How to Write a Header for an Essay?

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How to Write a Header for an Essay 1

A header is the first element that the reader sees in an essay. Its importance is beyond question. So, if you are wondering what is a header in writing in high school or college, and how to write an essay header correctly โ€“ continue reading to close that unfortunate knowledge gap of yours.ย 

What’s a header in an essay?

By a header in an essay, we mean the information shown on the top of the page. Itโ€™s important to distinguish between the two types of headers:ย 

  • a title page header;
  • a running header.

The title page header is only placed once on the title (first) page, so there is no need to repeat it on all other pages. The information there is brief, and it typically consists of the following lines:

[Your Name]

[Instructor’s Name]

[Course Title]


All lines are usually double-spaced and aligned on the left side. However, while the left side alignment is a universal feature, the spacing, as well as the exact contents can vary from school to school, or as per individual instructorโ€™s requirements. For example, some schools do not require an instructorโ€™s name, while others demand that an essayโ€™s title must also be placed in the header.

A running header, on the other hand, is placed on all pages, and it typically consists of the studentโ€™s name/essayโ€™s title and page number. The running header helps the reader to better navigate the essay, especially a long one.

How to make a header for an essay: a detailed guide with examples

In a standard college essay, the very first page (the title page) contains the title page header. It precedes the title itself, which goes right after the title header and is usually center-aligned. The title and the title header are written in the same font style and type as the rest of the text. However, oftentimes, students tend to highlight their essaysโ€™ titles using larger and bold fonts, which is a mistake.ย 

Essay header example

What to put in a header for an essay? Letโ€™s review an example:

Joshua McCree

Prof. Valerie Hudson

International Security Studies

09 April 2023

Such a title header is only placed once, on the title page. The standard style is to use a 1-inch margin on the left side for the title and the rest of the essay text.

The running header, on the contrary, is used on every single page of a college essay, including the title page. Here, however, it is important to distinguish between the running headers of the two widely used citation styles: MLA and APA.

Header for college paper: MLA and APA styles

In college, the writing standards require adhering to one of the following citation/referencing styles: Modern Language Association (MLA), and American Psychological Association (APA).

According to the MLA running header format, only the authorโ€™s surname and page number are allowed. The header looks as follows then:

McCree 1

Where McCree is the studentโ€™s surname, followed by a page number. This information is placed in a single line and is aligned on the right side.

At the same time, the APA style stipulates including the workโ€™s title instead of the authorโ€™s name. In case the title is a long one, a shortened version is allowed. The page number information is also a must. It is important to note that all words in the running header title in APA style must be capitalized.


How to make a running header in MS Word

Step 1. To enable the insert of the information into the running header, double-left-click on the top of the page. You should now see the following:

How to Write a Header for an Essay 2

The cursor is flashing in the top left-side corner, ready for your further instructions.

Step 2. Now, on the main menu, select the โ€œInsertโ€ tab.

How to Write a Header for an Essay 3

Step 3. Find the โ€œPage Numberโ€ tab, left-click on it, and hover over the โ€œTop of Pageโ€ sub-menu, like so:

How to Write a Header for an Essay 4

Step 4. Select the โ€œPlain Number 3โ€ option in the list that appears. This option is recommended because it aligns the page number on the right side of the page by default. However, you can try any option available and adjust it further accordingly.

How to Write a Header for an Essay 5

Step 5. Insert the running header information according to your citation style. For example, for MLA style, insert your surname and page number, like so:

McCree 2

For APA style, insert the full or shortened title of your essay with all letters capitalized (aligned on the left side), followed by a page number aligned on the right side. For example:


Finally, press the โ€œTabโ€ key to finish aligning the information on the left side, and then the โ€œEscapeโ€ key to exit the running header mode.


To sum up, a header for essay can be of two distinct types: a title page header, and a running header. The first is used only once, in the title page, and consists of the authorโ€™s first and second names, instructorโ€™s name, course title, and date. After the title page headers follows the main title of the essay.

At the same time, the running header represents much simpler information consisting of the authorโ€™s surname and the page number (according to MLA style), or the shortened/abbreviated title of the essay and the page number (according to APA style).

The table below effectively summarizes all the nuances of the running essay header in MLA and APA styles:ย 

Aspect MLA Style APA Style
Type of information Authorโ€™s surname and page number Essayโ€™s title (shortened if needed) and page number
Alignment All information aligned on the right side The title is aligned on the left side, while the page number is aligned on the right side
Capitalization Only the first letter in the authorโ€™s surname is capitalized All letters in the essay title must be capitalized

The choice of the running header style in most high school situations is yours, as teachers usually leave it up to their students. However, at college, you should always be aware of your particular essay assignmentโ€™s instructions as these may contain recommendations to follow MLA or APA style specifically.


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