CMS Essay Format

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This is a quick tutorial for formatting your essay using Chicago style. Sometimes your teachers may have their own preferences, so do check with them if you have questions.

Note that many of these instructions are not found in the actual Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.). They’re included in Kate L. Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (9th ed.).

General Formatting Rules

Paper Layout

Essays are printed on standard 8.5 x 11 inch paper, which so happens to be the default size of a MS Word document.


Since 2007, the default margin for any Word document has been 1 inch all around. Fortunately, CMS format has the same minimum requirement. If for some reason you need to fix the margins, go to Page Layout > Margins > Normal.


The most common font is Times New Roman, size 12 (though Arial is allowed too). You are allowed to decrease the size for footnotes (e.g., size 10).


Most of your essay should be double-spaced. To make this change quickly, first press Ctrl + A to highlight all text and then press Home > Line and Paragraph Spacing (symbol) > 2.0. Make sure you also click on “Remove Space After Paragraph.”

However, there are a few places where single spacing is required:

  • Single space your footnotes, but do leave a space between them
  • Single space the entries in your bibliography, but leave a space between them
  • Single space all block quotations (but leave a space before and after)

You should also single space any table of contents as well as any captions/titles for tables and pictures.


Make sure the text of your essay is left-aligned. Look for these buttons in MS Word:

You might think that justified text looks better, but your instructor will likely disagree.


It is customary to indent your first paragraph (use the tab button). Subsequent paragraph breaks should also be shown by indents, and not by extra spacing between paragraphs.

To get rid of extra spacing, highlight the sentence before and after the paragraph break and press Home > Line and Paragraph Spacing (symbol) > Remove Space After Paragraph.


The header section only needs to include the page number. To insert page numbers, press Insert > Page Number > Top of Page > Plain Number 3.

However, as soon as you’ve done that, select the option “Different First Page” as well as Insert > Page Number > Format Page Numbers, and start the page numbering at 0. By doing these things you will ensure that the cover page is not included in the numbering.

Cover Page

CMS research papers typically require a cover page. While there is some variation in what can go on a title page, the most common elements are the title (a third of the way down, in bold, with key words capitalized), the student’s name, the course, and the date:

Note that all the text is double spaced. For subtitles, place a colon after the main title and start the subtitle on a separate line.

Footnotes and Bibliography

We’ve covered these topics elsewhere. Check out our detailed pages on formatting your footnotes and bibliography.