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How To Format an Essay

May 02, 2017
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Nowadays we are all quite aware that everything requires formatting, even our computers. Funny enough the idea behind formatting your computer and papers are rather similar but need an entirely different approach. Quite often we hear from our teachers, ever since high school and well into our college years, always asking students to use proper essay format. This may be problematic at first since each lecturer may ask for a different formatting style, which may end up confusing you.Understandably that might sound odd at first, but that is done to create a standardized way of checking academic articles. If everybody used their own individual formats and referencing styles, then it would be rather difficult to establish the reliability of the work. However, there is no need to worry even if you find yourself asking “How to format a college essay”, since our experts have put together this guide to explain all the most popular styles in a quick and efficient manner.

In the off chance you are new to academic writing or the content of a college essay format then we suggest initially having a look at our guide on how to write an essay.

What is an Essay Format?

Before exploring what the most encountered essay format styles are, firstly we must understand why academic institutions make such a requirement. In essence, what formatting an assignment means is structuring it in such a way as to organize a coherent set of ideas into a logical smooth flowing argument. That is one of the main reasons behind why academic papers present one idea at a time in a linear fashion. This keeps the subject matter from becoming too complicated for the reader to comprehend. A successful basic essay format will manage to lead its reader down the narrative of its argument without confusing them.

Nonetheless, after having understood this concept, it is time to apply it to some of the most popular formatting styles in academia discussed below.

Most Common College Essay Formats

As we proceed with our examination of the most encountered formatting styles in the academic community, it is important to take into account that you will probably be faced with all of them at one point or another. Thus, without any further distractions let us begin by firstly investigating what an MLA format essay should look like and contain.

What MLA stands for in this case is the Modern Language Association and was created with the purpose of exchanging scholarly articles and educational research in a universal manner amongst academics. Luckily Microsoft Word 2007 provides you with most of the essay format requirements directly. But despite the luxury given to us by modern technology below are the fundamental essentials that should be in every MLA style article:

  • All the paragraphs must be double-spaced.
  • Use only one-inch margins.
  • On the first page of the MLA format essay include the names of the author, professor, course and lastly date the paper was submitted.
  • The page number must be aligned on the right side margin exactly the one-half inch from the top of every page.
  • The bibliography and any references used must be presented according to the MLA Citations Requirements.
  • Any citations that are used must be accompanied by parentheses in the body of the work. It is expected to have a separate citations page if your paper includes paraphrases, summaries or quotations.
  • If the assignment is a research paper, then a title page will be required with all the introductory information on it. Additionally, a table of content will be necessary following the title page in any MLA format essay.

Secondly, we will be examining the APA essay format. The acronym APA stands for American Psychological Association and was established after the MLA system as this particular group saw the MLA style as being too complicated. Nonetheless, despite that, both methods revolve around the idea of maintaining a standardized way of presenting your work regarding its content, structure, referencing style and so on. This standardization for this style goes as follows:

  • Each assignment must contain at least four key sections, namely Title Page, Abstract, Main Body, References.
  • Make use of one-inch margins on all sides including top and bottom.
  • When starting a new paragraph, the first word must have a one-half inch indentation from the margin.
  • When adopting the APA essay format then one must use the Times New Roman font size 12.
  • All paragraphs must be double-spaced. Include a running header on every page. To keep this as convenient as possible set your word processor to display it on every page automatically.
  • If the concept of a running header is new to you, all versions of Microsoft Office from 2007 onward have this option thus making it quite easy to get that sorted for all APA essay formats.

The Chicago essay format, sometimes also referred to as Turabian, is quite similar to the previously discussed MLA style. It is important to note that Turabian style is considered a modified version of the Chicago essay format. What sets this particular group apart from the others are fundamental differences in the papers styling, presentation of sources, running headers amongst other elements that will be explored below.

  • All paragraphs must be double-spaced, but it is acceptable to single space the sources in your bibliography leaving a blank line between entries to save up some room.
  • Luckily Microsoft Word 2007 users do not have to alter their margins as their original default settings are the correct ones. In case you need to set them up, make use of 1-inch margins, however, do not align the right margin.
  • The first sentence of each new paragraph must be indented by pressing the Tab key once
  • Make use of footnotes if you paraphrase or quote when referencing your sources.
  • Bibliographies do not have to be listed alphabetically but should consist of the material used throughout the text.
  • There is no need to bold or underline the title on the title page. It is only double spaced if it is more than one line.
  • The date must be presented in the Month Day Year format in contrast to the other formal essay formats.
  • Same rules as in the MLA style apply regarding the use of other works titles. These titles must be either put in quotation marks or italicized according to what is preferred.
  • It is expected that all pages, except the title page, be numbered in the top right corner of each page. Preceding the number should be the student's last name. Therefore, each assignment will start with the first page of text being number two.

Every time you choose to place an order for an MLA format essay or an APA essay format regardless of the topic the transaction is subject to the EssayHub’s Code of Conduct available online. This is done to protect you and make sure you have the best possible customer experience.

MLA vs. APA, which is better?

Having understood the main differences between these styles, we now find ourselves asking which one is better and why. Before diving too deep into such a controversial topic, students must be aware that most of the time lectures will dictate the particular formatting style that they would like to see in the paper. In the off chance that this is not mentioned that does not mean that the required form is unknown or hard to establish. Mostly either formal essay format can be determined and linked to what the focus of the assignment is.

