The way you format an essay will affect its readability, and therefore the response it gets from your audience.
Formatting isn’t just about making your paper look nice, either; improper formatting can make it more difficult to read and understand, which in turn hurts your credibility and makes your essay less persuasive.
This guide on how to format your essay covers some of the most common ways to format an essay, along with tips on how to make the best use of each one so that you can write an effective academic paper that readers will enjoy and learn from.
How to Format an Essay for College
The standard format of an essay is that the introduction is followed by three body paragraphs and a conclusion.
The first paragraph should be your thesis statement, which is the summary or claim you are making about your topic.
Your second paragraph should support your thesis statement with evidence from the reading material. Paragraphs three and four should continue this trend, but with new arguments, examples, and details.
You conclude with a final sentence that reiterates your main point or provides a sense of closure.
There are many variations in this standard essay format.
Some essays might follow the traditional form but omit the conclusion; others might include one or more concluding thoughts paragraphs before the conclusion; still, others might have no concluding thoughts at all.
Regardless of the approach, you choose to format your essay remember to ensure that it is readable so that readers can easily grasp what you are trying to say.
Here are some tips that will help make your essay easy to read:
Format the essay according to university guidelines
First things first, you’ll want to follow any guidelines set forth by your university. This usually includes specifying margins, font size and type, and line spacing.
By following these simple guidelines, you can be sure that your essay will be easy for your professor to read. Additionally, the formatting you choose may have implications on how much time they will spend grading your paper. It’s worth putting in a little extra effort now to save yourself later!
Following the instructions given to you by your professor not only ensures that your grade will be high, but also that you won’t need to go back and change anything later.
Use headings to break up your essay
Headings and subheadings are used to divide your essay into logical sections and highlight key points.
When introducing each new idea, add a heading (e.g., The Impact of Technology) and then give specific examples under that heading (e.g., Technology has impacted how we learn).
By structuring your academic paper in this way, you can increase comprehension because readers know where they are in the argument as well as anticipate where the argument is going next.
Furthermore, if you include sufficient transitions between topics in your essay, readers will not feel lost when moving from one idea to another. In sum, adding headings and subheadings makes for a smoother reading experience for both writer and reader.
Keep the essay body paragraphs short and sweet
Aim for 5-7 sentences per paragraph.
Short body paragraphs provide readers with breathing room and make it easier to skim through your essay without getting distracted by long blocks of text. If possible, try incorporating one or two sentences in each paragraph that relate specifically to the thesis statement/claim you are making about your topic.
Also, use clear language and avoid jargon or cliches whenever possible–these words often confuse readers instead of elucidating their meaning.
For example, the bottom line is a cliché that sounds vague and leaves readers wondering what you’re talking about.
Provide evidence or examples for each point
When making a claim about a topic, back it up with specific evidence or examples.
This not only helps demonstrate your understanding of a subject but also makes your paper more interesting and engaging because you’re providing readers with something they can sink their teeth into.
For example, in support of their argument that video games don’t influence violent behavior, Scott Rigby and Richard Ryan write That is not to say that violent games are harmless; they most certainly are not. But they do not seem to create the same kind of increases in aggression and hostility that are produced by other forms of media violence, such as TV news coverage. They base this claim on an analysis of 39 studies conducted over the past three decades that examined the effects of media violence, with a particular focus on violence in videogames.
Provide strong thesis statements and conclusions
The essay introduction should clearly state your thesis statement or argument and not be buried somewhere within the first paragraph.
To make your essay memorable, start with a quote or an anecdote that relates to your thesis.
This is especially helpful for essays that are longer than five pages and are divided into different sections.
Finally, make sure you conclude by restating your argument in the form of a thesis statement. This will reiterate what you’ve been saying throughout the paper and tie it all together nicely.
Remember, a conclusion should not simply be a summary of the paper’s contents but rather an evaluation of its main arguments.
Therefore, you should take a step back and evaluate the effectiveness of your argument. Does it make sense? Is it logically sound? Have you provided enough evidence to support your thesis statement? Do you have a strong argument or are you just telling the reader your opinion? Are there any holes in your argument that need to be addressed before concluding your essay?
How to Format an Essay Final Remarks
Formatting your essay for maximum readability is not difficult. Just keep in mind that you should always be writing for your audience and avoiding jargon or cliches.
Additionally, the length of your paragraph should depend on the content.
One to two sentences are appropriate for a paragraph that is meant to introduce a key argument, while five to seven sentences are appropriate for a paragraph that contains examples and evidence to back up an argument. It is also important to include a title, intro, conclusion, and final remarks. These elements of an essay allow the writer to communicate his or her purpose to readers.
A good title communicates the theme of an essay, and the introduction provides context for that theme. The conclusion not only summarizes the points made in the body of the essay but also evaluates them in light of a broader discussion.
A final remark concludes an argument and reflects on what was discussed in greater detail elsewhere.