Understanding the Basic Academic Essay Format

There is a core format for formal academic research papers. The core can have varied branches depending upon how developed the author’s writing is. It is important that all MLA standards are followed when developing an essay at any level.

The academic essay should have an:

  • Outline
  • Introduction, main points, and conclusion
  • A thesis statement
  • In-text citations to go with valid research
  • A bibliography or Works Cited Page


A tight and very specific outline will guide the writer to an excellent essay. There are two widely used outlines; the sentence outline and the topic outline. The sentence outline allows for complete sentences.

The topic outline allows for only short phrases (seven words or less) to be used in the outline. The exceptions to the rule are direct quotes and the thesis statement.

The Basic Parts

The essay at its most basic form is comprised of five parts:

  1. The Introduction
  2. Main Point or Body Part One
  3. Main Point or Body Part Two
  4. Main Point or Body Part Three
  5. Conclusion

As a writer matures he or she will learn to add components to these five main parts. For example an introduction should include such things as:

  • The thesis statement
  • A hook
  • A transition

But with an advanced writer it may also include:

  • Author information such as birth date, death date, other works, style, publications
  • Historical happenings and influence on the subject
  • Opposing views
  • An explanation of the theme being discussed
  • Definitions or terms needed for a complete understanding of the subject
  • Quotes and data

So at the most basic and stripped down form the introduction may be one paragraph, but at the most advanced form it could include six or more paragraphs.

Thesis Statement

The thesis statement evolves in a similar fashion. For the beginning writer it may be one sentence. But for the higher-level students, the thesis statement may be an entire paragraph.

In-Text Citations, Bibliography, and Works Cited

The academic essay will need sources and these sources will need in-text citations. Using a source without properly crediting the true author is plagiarism. The moment sources are incorporated; the writer will then need to include a bibliography or Works Cited page.

A bibliography is a MLA format listing of all sources the writer looked at when composing the paper. A Works Cited page is a MLA format listing of all sources the writer actually used in the paper.