Essay Format and Formatting Styles (MLA, APA, Chicago): Guide with Examples

Essay Format and Formatting Styles (MLA, APA, Chicago): Guide with Examples
Table of Contents
  1. Essay Format and Formatting Styles (MLA, APA, Chicago): Guide with Examples
  2. Essay structure
  3. What is the 5 paragraph essay format?
  4. 5-paragraph essay outline
  5. Essay formatting
  6. MLA essay format
  7. APA essay format
  8. Chicago essay format
  9. Need help with essay formatting?

Essay writing seems to be challenging for most modern students, especially when it comes to formatting the paper according to the particular style. Although there are many different paper formats, MLA, APA, and Chicago formatting are at the peak of popularity. Once a student gets an assignment, their professor emphasizes the necessity to follow one of the most common formats. No matter the format, MLA, APA, or Chicago required in the task instructions, the main idea is that you should know everything about the general formatting rules, i.e. headings, seriations, in-text citations, footnotes and endnotes, references, and tables and figures according to the guidelines on the particular style.


Essay structure 

In academic writing, most of the essays have the same structure. If you are required to write a short three or 5-paragraph essay, the paper structure will be a basic one, and when you have to write an extended research essay, it will be the same basic structure with some additional options.  Below, you can see an essay structure that every student should follow no matter the length of the paper or its format.

  • Title page or Cover page
  • Table of contents
  • Abstract (Optional)
  • Introduction
  • Main Body
  • Conclusion
  • Works cited, Reference list, or Bibliography page

What is the 5 paragraph essay format? 

Suppose your task is to write a five-paragraph essay. In that case, you should be ready to structure the essay that consists of five paragraphs: introductory, three body paragraphs (each paragraph should involve claim support and development), and concluding paragraph. Concerning the format of a 5 paragraph essay, you should keep this basic essay format in mind. Just let your topic and specific assignment requirements foster your writing and paper organization.

5-paragraph essay outline


  • Creative opening sentence/hook sentence to grab reader’s attention.
  • Background information.
  • Main points’ preview.
  • Thesis statement

Main body 

Paragraph 1
  • Topic sentence / Point 1
  • Explanation /Expansion of the idea
  • Supporting ideas/Supporting details/evidence
  • Short sum-up and linking the idea with thesis statement
  • Concluding sentence
Paragraph 2
  • Topic sentence /Point 2
  • Explanation /Expansion of the idea
  • Supporting ideas/Supporting details/evidence
  • Short sum-up and linking the idea with thesis statement
  • Concluding sentence
Paragraph 3
  • Topic sentence /Point 3
  • Explanation /Expansion of the idea
  • Supporting ideas/Supporting details/evidence
  • Short sum-up and linking the idea with thesis statement
  • Concluding sentence


  • Restate thesis statement
  • Summary of main points
  • Future focus / Problem solution 

Essay formatting

An essay formatting is a series of guidelines. These guidelines determine the arrangement of your paper. An essay format covers the title page, common essay structure, essay outline, conclusions, citations, references, spaces, indents, font. As far as there are different formatting styles, students should be highly attentive to the provided guidelines. The three big paper formats are MLA, APA, Chicago. Once you get acquainted with all the nuances of the major essay formatting styles, you will handle any other paper format with ease.


college students

MLA essay format

1. General guidelines. MLA essay style is most commonly used formatting within the cultural studies, language, arts, and other humanities disciplines. According to the 8th edition of the MLA manual, there are strict requirements regarding MLA papers’ general format, in-text citations, and the Work Cited/Works Cited page. Here are the prime requirements of MLA formatting:
  1. Standard, white 8.5 x 11-inch paper.
  2. Double-spaced text
  3. The font size - 12 pt.
  4. One space after periods
  5. Margins - 1 inch on all sides.
  6. Indent - half-inch from the left margin each first line of the paragraph.
  7. Header that numbers all pages in the upper right-hand corner with a one-half inch from the top and flushes with the right margin.
  8. Italics - to indicate the titles.
  9. Endnotes - on a separate page before Works Cited page.
  10. Notes section - centered, unformatted.
  2. Title page 
  • There is no separate title page in MLA, unless it was specifically requested.
  • Name, your instructor's name, the course, the date in the upper left-hand corner and start writing your paper below
  • Add last name & a page number (Arabic numerals)-  a header in the upper right-hand corner
  • Title - double spaced, centered, Title Case 
  • Other works in the title - quotation marks / italics 
3. Headings and header. In MLA, it is recommended to divide an essay into sections by putting numbers to the sections with an Arabic number (1, 2, 3, etc.) +a period followed by space + section name. For example, 
1. Early Times
2. The Chicago Years
3. Traveling to America
4. Final Years

In case you want to use unnumbered sections format, it should look the following way:

Level 1 Heading: bold, flush left
Level 2 Heading: italics, flush left
Level 3 Heading: centered, bold
Level 4 Heading: centered, italics
Level 5 Heading: underlined, flush left

