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How to Format Essays Using MLA Style

How to Format Essays Using MLA Style

MLA stands for Modern Language Association and is most commonly used to reference liberal arts and humanities. An MLA style paper typically includes a header, in-text citations, and a Works Cited page at the end of the paper.

Table Of Contents

General Format Guidelines

An MLA style paper has the following rules:

  • Your font size should be 12
  • Recommended (preferred) font is Times New Roman
  • Your entire paper should be double spaced
  • 1” margins on all sides
  • Indent your paragraphs a half an inch (Tab key)
  • Use italics throughout the essay for titles of longer works.
  • Insert your last name and a page number on the upper right-hand corner. (Sometimes the page number is omitted on the first page.)


First and foremost, your paper does not need an MLA style paper title page unless specifically requested by your advisor.
Your header should include the following in the respective order:

  • Name
  • Instructor's name
  • Course
  • Date

Like the rest of the essay, it should be double-spaced. After this, on the next line, center the title of your paper in the Title Case. Use quotations or italics in your title only if you are referring to other works. As mentioned prior, include your name and page number in the upper right (unless specified otherwise by your instructor). Sometimes instructors require section headings to improve readability.

Section Headings

To improve your essay readability, add headings in your paper with this format:

  • Level 1 Heading: bold
  • Level 2 Heading: italics
  • Level 3 Heading: bold with tab
  • Level 4 Heading: italics with tab
  • Level 5 Heading: underlined

Title Page

The MLA format does not require a specific title page. However, if you don’t receive any specific instructions bar “have an MLA format cover page,” then a good template is this:

  • The whole page should be double spaced
  • Skip two lines and include the name of your institution.
  • One-third of the page down include your title and a subtitle if you have one.
  • Skip several lines down and type your full name, your course name, instructor name and the date.

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In-Text Citation

When paraphrasing or quoting an external source, you must include an MLA format in-text citation. In-text citations are called “parenthetical” citations.

General Guidelines

  • You do not need MLA style citation for well-known quotations or common knowledge.
  • Any information that you put as an in-text citation should appear in your Works Cited page.
  • Your parenthetical citations should go directly after the quote.
  • A parenthetical citation is two things: Author’s last name and specific page number separated by a comma.
  • If the author’s last name or page number is mentioned in the body of the sentence, then it can be omitted from the parenthetical citation.

Here are examples for each type of in-text citation:

  • Author’s name and page number:
    • As a citation: The coffee bean is believed to be the most influential cash crop (Novak 12).
    • With the author’s name in the text: Novak states that coffee bean was the most influential cash crop (12).
    • With multiple authors: The coffee bean is believed to be the most influential cash crop (Novak, Smith, and Johnson 12).
    • With more than three authors: The coffee bean is believed to be the most influential cash crop (Novak et al. 12).
  • Article title and page number: Citations with no authors or contributors are cited with the titles of the piece. Italicize novels and longer works and put articles in quotes. If the title is too long, abbreviate the title with the same letter.
    • Cited article: Caffeine is incredibly damaging to the nervous system (“Coffee Bean Revolution” 12)
    • Cited novel: “At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen” (Flaubert 81)
  • Author and no page number
    • No page number: The coffee bean is believed to be the most influential cash crop (Novak).
    • Chapter of a book or subheading of an article: “Coffee was the first step to globalization” (Novak “Globalization”)

Works Cited

An MLA style annotated bibliography is titled “Works Cited” in the top center of references list. Keep in mind that your MLA format works cited page should have hanging indents on each citation. The citations are also in alphabetical order and should match your parenthetical citations. Here are formats and examples from our qualified writer of common MLA format bibliography entry types:

  • Web Article (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
  • Web Article (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
  • Books: Last, First M. Book Title. City of Publication: Publisher, Year Published. Print.
    • Example: James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. New York: Penguin Publish, 2007. Print
  • Newspaper: Last, First M. “Article Title.” Newspaper Title [City] Date Month Year Published: Page(s). Print.
    • Example: Quint, Peter. “Turning Screws.” Pittsburgh Press 7 Mar. 1990:12-14. Print.
  • Journal: Last, First M. “Article Title.” 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.

Related: APA Style Format

Advice From Our Professional Writers Team

Writing an essay is a very tedious task, but making citations is even more annoying, especially if you’ve lost some of your sources and needed to come back and look for them later. My only advice for when you cite things in the MLA style is always to make sure to cite your sources as soon as you find them. That way, you will not even notice how quickly you are done with your Works Cited page. Another piece of advice that I have for you is: don't use an MLA citation generator. Instead, manually cite each piece of information. That way, you can ensure that all of the information in your citation is accurate. I know, it is a tedious task to go through and make sure that you have the formatting just right, but after a while, it will get a lot easier. Good luck creating your Works Cited page and I encourage you to turn to me for any help!

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