How to Format an Essay?

June 6, 2018 | GradeMiners
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Academic writing is all about consistency and solid structuring of all written texts. A composition isn’t just a stream of consciousness. It’s rather a well-thought study where all parts are in order, enabling the readers to navigate through a text comfortably. Proper essay structure and formatting also make it easier for a professor to get a grasp of your work and evaluate it accordingly.

The most common composition formats are APA, MLA, and Chicago. They are also the foundation of other more specific and niche formats. As far as an essay structure goes, high schools and colleges rely on a universally accepted 5-paragraph outline. But before we start discussing the matter, we’d like you to make sure the following 5 to-do items are in check.

5 things to do before getting down to writing

Most students jump to writing a composition right from the start. Time is short, so why waste it doing a research or drawing up an outline, right? Not exactly. To prepare an average text, you can normally adopt such sharpshooter’s approach. But to draw up an A-level essay you have to put in some additional work walking the extra mile.

  • Decide on an essay type

There’re several types of essays. An expository (narrative) essay presents certain information to a reader. A persuasive essay implies you taking a side in an argument or discussion, and prove your point of view is right. Informal essay is usually done for personal enjoyment and the sake of entertaining a reader. A compare and contrast essay delves into similarities and differences between two notions, concepts, ideas, items, etc. A cause and effect essay seeks to get to the heart of a topic and investigate what caused what. An analytical essay analyzes a certain event, person, or literary work, and gives an objective evaluation. Each of the essay types has own hidden pitfalls and peculiarities you have to familiarize with before writing.

  • Gather evidence data, analyze it, and synthesize findings

Researching a composition topic might not imply an in-depth subject matter analysis. Although presenting some original speculations based on proven data and peculiar facts will definitely help score extra points. Don’t just use first available background information you could scrape on the internet. Gather as much data as you seem fit and sort out the best pieces of evidence.

  • Sift through quotes

Quotes are a powerful mean to add credibility to the argumentation. Be careful, though. Using someone else’s words without proper in-text citing could end up in you being accused of plagiarizing. Once it happens, proving you’ve done it unintentionally would be quite tough. Remember that best quotes are original. Cliché, hackneyed quotes are useless.

  • Get a writing sample

To streamline the creative process and avoid the writer’s block, look up an essay sample online. Some student might’ve already written a composition in the topic you have at the moment and had shared the manuscript with peers. Get such text in front of you for inspirational purposes and maybe a couple of practical hints. You will have to write the text yourself, though.

  • Contemplate on a thesis statement

A thesis statement is the heart of your entire paper. It’s important to draw up a “working draft” of a topic sentence for your paper at an early stage of writing. A thesis will serve as a waypoint for the whole paper and help keep your mind focused.

The most bulletproof 5-paragraph essay outline

This is the outline for a classic college 5-paragraph essay. It’s acceptable for any type of composition with a few variations. One paragraph for the introduction and one – for the conclusion. Three paragraphs to the main body, one paragraph designated for each of the key messages. Five paragraphs that give you 500-600 words total.

  1. Introduction
  2. Opening sentence with a catchy “hook” phrase
  3. Short one-sentence thesis statement
  4. Transition to the main body
  5. Main Body
  6. First key message:
  7. Argumentation and supporting evidence
  8. Argumentation and supporting evidence
  9. Argumentation and supporting evidence
  10. Second key message:
  11. Argumentation and supporting evidence
  12. Argumentation and supporting evidence
  13. Argumentation and supporting evidence
  14. Third key message:
  15. Argumentation and supporting evidence
  16. Argumentation and supporting evidence
  17. Argumentation and supporting evidence
  18. Transition to the conclusion

III. Conclusion

  1. Restatement of a thesis
  2. Insightful final sentence, food for thought

An outline is basically your writing plan. Having it in front of you when working on an assignment will help maintain focus and avoid getting lost in all the research data, drafts, and keywords. A solid essay outline always makes the writing process swift and smooth.

