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How to Format an Essay: MLA, APA, Chicago Style

How to Format an Essay: MLA, APA, Chicago Style

Being able to write an essay is a vital part of any educational system, but simply listing ideas in a linear fashion may not always be enough. A lot of institutions require a certain format that an essay might follow; prime examples would be the MLA, the APA, and the Chicago formats. That is precisely what this article is aimed to teach: proper essay formatting, a distinction between MLA, APA and a Chicago style format. The application of these could range from high school to college essays, and they stand as the standard of college essay formatting.

Tips for Writing an Academic Paper

There isn’t one proper way of writing a paper, but there are solid guidelines to sustain a consistent workflow. Be it a college application essay, a research paper, informative essay, etc. There is a standard college essay writing format that you should follow. For easier access, the following outline will be divided into steps:

Related: Academic Essay Writing

Choose A Good Topic

No matter how many times this is uttered in the classroom, a lot of students still struggle with picking out a good topic. The topic you choose should be specific enough so you can explore it in its entirety and hit your word limit if that’s a variable you worry about. With a good topic that should not be a problem. On the other hand, it should not be so broad that some resources would outweigh the information you could squeeze into one paper. Don’t be too specific or you will find that there is a shortage of information, but don’t be too broad or you will feel overwhelmed. Don’t hesitate to ask your instructor for help.

Start research as soon as possible

Before you even begin writing, make sure that you are acquainted with the information that you are working with. Find compelling arguments and counterpoints, trivia, facts, etc. The sky's the limit when it comes to gathering information.

Pick out specific, compelling resources

When you feel acquainted with the subject, you should be able to have a basic conversation on the matter. Pick out resources that have been bookmarked, saved or are very informative and start extracting information. You will need all you can get to put into the citations at the end of your paper. Stash books, websites, articles and have them ready to cite. See if you can subtract or expand your scope of research.

Outline

Always have a plan. This might be the most important phase of the process. If you have a strong outline and you have a particular goal in mind, it’ll be easy to refer to it when you might get stuck somewhere in the middle of the paper. And since you have direct links from the research you’ve done beforehand, the progress is guaranteed to be swift. Have a list of keywords if applicable that will surely boost the informational scope. With keywords specific to the subject matter of each section, it should be much easier to identify its direction and possible informational criteria.

Read more: How To Write an Essay Outline

Draft

Before you jot anything down into the body of your essay, make sure that the outline has enough information to back up whatever statement you choose to explore. Do not be afraid of letting creativity into your paper (within reason, of course) and explore the possibilities. Start with a standard 5 paragraph structure, and the content will come with time.

Peer Review

Before you know it, the draft is done, and it’s ready to be sent out for peer review. Ask a classmate, a relative or even a specialist if they are willing to contribute. Get as much feedback as you possibly can and work on it.

Final Draft

Before handing in the final draft, go over it at least one more time, focusing on smaller mistakes like grammar and punctuation. Make sure that what you wrote follows proper essay structure.

What is an Essay Format: Structure

Be it an academic, informative or a specific extended essay - structure is essential. For example, the IB extended essay has very strict requirements that are followed by an assigned academic style of writing (primarily MLA, APA, or Chicago):

  • Title Page
  • Abstract: comprised of 3 paragraphs, totaling about 300 words, with 100 words in each.
    • Paragraph 1: must include research question, thesis and outline of the essay’s importance.
    • Paragraph 2: Key resources, scope and limits of research, etc.
    • Paragraph 3: Conclusion that you’ve already reached in your essay.
  • Table of Contents (with page numbers)
    • Research question
    • Thesis
    • Introduction
    • Arguments
    • Sub-headings
    • Conclusion
    • Appendix
    • Works cited (bibliography)
  • Introduction
    • Research question is required
  • Body
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography (Works Cited)

This outline format for an extended essay is a great example to follow when writing a research essay, and sustaining a proper research essay format - especially if it is based on the MLA guidelines. It is vital to remember that the student must keep track of their resources to apply them to each step outlined above easily.

How to Write an Essay in MLA Format

Essay in MLA Format

To write an MLA format essay, one must follow a basic set of guidelines and instructions. This is a step by step:

  • Font: 12pt Times New Roman
  • Spacing:
    • Double spaced everywhere
    • No extra spaces, especially between paragraphs
  • Heading: Example of the heading on the first page of the essay (upper left corner)
    • Your name (John Smith)
    • Teacher’s / Professor’s name (Margot Robbie)
    • The class (Depends on course/class)
    • Date (20 April 2017)
  • Margins: One-inch margin on the top, bottom, left and right.
  • Page Numbers: Last name and page number must be put on every page of the essay as a “header”. Otherwise, it would go in place of the text.
  • Title: There needs to be a proper essay title format, centered and above the first line of the essay of the same font and size as the essay itself.
  • Indentation: Just press tab dude (1/2 inch, just in case)
  • Align: Align to the left-hand side, and make sure it is aligned evenly.

