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Essay Writing Guide for Beginners Step-by-Step

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All students have to write essays. Whether you are in school, college, or even higher levels of education, at some point, you definitely have to write an essay or a research paper as an assignment. Now, the most important question is whether you need to follow a particular format or not. Ask your teacher and get it clarified. So before you begin your work, clarify any doubts that you have.

Essay Writing Guide for Beginners Step-by-Step

Understanding the Essay Format

Whenever you write an essay, you need to follow a specific format. There are three formats that are considered the most common formats used all over the world. They are –

  • MLA format (Modern Language Association)
  • APA format (American Psychological Association)
  • Chicago Style

Essays can also be classified on the basis of their length.

Short Essay: This kind of essay is very short and mostly consists of 3 to 4 paragraphs. It has to be written concisely to incorporate all your thoughts.

Long Essay: Also known as a 5-paragraph essay, this kind of essay is written elaborately and consists of about 5 to 7 paragraphs.

Why are Essay Formats Important?

Normally, you would think that it does not matter what font size you use to write your essay or how much margin you leave on the side. But to someone who is reading that essay, it makes a huge difference. Following a certain format enhances readability and also shows professionalism.

If this is the first time you have heard about these various essay formats, you may be daunted by the thought. 

Are you confused about which format to follow while writing a high school or college essay? Clarify with your subject teacher or your classmates before you start working on it. If you do not ask anyone about the format and by mistake use the wrong one, it could result in a negative marking.

For example, an MLA-format essay and an APA-format essay have different guidelines regarding their title pages and where to write the page numbers. So, you need to be very careful while completing your assignment.

The Basic Essay Writing Guide

Once you know which format to follow, the next step is to start writing your essay. As per the standard essay writing guide, there are a few basic steps that you need to follow while writing an essay. 

1. Understand your Assignment –

The first and most important part of starting an Assignment is to know what is required of you. You need to read all the instructions given to you – what is the required length of the essay, do you have to follow a specific essay format or choose one on your own, etc. If you feel that you cannot understand certain instructions, go to your teacher and clarify your doubts. And if you feel intimidated to go to your teacher, then you should speak to your classmates. You will not be able to proceed with your assignment if you are not clear about what you need to do regarding your assignment.

2. Choose the Topic –

If you have the option of choosing a topic, select one that you feel you can write on. You should not choose a difficult topic just to impress your teacher, as you may end up not being able to write properly about it. Another factor that you should keep in mind while selecting a topic is whether the topic is very broad or too specific. You need to decide this based on what the word limit for your essay is. If the word limit is high, do not choose a topic that is too specific, as that can narrow down your chances of finding a lot of content to write about.

3. Research –

Now that you know the topic that you will be writing on, you need to research properly and find out information that you can include within your essay. If you are doing your research online, make sure you get your information from credible sites.  

4. Create an Outline –

Plan out the whole structure of the essay. What will you be writing in the introduction? How will you divide all the points between the different paragraphs of the body? How will you conclude the whole thing? If you want, you can also write down a draft version before moving on to the final one.

5. Write –

Now comes the most important and difficult part of the task. You need to elaborate on the points that you noted down while researching the topic given. Remember that you need to maintain the flow of your writing. You cannot just jump from explaining one point to another. There has to be a clear and smooth transition between them.

6. Maintain the Structure –

While writing, you need to structure an essay properly. There has to be a proper introduction and conclusion. It should be very clear to the person reading which section is the introduction or conclusion and which section is the body.

In the introduction, briefly mention the topic’s main point or idea. Write it in a way that captures the reader’s attention. The conclusion should be a concise summary of what you have written throughout.

Also, if you are supposed to follow a particular essay format, stick to it and do not deviate. While writing your research paper’s title, remember that all the first letters of the words in the title need to be in capital letters.

7. Revise & Edit –

This is another very important step that you cannot and should not skip. You may have made a few grammatical mistakes or a few structural errors while writing down the whole essay. Check if you have correctly followed the basic structure of an essay. Whether you have mentioned the thesis statement in the introduction or not. If not, edit the necessary sections. Go through the whole assignment with a calm mind and see what needs correction.

APA vs MLA Format Essay

If you compare the MLA and APA formatting styles, you will notice that they have both similarities and dissimilarities. The differences outnumber the similarities in features.

Similarities –

Font: You should use Times New Roman font, and the size should be 12 points. Maintain this throughout your writing. The only time you can change your font size is when you add subheadings.

Line Spacing: Everything needs to be double-spaced so that it is easy for the reader to read. The extra spacing also makes it look very clean and professional.

Margins: In both MLA and APA format, you need to keep a 1-inch margin on all sides.

Differences –

Discipline: The MLA format is the go-to style for humanities subjects like literature and language. It is also used to write essays for liberal arts disciplines. On the other hand, the APA essay format is dominantly used in the social sciences, including psychology, sociology, etc.

Title Page: When following the MLA format, you need to write the heading at the top of the first page. But in the APA format a separate title page is required.

