How to Write a Formal Essay: Format, Rules, & Example
If you’re a student, you’ve heard about a formal essay: a factual, research-based paper written in 3rd person. Most students have to produce dozens of them during their educational career.
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Writing a formal essay may not be the easiest task. But fear not: our custom-writing team is here to guide you through the process. This article will:
- explain what a formal essay is;
- show how to write it step by step;
- provide you with an essay sample.
👔 Formal Essay Definition
- ✅ How to Write
- ✍️ Writing Rules
- 🖥️ Essay Format
- 📑 Sample Paper
A formal essay is a well-structured piece of writing with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion. This type of essay often includes cited research, uses an academic tone, and is written in 3rd person. While writing a formal essay, it’s necessary to back up your arguments with factual evidence.
What Is an Informal Essay vs. Formal Essay?
Essays come in two formats: formal and informal (also known as personal .) They differ in terms of style and context. You can choose one of the formats depending on the situation and the type of paper you need to write.
Don’t know how to tell the difference between them? Well, here are some key characteristics of these essay types:
As you can see, these types of writing are almost total opposites. Informal essays are only reserved for creative assignments, which means that most of the papers you write need to be formal.
Our article on creative essays can help you write an informal paper. But how do you craft a perfect formal essay? Keep reading to find out.
✅ How to Write a Formal Essay
Traditionally, a formal essay it’s composed of 3 sections: an introduction, 3 or more body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Let’s examine each part in detail.
Formal Essay Introduction
The introduction is what your essay starts with. Its primary goal is to catch the reader’s attention with a hook, briefly introduce the topic, and lead toward the thesis statement located at the end of the first paragraph.
Here is what you might want to keep in mind while writing the introduction:
If you want some more inspiration for your introduction, check out our article on hooks in writing .
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Now on to the thesis statement : the key idea of your essay. When working on it, keep in mind that it should answer the central question in your topic and reflect your essay’s overall structure. your essay’s overall structure.
Suppose your topic is related to the teaching methods involving poetry. In that case, the thesis statement can be like this:
Teaching methods that involve reading and writing poetry in elementary school are beneficial for children as they enhance their capacity for empathy, develop creativity, and help with self-realization.
Formal Essay Body
The next part of an essay is the main body paragraphs. They support the thesis statement with well-developed arguments and explore the topic in-depth. Each body paragraph starts with a topic sentence stating its main point. The length of a paragraph can vary, but the best option is to have between 4 and 7 sentences.
To make the text flow easily, you may use transitional words. Here are some examples:
- after all,
- for instance,
- on the one/other hand,
- as a result.
How to Write a Formal Essay Conclusion
Lastly, every essay needs closure. A good conclusion summarizes the essay’s main ideas, includes a paraphrased thesis, and encourages the readers to think more about the topic.
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The structure of a conclusion may change slightly depending on the subject. For instance, it can suggest some solutions to a problem, express an opinion, or give a recommendation. It’s important to remember that the conclusion is a part that emphasizes your essay’s most important points and doesn’t introduce new information.
If you’re curious about writing each essay part, check out our article on 5-paragraph essays .
✍️ Formal Writing Rules
Just like choosing the proper attire to wear to a formal event, we need to use the right words while writing a formal essay. Here are some suggestions that can help you maintain a formal tone in your paper:
Dos of formal writing
- Pay attention to your vocabulary. The words you will use in a formal essay will likely have a nuanced meaning. Make sure you know exactly what the terms mean, and do your best to sound precise.
- Use punctuation correctly. Here are some of the things to watch out for: Avoid exclamation marks; Use dashes for insertions; Use colons with enumerations; If you’re unsure of whether to use a punctuation mark or not, rewrite the sentence in a way that doesn’t require it.
- Use varied sentence structure. In formal writing, there is always a danger of sounding monotonous. Avoid repeating sentence structures to make your essay more readable.
- Provide references. It’s essential to cite every idea that you borrow. Try to paraphrase quotations from your sources: it will help you avoid plagiarism.
Don’ts of formal writing
- Avoid using pronouns. With words such as “I,” “me,” “we,” or “us,” an essay becomes wordy. It also makes the author seem less sure of their ideas. If you want to use personal pronouns, try substituting them with words like “the reader,” “viewers,” or “one.”
- Avoid using slang expressions and nonstandard diction. Slang words in a formal essay will make it less appealing to the readers. If you want to be taken seriously, it’s best to avoid those expressions and use proper Standard English.
- Avoid informal tone. When you write a formal essay, incorporate the language and the expressions you would use while delivering a speech, not the words you use when you casually talk to friends. A formal tone suggests that the author is serious about the topic and respects the audience.
- Avoid passive voice. Passive verbs are hard to read, and they are wordy. Use active voice to sound more straightforward and concise.
