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How to Format an Essay in MLA, APA, Harvard and Chicago

Following one of the citing format standards is sometimes overwhelming for students who face academic essay writing for the first time. Still, giving a proper structure to the text is essential to make it easy to get and presentable for readers. When students cite the authors of the quotes they use in their works, they protect their texts from plagiarism. Therefore, being acknowledged in how to format an essay in APA, MLA, Chicago, or Harvard style is beneficial for both students and their college results.

There are many aspects to consider when it comes to academic format. In our guide, we show how to differentiate one format from another and don’t worry on who can write a paper for me.

Why is there so much hype around essay formatting?

Yes, well-conceived as your format may be, it won’t guarantee the overall quality of your essay, nor will it compensate for the fallacies and shortcomings of your piece of writing. For better or worse, it’s still the content that should dominate over the form when it comes to academic writing, as content surpasses form in terms of scholarly significance and general value of an essay. But showing high regard for the proper essay format, one of its critical elements, proves to be a crucial step in developing a superlative academic paper. On that account, we have crafted an in-and-out guide to formatting your essay with a bang!

Most Common Scientific Writing Styles

There are four major styles applied in academic writing – APA, MLA, Chicago style, and Harvard style. And these fundamental styles of modern scholarly writing have their respective formatting standards. Each of these styles has its own distinctive formatting rules and principles a writer needs to follow when developing their essay. In this all-encompassing guide, we will cover the formatting rules of each of these scholarly writing cornerstones.

Similarities and differences in APA and MLA formats

When students read requirements on APA and MLA styles, they might get mixed up on what actually makes these formats different from each other. To simplify getting acquainted with these formats, it is crucial to define similarities:

  • APA and MLA styles are similar in indentation, citation, and spacing.
  • All of the collected data used in the essay should be mentioned within the a reference page (in MLA, it’s called a works cited page).
  • Both styles use parenthetical citations within the essay’s body, usually to show a certain statistic or quote.
  • The author should list citations in alphabetical order on the reference or works cited page.

Now it is time to speak about the differences even if they are not too many:

  • APA style is used more with social sciences, while MLA style is mostly focused on humanities.
  • The bibliography list and other used sources in works have a different name: references – APA; works cited – MLA.
  • The works cited section differs in how it displays the name of the original content: APA -> Hemingway E.; MLA -> Hemingway, Ernest.
  • When using an MLA in-text citation, and the author of the essay mentions the source’s author within the sentence, place the page number at its end: “Hemingway believes people become stronger at the broken places (4).” In APA, on the other hand, the author needs to insert the year: “According to Hemingway, the trials that people face in the world make some of them stronger (1929).”

APA essay format guidelines

The pioneer of our academic style hit parade is the APA essay format. Inspired by the enthusiasm of avid psychologists, businessmen, and anthropologists, who were looking for some solutions to aiding reading comprehension, this writing style has made it to universal acclaim and wide use. The APA writing style is hallmarked by a number of of specific formatting standards that tell it apart from other format types we mentioned earlier. Let’s take a piercing look into the subtleties of APA formatting.

All APA-formatted papers feature the same fundamental components that are provided in the same order in an essay following the APA style:

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References

Essay title page format

This page is the “surface” of the essay and thus the most important part of it. First of all, the font of this page, as well as that of all the essay’s text, should be 12 Times New Roman. It must contain the title of the essay, the author’s name, and the name of the institution. The first element you need to provide on this page is the running head, also known as the page header, followed by the essay title. Speaking of your APA essay format, note that your title should be preceded by the phrase “Running head,” just as in the APA essay example below:

APA Essay Format

You also have to keep in mind that this title pattern should be provided in the header of all the essay pages. It’s worth stressing that the title should be no longer than 50 characters and may take one or two lines. All the text on your title page as well as throughout the entire essay should be double-spaced.

One-third through your title page, below the running head you are expected to provide the full title of your essay. The next line has to be dedicated to your full name, and the last line should feature the full name of your supervisor.


The abstract of your essay should be provided on a new page and include the page header. Before the abstract text itself, the typed word “Abstract” should go in the center. The length of your abstract has to be between 150 and 250 words. In any essay, the abstract should summarize the research, along with the essay’s topic and idea. The abstract is expected to include the research questions, methods, results, analysis, and conclusions, and be formatted as a single double-spaced paragraph.