Page Number: When writing an essay in the MLA format, you just need to mention your surname and the page number in the header section on the top left-hand side of each page. In the APA essay format, you need to write a shortened 50-character version of the title of your essay in the top left-hand corner. On the top right hand corner, you need to write the page number.

Indentation: In MLA style essay formatting, the first line of each paragraph must have a half-inch indentation, but no such indentation is to be used for the APA style essay.

Citation Style: Although both formats use parenthetical citations and in-text citations, in the MLA format essay, the author’s last name is mentioned first, and the page number follows that. For example, Smith 23. In APA, the author’s last name is mentioned first, followed by the year, and finally, the page number. There is a comma separating the name, date, and page number. For example, Smith, 2016, p. 11.

Name of Bibliography: The word bibliography is not used in any of these essay formatting styles. The MLA format has a “Works Cited” page, which lists all the sources that you used, while in the APA format, the same page is labeled as a “References” page.

How to Write an Essay in APA Format

The APA essay format is followed when writing essays on social science subjects like psychology, sociology, education, and others. 

When writing an essay in APA format, you need to remember the following rules and guidelines for the formatting styles –

  1. Font: The font size must be 12 points and must be Times New Roman.
  2. Spacing: Double spacing has to be used throughout.
  3. Margins: All pages need to have a one-inch margin.
  4. Indentation: You should not use any indentation on the first line of the paragraph in this essay format.
  5. Heading: You need to mark all the headings in both. Also, make sure to differentiate between Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3.
  6. Page Number: In the header, in the upper left corner of every page, you need to mention a shortened title of the essay (less than 50 characters). Write the page number in the top right corner of the page.
  7. Title Page: On the title page of your essay, you need to mention the full title of your paper, your full name and the institution that you are studying under. Sometimes, you also need to add the name of the course you have undertaken and the name of your teacher.
  8. Citations: You have to list all the citations on one page called “References.” Everything needs to be listed in alphabetical order according to the author’s surname.

How to Write an Essay in MLA Format

The MLA format is mostly used for writing essays on humanities topics, including literature, language, and certain liberal arts disciplines.

When you are writing an essay following the MLA style essay format, you need to remember the below-mentioned guidelines for the formatting styles –

  1. Font: You should use the Times New Roman font at 12-point size.
  2. Spacing: Use double spacing
  3. Margins: Make sure that there is a one-inch margin on all sides of the pages.
  4. Indentation: The first line of each paragraph needs to have a half-inch indentation.
  5. Heading: It has to be written on the upper left corner of the first page of the essay. You have to include your name, your teacher’s name, and the class you are in.
  6. Page Number: On the top left-hand side of each page, you need to write your surname and the page number in the header.
  7. Alignment: The text needs to be aligned to the left.
  8. Citations: The reference page which lists all the citations is to be named “Works Cited.” The entries can also include information about the author, publication details, etc.

How to Write an Essay in Chicago Style

The Chicago style of writing is used mostly for subjects like history, philosophy, law, and art.

The rules for the formatting styles are as follows:

  1. Font: Follow a 12-point font size and the Times New Roman font.
  2. Spacing: Do not forget to use double spacing throughout your work, but do not use extra spaces between paragraphs.
  3. Margins: One-inch margins have to be present on all sides.
  4. Indentation: The first line of each paragraph should be indented by half an inch.
  5. Page Number: On the upper right hand corner of each page, in the header section, you need to write your last name and the page number.
  6. Title Page: This page will contain the title of your essay, your full name, the course number, and the teacher’s name. Double-space everything.
  7. Citations: The page where you will be listing all the references is called the “Bibliography.” You have to alphabetically arrange the list according to the author’s surname.

If you have mentioned a paraphrased section or quoted something in any section of your essay, you need to add a footnote on that same page. Do not forget to add quotation marks at the beginning and end of the quote. This is one thing that is present only in the Chicago-style essay format.

There is a particular version of the Chicago style known as the Turabian Style, which is a standard essay format followed by students and researchers.

To Wrap It Up,

All of these various formats may seem very complex to you at first. Just remember that if you practice properly, you will become very well-versed in them, and then navigating through any of these essay-style formats will be a breeze for you. Follow all the other rules and guidelines mentioned above, and you will master the art of writing essays in MLA format, APA format, and Chicago style. 

If you still find formatting the essay as per any of the styles challenging, hire our experts for personalized guidance. We offer the best services at the most affordable rates.

Henry Lee

Hi, my name is Henry Lee. I am 26 and an active tech blogger based in Adelaide. Well, that’s something I do out of passion. To earn a livelihood, I work as a full-time English writing expert at I write academic blogs, mainly focused on English and Literature writing. I have 4+ years of experience of guiding students on essays writing on different categories of topics. Apart from this, I love to keep myself updated on the latest happenings in technology. I love new gadgets as much as I love writing. So, when I am not writing, you’ll probably find me indulged in a gaming session or researching about the latest trend in technology. 

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