What Should an Essay Paper Look Like?

Essay papers are difficult enough to write without having to worry about the visual formatting of the draft. However, in many cases the appearance does make a difference. Whether for school or work, the right look can make your essay more professional.

Style Manuals

The major essay formats, MLA, APA, Turabian and AP, all have published style manuals that will give you guidance for fine-tuning specific issues with your final draft’s visual format.

Personal Preferences

Ask an employer, teacher or professor if he or she has a specific formatting preference. Though basic essay appearance is somewhat standard, minor details change between popular style manuals.


One-inch margins are preferred among all major essay styles and by many leading professionals. Always double-check the margins, as some word processors have default 1.5-inch margins.

Text Size

Text should be 12 point, Times New Roman font. As recommended in Diana Hacker’s “Rules for Writers,” you should never use larger text for the essay’s title or headings.

Text Format

Do not use special formatting other than simple underlining or italics—even underlining and italics should be used rarely, typically reserved for book titles.


Any essay citing external sources needs to have a bibliography. Depending on the essay style you’re using, the citations themselves will vary, but in every essay style the bibliography appears at the end as a separate page.

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