MLA Format: Everything You Need to Know Here

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Welcome to an overview of “What is MLA Format?” in relation to paper formatting. You’ll find in-depth guidelines, examples, and visual samples to help you easily format your paper. This guide does not serve as a reference for MLA citation format.

For help determining the proper structure for citing, refer to the other guides on EasyBib.com. Here is another informative site which may help with further understanding of MLA citation format.

 


If you need more guidance, a website like EasyBib.com usually has guides and tools to help you out. There’s also resources on other resources, like our guide on “APA works cited”, otherwise known as a “References” page.


1. MLA Format Background

The Modern Language Association (MLA) is an organization responsible for developing MLA format. It was developed as a means for researchers, students, and scholars in the literature and language fields to use a uniform way to format their papers and assignments. This uniform, or consistent, method to developing a paper or assignment allows for easy reading. Today, MLA is not only used in literature and language subject areas; many others have adopted it as well.

The Modern Language Association released the 8th and most current edition of their MLA Handbook in April 2016. The Handbook provides thorough instructions on citing, as well as guidelines for submitting work that adheres to the Modern Language Association’s rules and standards. Although we’re not affiliated with the MLA, our citation specialists bring you this thoughtful and informative guide on the format.

Looking for information about previous editions to the Handbook? Want to learn more about the origin of “What is MLA format?” Click here to learn about the previous editions to the Handbook.

For a visual guide to MLA 8 citations, see our infographic.

Actually, are you looking for help on using another style? See how to cite an APA journal, learn to create an APA book citation, and more!


2. Formatting the Header in MLA


3. Paper Choice

While many professors, instructors, and publications allow electronic submission, some prefer printed, hard copies of papers. This section focuses on the type of paper to use for printed submission. If you’re submitting your assignment electronically, see section 19, titled “Submission.”


4. MLA Heading & Title Page Instructions

The web page “Formatting a Research Paper” gives two options when it comes to creating the header for your project:

  1. An MLA format heading can be placed at the top of the first page, or,
  2. A title page can grace the front of the assignment. If you choose to create a title page, keep in mind that there aren’t any official title page or cover page guidelines. See more information below.

 


Title Page

Most research papers use a standard MLA format heading, like the one seen above. If your instructor requires you to create a standalone title page, ask him or her for specifications. MLA does not have specific instructions for developing an MLA title page. We recommend you use an MLA header for your project.

 

 


5. Running Head & Page Numbers in MLA

A running head is a brief heading that is placed in the top right corner of every page in a project. The Modern Language Association Style Center (online) states that the running head consists of:

  • Last name of the paper’s author
  • Page number

6. Margins in MLA

Use one-inch margins around the entire page. The running head should be the only item seen in the one inch margin (see above for more on running heads).

Most word processing programs automatically default to using one inch margins. Check the page settings section of the program to locate the margin size.

Learn more on justified wording and other guidelines. Note: the instructions in this link follow the 7th edition of the Handbook. The same justification rules apply in the 8th edition. If your professor requests you use 7th edition guidelines for your work cited page, click here for more information.


7. Paragraphs in MLA

Indent the first word in every paragraph. Sentences should begin one half inch from the left margin.

It is not necessary to manually measure half an inch. Use the “tab” button on the keyboard to create a half inch space.

Like all other sections of the assignment, paragraphs should be double spaced.


8. Quotations in MLA

Quotes are added into assignments to help defend an argument, prove a point, add emphasis, or simply liven up a project.

Quotes should not take up the majority of your paper or assignment. Quotes should be sprinkled sparingly throughout. Use direct quotes from outside sources to enhance and expand on your own writing and ideas.

Words from quotes belong to the individual who spoke or wrote them, so it is essential to credit that individual’s work. Credit him or her by adding what is called an “in-text citation” into the body of the project.

For more on block quotes and a further, detailed explanation on the use of quotes, including MLA footnotes, refer to our MLA In-Text Citation and Parenthetical Citations Guide. In this guide you’ll find further information including directions for the use of quotes without an author, page numbers, and how to properly credit work from electronic sources.

For guides on citations in another style, check out APA parenthetical citation and APA in-text citation.


9. Paraphrases in MLA

Paraphrases are created when text or speech from another source are added into a project, but the writer chooses to summarize them and weave in his or her own writing and writing style.

Even though the writer modifies the information from another source, it is still necessary to credit the source using proper format (Handbook 9). Paraphrased information uses the same MLA reference format as stated in the section directly above this one.


10. Spacing in MLA

MLA research paper format requires that the entire research paper or MLA format essay includes double-spaced lines. Double-spaced lines should be found in between the written body of the work, in the heading, and also on the MLA reference page.

While it may seem tempting to place a few extra lines between the heading, title, and beginning of the paper, lines should all be double spaced.


11. Font and Font Size in MLA

In an MLA paper, it is acceptable to use any font type that is easy to read. Many source types, such as books and articles, use fonts that are easy to read, so if you’re seeking an appropriate font style, look at other sources for guidance. Two of the most commonly used fonts are Arial and Times New Roman.

It is important for the reader to be able to distinguish the difference between italicized and regular font, so if you choose a font style different than Arial or Times New Roman, make sure the difference between the two type styles is evident.

