How to Style Essays Using MLA Format
What is MLA format? It is one of the most commonly used academic style guides. This format was developed by the Modern Language Association, which is exactly what the abbreviation MLA stands for. This format is mostly used by students in the humanities – literature, liberal arts, language, and other disciplines.
When writing an MLA format essay or other paper, students are required to follow specific style requirements. In this article, we are going to give you an exhaustive insight into the core MLA style guidelines, based on the format’s 8th edition published in 2016.
General MLA Format Guidelines
An MLA format follows the listed rules:
- Preferred font: Times New Roman
- Font size: 12pt
- Page margins: 1 inch
- Line spacing: double
- New paragraph indents: ½ inch
- Headings: title case capitalization
In the next section, you will get to know how to create an MLA format heading, which appears at the top of your writing assignment. Before using the instruction, ask if your professor prefers a certain way to format an MLA heading.
Title Page, Headings, and Subheadings
It is worth noting that MLA format does not imply the use of a title page. Generally, students are not prohibited to add a title page to papers written in MLA style, yet there is no official guide on how to format this page according to MLA rules.
A header in MLA format can be either placed on the title page (if you decide to include one), or you can add it at the top of the first page of your work.
Here are the 4 main components that have to be included in a header:
- Student’s full name
- Instructor’s name
- Name of the class, course, or section number
- The project’s deadline
All four elements have to be placed in this exact order with double line spacing and one-inch margins from all sides of the page.
The last line of the header (assignment’s due date) should be followed by the assignment’s name, unless you are creating a title page – in this case, you will start your project on the next page. The work’s title should be centered and does not need to be put in bold, italicized, underlined, or placed in quotation marks.
The only case when you would need to use an italicized font in the MLA title is if you include the name of another source within yours.
Title Example: The Concept of American Dream in the Novel The Great Gatsby
Headings and Subheadings
Regardless of the type of assignment, using headings and subheadings in the text is vital to ensure the logical organization and structure of the content. Therefore, writing a paper in MLA format, you will likely have to include some chapter titles, section headings, and other subheadings.
In the official MLA format guide, there are no specific rules regarding how to format various titles. There are only two recommendations to keep in mind:
- Do NOT put a period after your heading.
- Be consistent, meaning choose specific formatting for headings and stick to it throughout the whole paper.
Here is a good example of how you can style your headings and subheadings:
The font and size of all elements remain the same. The only thing you are changing is the font style. Bold font is a wise choice for chapter titles as it shows a greater level of importance, while italics are less prominent and thus, good for section headings. Meanwhile, subheadings, which are the least important of all heading types, are left in the standard font style.
Basic Text Formatting Requirements in MLA Format
To master how to style your essay using MLA format, start by watching our video guide:
Video Guide on MLA Style
A running head is a short heading located at the top of every page in the right corner. This heading consists of the author’s last name and the page number—following it after a space.
Here are some of the general rules applied to the running head and page numbers:
- This information should be placed in the top right corner on each page of your work.
- The running head only includes the last name of the student, followed by the page number.
- Do not place the abbreviation p. (for page) before MLA page numbers.
- The running head is located one inch from the page’s right margin and half an inch from the top margin.
Example: Blackwood 4
The standard MLA margins are one inch. Every page of your work should have one-inch margins from all sides. The only item that should be seen in the one-inch margin is the running head.
The first word of every new paragraph should have a one half-inch indent from the left margin. All paragraphs need to have double spacing. The standard space between the left margin and the start of your text is one-half inch. To set it, you can use the “tab” button.
Throughout the whole paper, use standard double MLA spacing.
The MLA format guide suggests using the Times New Roman font in 12pt size. Although Times New Roman is a recommended font, students are allowed to use other standard fonts.
In-Text Content in MLA Format
Writing a paper in MLA format, you can use any of these ways to add quotes in your text:
- Giving a quote and mentioning the author’s name in the sentence
Example: Winston Churchill shared his opinion on the importance of reading in one of his famous quotes, “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for.”
In this example, the name of the quote’s author is placed at the beginning of the sentence, so there is no need to mention it again.
- Giving a quote and not mentioning the author’s name in the sentence
Example: A clear statement of the importance of reading is highlighted in the words of a famous politician, “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for” (Churchill).
When the author’s name is not added to the sentence, put it in parentheses after the sentence.
- Block quotes
The third type of quote is called block quotes, and it applies to all phrases of 4 lines or longer. If you need to add a large quote in the body of your paper, follow these rules:
- Start a block quote on a new line.