Choosing an essay format

Since an essay is an academic document, it has to be properly formatted. There’re rules as to how to present found evidence, quotes, and argumentation in general. There’re also rules as how to visualize the text making it valid for submission and evaluation. APA, MLA, and Chicago formatting guidelines are designed to help you with that.

APA format guidelines

American Psychology Association (APA) style is originally used to format documents in Psychology. Today, it’s also used to cite papers in Humanities, Nursing, Social Sciences, and Education. A bibliography page is used to store information about all the reference sources used in-text as quotes. Text formatting guidelines are the following:

  • Font: 12pt Times New Roman;
  • Spacing: Double-spaced;
  • Margins: One-inch margins on all sides;
  • Page Numbers: Put in the bottom-right corner of a page;
  • Title Page: Includes paper’s title, author’s name, and author’s college affiliation. Additional information might be required (course title, instructor name, and date).

APA in-text citation guidelines

How to Cite a Book: Author [last name], A.A [first and middle initial]. (Year of Publication). The title of work. Publisher City, State: Publisher.

E.g., Brown, S. (1967). The Best of Early Years. London: Penguin Books.

How to Cite an E-Book: Author [last name], A.A [first and middle initial]. (Year of Publication). The title of work [E-Reader Version]. Retrieved from {link}

E.g., Brown, S. (2005). The Best of Early Years [PlayMarket Version]. Retrieved from {link}

How to Cite a Movie: Producer [last name], A.A. [first name middle initial] (Producer), & Director, A.A. (Director). (Release Year). The title of a movie [Motion Picture]. Country of origin: Studio

E.g., Cameron, J. (Director). (1986). Aliens [Motion Picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox.

How to Cite a Photograph: Photographer, A.A. (Photographer). (Year, Month Date of Publication). Title of photograph [photograph]. City, State of publication: Publisher/museum.

E.g., Smith, L. (Photographer). (1944). Spoils of War (1945) [photograph]. New York, NY: New-York Historical Society Museum & Library.

How to Cite a Website: Author [last name], A.A [first and middle initial]. (Year, Month Date of Publication). Article title. Retrieved from {link}

E.g., Henshaw, A. (2011, May 14). I of a Student. Retrieved from {link}

How to Cite a Journal: Author [last name], A.A [first and middle initial]. (Publication Year). Article title. Periodical Title, Volume (Issue), pp.-pp.

E.g., Henshaw, A. (2013). Student Life: Hardships Never End. America Today. 14(6-7), 152-161.

How to Cite a Newspaper: Author [last name], A.A [first and middle initial]. (Year, Month Date of Publication). Article title. Magazine Title, pp. xx-xx.

E.g., Henshaw, A. (2018, June 24). How to Format a Composition? GradeMiners, pp 9-12.

Chicago format guidelines

Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) is a commonly accepted style used broadly in Social Sciences and mainly in History. In the USA it’s the most respected format. CMS lays a greater focus on the original source of a citation. Text formatting guidelines are the following:

  • Font: 12pt Times New Roman;
  • Spacing: Double-spaced with an exception to block quotes; no spaces between paragraphs;
  • Margins: One-inch margins;
  • Page Numbers: Text starts with a page 2; the cover page isn’t numbered;
  • Student Name: Each page contains author’s name at the top-right corner;
  • Footnotes: Required for citing quoted sources.

Chicago in-text citation guidelines

CMS style is unique in a way to include a footnote/endnote every time a direct quote or a source phrase paraphrase is used. Footnote follows at the end of a respective page where a source phrase was included. Endnote is a compilation of numerous sources following at either the end of a chapter or the whole document. Both footnotes and endnotes are equally accepted, so it’s up to you to choose what fits the paper best. Note there’s a strict hierarchy of citations taken from the same source. The first citation always contains all relevant information about a source (author’s full name, a title of a source, publication). The last page of a paper has to be a bibliography where all sources used for in-text citations must be featured in alphabetical order.

