During the course of their studies, students will routinely be assigned essays. Essays assess the ability of students to both understand concepts and express them through clear, organized writing. The typical college essay format template consists of the introductory paragraph, the body of the paper (consisting of three paragraphs), and the conclusion paragraph. Students are required to adopt a certain formatting style as well. For your essay, APA format or MLA format are the two most common if you are attending an American college or university.

Here are the guidelines on how to write an essay in MLA format:

  1. Use white 8 ½  x 11” paper
  2. Set the margins to 1 inch margins on top, below and on the left and right sides
  3. Use indentations of half an inch for the initial word in each paragraph
  4. Set-off quotations should be indented one inch from the left-side margin
  5. Choose a conventional font such as Calibri, Times New Roman or Ariel, depending on the preferences of your professor or instructor.
  6. Set the font size at 12.
  7. Double space throughout the essay, including on the works cited page.
  8. Use a single space following the punctuation at the end of a sentence unless requested to use two spaces.
  9. MLA essays do not require a title page unless your professor/instructor requests one. Information such as the student’s name (First, Last), Professor, Course Title, and Due Date should be written on the first page of the essay on the left-hand side. The title should be centered and right above the introduction paragraph.

Likewise, if you are required to write in APA, use the following format:

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  • Use white 8 ½ x 11” paper
  • Set the margins to 1 inch on top, below and on the left and right sides
  • Use indentations of half an inch for the initial word in each paragraph
  • Size 12 Times New Roman is the standard font.
  • Double space throughout
  • Include the label “running head” at the top of each page.

Introduction:

Introductory Paragraph

The introduction is an important way to capture the reader’s attention. You should provide some background information and/or context related to the topic as well as the arguments that you will present (something like a mini-outline), explain the significance of the topic, and the thesis or argument that the paper intends to defend. The final sentence of the introduction should contain a transitional statement that leads into the first paragraph of the body in order to ensure a proper flow.

Body:

Body — First paragraph:

The first paragraph of the body should make a strong impression on the reader. The argument with the strongest evidence, the most important example, or which serves as the most appropriate starting point belongs here. Of course, whatever is being stated should be directly tied to the thesis. In order to produce a seamless transition between the introduction and this paragraph, the first sentence should contain some words that compliment the introduction. The argument can be placed either in this initial sentence or in the second. The final sentence of this paragraph should contain a transitional phrase that ties it to the next paragraph.

Body — Second paragraph:

How to choose which argument to make in the second paragraph is up to the writer. Some writers opt to devote it to the second strongest point, especially if they choose to make a counter-argument in the third body paragraph. On the other hand, other writers prefer to state the weakest point in order to finish with another strong point in the final body paragraph. In any event, just as before there should be transitional hooks in the first and last sentences, and the argument can be placed in the first or second sentence of the paragraph.

Body — Third paragraph:

The third paragraph of the body can either contain the second strongest point, the weakest point, or a counter-argument. There should be a transitional phrase in the first sentence that ties it to the last sentence of the previous paragraph, and the final sentence should contain a hook that links it to the conclusion. The argument or point should be included in the first or second sentence. As this paragraph comes to an end, it should be clear to the reader that the paper is now heading towards its conclusion.

Concluding paragraph:

This paragraph should include:

  • A pattern that is consistent with the paper’s introduction.
  • The restating of the thesis or argument. While it can mimic some of the original words, it should be rewritten in a way so that it is not merely a copy and paste of the thesis in the introduction.
  • A summary of the three main arguments contained in the body
  • Some last words that wrap things up nicely and indicate that the paper has reached its conclusion.

Essay Format Examples

The outline format for an essay generally remains consistent for most types of essays. The argument essay format is highlighted in this article. The analytical essay format also features the conclusion-body-introduction. However, the narrative essay format is one of the exceptions. While it contains an introduction and conclusion, the argument is replaced by the theme, and instead of the body paragraphs, the narrative contains the plot points that carry the story. In particular, the format outline should look like the following:

Introduction – Introduces the situation/circumstances, the general setting or period, and the characters.

Plot points – The conflict or conflicts that drive the story

Conclusion – The resolution of the conflict(s) that bring the story to an end. While some narratives wrap things up nicely, other stories deliberately create a level of ambiguity that forces the reader to draw their own conclusions and interpretations.

Now that you have a better idea about how to create a 5-paragraph essay, you are ready to begin a winning essay!