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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The picture enumerates the characteristics of a formal essay.

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

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:

Characteristics Informal essay Formal essay
Purpose Usually, the purpose of an informal essay is to share opinions or to entertain the reader. A formal essay aims to critically analyze facts, details, and ideas to prove a point. 
Pronouns use Addresses the reader directly and uses 1st-person pronouns. Uses 3rd-person pronouns and doesn’t address the reader.
Objectivity Expresses the writer’s thoughts and opinions and tends to be more subjective. Strives to be objective and uses arguments to support its ideas.
Structure Doesn’t have to be as structured as a formal essay. Should be well-structured and logical.
Thesis statement The thesis may be stated in any part of the work or not explicitly stated at all. The thesis is clearly stated and located in the essay’s first paragraph.
Word choice Uses everyday language, slang, 1st- and 2nd-person pronouns such as “I,” “you,” and “me.” Uses jargon and avoids using slang and 1st- or 2nd-person pronouns.

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.

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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:

✔️ It should be related to the topic and give the reader an overall idea of the paper.
✔️ It’s good to start your introduction with a quotation, an interesting fact, or a statistic.
Try not to make the introduction too far-fetched or in-your-face.
Avoid using questions in an introduction of a formal essay.

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, 
  • initially, 
  • 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:

  • readers,
  • viewers,
  • one,
  • people,
  • individuals,
  • person,
  • anybody,
  • someone.

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:

Title Write your name, the instructor’s name, your class, and the date in the upper left corner of the 1st page. Make the title centered and place it after the heading information in the same font as the rest of your paper. Create a separate title page. Make your title centered and written in boldface. Add your name, instructor’s name, school affiliation, and date.
Page Numbers Write your last name and the number of each page in the upper right corner. Write the number of each page in the upper right corner.
Font Use 12-point Times New Roman font.
Double Space Make your essay double-spaced without extra spacing between the paragraphs.
Margins Add a 1-inch margin on each side of the page.
Identification Make the 1st line of each paragraph indented 1/5 inch.
Align Left Line up your text flush against the left margin. 

📑 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:


Title Adverse effects of sponsorship in the sports industry
Introduction Sponsorship plays a significant role in the sports industry these days. Many sports associations, football leagues, and clubs are entering partnerships with famous brands. However, it does not mean that all sponsorship has a good impact. This essay argues that a questionable sponsorship may undermine the image of a sport or a team and adversely influence the viewers.
1st Body Paragraph Important sports events such as FIFA or The Olympic Games are sponsored by brands such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Cadbury’s, and Budweiser. These are also brands that promote unhealthy lifestyles and foods that lack nutritional value and have high levels of salt, sugar, and saturated fats. Such kind of sponsorship aims to obtain a favorable change in the attitude toward the brand itself by connecting it with sport and a healthy lifestyle.
2nd Body Paragraph While alcohol and junk food brands link themselves to sports bodies and active lifestyles, their main targets are children and sports fans. The growing popularity of products high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar, including potato chips, sugary drinks, and confectionary, results in them being not simply a treat but a daily staple for many people. It creates various health issues, such as obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.
3rd Body Paragraph Finally, an association with a widely criticized brand is likely to damage the reputation of a team or even a sport itself (Crompton, 2014). People tend to expect their favorite teams to partner with fair, responsible sponsors. If the partnership is questionable, the fans may think that the sports body compromised their virtue for profit.
Conclusion To sum up, some kinds of sponsorship, such as alcohol or junk food, may use the sport’s image to attract more people and increase sales. It leads to the excessive consumption of sponsored products by children and teenagers and causes various health issues. It is also likely to affect the public image of a sports body.

For more information, check out Purdue OWL’s resources on various formatting styles.

Formal Essay Topics

  1. Stress management techniques 
  2. The effects of coffee 
  3. Negative effects of technology on children 
  4. Causes and outcomes of organizational conflicts in sports 
  5. Different types of friends 
  6. Same-sex marriages in the United States 
  7. Are early marriages harmful or beneficial? 
  8. How do nutrition and hydration improve athletes’ performance? 
  9. Is polygamy morally acceptable? 
  10. Different features of sports business 
  11. What characterizes friendship in the age of media
  12. Positive and negative effects of tourism on environment in the Caribbean 
  13. How does society treat single parents
  14. How does the uninvolved parenting style affect child’s future well-being? 
  15. The role of family relationships in Odyssey 
  16. Financial concepts in sport finance 
  17. Main features of a strong marriage 
  18. The importance of media coverage for sport teams 
  19. Reasons why students choose to get internship 
  20. The role of stadiums in the sports industry 
  21. The multiracial family: the Carters case analysis 
  22. Characteristics of children’s sports 
  23. Crucial factors affecting health fitness 
  24. How is technology used in hotel management
  25. Structure and operational context of Four Seasons 
  26. What are the main qualities of a true friend? 
  27. Different websites that promote rental properties 
  28. The imperative aspects of tourism 
  29. Importance of hotel training 
  30. What factors determine adolescents’ adjustment after they experience parental divorce
  31. How does tobacco use affect the human body? 
  32. The importance of language and world view for communication 
  33. What makes a combination of reinforcement and punishment in parenting efficient? 
  34. The scientific approach of sports economics 
  35. How does divorce affect children? 
  36. Living on-campus vs. living off-campus when attending university: a comparison 
  37. How does the New Moves program promote a healthy lifestyle? 
  38. How to be an effective counselor 
  39. Various types of restaurants in Ireland 
  40. Carolina Dog’s characteristics 
  41. Comparison of Monzameon’s The Love Suicides at Amijima and Tartuffe by Moliere 
  42. Comparing homosexual and heterosexual families 
  43. How is family presented in Everyday Use by Alice Walker
  44. In what ways can Anaerobic Threshold be assessed? 
  45. Is bad parenting a healthcare problem? 
  46. Why student-athletes should benefit from sports 
  47. Mind-body awareness and its health benefits 
  48. Can punishment boost academic performance? 
  49. Techniques to teach students swimming 
  50. Issues faced by the sports licensing field 

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!

Further reading:

❓ Formal Essay FAQs

Can you use “I” in a formal essay?

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.

Can you use parentheses in a formal essay?

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.

What are the major differences between a formal and informal essay?

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.

Can you start a sentence with “because” in formal writing?

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.

What should you always avoid in formal writing?

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. 

🔍 References

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