How to Write a Formal Essay

Before I offer my own instructional guide regarding how to write a formal essay, please keep in mind that I am by no means an essay expert. Essay expectations and structure can vary depending on subject matter, requirements or even the preferences of a specific instructor, therefore the following is a rough template to potentially abide by when writing a formal paper.

First Step: Create an Introductory Paragraph

  • Create an introductory a sentence, which is a brief sentence introducing the subject matter of your essay and the text you will be referencing in your essay
  • State your THESIS. You thesis is very important because it states what you will be arguing, how you plan to support your argument, and why it is important.
  • For example, I will be arguing that _____ (text) by _____ (author) does ______ (your argument) and ultimately ______ (importance) à “I will be arguing that Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare uses tragedy to represent the power of love and ultimately results in the death of the protagonist characters, Romoe and Juliet.”


Second Step: Create Body Paragraphs

  • The amount of body paragraphs in your essay depends on how many things you plan to argue and how many arguments you mention in your thesis
  • Body paragraphs discuss one argument and include textual evidence that supports your argument
  • You can have as little or as many body paragraphs you need to prove your argument


Third Step: Create a Concluding Paragraph

  • Re-state your thesis (which is your argument), how you proved your argument and why your argument is important
  • Provide a brief summary of how you did prove your argument (basically summarize each body paragraph)
  • Tie all of your points together to create a concluding sentence

In addition to the general structural format of a formal essay, the following are some General Tips that may be of assistance when writing a paper.


  • There are two types of quotes that occur in an essay or in any formal piece of writing – short quotes and long quotes.
  • Long quotes are more than 4 lines and appear in text as block quotations, meaning they are indented twice on a new line. When using a long quote, drop quotation marks and line breaks and only keep single quotations if they appear in the quote. When finished using a long quote, use the ending mark of punctuation that appears with it in the text, hit ‘tab’ and make an indent, and in brackets put the author’s last name and the page number the quote comes from (only for MLA format), but do not put anything in-between the authors name and the page number in the bracket. Do not put any mark of punctuation after the bracket because you already put a mark of punctuation at the end of the quote. Underneath the long quote start your explanatory sentence, but do not indent this sentence because it is not a new paragraph.
  • Short quotes are less than 4 lines and appear directly in text, meaning they do not require a new line. When using a short quote, write the quote in the text exactly as it appears, keeping single quotation marks, double quotation marks and line breaks (if it is poetry). If a period is used to end the quote in the text it comes from, drop the period when using the quote in your essay, close the quotation with quotation marks, in brackets put the authors last name and the page number the quote comes from (only for MLA format), and place the period you dropped after the bracket, continuing on with your next sentence after. If the short quote has a question mark or an exclamation mark as its concluding mark of punctuation, use it, close the quotation, put the bracket with the authors last name and page number and continue the next sentence immediately after the bracket without putting a period after it because you already used a concluding mark of punctuation in the quotation itself.

Works Cited Page and Referencing

  • If your teacher asks you to use MLA format, make sure you Google and look at the MLA information section on their website
  • The bracket you put after a quote containing the author’s last name and the page number a quote comes from follows MLA format
  • A traditional example of how to cite a text in an MLA works cited page is: Last name of author, first name of author. Name of text. Publisher, date published.


  • Never use personal pronouns (for example ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘we’) in a formal essay UNLESS these words occur in a quote
  • Never use contractions in an essay (for example ‘can’t’, ‘won’t), and always use the full phrase of such word, for example cannot or will not

I hope this can be of aid to persons writing essays – if you have any questions or suggestions, please leave them in the comments!

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