Understanding Essay Format and Its Components

What makes essay format such a scary phrase? Lots of students groan as soon as they hear it, and there is a good reason for this reaction. Writing a paper and searching through endless books as well as articles is already a challenge, one that takes time and efforts, but formatting functions on a whole new level. First, it is important to define the terms involved in this practice. Page layout means a graphic arrangement of various elements within a written document. It’s not enough to write an essay: students must make it visually appealing, and no, it doesn’t mean they should simply add photos or graphs. There is a huge amount of small elements related to text, its size and color, distance between the words, etc., and all of it is evaluated separately by professors after assignments are submitted. Knowing these basics could help you increase your grade and meet academic criteria. This guide will assist you in understanding everything related to formats and layouts as you’re writing.

Importance of Essay Layout For Students

To prepare yourself for studying and understanding every small component of paper layout, you should figure out why you need to bother first. Graphic details often seem irrelevant because who cares about them when crafting a strong essay is a main task? In reality, these two things are closely interrelated. Written text could be evaluated properly only if it is readable. If words have different sizes, spaces between paragraphs are too large, their color is too bright and tacky, it’ll distract readers. They’ll keep focusing on layout of an essay, not on what you wrote, so in the end, even if your findings are absolutely spectacular, few people are going to appreciate them — they will be too annoyed because of the flawed arrangement of text. For making all parts of work balanced, a writer should pay equal attention to them all.

15 Major Elements of Page Layout

Those wondering what format of essay includes should remember several crucial tips. There are 15 graphic elements that must be arranged in a correct academic manner. Take a look at them and remember their characteristics.

1. Margins. Imagine a Word page filled with text. Empty spaces that surround it are known as margins, and they separate text from the final page border. In accordance with most academic standards, they should be one inch from all sides: this looks good visually while also allowing evaluators to leave their remarks.

2. Fonts. This element denotes how your words are written. Standard font is Times New Roman;second common font is Calibri or Ariel. Schoolbook could also be used, so clarify it with professor.

3. Font Size. Size of words should generally be 12 points. This makes them easy to read: they aren’t tiny but they also aren’t overwhelming. Check any essay format example and you’ll see it.

4. Quotes. Most essays require their writers to use quotes. When this quote is short, there is no need to do anything, but when it’s longer than several lines, you have to format it correctly. Block quotations are presented in a separate paragraph, and they should have a somewhat smaller font than the rest of the essay (10-11 points would be fine).

5. Spacing. Papers should have double spacing. Your guideline could also require single spacing, so be attentive when checking instructions.

6. Paragraphs. Paragraph format is different for double and single spacing. In the first case, don’t add any spaces between them, just start a new paragraph. In the second case, double space might be needed because this will help underline the start of a new paragraph.

7. Justification. Text should be flushed left in most cases, so keep this in mind.

8. Indentation. Use TAB and indent keys when making indents for the whole text. Paragraphs should be indented by 0.5 inches.

9. Indenting quotes. Like we said before, with block quotations, formatting is different. Use double indentation here (which would be about 1 inch).

10. Italics, bold, quotations marks. Italics are used for titles of long works or volumes, like books, journals, newspapers, etc. Quotation marks are needed for smaller works like short stories and articles; bold is required for formatting sections’ titles.

11. Headings. How to structure an essay with headings? Like mentioned above, put them in bold. Most often, they should be centered.

12. Capitals. Capitalize first letters, but that’s it. Don’t use all CAPS in any instance.

13. Underlinings. This will be easy to remember: never use underlinings. For emphasis, turn to bold or italics (when formatting titles or sections).

14. Page numbering. There is an automatic page-numbering option students should use. All papers require numbers.

15. Hyphenation. Remove automatic hyphenation if it’s turned on because it could ruin the layout of your work. Long words should start from new lines, not be transferred there through hyphens that often work incorrectly.

What Is an Essay Format Style and What’s the Big Deal?

Now that we’ve dealt with paper layout, it is time to talk about formatting styles. These are consistent stylistic approaches that help make a text clear and readable. The way your headings look like, placement of page numbers, format of different titles, works cited list, citations — these aspects should be presented to readers consistently. That is why you must settle on one specific style and follow its rules. As experts say, academic styles are vital because they ensure harmonious flow and visual stability. Imagine this scenario: an essay introduction is written in one way but body follows another set of guidelines. This could be distracting, so students should learn how to operate different styles as well as what they entail.

Most Common Essay Formatting Styles

Each university has its own preference for styles. Normally, professors are going to tell their students what standards to follow — they’ll issue a template that will guide you through all your essays. But it is better to be prepared in advance! So, if you’re already worried or just missed the part where styles were explained, we’ll describe top 8 of them below.


This standard essay format stands for Modern Language Association. It is extremely common among most American and British colleges and unis, as well as in official scholar publishing agencies. While it is assigned across various disciplines, for the most part, it’s present in humanities. English and English and World Literature, Religion, Linguistics, Culture, Philosophy, Art and History, Music, etc. are subjects that frequently require it. From key features, it doesn’t have a separate title page, and each citation needs a page number mentioned against the name of an author.