The use of a 12-point font size is recommended as this is the default size for many word processing programs. It is acceptable to use another standard size, such as 11-point or 11.5-point.


12. Proper Punctuation in MLA

Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind in relation to punctuation marks.

If you’re looking for additional help with your punctuation or grammar, check out the EasyBib plagiarism checker!

 

 

 


13. Using Abbreviations in MLA

Abbreviations are commonly used in many source types including websites, blog posts, books, and journal articles. It is acceptable to use abbreviations in all of these sources.

When it comes to school and research assignments however, the Modern Language Association Handbook states that abbreviations to rarely be used (95). Spelling out abbreviations into their full words and meaning is recommended. This ensures understanding and avoids any confusion. Instead of coming across choppy abbreviations, readers can follow the natural flow of the language in the paper.


14. Formatting Numbers in MLA


15. Using Images, Tables, & Musical Scores in MLA

Photographs, data sets, tables, graphs, and other images are often added into projects or papers to promote or aid understanding. They provide meaningful visuals for the reader. If the illustration or visual image does not enhance the quality of the paper, do not include it in the project.

Tables and illustrations should be placed as close as possible to the text that they most closely refer to.


16. Using Lists in MLA

It’s appropriate to add lists into an MLA format essay as long as the proper rules are followed.

Lists created using MLA essay format look different than a grocery list or any other type of vertical listing of items. Items in a list are formatted in horizontal order, rather than the traditional vertical style.


17. MLA Works Cited Format

EasyBib.com has a full, comprehensive guide to creating a proper works cited MLA format, but here are a few items to keep in mind when developing this portion of a project:

  1. The list of citations should be the very last page of a research project or essay
  2. The top of the page should include the running head and the final page number
  3. All entries should be placed in alphabetical order by the first item in the MLA format citation
  4. The entire page should be double spaced

For more detailed information, make sure to check out the EasyBib guide to MLA format works cited pages.


18. MLA Citation Format

The majority of this guide focuses on MLA formatting in regards to MLA paper format rules and guidelines. If you’re seeking information related to the proper development of an MLA format citation, refer to our individual pages and posts on various types of citations.


19. Binding

Some professors or instructors will provide guidance on how to secure hard copies of projects. If your instructor does not provide you with any expectations or guidance, a simple staple in the top left corner should suffice. If a stapler is not available, some instructors allow paper or binder clips.

Do not fold the top left corner down to secure the pages together. The page could easily unfold, causing a mess of papers. While binders and plastic holders are cute, in reality, they add bulk to a professor or instructor who may like to take the papers home for grading purposes. Keep the binding simple and clean. Staples work best, and binder and paper clips are the next best option.

As always, follow any instructions your professor or teacher may provide. The guidelines found here are simply recommendations.


20. Edits and Proofreading

Editing and proofreading your assignment prior to submission is an incredibly important step in the research process. Editing involves checking the paper for the following items:

  1. Spelling: Are all words spelled correctly? Review all proper names, places, and other unique words to ensure correct spelling. When finished, run the project through a spell checker. Many word processing programs, such as Microsoft Word and Google Drive, provide a free spell checking feature. While spell checks are beneficial, they do not always spot every mistake, so make sure you take the time to read through the assignment carefully. If you’re still not sure if your project contains proper spelling, ask a friend to read through it. They may find a mistake you missed!
  2. Grammar: Check your assignment to make sure you’ve included proper word usage. There are numerous grammar checkers available to review your project prior to submission. Again, take the time to review any recommendations from these programs prior to accepting the suggestions and revisions.
  3. Punctuation: Check to make sure the end of every sentence has an ending punctuation mark. Also make sure commas, hyphens, colons, and other punctuation marks are placed in the appropriate places.
  4. Attribution: Do all quotes and paraphrases include a citation? Did you create an in-text citation for each individual piece of information?

21. Submission

Follow your instructor’s guidelines for submitting your assignment. Your instructor may ask you to submit a hard copy, or submit it electronically via email or through a course management system.

Smart idea: running your paper through a paper checker before you turn it in. EasyBib Plus offers a checker that scans for grammar errors and unintentional plagiarism. 

 

 


22. Sample Papers

See below for an example paper or click below to download it as a Word Document.

 

 

The MLA header should be one inch from the top and left margins. The heading and the entire paper should be double spaced.



 

Looking for another MLA sample paper or an example of an MLA format heading? Learn more here. Also, check out the EasyBib MLA Annotated Bibliography Guide.

Don’t forget to use the EasyBib citation generator to develop your Modern Language Association style references.EasyBib.com also has helpful guides on APA format and more styles. Lastly, stay up-to-date on what’s coming by following our EasyBib Twitter account.


Works Cited

“Formatting a Research Paper.” The MLA Style Center, Modern Language Association of America, https://style.mla.org/formatting-papers/.

MLA Handbook. Modern Language Association of America, 2016.


Published October 31, 2011. Updated October 25, 2020.

Written and edited by Michele Kirschenbaum and Elise Barbeau. Michele Kirschenbaum is a school library media specialist and the in-house librarian at EasyBib.com. You can find her here on Twitter. Elise Barbeau is the Citation Specialist at Chegg. She has worked in digital marketing, libraries, and publishing.


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