- Don’t put a block quote in quotation marks.
- Keep it double-spaced.
- Make a half an inch indent for the entire quote from the left margin.
- Make sure you keep the quote in its original state (with the same punctuation, capitalization, etc.)
- Mention the author’s name in parentheses — after the quote.
Generally, the MLA format prefers rare use of abbreviations. In the official guide, the Modern Language Association advises scholars to spell out abbreviations into full words. This rule applies to papers written in this format, to avoid any confusion.
Although it is recommended to use abbreviations only rarely. There are some cases when you may find them appropriate in your text. In such cases, you will need to follow certain rules:
- Do not place periods between capital letters (e.g. United States = US, not U.S.)
- If the full words are in lower case, periods between the words are acceptable “for example = e.g.”
- When the full phrase has a blend of upper and lower case letters, do not put periods if there are more upper case letters (e.g. PhD, not Ph.D.)
Now, let’s look at different abbreviation cases separately:
MLA format requires using full month names in the body of a paper. Thus, if you need to mention a specific month in your research or other paper, you have to type them fully. However, if you are making references, you are allowed to use abbreviations for months that are longer than four letters. For example, June will stay the same, while longer names like January can be abbreviated to Jan.
Also, students are allowed to use other abbreviations in their Works Cited page. Some of the acceptable abbreviations are:
- Chapter – ch.
- Page and page numbers – p. and pp.
- Volume – vol.
- Revised – rev.
- Number – no.
- Edition – ed.
- Translated or translation – trans.
Once again, these specific abbreviations can only be used on your Works Cited page. Otherwise, in the paper’s body, you are expected to type them out in full.
Other words that can be abbreviated on the Works Cited page are the names of publishers. For example:
- Company – Co.
- University – U
- Limited – Ltd.
- Incorporated – Inc.
- Press – P
These are the publishers’ names that are always abbreviated when making references. Others have to be written in full.
Finally, on your references page (Works Cited page), you may also use commonly-accepted abbreviations of certain biblical and classical sources. Some of them are:
- Much Ado about Nothing – Ado
- Henry VI, Part 3 – 3H6
- Othello – Oth.
- Macbeth – Mac.
- Julius Caesar – JC
- Romeo and Juliet – Rom.
- Midsummer Night’s Dream – MND
Hebrew Bible or Old Testament – OT:
- Psalms – Ps.
- Genesis – Gen.
- Deuteronomy – Deut.
- Leviticus – Lev.
- Numbers – Num.
New Testament – NT:
- Matthew – Matt.
- 1 Corinthians – 1 Cor.
- James – Jas.
The reason why these works have gained dedicated abbreviations that can be used for in your references is because these pieces are cited very often, so it is considered unnecessary to type their full names.
Depending on the type and content of your work, you may need to use numbers frequently. In this case, follow the guidelines given below:
According to the official MLA guidelines, students should use numerals that precede measurements.
For example: 8 kilograms
- Arabic Numerals
When adding Arabic numerals to your paper, spell out those numbers that can be written in one or two words (e.g. three or twenty-five). Large numbers that are written in more than two words should be written in numbers. For decimals or fractions use digits. Also, use digits whenever a number is placed before a label or measurement.
- Roman Numerals
Roman numerals in MLA are used either in an outline or to indicate suffixes (e.g. Ramses III).
- Numbers in the MLA Outline
The Modern Language Association does not provide official guidelines on the format of the MLA outline. However, typically it is recommended to use roman numerals, capital and lowercase letters, and numbers to create an outline.
- Extra Tips
In terms of the use of numbers in MLA style, there are two more tips to follow:
- Do not include ISBN numbers in a paper.
- Do not start a new sentence with a number. If possible, restate a sentence so that the number is placed elsewhere. If it is not possible, spell out the number that stands at the beginning of the sentence.
Images and Tables
It is always a good idea to add photos, images, tables, and other visual elements to a paper as long as they contribute to the overall quality of the work and add value. Thus, if a specific image or table does not bring any actual value, it is better to avoid adding it.
- Place an image as close to the sentence to which it relates as possible.
- Create a label for each image you include, and add labels right under each particular image. A label has to begin with the abbreviation “Fig.”
- Following the abbreviation “Fig.”, place a specific number assigned to the image based on its location in the paper. For example, the first image included in the paper should be labeled as “Fig. 1”, and the following should be “Fig. 2,” etc.
- Place parentheses with the label and number of the relevant image at the end of the piece to cite it.
