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How to Format an Essay: MLA, APA, & Chicago Styles


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.


Setting Up Your Document

  1. Read 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.[1]
  2. Set your margins to 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 . Check your margins under “page setup” or “layout,” depending on your word processor.
    Format an Essay Step 2.jpg
    • Most word processors default to margins.
  3. Use 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.[2]
    Format an Essay Step 3.jpg
    • Do not change the font size, style, or color throughout your essay.
  4. Change 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.[3]
    Format an Essay Step 4.jpg
  5. Set 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.[4]
    Format an Essay Step 5.jpg
    • 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.
  6. Put 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.
    Format an Essay Step 6.jpg
    • 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.[5]
    • 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.[6]
  7. Use 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:
    Format an Essay Step 7 Version 2.jpg
    • 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.[7]
    • 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.[8]
  8. Create 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.[9]
    Format an Essay Step 8 Version 2.jpg
    • Double-space the heading like the rest of your paper.

Writing the Essay Body

  1. Center 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.
    Format an Essay Step 9 Version 2.jpg
    • 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.
  2. Indent the first line of each paragraph by for all styles. Whether you’re writing in MLA, APA, or Chicago Style, always use a 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.
    Format an Essay Step 10 Version 2.jpg
  3. Open 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.[10]
    Format an Essay Step 11 Version 2.jpg
    • 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.”
  4. Include 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?[11] Here are some examples to get you started:
    Format an Essay Step 12 Version 2.jpg
    • “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.”
  5. Present 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.[12]
    Format an Essay Step 13 Version 2.jpg
    • Use transitions between paragraphs so your paper flows well. For example, say, “In addition to,” “Similarly,” or “On the other hand.”[13]
  6. Complete 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.[14]
    Format an Essay Step 14 Version 2.jpg
    • 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.”

Using References

  1. Create 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.
    Format an Essay Step 19.jpg
    • 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.[15]
    • 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.[16]
    • If you don’t use parenthetical or internal citations, your instructor may accuse you of plagiarizing.
  2. Use 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.
    Format an Essay Step 20.jpg
    • At the bottom of the page, include the source’s information from your bibliography page next to the footnote number.[17]
    • Each footnote should be numbered consecutively.
  3. Center the title of your reference page. The title you’ll use depends on the formatting style you’re using:
    Format an Essay Step 21.jpg
    • If you’re using MLA format, this page will be titled “Works Cited.”
    • In APA and Chicago Style, title the page “References.”
  4. List 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.
    Format an Essay Step 22.jpg
    • 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 if your citations are longer than one line. Press to indent any lines after the first.[18]
    • 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.

Formatting Resources


  1. [v120412_b01]. 29 May 2019.

Source: Wiki How