This is also among most popular essay formats. It is deciphered as American Psychological Association, so as evident from the name, it is mostly encountered in the US, in Psychology-related disciplines. But apart from it, it is also common in Sociology, Business, Economy, Healthcare, as well as Economy. It has a title page and an abstract (though this point is optional). Pages should be mentioned in direct quotes only — other sentences are formatted via ‘author, date’ model.


An interesting thing about this college essay format is that it has US and UK versions. So, be sure you follow the correct template. Business and Social Sciences are the most popular areas of its usage. It also has ‘author, date’ framework, and it has a specific title page.


This format mostly functions in the US. It is applied for such subjects as Fine Arts, History, Politics, as well as Business. Title page is present more often than not here, so other clarifications are needed. Unlike it should be in previous styles, here, a system of footnotes is used. Pay particularly close attention to commas and punctuation as a whole.


This basic essay format has been developed based on Chicago style, and it carries the name of a woman from University of Chicago who developed a special citing guide for students. Like with Chicago, it is applied in Business, Arts, and History spheres. There are two forms of it: one includes author and date citations while another requires footnotes and superscript numbers. Title page is needed.


Standing for Council of Science Editor, this style is favored by scholars working with scientific subjects, So, it is common in Biology, Medicine, Zoology, Physics, etc. It is important to create a proper title page, but other than that, there are no any strict requirements. Check essay format examples to see how papers in CSE should look like in your specific college. Author and date citations are frequent here, but clarifications are essential.


American Sociological Association style is preferred by everyone related to the field of Sociology. It has author and date format, and page number is needed for quotations. It also requires a title page and an abstract.


This is a US-common style frequent in legal sectors. So, if you’re studying Law, you’ll have to learn what it is and what components it comprises. Writers should have a title page in their papers; as for citations, they take the form of footnotes.

What Style Should You Use When Writing?

Before you follow the outlined steps for academic style formatting, you need to know what format of essays is suitable for you and your work. There are several ways of learning it, and two of them could be differentiated from the rest. First, look at your major. Is it humanities? Sciences? Medicine? Law? This is going to help you diminish the number of options because as you can see from the previous section, each sphere tends to have its own formatting style. When you do that, look at a subject. Styles like MLA and APA could both cover the same one, but in such instances, go back to the major itself. For example, if you study foreign languages as a whole, MLA would be a great fit, but if you’re focusing on legal translations, Bluebook could be more helpful. Second, just go ahead and ask your teacher. They’ll be pleased with such question. Most likely, they’ll provide you with an academic template showing which style is needed and how a paper in it should look like.

What’s the Difference Between Essay Layout vs. Essay Format?

You might know how to layout an essay, but do you understand what differentiates it from essay format? They are both vital because they help make a paper look pleasant for readers — this is one of their similarities. They are also technical in nature, so they aren’t related to content, just to the visual aspect of it. But what about the differences? Layout concerns graphic details that should be arranged via Word document settings. It includes margins, spacing, indents, font with its size, and so on, and it’s the same for all academic papers. Long and short essay format is diverse, and it depends on a specific range of guidelines. It comprises tens of different styles with their own rules. You cannot implement this format automatically, like it’s possible to do with layout. No, you have to learn the basis of a style you need and then format the paper manually for getting correct results. It is a more precise and time-consuming work type.

Resources for Organizing Proper Citations and Layout

How to achieve correct essay format when you weren’t provided a helpful template? It’s a tough situation, and many young people feel worried and confused. But thankfully, experts came up with a great solution. They developed numerous resources that could teach you how to treat the technical aspects of your paper. Here is the list with the most prominent of them.

Purdue OWL

This is one of the best possible resources that could help you understand everything there is to know about styles like APA, MLA, ASA, etc. It serves as a teaching guide that outlines all elements: text layout, in-text citations, and references. There are detailed examples, explanations, and even sample papers available.


This platform offers examples and descriptions of such styles as APA, MLA, and Chicago. There are also several detailed tables where each example is presented and elaborated upon: you could orient toward them when working on a paper.


This resource works in pair with the previous one, only it is focused on layout, not on formatting styles. If you choose BibMe, then EasyBib will be a great companion to it to disclose a full picture. There are extremely detailed explanations for margins, headings, title page, etc.

Cite This for Me

You could see how simple essay format looks like with the help of this site. It covers lots of styles. While it offers online citation machine option, you shouldn’t rely on it: manual work is the only type that will have no mistakes, so look at its examples. Scroll down until you see them and follow their layout.

Your University

This is an example of how a Harvard guide provided by University of Queensland looks like. Every sentence in it is aimed at demonstrating what students should do with their papers. Your college or university should have a similar one, so ask for it — it is the most efficient way for succeeding.

Learn the Basics Once and Use Them Every Time

Now you’re aware of every major fact related to technical essay construction. Yes, it could seem intimidating to learn this amount of info, but trust us, once you do it, it’ll become a part of your routine. Consult with guides at the first stages, double check professional examples, and eventually, you’re going to start formatting your papers automatically. There might be many diverse styles and criteria, but you’ll only need to learn several key ones that your subject requires. Your patience will pay off when you get top marks for formatting and correct layout!

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Elizabeth Baldridge
Elizabeth Baldridge

Elizabeth provides educational materials, conducts research, explores and solves student challenges. Her posts are always helpful, innovative, and contain interesting insights.

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