How To
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How to Write an Essay Format for MLA, APA, and Chicago

William Ellis
November 20, 2022

What you'll learn

What you'll need

If you need to know more about the different essay formats, how they compare, how to write each, and the common essay format structure, then this guide will help you format your essay properly. We also have bonus content at the end of this article that will help you master the art of essays.

What is an essay format?

An essay format is the acceptable use of page formatting, citations and references, and parameters for essays aimed at particular groups, audiences, and institutions. Some different requirements and standards are used in particular fields regarding essays.

Essays are so popular in certain fields because they allow the reader to receive a lot of information within a short time and pages. It is efficient yet comprehensive. Having the right essay format for your essay topic is essential in establishing credibility with your readers.

Why is an essay format important?

Having formatting standards for essays provides numerous benefits. The chief benefit is that it allows the reader to focus entirely on the essay itself and not on the format of the essay.

The secondary benefit is that having specific formats creates a standard essay format for all writers to follow. This means that, while every essay may be unique in its overall writing style due to idiosyncrasies in the writer, the essay itself stays within parameters that are understood by all. It needs to be said, however, that there are different types of essay formats in play.

What are the different essay formats?

Specific fields and environments have different formats for essays. This is because those fields have different standards and requirements, particularly regarding how sources are cited in the text.

A good example of why there are different essay formats would be comparing writing an essay for school on a classic literature book versus writing an essay meant to be read by medical professionals. You would not try to write the literary essay with the stricter standards of the medical essay, and you would not try to write the medical essay with the looser standards of the literary essay.

What is MLA essay format?

MLA format refers to how the essay is written and printed. Developed by the Modern Language Association, the MLA format was created with literary and language fields for scholars, students, and professionals. It has become a popular and preferred format in other fields beyond literature and language.

MLA essay format example

Here is an example of what an essay would look like in MLA format. We will get more into the specifics of indentations, spacing, and citations in a section below.

MLA essay format example


What is APA essay format?

The APA is a far more specific format for writing an essay because the standards it requires are strict. This is because it is a format that the American Psychological Association developed. It is a format most often used among psychologists, educators, and other social scientists.

The APA essay format leaves no room for artistic or dramatic license, and rightfully so. The APA format requires professionalism and strict adherence to facts, along with a clear distinction between what is fact and what is pure speculation.

It is common for APA essays to feature what is called an abstract. An abstract is a summary of the essay and it always follows the title page. An abstract is not always required, particularly in academic settings, but that is up to the teacher's discretion.

APA essay format example

Here is an example of an essay using APA format, which we’ll detail in the section below.

APA format essay example


What is Chicago essay format?

The Chicago essay format, also known as the Turabian format, is most typically used in historical journals and social sciences publications. It is a widely respected format that is used across the United States.

The Chicago format is quite simple compared to the APA and MLA formats. It is divided into three sections:

  • Title page: The title page serves as the cover page for the essay.
  • Main body: The main body contains the essay itself.
  • Bibliography: The bibliography is where all of your research's citations are listed.

Chicago essay format example

Lastly, here is an example of formatting an essay using Chicago style format. We will show you what these annotations mean about using indentations, where to use page numbers, spacing, and more in a section below.

essay formatting for Chicago style example


MLA vs APA vs Chicago essay format


The differences between these three formatting styles are subtle but important. A good example is in both MLA and Chicago form the Times New Roman font type is a suggestion while APA has Times New Roman as a requirement. 

While citing anything you use is always a good idea, the Chicago format requires it. It even has some formatting to include sources in-text and a bibliography page to place more information about your sources on.

MLA format requires author and page number citations, while APA requires author and date style citations in the text. You don’t need a bibliography page to give more information about your sources like you would if you were using Chicago style format.


Each formatting style has a specific margin requirement and a rule for spacing, but the main similarity is that they all make it easier for an essay to read and organize. After all, the entire point of specific page numbers, font sizes, and indents is to ensure that your paper is easy to consume and process. 

A common requirement (or suggestion) across all styles, especially MLA and APA format styles, is 12 pt. Times New Roman font with 1-inch margins and double-spacing, but this will vary based on the intent of your essay and specific requirements that have been requested for the assignment.

There are many more specific similarities and differences between the styles, so let’s dive into each format style.

How to write an essay format

Each different format requires its own care and attention. While they may all seem very alike, the subtle differences matter; if the essay is graded, it will affect your overall grade. The best rule of thumb is that if your professor asks for a specific format, they pay close attention to ensure you follow directions.

Once you figure out how to implement the rules into whatever word-processing program you are using, the rest is fairly easy. It's just imputing required spacing and the like.

How to write an MLA essay format

MLA format requires that the work be printed on 8.5 x 11” paper. The document's top, sides, and bottom should have one-inch margins, with the first word of each body paragraph indented by a half-inch.

Regarding fonts, the preference is to use Times New Roman with a point size of 12, but this is not normally a requirement. Any font is acceptable that is professional and easy to read. Anything you italicize should be easy to differentiate from the rest. The entire essay must also be double-spaced, which includes any Works Cited.

It’s recommended for one space after your periods or any punctuation, with the only caveat being that your professor or instructor may ask for two spaces after each sentence. Keep an eye on your block quotations, keeping them one inch from the left margin.

