If one is to master the art of essay writing, it is first essential to appreciate the role and importance of these assignments in academic life. Producing a good essay requires imagination, creativity, and the ability to structure one’s thoughts in an effective manner. Examiners can glean a great deal about a student’s knowledge and ability from the manner in which he or she writes their essays. Essentially, there is no way to separate essays from academics since the two are inextricably linked. Essays can be said to have two critical parts, which are content and structure. Content is the matter a writer includes in an essay while an essay’s structure is the layout or format in which the content is placed.

While the content of an essay is of the utmost importance, the format needs to be addressed first and you should do your best to get this right. This is because evaluators or examiners will not consider even reading your essay if the format is not correct. If, for example, you have been instructed to use the Modern Language Association (MLA) style of formatting and you neglect to adhere to this in your essay, an examiner may feel you are not even capable of following the most basic instructions. Therefore, it is more than an essay’s content that counts since examiners will assess your willingness and ability to properly format your work. Thus, since it is so crucial to pay careful attention to the formatting of papers, we have provided simple guidelines that you can follow and these are set out below. In the event you have a college admission or application essay to write, you may want to consider our ten-step writing course, which is designed to help you understand this specific genre of essay.

NB: It is relatively easy to format a paper using the Microsoft Word software so we recommend you use this program when you have essays to write.

How to Format College Essay

Font Size/Style, Margins, and Line Spacing

We suggest you begin by choosing a 12pt font in the Times New Roman style as the default font size and style for essays. This font is universally acceptable for almost every type of academic paper. And please note there is no point in thinking you will get away with writing less by choosing a bigger font size!

When it comes to margin size, we recommend you allow a one-inch margin on all four sides of each page i.e. at the left, right, top, and bottom of all pages. It is easy to create one-inch margins in MS Word. Just follow these steps:

  • Choose “Margins” in the “Page Layout” menu.
  • Select the option labelled “Normal,” which sets a default margin of one inch on all sides of the page.

Paragraphs should be typed in double line spacing. You can do this in the Microsoft Word software by:

  • Selecting the option labelled “Paragraph.”
  • Choose the portion you want and right-click on it.
  • Choose “Paragraph” and you should see a tab labelled “Indents and Spacing.”
  • Now select “Line Spacing,” followed by the option labelled “Double.”

Adding Page Headers to a Paper

Page headings should be placed in the upper left-hand corners of pages, Check that you have indentation set so that it is justified to the left-hand side. It is easy to enable the type of justification you want in MS Word.

The following is the heading format you should use in your essays:    

  • The header’s first line should contain your own name.
  • The next line should contain the name of your teacher or course instructor.
  • After this, you should type the name or title of the essay’s subject matter and any related code.
  • The last line should contain the submission date.

Hence, the following example reflects the format described above:

Eric Bassett
Dr. Patrick Greene
Biology 1125
8 April 2017

Although it is often ignored, the way headers are formatted is one of the most essential aspects of formatting an essay. For example, while headers should appear on every page of an essay, only the page number should be shown on the first page of the essay. Thereafter, on the next page and all subsequent pages, your surname and the essay’s page number should appear in the header and both of these should be indented to the right-hand side of the page.     

How to format the first page of a header in MS Word:

  • Find the menu option on the toolbar labelled “Insert.” 
  • Click the tab labelled “Header.”
  • Now you should see an option called “Different first page,” which you should check-mark.
  • Look for the tab labelled “Design” and click the option labelled “Page number.” 
  • Here you should see an option labelled “Top of page.” Choose the “Right indented” option and the page number you want. 

How to format second and subsequent pages:

  • Go again to the option labelled “Insert” and find the tab labelled “Headers” and click on it.  
  • When you see the option labelled “Different first page,” uncheck it.
  • In the tab labelled “Design,” you should select the “Page number” option.  
  • As before, select the “Right indented” option and the style of page numbering you require.
  • Insert your surname immediately before the page’s number.

According to the MLA style guide, the first lines of paragraphs should begin with a half an inch indentation. The easiest and simplest way to do this is to press the tab key on your keyboard once. It is important that all paragraphs in your essays adhere to the following format: 

  • The titles of essays and papers should be centered and placed beneath the headings. After you have typed your paper’s title, you should press the enter key twice prior to beginning the paragraph. There is a symbol in the formatting menu (¶) which, when activated, shows line spaces. You need to make sure there are two of these symbols separating your paper’s title from your first paragraph, which you can now commence writing.  
  • Check that your text is aligned to the left for every subsequent line.

Below you will find a few guidelines on formatting college essays and all students should adhere to these during their academic careers. These formatting rules make essays easy for readers to read and understand. There are many nuances that pertain to college-level writing and it is essential you learn these in order to become a better writer. Once you have learned how to apply the correct format it is now time to learn a few tips that will enable you to write essays that are truly impressive.  

Tip Number One

Do not go around the houses! Sentences should be kept as simple and short as possible. You should additionally make optimum use of active voice. This will give more impact to your sentences and enable you to convey your ideas in a more effective manner. This is a crucial point in case you have to write any college admission essays, a genre of writing you can learn more about in our article on successful college application essay writing.

Tip Number Two

It is important you understand whatever topic you have chosen or has been assigned to you! In the course of writing an essay, it is extremely easy to stray off course and meander from the main topic. Therefore, when you sit down to write an essay, it is essential you stay connected to your topic in some specific way. For example, if you are writing about “dogs” then you should not start discussing the peculiarities of cats (although dogs may enjoy chasing cats!) To remain on the right track, look back at the title or sub-title of the paragraph you have just written. Then ask this question of yourself, “In what way does the paragraph I am next going to write relate to that title?” If there is a connection, you are ready to proceed.   

Tip Number Three

Fluidity and connection should be evident in everything you write. Each sentence should be clearly connected to the ones that follow it. Your written piece is likely to be deemed poor if this connection is not apparent. In truth, all that is needed is for you to begin with some particular idea, then expand this idea, and bring it to a sound conclusion. That really is all! In doing so, you are already placing your essay in the “top” category. 

Tip Number Four

Essays should adhere to a clear structure! Therefore, it is advisable to create an essay plan with a clearly defined structure when you embark on a task like this. It is not advisable to approach essay writing in a chaotic manner and without a clear goal. Plan your essay by creating an outline for it and plan every individual paragraph before you begin writing. And, very crucially, plan your essay’s conclusion. You should use the concluding paragraph to summarize the entire contents of your paper or essay in the most precise and succinct manner possible so that it has a real impact on those who read it. 

Tip Number Five

Essay writing is primarily about finding a great title and an interesting starting point! A very difficult aspect of essay writing – possibly the most challenging part – is devising a worthy title. Not only should an essay’s title sell the entire work in a few well-chosen words but it should also give a good idea as to what the main point to be covered in the essay will be. Therefore, prior to settling on a title, here are a couple of questions to ask of yourself: “What effect or impact are you trying to achieve in writing this essay?” “Is the title you have chosen relevant to the actual essay itself?” Once you know the answers, you are ready to bestow upon your essay with that riveting title. 

There is no reason for running short of tips and sound advice when it comes to writing an essay, so avail of as much good advice as you possibly can. When it comes to getting essays off to a good start, it is vital to ensure the opening lines in the introductory paragraph make a strong impact. Your aim should be to get the undivided attention of readers so that they are eager to read your essay to the end. Therefore, to achieve this, these first lines will need to be carefully planned, If necessary, you should consider learning more about writing high-quality paragraphs and effective essays to take the momentum and your writing skills forward.