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5 Essay Formatting Guidelines That Can Make Or Break You

5 Essay Formatting Guidelines That Can Make Or Break You

essay competitionDid you know that allotting 5 minutes to format your already well-written essay can determine whether your entry wins a  prize or not?

If you’ve entered one or two essay competitions, you should know that essay contest organizers invariably require entrants to abide by some rules. These rules can be categorized into writing guidelines, editing guidelines, formatting guidelines, referencing guidelines, structural guidelines, submission guidelines, etc.

These guidelines are interwoven and interdependent. In this piece, I have addressed some common formatting guidelines that make your essay stand out. These can be implemented at anytime at all, although they’re best implemented after the writing and editing stage have been completed.

Many of the tips I share below squarely address the common mistakes I see essay entrants make in their entries.

#1: Font Type

It’s a common practice for the essay guidelines to specify which font type the entries should be formatted to. The most common font types for essay contests are Times New Roman, Calibri and Arial. For instance, the 2013 Naija Writers’ Coach Essay Competition requires Times New Roman while the 2013 Concern Creative Writing Competition stipulates Arial.

If however, there isn’t any specification as to the font type, you may want to use Times New Roman which is conventional, beautiful and very legible.

#2: Font Size

I reviewed an essay written by one of my students a few days ago and to my amazement, he had used font size 18. That size was too big as much as it was too unattractive. The often recommended font sizes by essay organizers are 11, 12 and 14.

As for footnotes, and sometimes block quotations, it may also be required that font size 10 should be used. Whether that’s the case or not, what matters, my dear friend, is utmost compliance with the given instructions.

In my view, what’s most conventional and readable is font size 12. So if the organizer doesn’t prescribe any font size, I recommend you stick to font size 12.

#3: Line Spacing

The common line spacing options are 1.0, 1.15, 1.5, 2.0, 2.5 and 3.0. If the essay organizer specifies any of them, ensure you comply.

If none is specified at all, I recommend you use 2.0 which is good to look at and very conventional. To do this, simply select all the texts (ctrl + A) and then press ctrl + 2.

#4: Text Alignment

Have you ever seen an essay with the right edge of the block of texts looking zigzag? That means the work isn’t justified, and that makes it difficult to read.

This can be fixed by simply justifying the text so that the right edge of the block of text becomes as straight as the left. You need not wait for the essay guidelines to tell you to do that. It’s simply commonsensical!

To do this, simply select all the texts (ctrl + A) and justify them (ctrl + J).

#5: Page Numbering

This is an important aspect of essay formatting. It makes your work standard and easy to review. Your editor, the judges or any other persons who need to work on it can easily make reference to a particular aspect on a particular page if there’s pagination.

Some essay organizers require it. Many others don’t. If it’s required and you omit it, you’re dead in the water. But you can’t get punished for using it whether or not it’s required.

So, in anyway, it’s highly recommended.

What Next?

This is how far we can go now. Another tutorial on formatting guidelines with specific emphasis on the usage of the tools of bold, italic, and underline, will follow soon, by God’s Grace.

Let me remind you again that these tips are extremely easy to implement. So start using them in your writing, and using them right.

What Do You Think?

Do you use these formatting styles in your essays? How do you use them? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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About Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin

Writer. Difference Maker. Entrepreneur. Author, Your Right To Write & Vertical Writing. Winner, 11 Writing Prizes.


  1. Emeka Jesse says:

    Hi Mr. Tosin.
    I feel obligated to show my appreciation to you bro, for your wonderful piece, your book- “Your right to write”. I have called it- “All I ever wanted”. I wouldn’t want to take much of your time by saying much, but the truth is- you have motivated me this day. I now realise that the only thing that can stop me from fulfilling my dreams is me and me only. It’s really heartwarming seeing you a young handsome folk like myself doing excellently & of course diligently. Thank you! Thank you! Thanks for letting me have your wealth of wisdom free. God bless you!

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