Essay Format – A Minor but Critical Consideration

Proper essay format gives an overall impression to a professor that a student has taken his/her instructions seriously and has given the attention to detail that indicates the desire to obtain a good grade. Many professors indeed take offense when the assigned essay format is ignored.

What is an essay format?

There is not a single standard essay format that is universally used and a student must therefore carefully review the format required by each professor to ensure that his/her essay or research paper complies. In general however, it can be defined as a specific means by which the written work is “laid out” and by which the references are cited. The following facets of formatting are strictly defined by a stated style and, while MLA and APA are the most common formatting styles, there are others that professors may specify.


It goes without saying that an 8.5” X 11” sheet of white paper should be used and it should be of reasonably good quality. For most formats and certainly for APA and MLA, Times New Roman, size 12 font is specified. All text should be double-spaced, with one exception. If one is inserting a lengthy quotation from a resource work, this should be single-spaced and indented.


Margin requirements vary but both MLA and APA require 1” on all sides. An inch is equal to 14 spaces; however, the best method is to set these margins before beginning to type the final draft. The indention of paragraphs varies as well so it is important to check the specifications of the particular style requirement.


Again, the requirement may vary, from a specifically formatted and separate title page, to title information included on the first page of the paper itself. When a separate title page is required, the placement of information on that page should be specific to the format style indicated. Also, essay format for title pages may differ with the type of work. A basic essay may include the title, author, and date on the first page of the essay. For a major research work, on the other hand, a fully separate title is required for longer research works.


Standard essay format for page numbering varies significantly among the format styles so, again, caution should be taken to get this correct. Some styles require page numbers beginning with 1, others with 2. Some require page numbers to be placed at the top of the page flush with the right margin; others flush with the left margin. Still, others require the page number along with the last name of the author (you) at the left margin. In all of these essay format styles, however, page numbers are required and one should always follow the specifications of the required essay formatting style. It is important to note as well however that all page numbers are placed above the 1” margin requirements for the text and this can be accomplished by using the “heading” link on one’s word processing program.


One space is always required between words and punctuation within sentences including semi-colons. Generally, double spacing is required between sentences and after colons; however, many formats require only single spacing between sentences. This is why it is important to be certain to check this carefully.


Generally, proper essay format requires an indentation of ½” (or 7 spaces) at the beginning of each paragraph. Some formats specify no indentations; however, there are instances when one needs to quadruple the space between paragraphs so as to provide a visual division between them. Every essay format example one reviews should demonstrate proper indentation and spacing for longer quotes, which must be set apart from the main text. The generally accepted format is to double-space before the quote, set the quote in 1” from both margins, single-space the quote itself, and double space following the quote to begin the text again.


This is the area of perhaps the largest divergence among essay format styles. If a professor has not provided an essay format example that includes the specified format for citations, then it would be wise to consult a handbook for the particular style required.

Generally, end-of-text citations are alphabetized by the author’s last name and, when an author’s name is absent, the first word of the title of the work should suffice. Students are cautioned that the information included in a citation varies significantly with regard to the type of work (book, journal article, published or unpublished academic papers, web sources, etc.).

In-text citations generally require that the author’s name and page number are the only ones to be included in parentheses within the text itself. Some rare formats still require end-of-page citations or numbered notes at the end of the text. Again, to understand the specifics, one needs to check a handbook or guide regarding this.


Reserved for lengthier works that are divided into sections or chapters, the purpose of a table of contents is to delineate the sections or chapters and the page numbers included. The format for a table of contents does not differ much among standard essay format styles but an individual professor may have a “favorite” style.


For short essays or research papers, stapling the work is generally acceptable. For longer works however, one may want to use a ringed folder or another holder or container. For major works such as theses and dissertations binding is more suitable.
Students who continue to have concerns regarding what an essay format is in any style are welcome to contact for guides, examples, and, of course, formatting assistance. Many students submit their final works to us with a designated format style and ask one of our formatting professionals to prepare the final work. We are more than happy to do this for any type of writing piece and our prices are truly reasonable.