MLA essay format breakdown

  • One-inch margins
  • Double-spaced
  • Indent the first word of each paragraph
  • 12 pt. Times New Roman font suggested
  • One space after periods
  • Block quotations one inch from the left margin

How to write an APA essay format

For anything requiring APA style formatting, you'll want to set your margins to at least one inch on each side as well as top and bottom. Your font should always be Times New Roman and 12 font size.

Double-space everything and indent the first word of each paragraph with a one-half-inch space. Also, include your page number on each page in the top right corner, not the bottom. You may make this mistake by putting it in the middle or elsewhere, and will be counted against you.

While student papers don't normally require it, professional papers should have a running head on each page. This is just a shortened version of your title that isn't any longer than fifty words, including spaces. Most people use the first few words of the page for this.

APA essay format breakdown

  • One-inch margins
  • Double-spaced
  • 12 pt. Times New Roman font required
  • Page number in top right corner

How to write in Chicago essay format

With the Chicago Style format, you'll follow the same rule as the others with Times New Roman and a 12-point size. Double-space everything except block quotations and leave no spaces between your paragraphs. Instead, focus on 1-inch margins around the entirety of the essay.

Like with APA, you'll use page numbers, but in the Chicago format, you can place them either in the top right corner or the bottom center. Start with the number two on your first page. Your required cover page will be the first page, but it shouldn't be numbered.

This format requires extensive footnotes for anything you paraphrase; if you quote anything directly, you'll have to do the same. The three parts you'll divide the Chicago format into include your aforementioned cover (or title) page, the main body of your essay, and the Bibliography which will be any citations or footnotes you need to mention.

Chicago essay format breakdown

  • One-inch margins
  • Double-spaced
  • 12 pt. standard font suggested
  • Page number in top right corner or bottom center
  • Requires footnotes for sources and quotes
  • Indent new paragraphs

Essay format FAQs

How do you cite sources in an MLA format essay?

Citing sources in MLA format is a two-part assignment. The citation is the actual disclosure you make in the essay's main body at the end of the quoted text. The actual collection of full sources and links that you used in the main body is called a reference note. You cannot have one without the other.

The rules for citing sources are relatively simple. After whatever claim or source you've written, you provide the author's last name and the page number on which this quote can be found. If the source has no numbered pages, then just the last name will do. Make sure to wrap it in parenthesis, and that's your completed citation. Now you'll just need to include it in your reference notes section.

When referencing sources in MLA format, you always place the last name of the source author, followed by the first name. You then put in the source's title, followed by the chapter or segment title it is contained in (should there be one), and then place in the names of any additional contributors, if there are any. You will then enter which version of the work is cited, followed by the edition number (if applicable). You then enter the publisher, publication date, and the location it was published in.

When you are done, your reference sources should look as follows:

Last name, first name. Source title, chapter title, additional contributors, version, edition number, publisher, date of publication, and publishing location.

It must be emphasized that the first citation you use must also be the first one listed in your reference section.

Here is an example to show you how an MLA citation would look.

MLA style citation format


How do you cite a website in MLA format?

Citing a website in MLA format is as follows:

Author last name, first name, the title of cited work, website title, publisher/sponsor if different from website/author, date of publication or update, URL.

If there is no publication date labeled, then you should put in the date in which the content was accessed.

Quick note: The same way as it is with science and math, it is always on the writer to provide sources and citations for claims they make while writing. If you cannot provide strong evidence for your claims, you shouldn't make them.

How do you cite an article in an APA format essay?

You start with the article's author, beginning with their last name, then the first initial. Then the year of the published article in parenthesis, followed by the article title. Then the name of the journal in italics, followed by the volume in italics, and issue number in parenthesis without italics. Lastly, include the page numbers along with a link to the source. When you get to the second line of the source, indent it 5-7 spaces. 

Here is an example of citing a source in APA format.

APA style format citation example


How do you properly quote someone in MLA format?

It's important to note the distinction between citation and quotation. Citation is when you use an idea or thought from another author. A quotation is when you use the exact words they used.

Quoting someone using MLA format still requires that you give credit where it is due by making a note and including it in your reference notes. But you'll also need to wrap the exact quote in quotation marks and possibly list them as having been said by another. If a quotation is more than four lines, you will enter a block quote on a new line that is indented a ½ inch without quotation marks.

Final thoughts on essay formatting: A properly formatted essay may not always seem important. However, sticking to the parameters of a format will only help you, particularly if you are writing in a highly technical field.

Mastering the prior three formats will not only enrich your capabilities as a writer, but will also illustrate that you genuinely care about the topic. These guidelines may seem overboard in some respects, but they all keep essays at a manageable and readable pace. By following these guidelines, you maintain professionalism, which adds to your credibility.

This article is part of an ongoing series on writing, with tutorials, templates, and examples on how to write just about anything. We have several other articles on essays that will take your essay skills to the next level. You can see them below.

How to Write an Introduction for an Essay

How to Write a Synthesis Essay

How to Write an Informative Essay

How to Write an Essay

How to Write A Scholarship Essay

How to Write an Argumentative Essay

10 Best Books for Essay Writing to Better Your Skills

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