What that means is that APA Format Essay Examples include topics from general social science fields such as:

  • Social Work
  • Criminology
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Nursing
  • Businesses (where timely sources are more important than old works)

On the other hand what the MLA Format Essay Examples deal with is mostly in the humanities subject matter, generally revolving around:

  • History
  • Religion
  • Literature
  • The arts
  • Languages
  • Philosophy

Remember that old classical sources are still just as relevant as the up and coming modern articles.

Nonetheless, it is visible that the fields both styles explore are delightfully different. What is vital is appreciating that these differences do not necessarily make them better or worse, simply more useful under a particular set of circumstances. Understandably that it can be quite frustrating to lose points in your assignments over small formatting errors, despite the well thought out ideas. This can be easily avoided by carefully distinguishing what these differences are between what an MLA Format Essay Example entails as well as an APA Format Essay Example. Thus, one of the best ways to explain these subtleties in our experience is by segmenting them into five sections followed up by actual visual examples for the students to consult.

Article Titles

In an APA format essay example, the assignment does not contain titles in quotation marks and also only capitalizes the first word of the sentence. On the other hand, MLA styling requires the author to include all article titles in quotation marks with all the keywords capitalized.

Correct Entry Order in a Bibliographic List

Curiously enough the APA approach requires all sources used in the bibliography to be listed alphabetically by author, then chronologically by work. The MLA format essay example indicates that sources must be listed alphabetically by author and following that they must be sorted alphabetically by title.

Presenting Multiple Works By The Same Author

While confronting the APA essay format, it is quite straightforward to handle this section because all you have to do is list the works chronologically and repeat the name for all these entries. However, while taking a look at how this section is undertaken for MLA things get slightly more complicated. The first listing should display all the information regarding the work and the author in alphabetical order. Any other works or entries from said author will contain three hyphens ( a period, space, the name of the title followed by a full stop).

Use of In-Text Parenthesis

The main contributor to the stylistic difference here is created by the focus placed in your MLA format essay on classical older sources while its counterpart finds its inspiration in modern articles and publications. The accepted display for MLA is a name and page number with space in between, nonetheless APA requires you to present the name, year and page number all with a comma in between the enumeration.

Authors, Editors and Compilers Accreditation

In this section, we can clearly distinguish the differences between APA and MLA. When presenting one’s selected authors, editors and compilers according to the MLA college essay format, this is firstly presented to the reader using a brief mentioning in parenthetical citations followed by the complete information of the resource in the Bibliography section. Other details that must be included only concern editors or compilers as they must be followed up by the abbreviation “ed.” or “comp.” respectively. As for the APA essay format, one should include the editors, authors and compilers in a References list rather than a Bibliography. When presenting names of people referenced throughout the paper the correct format starts with Last Name, First Initial and lastly the Middle Initial if any is available.

APA and MLA Format Example

Here you may find assistance in terms of how one should approach their sources, title pages and an idea on how to structure an abstract with concrete examples. From all that has been discussed so far about both the MLA format essay as well as the APA essay format we can all agree that most official academic work requires referencing to back up the statements being made by the student throughout his or her paper. But as we all know these highly technical exercises are easily described and quite hard to do when it comes to making it happen.

So let’s get started by looking at how things should be displayed in your Bibliography in the case of MLA and Reference List for APA. In order to do so, we will be looking at how the same academic source is presented for each one in particular. The examples of sources we will be taking a look at for either your MLA Format Essay Example or APA Format Essay Example are books, newspaper articles and multimedia sources.

The first and most popular type of sources are books making this a crucial part of your academic career. Below you will see how Glen Arnold’s Corporate Financial Management textbook should be referenced in any using both college essay formats.

APA and MLA Citation examples - 1

Next, we will visually examine what an online article written by Lauren Alpe on the history of corporate giant Amazon.com should look like in both formal essay formats.

APA and MLA citation examples

Lastly one of the most predominant multimedia sources are online documentaries. Whether you obtain these from YouTube or the official publishers such as National Geographic or the BBC, the referencing process is the same. Nonetheless, it is best to get them from the official source as this will give you all the details you need. The example below is a World War 2 Miniseries episode published by National Geographic.

Examples of APA and MLA citations

Further information on how to create an annotated bibliography can be found in our in-depth article about Annotated Bibliographies.

The Disadvantage of Standardization

To wrap things up, it is quite clear that using the APA essay format in terms of structuring is far less problematic and confusing than its counterpart the MLA format essay. Nonetheless, similar shortcomings can be pointed out for both formatting styles. Overall, it seems that no matter which style is adopted the end result will require significant time devoted to perfecting its appearance and content. Thus it is safe to say that the biggest concern in either scenario is the availability of time as well as understanding the limitations of each type. There are other college essay format referencing styles, but they are not used by academic institutions very often due to the fact that APA and MLA have become a global standard. This standardized process tends to become a disadvantage in itself because it is turning into a monopoly of the referencing methods. The main reason why monopolies become a disadvantage is because there is no incentive for innovation, nonetheless they have provided the academic community with a means to share their articles globally.


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