- Apart from the label, every image should feature a brief caption placed right underneath it, after the label.
- In case the caption of an image or table provides exhaustive data about its source of origin and you haven’t already cited the same source in your text, it does not have to be added to the Works Cited page.
Example: Princess Diana’s famous midnight blue velvet dress was sold for $347,000 (fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Princess Diana’s Famous Dress; attribution information.
Unlike images, tables in your paper do not need to be marked with the “fig.” label. Instead, you need to include the label “Table”, followed by an Arabic numeral. Similarly to images, tables in your work are assigned numbers based on the specific order of their appearance in the text. Also, every table needs to have a title. Together, the label “Table”, numeral, and title have to be located above the data set on separate lines, and all flush left.
Tables’ titles have to have all of their first letters capitalized, except for insignificant small words. Under the table, you can include any relevant notes and the source of origin.
If you need to add a list to your paper, that’s fine. However, there are a number of rules you will need to follow:
- All lists in MLA format need to be horizontal.
- A colon needs to be placed between the list and the introductory sentence, unless the list is a part of the sentence.
Example: Ernest Hemingway has written numerous art pieces: The Torrents of Spring, The Sun Also Rises, To Have and Have Not, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Across the River and into the Trees, and The Old Man and the Sea.
Example of a list as a part of a sentence:Some of the most popular works of Ernest Hemingway are The Torrents of Spring, The Sun Also Rises, To Have and Have Not, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Across the River and into the Trees, and The Old Man and the Sea.
MLA Works Cited Format
When writing academic papers, students conduct research and collect information from a variety of sources (e.g. books, websites, scientific journals, etc.). Putting information from different sources, along with your own ideas, is vital to create a compelling and informative paper. However, if the sources used in the project are not cited correctly, it can influence the final grade of the paper, as well as indicate the paper as being plagiarised. That’s why you need to cite correctly and to include a works cited page.
To make a reference to an original source of the information included in a paper, students need to create in-text citations, as described in the previous section of our article. However, providing a brief reference to original sources in your text is not enough. To provide readers with sufficient details on the origin of the information used in the text, you need to list all sources on a separate page. Below you can find a detailed guide on how to create an MLA works cited page.
General Formatting Rules
- Place the Works Cited section on a separate page at the end of your work.
- Apply the same margins and a header with your last name and page number—just like you have everywhere else in the paper.
- Name the page Works Cited and place the title in the center at the top of the page. (Note, do not put the title in quotation marks or italicize it).
- Align your citation entries with the left margin.
- Use double line spacing.
- Add 0.5 inch indents to the second and following lines of every citation entry.
- Place your entries in alphabetical order.
- When marking a single page of a printed source to which you have referenced, use the abbreviation “p.” before the number (e.g. p. 632).
- When marking numerous pages throughout the source, use the abbreviation “pp.” and add a specific span of pages after the abbreviation if necessary (for example, when you refer to a particular chapter or article, e.g. pp. 65-112).
- Always indicate the name of an online database in italics if you retrieved an originally printed publication from a database. Do not provide subscription information.
Depending on the type of the original source, the format of your entries can vary. Here are examples of how different entry types should be shaped:
Last, First Name of the Author. Title. City of Publication: Publisher, Year Published. Print
Example: James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. New York: Penguin Publish, 2007. Print
Last, First Name of the Author. “Title of the Article.” Newspaper Title [City] Date Month Year of Publication: Page(s). Print.
Example: Quint, Peter. “Turning Screws.” Pittsburgh Press [Pittsburgh] 7 Mar. 1990: 12-14. Print.
Last, First Name of the Author. “Title of the Article.” Journal
Title Series Volume.Issue (Year Published): Page(s). Database Name. Web. Date Month Year Accessed.
Example: Quint, Peter. “Turning Screws.” Journal of Engineering. 28.1 (2012): 41-54. Print.
Article from the Web (with author)
Last, First Middle Initial. “Article Title.” Website Title. Website Publisher, Date Month Year Published. Web. Date Month Year Accessed.
Example: Quint, Peter. “Turning Screws.” New York Times. New York times. 17.02.2017. Web. 18.03.2017
Article from the Web (without author)
“Website Article.” Website Title. Website Publisher, Date Month Year Published. Web. Date Month Year Accessed.
Example: “Turning Screws.” New York Times. New York Times. 17.02.2017. Web. 18.03.2017
In this article we have taken you through the core concepts, rules, and guidelines of the MLA format (8th edition). To help you get a deeper understanding of how your paper should look, here is a clear MLA format example: