Academic Writing

Guide to College Essay Format Types: APA, MLA & Chicago Style (Plus Templates)

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Writing a college essay can feel intimidating, especially when you have to meet strict citation guidelines. 

Whether you craft your essay in APA, MLA, or Chicago style, you must make sure to include an appropriate tone, a clear thesis, a coherent structure, and appropriate evidence. 

We will help you learn how to do that here with step-by-step instructions to make sure you succeed in school and, later on, in your career.

How to Format a College Essay

Simplicity is your friend when formatting college essays. Use a standard, readable font, such as Helvetica or Times New Roman, with 1.5-line or double spacing. Avoid unusual layouts and unnecessary decorative touches, and always stick to the assigned word count. 

Although keeping your writing brief may feel challenging, it's an excellent skill to practice and will help you meet formatting expectations. 

For help formatting your essay, use our Academic Document Formatting service.

APA Style Essay Format

How to Write an Essay in APA Format

APA format, named for the American Psychological Association, is frequently used for citations in education, psychology, and the sciences. APA style affects how you cite sources in the text and in your reference list.

Check out the Top 8 Best Reference Manager Software in 2022.

When learning how to write an essay in APA format, keep these guidelines in mind.

1) Font

APA specifies that you use one of three fonts. Your choices are 12 pt. Times New Roman, 11 pt. Arial, or 11 pt. Georgia. 

Even if you think another font or size would look better, avoid branching out. These styles were specifically selected to offer the easiest readability to the widest group of readers.

2) Spacing

Double-space all text, headings, and reference list entries. This setting is easy to find in Word or other word processing software by going to the Paragraph tab and selecting Spacing. In some cases, a professor may assign you 1.5-line spacing, but never use single spacing. If line spacing has not been specified, default to double spacing.

3) Heading and Subheadings

APA style allows the use of H1 to H5 headings, which you can also find in Word or other word processors. 

H1 is the title and is centered, while H2 through H5 have their own specific rules regarding alignment, spacing, and formatting. Use title case for all headings.

4) Margins

The standard margins for an essay in APA format are 1 inch from both sides of the page. The exception is block quotes of 40 words or more. 

For these, start a new paragraph and indent the entire quote an additional 0.5 inches from the left side of the page.

5) Page Numbers

In APA style, you should include a page number in the top right corner of every page. Do this by clicking above the main body of the text until the header field appears and then choosing the correct numbering format. This includes the title page.

Download our Free APA Format Essay Template from Google Docs.

APA Style Template

After downloading, you will be able to edit all templates as needed.

MLA Style Essay Format

How to Write an Essay in MLA Format

This reference style was introduced by the Modern Language Association and is largely used to cite sources in the humanities. 

The humanities include disciplines such as English and foreign languages, classics and literature, arts and history, and theology. Wondering how to write an essay in MLA format? Read on.

Download our free guide to MLA format, which outlines common reference types in MLA.

1) Font

Always use 12 pt. Times New Roman text for MLA format. Even if you are used to another font or have written papers using another style, it is very important that you adhere to this rule. You can lose points for failing to format your essay correctly.

2) Spacing

Double-space your paper all the way through, including between headings and text and between two successive paragraphs. This is true even for block quotes. 

Although block quotes are sometimes single-spaced to set them off from the rest of the text, MLA style dictates that they are double-spaced as well.

3) Heading and Subheadings

Headings and subheadings in MLA should be written in title case, without periods at the end. Make sure to align them left, regardless of the heading style, H1 through H5. 

While headings are not mandatory, they are always welcome and will help to give your paper a professional look. 

If you are unsure how to capitalize your title, check out What to Capitalize in a Title.

4) Margins

MLA requires 1-inch page margins. This includes the top and bottom as well as the right and left sides of the page. 

As with APA, indent block quotes an additional 0.5 inches from the left margin, double-space them, and continue indentation for new quoted paragraphs.

5) Page Numbers

Include your surname and a page number at the top right corner of every page, 0.5 inches from the top, aligned with the right-hand margin.

Although MLA does not require title pages, if your professor instructs you to include one, they may also instruct you not to number the title page and begin page numbering on the second page with the number 2.

Download our Free MLA Format Essay Template from Google Docs.

MLA Style Template
Chicago Style Essay Format

How to Write an Essay in Chicago Style Format

The Chicago essay format is more properly known as the Chicago Manual of Style format, instituted by the University of Chicago Press in the early 1900s. 

Today, Chicago style is used to cite references in business, history, and the fine arts, among other humanities disciplines.

Looking for free, legitimate sources online? See our roundup of 17 Research Databases for Free Articles.

1) Font

Always use 12 pt. Times New Roman font when formatting in Chicago style. Again, this font was specifically chosen for its readability.

Even if you prefer another style, stick to this one to ensure that your paper is easy to read and to get points for using the correct style.

2) Spacing

Chicago style requires double spacing throughout the essay, except in the case of block quotes. 

For quotations that are longer than five lines, begin on a new line and single-space the entire quote. For block quotes of more than one paragraph, do not put a space between the two paragraphs.

3) Heading and Subheadings

Chicago style is unusual in that it has no prescribed format for headings. However, you should always distinguish headings and subheadings by placing them on their own lines. 

Devise your own style to maintain consistent margins, font sizes, and bolding. Use title case in headings of any level.

4) Margins

Similar to MLA, Chicago style requires margins of 1 inch from all edges of the paper. When block quoting, indent an additional 0.5 inches from the left margin of the page.

5) Page Numbers

Include page numbering on every page, with the exception of the title page. Begin numbering pages on the second page—that is, the first page after the title page. 

Unlike with the other formatting styles, begin with 1 on the second page and continue from there. Never include page 0.

Download our Free Chicago Essay Format Template from Google Docs.

Chicago Style Template

College Essay Format Tips

1. Always Make an Outline

Any outline will consist of three main parts: the introduction, body, and conclusion. That is an oversimplification, though. 

If you don't tie your introduction to the body content and then wrap it all up nicely in the conclusion, your essay will come off as clunky. Outlining ensures that your words flow smoothly from section to section.

Making outlines will give you an overview of how to break down information in the main parts of your essay so that you don't have to wonder what to write when you sit down to work.

2. Have Someone Else Read Your Essay Outline

You can think of an outline like a "zeroth draft." It's the first step in ensuring a high-quality essay because it puts all the moving parts together, even if they don't yet look polished and pretty. 

Therefore, it behooves you to take the time to get it right. Before moving on to the writing, email a professor or friend and ask them to look over your outline. 

A different perspective will help you spot elements you may have missed, which you can add before you start writing.

3. Use Paragraphs

In middle school, you learned the classic essay format of introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. That works well for two-page papers, but not nearly as well for 10-pagers. Now that you're writing longer pieces, it's important to make your writing readable. 

One of the best ways to do this is by adding line breaks to separate paragraphs. Any time you switch gears or ideas, even if you are building toward the same argument in a section of your essay, start a new paragraph. This is easier on both the eye and the mind and will make your essays better overall.

Read 5 Rules for Effective Academic Writing for more academic writing advice.

4. Use Preformatted Headings and Styles in Microsoft Word

Why work harder than you have to? When inserting headings in your essay, use the Styles pane in Microsoft Word. 

These are preformatted text formats that you can customize and use in your work, thereby ensuring that formatting is applied consistently throughout a document. To customize them, go to the Styles tab, right-click on a particular style (say, H2) and modify it as desired. 

If you want to use a style in just one essay, leave "Only in this document" selected. You can also choose "New documents based on this template" to retain the same styles going forward.

5. Pay Attention to Page and Section Breaks

Again, consistent formatting is key to a professional-looking paper. It ensures that your document looks tidy and reads well throughout. After you write and edit, make another pass to tighten up whatever changes you made while editing. 

Pay special attention to page and section breaks. A page break simply begins on a new page, whereas a section break can be used to apply different styles of formatting to different parts of a document. Both can be added via the Breaks menu under the Page Layout tab in Microsoft Word.

We Can Format Your Essay to Any Style

Academic Document Formatting


What Is Chicago Style Format Used For?

Chicago style is the go-to reference format for the business world, as well as history, fine arts, and humanities disciplines.

What Is APA Format for an Essay?

APA format was codified by the American Psychological Association, which continues to update the formatting and citation guidelines today.

How Do I Include APA Citations in an Essay?

When citing sources in APA style, you can put citations into the text as well as in a reference list at the end of the document. Make sure to look up guidelines regarding specific rules, such as how to use "et al."

What Are the Three Main Parts of an Essay?

The three traditional sections of an essay are the introduction, body, and conclusion. Depending on the length of the essay, the body may consist of just three paragraphs. For longer works, you may use multiple paragraphs for each of the supporting arguments.

What Is the Best Essay Format for College Students?

The best essay format will depend on what your professor is asking for. Make sure to follow the guidelines you're given when the assignment is handed out, and use quality resources to help you cite your sources properly. Do so, and you'll do just fine!

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