MLA General Format
MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook (8th ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.
Contributors: Tony Russell, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli, Russell Keck, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo Rodríguez-Fuentes, Daniel P. Kenzie, Susan Wegener, Maryam Ghafoor, Purdue OWL Staff
Last Edited: 2016-08-11 04:27:59
MLA style specifies guidelines for formatting manuscripts and using the English language in writing. MLA style also provides writers with a system for referencing their sources through parenthetical citation in their essays and Works Cited pages.
Writers who properly use MLA also build their credibility by demonstrating accountability to their source material. Most importantly, the use of MLA style can protect writers from accusations of plagiarism, which is the purposeful or accidental uncredited use of source material by other writers.
If you are asked to use MLA format, be sure to consult the MLA Handbook (8th edition). Publishing scholars and graduate students should also consult the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (3rd edition). The MLA Handbook is available in most writing centers and reference libraries; it is also widely available in bookstores, libraries, and at the MLA web site. See the Additional Resources section of this handout for a list of helpful books and sites about using MLA style.
The preparation of papers and manuscripts in MLA style is covered in chapter four of the MLA Handbook, and chapter four of the MLA Style Manual. Below are some basic guidelines for formatting a paper in MLA style.
- Type your paper on a computer and print it out on standard, white 8.5 x 11-inch paper.
- Double-space the text of your paper, and use a legible font (e.g. Times New Roman). Whatever font you choose, MLA recommends that the regular and italics type styles contrast enough that they are recognizable one from another. The font size should be 12 pt.
- Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks (unless otherwise instructed by your instructor).
- Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides.
- Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch from the left margin. MLA recommends that you use the Tab key as opposed to pushing the Space Bar five times.
- Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor may ask that you omit the number on your first page. Always follow your instructor's guidelines.)
- Use italics throughout your essay for the titles of longer works and, only when absolutely necessary, providing emphasis.
- If you have any endnotes, include them on a separate page before your Works Cited page. Entitle the section Notes (centered, unformatted).
Formatting the First Page of Your Paper
- Do not make a title page for your paper unless specifically requested.
- In the upper left-hand corner of the first page, list your name, your instructor's name, the course, and the date. Again, be sure to use double-spaced text.
- Double space again and center the title. Do not underline, italicize, or place your title in quotation marks; write the title in Title Case (standard capitalization), not in all capital letters.
- Use quotation marks and/or italics when referring to other works in your title, just as you would in your text: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as Morality Play; Human Weariness in "After Apple Picking"
- Double space between the title and the first line of the text.
- Create a header in the upper right-hand corner that includes your last name, followed by a space with a page number; number all pages consecutively with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor or other readers may ask that you omit last name/page number header on your first page. Always follow instructor guidelines.)
Here is a sample of the first page of a paper in MLA style:
Image Caption: The First Page of an MLA Paper
Writers sometimes use Section Headings to improve a document’s readability. These sections may include individual chapters or other named parts of a book or essay.
MLA recommends that when you divide an essay into sections that you number those sections with an arabic number and a period followed by a space and the section name.
1. Early Writings
2. The London Years
3. Traveling the Continent
4. Final Years
MLA does not have a prescribed system of headings for books (for more information on headings, please see page 146 in the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition). If you are only using one level of headings, meaning that all of the sections are distinct and parallel and have no additional sections that fit within them, MLA recommends that these sections resemble one another grammatically. For instance, if your headings are typically short phrases, make all of the headings short phrases (and not, for example, full sentences). Otherwise, the formatting is up to you. It should, however, be consistent throughout the document.
If you employ multiple levels of headings (some of your sections have sections within sections), you may want to provide a key of your chosen level headings and their formatting to your instructor or editor.
Sample Section Headings
The following sample headings are meant to be used only as a reference. You may employ whatever system of formatting that works best for you so long as it remains consistent throughout the document.
1. Soil Conservation
2. Water Conservation
3. Energy Conservation
Level 1 Heading: bold, flush left
Level 2 Heading: italics, flush left
Level 3 Heading: centered, bold
Level 4 Heading: centered, italics
Level 5 Heading: underlined, flush left
MLA refers to a set of rules and formatting guidelines that are used by researchers within the humanities and liberal arts. These standards are described in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (8th edition), which is a 300-page manual, describing every aspect of MLA paper writing.
MLA ESSAY EXAMPLE
Update: There was a recent update to the MLA handbook, issued in spring 2016. While basic requirements remain the same, there are numerous minor updates to the essay writing process. The list of recent updates.
You can also download an MLA format template, which allows you to skip the formatting part and use our pre-formatted file.
MLA Format: Paper
Use standard white 8.5x11 inches paper.
MLA Format: Title Page
Unless this is a specific requirement set by your instructor, a title page is not needed. MLA essay example of the cover page:
MLA Format: Font
Use legible 12pt font. While MLA has no specific requirements regarding fonts, use Times New Roman if unsure. Georgia, Courier New & Arial are good alternatives as well.
MLA Format: Formatting
- Use 1" margins on all sides
- Use 1/2" margins from top to your name
- Center your title, do not italicize it
- If your quotation is longer than 4 lines, indent that paragraph 1". Do not use quotation marks!
MLA Format: Numbering
Use Arabic numerals (e.g. 1, 2, 3 etc) and number your pages consecutively. Check with your instructor - he or she might not want to see the number on the first page. Page numbers are placed in the upper right-hand corner of your paper.
MLA Format: Spacing
- Use double spacing throughout your paper
- Put one space after punctuation marks (commas, full stops etc).
MLA Format: Indentation
Indent all paragraphs 1/2". MLA recommends that you hit TAB once as opposed to pressing the space bar five times.
MLA Format: Heading
Headers should be capitalized - same way as you would capitalize words in titles. Center your headings and do not italicize, bold or underline them.
MLA Format: Citation
MLA is known as the "author page" style. It means that whenever making an MLA style reference, always indicate author's last name and a page you took the quote from. In-text citation in its most basic form defaults to this: (Name, 1).
MLA Format: Examples
The values are a representation of maximum loads which can be exerted on the material without causing deformation (Ashby 23).
The climate is changing but the biologists do not agree that it will threaten animals and plants with extinction (Stampf & Traufetter 132).
MLA Format: References
- The references page is placed at the end of your paper
- It should start with a new page, have a centered "Works Cited" title
- Double space all citations
- Create a hanging indent, to do so, indent second and subsequent lines of citations by 0.5 inches.
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