In the intro to your APA-formatted essay, you need to provide briefly the main point of your paper, the problem the essay will be dealing with, and its idea. The introduction has to engage the reader and compel them to continue perusing your paper. This vital part of your essay is aimed at providing a superficial but concise description of what you are about to argue in the bulk of your paper. If it causes a lot of difficulties, you can use a story prompt generator to ease your life and studies.

The discussion and conclusion parts of your essay should feature the same format as the previous ones. What’s important to emphasize further in how to write an essay in APA format is the way you should make citations within your piece of writing.

APA essay format citation rules

The APA formatting style adopts an author-date reference citation system with the corresponding reference list, which implies that the source of any citation used within the essay text has to be mentioned in its reference list. In order to cite any reference in your APA format essay, you need to provide the last name of the author and the year of work’s publication.

There are two ways of constructing a reference according to the APA style standards: the first requires putting the author and year in parentheses separated by a comma, and the second goes with putting the author in the narrative part of the sentence, while the year goes in parentheses. Check out the examples below:

Parenthetical citation: In our postfactual era, many members of the public fear that the findings of science are not real (Schmidt & Oh, 2016).

Narrative citation: Schmidt and Oh (2016) described a fear among the public that the findings of science are not actually real.

If you’re citing an organization, you need to include its name as the author and follow these same rules of citing. When looking through the sources to reference in your essay, you may also find that a source lacks the author. That being the case, you should just mention the name of the source, for example, an article, and the year of its publication.

Examples of citing in an APA-formatted reference list

• Citing books:

Plath, S. (2000). The unabridged journals. K. V. Kukil (Ed.). New York, NY: Anchor.

• Citing online sources:

Eco, U. (2015). How to write a thesis [PDF file]. (Farina C. M. & Farina F., Trans.) Retrieved from…How_to_write_a_thesis/…/Umberto+Eco-How+to+Write+… (Original work published 1977).

• Citing videos:

Norton, R. (2006, November 4). How to train a cat to operate a light switch [Video file]. Retrieved from

MLA essay format standards

Opposing the APA style culture with its more rigid and elaborate set of rules, the MLA style is mostly employed in academic writing in the humanities. This format rose from the incentive offered by the Modern Language Association that unites language and literature scholars – to strengthen the scholarly language value. Let’s try to get to grips with how to write an essay in mla format.

To begin with, the font you are expected to use for this style is Times New Roman, 12 pt. The text should be double-spaced. An MLA-formatted essay doesn’t necessarily need to include a title page like an APA paper does. Instead, on the essay’s first page, you have to allocate the top left corner for your full name, the full name of your instructor, the name of your course, and the due date of essay submission.

Below the due date, you have to provide the title of your paper aligned in the center of the page. Note that the title shouldn’t be italicized nor should it be highlighted.

Take a look at an MLA essay format example of the first page of this type of essay:

MLA Essay Format

You should also note that throughout the entire text of the essay, the margins have to be set to one inch on all sides. The first line of each paragraph should be indented one-half inch from the left margin.

Using citations in an MLA-formatted essay

The citation format guidelines in the MLA writing style are very similar to those of the APA style. When referencing the works of others in an MLA paper, a writer should use parenthetical citations, whereby the source information is provided in parentheses at the end of the sentence. The citation provided in the text body should be correspondingly included in the Works Cited page. Here’s an MLA format essay citation example:

Human beings have been described as “symbol-using animals” (Burke 3).

As is the case with APA style, when referencing a source by an unknown author, you should just provide the name of the article or book you are referring to, just as you would with the author’s name.

Examples of citing in an MLA-formatted works cited list

• Citing books:

Gleick, James. Chaos: Making a New Science. Penguin, 1987.

• Citing online sources:

Felluga, Dino. Guide to Literary and Critical Theory. Purdue U, 28 Nov. 2003, Accessed 10 May 2006.

• Citing videos:

Slip Slip Knit (SSK). YouTube, uploaded by TheKnitWitch, 14 Feb. 2007,

The basics of Chicago essay format

Unlike the other styles in this extensive guide, the Chicago Manual of Style is a little less widely used in academic writing. Nevertheless, it is still adopted by many scholars as well as college students. Let’s try to delve into the set of its peculiarities and the rule it works by.