Contractions in Formal Writing
A contraction is usually a combination of two words into one, such as “don’t,” “isn’t,” “can’t,” and “wouldn’t.” When you work on a formal essay, it’s essential to be careful about contractions. It’s inappropriate to use them in academic writing, so it’s best to stick to the full variant.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, when working with direct quotations, it’s essential to reproduce words exactly as they are used in the original. To learn more about it, be sure to check out the University of North Florida’s article on in-text citations .
What to Use Instead of “You” in an Essay
Another common mistake students make is using the “you” and “yours” pronouns to address the readers. This mistake can make the essay overly informal and lead to misinterpretations of the text.
How do you fix it? Our advice is to replace 2nd-person pronouns with the following words:
You can find more formal writing tips in this informative video from Smrt English:
🖥️ Formal Essay Format
Now that we’ve discussed formal essay writing in detail, it’s time to look at the formatting. A formal essay is usually written in MLA or APA formats. If you’re asked to write a paper in one of these formats, you may find the guidelines below helpful:
📑 Formal Essay Example
Here is an excellent sample of a formal essay that uses all the guidelines mentioned in this article. It will help you to produce a perfect paper of your own:
For more information, check out Purdue OWL’s resources on various formatting styles .
Thanks for reading through this guide! We hope that you found it helpful and now have a better idea of how to write an excellent formal essay. Don’t hesitate to share our article with a friend who may need it. Good luck!
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- How to Write a Précis: Definition, Guide, & Examples
❓ Formal Essay FAQs
It’s best not to use pronouns such as “I,” “my,” “we,” “our,” etc., in a formal essay since it give the paper an informal tone and the text becomes wordy. It also makes the writer seem less sure about their ideas.
It’s better to avoid using parentheses and dashes in formal academic writing. If the information you want to include in the essay is important enough, it should be a part of the sentence. Otherwise, you can simply omit it.
The formal and informal essays differ in style and context. While a formal essay is a piece of well-structured writing that tries to convince the reader by providing arguments, an informal essay has no set structure. It reflects the author’s personal thoughts or opinions.
Starting your sentence with “because” in formal writing is not the best idea. The word “because” is a subordinate conjunction, which means it’s used to join the main clause to a subordinate clause, not to start a sentence.
It’s best to avoid using 1st- and 2nd-person pronouns, slang expressions, nonstandard diction, and contractions in a formal essay. They are primarily used in daily speech and are considered inappropriate in academic writing.
- Point of View in Academic Writing: St. Louis Community College
- Components of a Good Essay: University of Evansville
- Introductions & Conclusions: University of Arizona Global Campus
- How to Improve Your Academic Writing: University of York
- Nine Basic Ways to Improve Your Style in Academic Writing: University of California, Berkeley
- Academic Writing Style: Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: University of Southern California
- Formal and Informal Style: Northern Illinois University
- Formal Writing: Davenport University: LibGuides
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- How to write an essay outline | Guidelines & examples
How to Write an Essay Outline | Guidelines & Examples
Published on August 14, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.
An essay outline is a way of planning the structure of your essay before you start writing. It involves writing quick summary sentences or phrases for every point you will cover in each paragraph , giving you a picture of how your argument will unfold.
Table of contents
Organizing your material, presentation of the outline, examples of essay outlines, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about essay outlines.
At the stage where you’re writing an essay outline, your ideas are probably still not fully formed. You should know your topic and have already done some preliminary research to find relevant sources , but now you need to shape your ideas into a structured argument.
Look over any information, quotes and ideas you’ve noted down from your research and consider the central point you want to make in the essay—this will be the basis of your thesis statement . Once you have an idea of your overall argument, you can begin to organize your material in a way that serves that argument.
Try to arrange your material into categories related to different aspects of your argument. If you’re writing about a literary text, you might group your ideas into themes; in a history essay, it might be several key trends or turning points from the period you’re discussing.
Three main themes or subjects is a common structure for essays. Depending on the length of the essay, you could split the themes into three body paragraphs, or three longer sections with several paragraphs covering each theme.
As you create the outline, look critically at your categories and points: Are any of them irrelevant or redundant? Make sure every topic you cover is clearly related to your thesis statement.
Order of information
When you have your material organized into several categories, consider what order they should appear in.
Your essay will always begin and end with an introduction and conclusion , but the organization of the body is up to you.
Consider these questions to order your material:
- Is there an obvious starting point for your argument?
- Is there one subject that provides an easy transition into another?
- Do some points need to be set up by discussing other points first?
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Within each paragraph, you’ll discuss a single idea related to your overall topic or argument, using several points of evidence or analysis to do so.
In your outline, you present these points as a few short numbered sentences or phrases.They can be split into sub-points when more detail is needed.