How to Cite a Book (w/ one author):

  • First footnote:Steven Brown, The Best of Early Years. (London: Penguin Books, 2016), 31-43.
  • Second footnote:Brown, The Best of Early Years, 7.
  • Bibliography:Brown, Steven. The Best of Early Years. London: Penguin Books, 2016.

How to Cite a Book (w/ two or more authors):

  • First footnote:Steven Brown and Aaron Henshaw, Together We’ll Make It2016–2017 (London: Penguin Books, 2017), 21.
  • Second footnote:Brown and Henshaw, Together We’ll Make It, 15–21.
  • Bibliography:Brown, Steven, and Aaron Henshaw. Together We’ll Make It2016–2017. London: Penguin Books, 2017

How to Cite an E-Book:

  • First footnote:Steven Brown, The Best of Early Years. (London: Penguin Books, 2016), PlayMarket edition.
  • Second footnote: Brown, (The Best of Early Years).
  • Bibliography:Brown, Steven. The Best of Early Years. London: Penguin Books, 2016. PlayMarket edition.

How to Cite a Journal:

  • First footnote:Aaron Henshaw, “Student Life: Hardships Never End” America Today 14 (2013): #11.
  • Second footnote:Henshaw, “Student Life: Hardships Never End,” 14.
  • Bibliography:Henshaw, Aaron. “Student Life: Hardships Never End.” America Today #11 (2013): 16-20.

How to Cite a Website:

  • First footnote:“How to Format a Composition?” Last modified June 18, 2018, {link}
  • Second footnote:“How to Format a Composition?”
  • Bibliography: “How to Format a Composition?” Last modified June 18, 2018, {link}

MLA format guidelines

Modern Language Association (MLA) style is an essay formatting protocol used in Liberal Arts and Humanities. Works Cited page is used to store information about all the reference sources used in-text as quotes.

  • Font: 12pt Times New Roman;
  • Spacing: Double-spaced;
  • Margins: One-inch margins on all sides;
  • Indentation: Half-inch (use the Tab key);
  • Words in italics: Use for extended source titles;
  • Page Numbers: Cover page number is often omitted;
  • Student Name: Each page contains author’s name at the top-right corner;
  • Citations: In alphabetical order matching parenthetical citations.

MLA in-text citation guidelines

How to Cite a Book: Last, First M. Book Title. City of Publication: Publisher, Year Published. Print.

E.g., Brown, Steven. The Best of Early Years. London: Penguin Books, 2007. Print.

How to Cite a Web Article (w/ an author): Last, First Middle Initial. “Article Title.” Website Title. Website Publisher, Date Month Year Published. Web. Date Month Year Accessed.

E.g., Henshaw, Aaron. “I of a Student.” America Today. America Today. 21.04.2016. Web. 22.04.2016

How to Cite a Web Article (w/o an author): “Website Article.” Website Title. Website Publisher, Date Month Year Published. Web. Date Month Year Accessed.

E.g., “I of a Student.” America Today. America Today. 21.04.2016. Web. 22.04.2016

How to Cite a Newspaper: Last, First M. “Article Title.” Newspaper Title [City] Date Month Year Published: Page(s). Print.

E.g., Henshaw, Aaron. “I of a Student.” Penguin Press 7 June. 2018:11-13. Print.

How to Cite a Journal: Last, First M. “Article Title.” Journal Title Series Volume. Issue (Year Published): Page(s). Database Name. Web. Date Month Year Accessed.

E.g., Henshaw, Aaron. “I of a Student.” Good Morning, America. 21.3 (2018): 31-33. Print.

What if I can’t get hand in essay formatting, just not yet?

Learning all ins and outs of citing sources in a text is actually quite difficult. Citing quotes up to the mark is a subject of great controversy. Students are being accused of often plagiarising even though they’ve simply made a couple of mistakes referencing quotes. Would you like to play it safe with your essay? Let professional academia writers of GradeMiners help you out with in-text citations, quoting, referencing, and formatting fast and for a reasonable fee. An excellent paper with all the citations in check is worth every cent spent.

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