First of all, the text of a Chicago-formatted essay should be double-spaced, excluding block quotes, notes, bibliography entries, table titles, and figure captions.

Writers should also keep in mind that the pages need to be numbered in the header of the page. The preferred fonts for this style are Times New Roman or Courier, 12 pt. As with the MLA style, Chicago format may or may not feature a title page. If it doesn’t, then the title of the essay should be provided on its first page.

If you opt for including a title page in your essay, you should stick to the following guidelines: the title has to be centered a third of the way down the page; then, you should provide your full name, class name, and the due date, all of them placed several lines after the title line. Here’s your Chicago format essay example:

Chicago Essay Format

How should I say it: Chicago or Turabian?

Many students are confused by the terms “Chicago” and “Turabian” used interchangeably and ask themselves what the difference is. Saying simply, they are similar.

Turabian is a downshifted version of Chicago-style made for students working on texts that will not be published. Since the CMOS (The Chicago Manual of Style) is designed for material written for publication, it’s often used by professional publishers, scholarly researchers, and other academics. The Turabian guide is simpler, shorter, and consists of information on the basics of citation style, researching, formatting rules, and writing academic essays. Regardless of these differences, these two styles work in tandem, and both are worth being called the official Chicago style.

Citing in a Chicago-formatted essay

The Chicago format citing rules can use both the Author-Date system or Notes-Bibliography system. For making an in-text reference in your essay, you need to provide the authors last name, along with the year of publication in parentheses at the end of the sentence, which should be mirrored on your references page. As for the unknown author case, this style requires the same standards as APA and MLA do, which we mentioned earlier.

Examples of citing in a Chicago-formatted bibliography list

• Citing books:

Cortázar, Julio. Hopscotch. Translated by Gregory Rabassa. New York: Pantheon Books, 1966.

• Citing online sources:

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

• Citing videos:

Joe Versus the Volcano. Directed by John Patrick.1990; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2002. DVD.

Harvard essay format rules

The Harvard formatting style seems to be quite straightforward and easy to get the hang of. Let’s begin our peek into the subtleties of this writing format with the title page format it uses.

• The title should be placed halfway down the page, all of its letters capitalized.
• Three lines down from the title, you should provide you full name.
• Four lines down your name, you need to include the supervisor’s name.
• Next, you have to provide the name of your educational institution.
• The next line should be dedicated to the city and the state.
• The last line should feature the essay’s due date.

Here we provided a Harvard essay format example:

Harvard essay format example

Like with the other essay formats, the Harvard style employs the Times New Roman font, 12 pt. and double spacing.

Harvard referencing essay format

The citation rules in the Harvard style are almost the same as in the formatting styles we covered earlier in this guide. The Harvard format employs the parenthetical method of formatting – the source information is provided in parentheses at the end of the sentence and uses a reference page.

Examples of citing in a Harvard-formatted reference list

• Citing books:

Banerjee, A. and Watson, T.F. (2011) Pickard’s manual of operative dentistry. 9th edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

• Citing online sources:

Hislop, V. (2014) The sunrise. Available at (Downloaded: 17 June 2015).

• Citing videos

Girls just want to have fun. (1985). [film] Chicago: Alan Metter.


Formatting your essay helps you bridge the unique message you dedicate your writing to with the basic needs and habits your audience has in perceiving the idea of academic texts. The fundamental guidelines to creating an excellent essay format we provided in this guide will lead you through the possible pitfalls of organizing your text into a neat and logical exemplar of neat and logical academic writing.

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30 thoughts on “How to Format an Essay in MLA, APA, Harvard and Chicago

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    1. EssayShark

      Here’s the example of how to cite books in an APA-formatted article: Plath, S. (2000). The unabridged journals. K. V. Kukil (Ed.). New York, NY: Anchor.

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  7. NatalieTH

    I have a question related to APA essay format. Does referencing to the source in parentheses require a comma after the last name?

    1. EssayShark

      Yes, it does. Just like in the example we provided in this guide: “In our postfactual era, many members of the public fear that the findings of science are not real (Schmidt & Oh, 2016).”


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