It’s important to remember that the essay format of MLA is usually used in humanities, which differs from other types of academic writing that we’ll go into detail later. For now, feast your eyes upon an MLA sample essay format:

Essay in MLA Format Example

MLA Format Example Essay

Read more: How to Format Essays Using MLA Style

MLA vs. APA

Before we move on to the APA essay format, it is important to distinguish the two types of formatting. Let’s go through the similarities first:

  • The formatting styles are similar: spacing, citation, indentation.
  • All of the information that is used within the essay must be present within the works cited page (in APA, that’s called a reference page)
  • Both use the parenthetical citations within the body of the paper, usually to show a certain quote or calculation.
  • Citations are listed alphabetically on the works cited / reference page.

What you need to know about the differences is not extensive, thankfully:

  • MLA is mostly used in humanities, while APA is focused more on social sciences. The list of sources has a different name (works cited - MLA / references - APA)
  • Works cited differ on the way they display the name of the original content (MLA -> Yorke, Thom / APA -> Yorke T.)
  • When using an in-text citation, and the author’s name is listed within the sentence, place the page number found at the end: “Yorke believes that Creep was Radiohead’s worst song. (4).” APA, on the other hand, requires that a year is to be inserted: “According to Yorke (2013), Creep was a mess.”

Alright, let’s carry over to the APA specifics.

How to Write an Essay in APA Format

The APA scheme is one of the most common college essay formats, so being familiar with its requirements is crucial. In a basic APA format structure, we can apply a similar list of guidelines as we did in the MLA section:

Essay in APA Format

  • Font: 12pt Times New Roman
  • Spacing: Double space that bad boy.
  • Margins: One Inch margins on all sides.
  • Page Numbers: Insert a header at the top left of every page that includes a shortened title of your essay, below 50 characters including punctuation. Slap a number in there too (top right corner).
  • Title Page: Title of the paper, author’s name, institutional affiliation. Additional information may be required, such as course title, instructor name and date.

Note that some teachers and professors maybe have deviations to some of the characteristics that the APA format originally requires, such as those listed above.

Read more: Formattinig Rules to APA Essay Format

Chicago Style

The usage of Chicago style is prevalent in academic writing that focuses on the source of origin. This means that precise citations and footnotes are key to a successful paper.

Chicago Style Essay Format

Chicago Style Essay Format

The same bullet point structure can be applied to the Chicago style format.

  • Title Page
    • Chicago style title page is all about spacing.
    • down the page should be the title, with regular text. If longer than one line, double spaced.
    • Next, in the very middle, center your full name.
    • down the page - course number, instructor’s name and the date in separate double-spaced lines.
  • Margins: Use one-inch margins apart from the right side.
  • Spacing
    • Double spaced everywhere.
    • No extra spaces, especially between paragraphs.
  • Font: Times New Roman is the best choice (12pt)
  • Page Numbers
    • Last name, page number in the heading of every page on the top right
    • Do not number the title page. The first page of text should start with a 2.
  • Footnotes: The Chicago Style format requires footnotes on paraphrased or quoted passages.
  • Bibliography: The bibliography is very similar to that of MLA. Gather the proper information and input it into a specialized citation site.

Read more: How to Write in Chicago/Turabian Style

Essay Writing Advice From Our Professional Team

The article accurately describes each kind of format style and is a great guide to each type of commonly used reference. One thing in particular that I would like to re-emphasize is that an essay without structure is not an essay at all. My advice is to follow your outline incredibly closely. If you have the urge to veer off the topic at some point in the essay, you always have an opportunity to include it in footnotes or endnotes of your essay (and in fact, it will make your work look more professional and well-researched).

Another comment that I’d like to make concerning essay format is that sometimes professors have their desires and preferences. You should always double-check with your instructor on specifics of formatting. Don’t worry about seeming unprofessional; in fact, you will come off as more considerate and attentive. Some referencing styles have small adjustable elements; for example, MLA format doesn’t require a title page, but your professor might want you to include one. If you clarify this with your teacher, then I guarantee they will think higher of you than of your peers.

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