctuation mark of the sentence you want to cite. Then, click on and "footnote," which may be located along the toolbar or under the references tab of your word processor. Then click the button to add it to your paper.
- 3Center the title of your reference page. The title you’ll use depends on the formatting style you’re using:
- If you’re using MLA format, this page will be titled "Works Cited."
- In APA and Chicago Style, title the page "References."
- 4List your sources on the references page by author’s last name in alphabetical order. Once you’ve written your citations according to the corresponding style guide, insert them into the references page. Align the text to the left and ensure there are no extra spaces between citations. Rearrange the citations, so they are in alphabetical order.
- If you have more than one work from the same author, list alphabetically following the title name for MLA and by earliest to latest publication year for APA and Chicago Style.
- Double-space the references page like the rest of your paper.
- Use a hanging indent of 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) if your citations are longer than one line. Press to indent any lines after the first.XResearch source
- Citations should include (when applicable) the author(s)’s name(s), title of the work, publication date and/or year, and page numbers.
- Sites like Grammarly, EasyBib, and MyBib can help generate citations if you get stuck.