Formatting Essays

Once you’ve finished drafting your essay and you’re happy with it, it will still need to be presented in an appropriate way. Follow these five tips to give your essay a sharp, aesthetically pleasing edge.

Selecting Fonts and Colours

Remembering that your essay is formal in tone, your font will have to reflect this, so avoid fonts like Comic Sans or any which are difficult to read. Similarly, you don’t want to be using too much colour. Ideally, just use black ink because it’s the easiest to read, and if you have to use colour, use this in the title or in the headings. Even then be conservative – use greys and the paler blues, nothing too striking or childish. You want your essay to stand out for reasons other than its rainbow-coloured headings.

To Indent or Not to Indent?

Historically, paragraphs in essays were indented, but this is less fashionable and less the norm. These days most new paragraphs have one clear line between them, much like the way this blog entry is set out. You won’t lose marks for indenting or not indenting, the most important thing is to be consistent. If you indent, indent throughout.

Experiment with Margin Size

If you’re using a word processing application like Microsoft Word, use the “Page Layout’ tab to experiment with the margins. Again, this is a matter of personal preference, but many feel the standard margins are too wide and prefer slightly narrower margins. However, also be aware that if your lecture annotates your essay, they will prefer wider margins.

Double Space your Essay

Unless otherwise instructed by your lecturer, always double space your essays. In Microsoft Word, you can do this by clicking on the “line spacing’ button on the “Home’ tab and clicking on “2.0′. Do this once you’ve finished, because typing double-spaced can be jarring, and also gives you the impression you’ve typed more than you have!

Take Care with References and Bibliographies

Grading plagiarismA number of blog entries on the many ways to reference an essay will follow in this series. Whichever style you’re using, the most important thing to remember is to be consistent. Some guides on Harvard Referencing will, for example, tell you to place the year of publication in brackets, whereas others will advise that using just a full stop between the date the title is sufficient. Whichever you opt for, be consistent throughout as it’s mainly a lack of consistency that will lead to penalties. Your reference list should appear following your conclusion, on its own page, and your bibliography should follow this – also on its own page. As well as formatting properly, be very careful to reference everything – whether it’s a direct quotation, some material you’ve paraphrased, or just an idea you’ve taken from someone else’s work.

In addition to following these five tips, ensure you check any additional guidance which your lecturer may have provided you with. Many lecturers produce guides on how to present essays so make sure, if they have, you follow their guidance closely.

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