The template below shows how you might structure an outline for a five-paragraph essay.
- Thesis statement
- First piece of evidence
- Second piece of evidence
- Importance of topic
- Strong closing statement
You can choose whether to write your outline in full sentences or short phrases. Be consistent in your choice; don’t randomly write some points as full sentences and others as short phrases.
Examples of outlines for different types of essays are presented below: an argumentative, expository, and literary analysis essay.
Argumentative essay outline
This outline is for a short argumentative essay evaluating the internet’s impact on education. It uses short phrases to summarize each point.
Its body is split into three paragraphs, each presenting arguments about a different aspect of the internet’s effects on education.
- Importance of the internet
- Concerns about internet use
- Thesis statement: Internet use a net positive
- Data exploring this effect
- Analysis indicating it is overstated
- Students’ reading levels over time
- Why this data is questionable
- Video media
- Interactive media
- Speed and simplicity of online research
- Questions about reliability (transitioning into next topic)
- Evidence indicating its ubiquity
- Claims that it discourages engagement with academic writing
- Evidence that Wikipedia warns students not to cite it
- Argument that it introduces students to citation
- Summary of key points
- Value of digital education for students
- Need for optimism to embrace advantages of the internet
Expository essay outline
This is the outline for an expository essay describing how the invention of the printing press affected life and politics in Europe.
The paragraphs are still summarized in short phrases here, but individual points are described with full sentences.
- Claim that the printing press marks the end of the Middle Ages.
- Provide background on the low levels of literacy before the printing press.
- Present the thesis statement: The invention of the printing press increased circulation of information in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation.
- Discuss the very high levels of illiteracy in medieval Europe.
- Describe how literacy and thus knowledge and education were mainly the domain of religious and political elites.
- Indicate how this discouraged political and religious change.
- Describe the invention of the printing press in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg.
- Show the implications of the new technology for book production.
- Describe the rapid spread of the technology and the printing of the Gutenberg Bible.
- Link to the Reformation.
- Discuss the trend for translating the Bible into vernacular languages during the years following the printing press’s invention.
- Describe Luther’s own translation of the Bible during the Reformation.
- Sketch out the large-scale effects the Reformation would have on religion and politics.
- Summarize the history described.
- Stress the significance of the printing press to the events of this period.
Literary analysis essay outline
The literary analysis essay outlined below discusses the role of theater in Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park .
The body of the essay is divided into three different themes, each of which is explored through examples from the book.
- Describe the theatricality of Austen’s works
- Outline the role theater plays in Mansfield Park
- Introduce the research question : How does Austen use theater to express the characters’ morality in Mansfield Park ?
- Discuss Austen’s depiction of the performance at the end of the first volume
- Discuss how Sir Bertram reacts to the acting scheme
- Introduce Austen’s use of stage direction–like details during dialogue
- Explore how these are deployed to show the characters’ self-absorption
- Discuss Austen’s description of Maria and Julia’s relationship as polite but affectionless
- Compare Mrs. Norris’s self-conceit as charitable despite her idleness
- Summarize the three themes: The acting scheme, stage directions, and the performance of morals
- Answer the research question
- Indicate areas for further study
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You will sometimes be asked to hand in an essay outline before you start writing your essay . Your supervisor wants to see that you have a clear idea of your structure so that writing will go smoothly.
Even when you do not have to hand it in, writing an essay outline is an important part of the writing process . It’s a good idea to write one (as informally as you like) to clarify your structure for yourself whenever you are working on an essay.
If you have to hand in your essay outline , you may be given specific guidelines stating whether you have to use full sentences. If you’re not sure, ask your supervisor.
When writing an essay outline for yourself, the choice is yours. Some students find it helpful to write out their ideas in full sentences, while others prefer to summarize them in short phrases.
You should try to follow your outline as you write your essay . However, if your ideas change or it becomes clear that your structure could be better, it’s okay to depart from your essay outline . Just make sure you know why you’re doing so.
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Other students also liked, how to create a structured research paper outline | example, a step-by-step guide to the writing process, how to write an argumentative essay | examples & tips.
Do the letters (A, B, C, etc.) in the outlines above, especially of the body, have a one-to-one correspondance with a paragraph each within the essay?
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
In the examples here, the letters are used to show parts within a single paragraph, with Roman numerals (I, II, etc.) used to show paragraphs. For a longer essay, you could certainly use Roman numerals for sections and letters for paragraphs—whatever suits your argument and structure best.
How can I use footnote and document my essay writing Without bibliography?
You should always check with your teacher or university whether you're required to use a specific citation style in your essay. If you're allowed to choose your own style, Chicago notes and bibliography style is one you could use where citations appear in footnotes and the bibliography is optional. You can find more information about this style here .
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