Making your essay look pretty

Once you’ve finished writing and editing your essay, you’re pretty much done. All that’s left to do is quickly fire off a printed version and hand it in, right? Hold on a second. Now is not the time to cut corners. After all the hard work you put in doing research and organizing your ideas, it’s worth it to take a few minutes to ensure that your essay looks sharp.

Appearances matter. Neat, clean essays get higher marks than their tattered, soiled counterparts. Most professors are very particular about how they want essays to look. Fortunately for you, we have the information you need in order to make sure your essay looks its best.

Word Processing

Always type your essay in a word processing program like Microsoft Word. Unless otherwise specified, use 12-point Times New Roman as your font. Don’t change the margins from their standard setting. Print your essay on plain, white 8.5-by-11-inch paper.

Most instructors ask students to double-space their essays, which can be done in Word by clicking on Format > Paragraph > Line Spacing. Another good idea is to put the page number in the top right corner of every page. To do this in Word, click on View > Header and Footer > Insert Page Number. If you want to get really fancy, stick your last name up there next to the page number (e.g., Smith 1).


Quotations of less than three lines (that’s three lines in your word processor, not in the book that you’re quoting), can be incorporated into your essay’s text using normal quotation marks. Anything longer than three lines should be indented and single-spaced (kind of like a mini-paragraph). Indented quotations don’t require quotation marks.

Cover Page

Unless specifically asked not to (some professors like to save paper), always attach a cover page to your essay. Generally, the cover page should include the title of your essay in the middle of the page and the date, your name, the course name and your instructor’s name in one of the corners. However, different professors have different preferences when it comes to cover pages, so consult your course syllabus. Don’t use pictures or large, colorful fonts on your cover page - they’ll make your essay look unprofessional.


When choosing a title, don’t get too cute, but also don’t take it too lightly (a good essay can seriously suffer if it’s given a lackluster title). A good strategy is to break up your title into a catchy, two- or three-word main title and a longer, more descriptive subtitle (something along the lines of Terror Takes Hold: Maximilien Robespierre and the Legacy of the French Revolution).


Staple your pages together with a single staple in the top left corner. Don’t put your essay in a folder because this just adds weight to the large pile of essays that your professor has to carry around (and makes you seem like a pretentious brown-noser).

Never leave your essay on your instructor’s desk or tuck it under a locked door. If you do so and it gets lost, you’ll have no way to prove that you handed it in on time. Always submit it directly to your instructor or to an administrative employee.

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