4. In-text citations. In the MLA style, parenthetical citations are used to refer to the works of other authors throughout the text. The format of the in-text citation depends on the source type. According to the MLA format, in-text citations follow the so-called Author-page style -  the author's last name + the page number. 
  • Known author ( the author's last name + the page number)
  • Unknown author (title of the work  in quotation marks + the page number)
  • Works with multiple editions (the page number + semicolon + the appropriate abbreviations for volume (vol.), book (bk.), part (pt.), chapter (ch.), section (sec.), or paragraph (par.)) 
  • Authors with same last names - (both authors' first initials + page number)
  • Multiple authors -  (list the authors’ last names + page number)
  • Multiple works written by the same author - (short book title in italics / short article title in quotation marks + page number)
  • Multiple citations - (the author's last name + the page number; the author's last name + the page number)
  5. Works Cited. According to MLA style, every student should create a Works Cited page at the end of his/her research paper. Each entry in the Works Cited page should correspond to the works cited throughout the text. Here are some basic rules of works cited page:

Print source

  • Rule: Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. City of Publication, Publisher, Publication Date.
  • Example: Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

Article in journal

  • Rule: Author(s). "Title of Article." Title of Journal, Volume, Issue, Year, pages.
  • Example: Bagchi, Alaknanda. "Conflicting Nationalisms: The Voice of the Subaltern in Mahasweta Devi's Bashai Tudu." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, vol. 15, no. 1, 1996, pp. 41-50.

Electronic source

  • Rule: Author. Name of Site. Version number, Name of institution, date of resource creation, DOI , URL /permalink. Date of access.
  • Example: The Purdue OWL Family of Sites. The Writing Lab and OWL at Purdue and Purdue U, 2008, Accessed 28 Aug. 2020

APA essay format

1. General guidelines of APA format are as follows: 

  1. Double-spaced text on standard-sized paper (8.5" x 11"), 1" margins on all sides. 
  2. Page header “running head” at the top of every page + page number
  3.  "TITLE OF YOUR PAPER" - header flush left with all capital letters; it should be  less than 50 characters including spacing
  4. Font - 11-point Calibri, 11-point Arial, and 10-point Lucida Sans Unicode as well as serif fonts such as 12-point Times New Roman, 11-point Georgia, 10-point Computer Modern.
2. Title page should display the following information. It should be centered.
  • Title of the paper
  • the author's name 
  • the institutional affiliation 
  • the author note 
  • the course number and name
  • instructor name 
  • assignment due date
3. Headings and header 
  • Page header - center and bold
  • Headings: 
          1-level heading: Centered, Boldface, Title Case Heading. Text starts with a new paragraph.
          2-level heading: Flush Left, Boldface, Title Case Heading. Text starts with a new paragraph.
          3-level heading: Flush Left, Boldface Italic, Title Case Heading.Text starts  with a new paragraph.
          4-level heading: Indented, Boldface Title Case Heading Ending With a Period. Text continues on the same line.
          5-level heading: Indented, Boldface Italic, Title Case Heading Ending With a Period. Text continues on the same line.
4. In-text citations. APA presupposes author year format of in-text citations.

Rule: (Last Name, year)

Example: (Johnson, 1985)

5. Reference list 

Print source  

Rule: Author, A. A. (Year of publication). Title of work: Capital letter also for subtitle (E. Editor, Ed.). Publisher.


Malory, T. (2017). Le morte darthur (P. J. C. Field, Ed.). D. S. Brewer. (Original work published 1469-70)

Article in journal 

Rule: Lastname, F. M., & Lastname, F. M. (Year). Title of article. Title of Periodical, Vol.(Issue), page numbers. DOI


Drollinger, T., Comer, L. B., & Warrington, P. T. (2006). Development and validation of the active empathetic listening scale. Psychology & Marketing, 23(2), 161-180.

Electronic source 

Rule: Title of page. (Year, Month Date). Site name. Retrieved Month Date, Year, from URL


Tuscan white bean pasta. (2018, February 25). Budgetbytes. Retrieved March 18, 2020, from

Chicago essay format

1.General guidelines 

  1. Margins - no less than 1”.
  2. Font - Times New Roman or Courier.
  3. Font size - no less than 10 pt. (preferably, 12 pt.)
2. Title page
  • Centered a third of the way down the page.
  • Student’s name, class information, and the date should follow the title.
  • Subtitle - the line below the title.
  • Double-space each line of the title page.
3. Headings and header

1- level headings - Centered, Bold or Italicized, Headline-style Capitalization

2- level headings - Centered, regular type, Headline-Style Capitalization
3- level headings - Flush left, Bold or Italicized, Headline- Style Capitalization
4- level headings - Flush left, roman type, Sentence-style capitalization
5- level headings - Starts at the beginning of the paragraph without indention, bold or italicized, Sentence-style capitalization, period in the end of the title.

4. Footnotes & endnotes 

In Chicago style, footnotes and endnotes aim to reference pieces of work throughout the text. To cite some information from a source, a superscript number should be placed after a quote /a paraphrase. Citation numbers will appear in sequential order. For example, 

“Political advisors were confident in their point-lead1.” 

  “   1. Newton Minow and Craig LaMay, Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 24-25.”

5. Reference list 

Print source  

Rule: Last name, First name. Title of Book. Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication.

Example: Kerouac, Jack. The Dharma Bums. New York: Viking Press, 1958.

Article in journal 

Rule: Lastname, Firstname. “Title of the article.” Name of Journal, no., (year): pages. 

Example: MacDonald, Susan Peck. “The Erasure of Language.” College Composition and Communication 58, no. 4 (2007): 585-625.

Electronic source 

Rule: Lastname, Firstname. “Title of Web Page.” Name of Website. Publishing organization, publication or revision date if available. Access date if no other date is available. URL .

Example: Davidson, Donald, Essays on Actions and Events. Oxford: Clarendon, 2001.

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