MLA Style Paper Formatting

MLA Style Paper Formatting

Formatting an MLA style research paper, an essay or any other academic assignment is not that difficult once you know the basic logic behind this style. It is true that some minor MLA guidelines may change from time to time; however, it is also true that the fundamental principles behind this format remain unchanged — through editions 1 to 8 (but obviously, you are to consult the latter).

Another way to grasp the essentials of MLA formatting is to search for the latest MLA style paper example. This approach, however, is more suitable for students who have some experience working with the style. If you are not one of those, let’s dig into details together and analyze all the ins and outs of an MLA style paper.

The ground rules behind MLA style paper format

Even though the eighth edition of MLA paper style indicates that the main purpose of the writer is to make the paper readable and informative, some ground rules should be obeyed at all times. These strict requirements go as follows:

  • Margins on all sides of the document are set to one inch
  • 12-point font throughout the entire paper (most educational establishments stick to Times New Roman, even though MLA official guidelines are not so rigid on the matter)
  • The paper is double-spaced
  • Page numeration is in the top right corner
  • The paper is left-aligned (except headings, i.e., paper title and Works Cited header of your bibliography section)
  • The paragraphs are indented
  • No section breaks or blank lines between the paragraphs
  • Every quote has a reference to the original author
  • Works Cited page is the last section of your paper (the only one where section break is a must)

Running head formatting

While MLA paper format does not presuppose an actual running head with your title, it does require a student’s last name in the header — right next to each page number. Both the number and the last name are right-aligned. It is also important to double-check the fonts here. Just like the rest of your paper, a page number and the last name in the header come in 12-point font.

Once again, most educational establishments strongly suggest using 12-point Times New Roman. This, however, is not a strict rule in MLA paper format. According to MLA, you can use any plain (no decorative elements) font. BUT — it does have to be the same throughout the entire paper, and that includes the header. To put it simply, save yourself some trouble and just go with Times New Roman.

Student credentials and subject

As a rule, MLA style paper does not have a separate title page (although official guidelines do not restrict the title for lengthy assignments). Still, the general header for a given academic essay will usually include the following information (in this same order):

  • Student first and last name
  • Professor’s name
  • Subject
  • Date of completion

All of the information (just like pretty much the rest of your entire paper) is left-aligned. If you do not plan to have a separate title page, your name goes on the first line of the paper. This, in turn, makes your essay title your fifth line.

The title of the paper is centered, but remains in plain font — no extra formatting (bold, highlight, italics) is needed. Nouns, verbs, and proper names in the title, along with its first word, always start with a capital letter. Prepositions and particles remain lower case.

Formatting citations in MLA style paper

If you are working on a personal essay, you do not always require any external articles or books. If however, you are working on an MLA style research paper, giving credit to people who have worked on the subject before is simply a must.

All in all, there is nothing particularly special about MLA citation. All you need to do is place the directly cited texts in quotation marks and indicate the author in brackets. Another distinctive feature of MLA style paper is indicating a page number for any directly quoted material. This should not be a problem when working with printed sources or digital articles from online periodicals. If you are quoting from a source that has no page number, simply reference the author and ignore the page number guideline.

However, remember to choose your sources carefully. A source without a page number can be an official website for some company/group/organization. But, it cannot be a random blog post from an unverified source. After all, it’s academic paper you are working on — try not to forget that.

If you are using a short quote, make it an integral part of your sentence or paragraph; like this:

Say, you’re using your own words and then decide to support them with external evidence. In that case, you “start typing your citation wherever necessary” (Author 3), but place all required punctuation marks only after the reference has been given.

Pay attention: there are no punctuation marks between the author’s name and the page number.

If you have googled for an MLA style paper example before, you might have noticed that some quotations are intended and are not framed in quotation marks. Such an approach is obligatory when citing big chunks of texts. The general guideline is to have citations that exceed 40 words indented on a separate line from your body text.

Do not get too obsessed with block quotations, though. It is not acceptable to have over 10% of the total paper length in quotes. Ideally, you should not exceed 7-8%. After all, the paper is supposed to be yours, and even though it should give reference to other authors, it still has to discuss your ideas, not someone else’s.

If you’re not sure how much you’ve quoted already, just run your first draft through any plagiarism checking tool.

Formatting bibliography in MLA paper style

The final part of any MLA style paper is the Works Cited page. Just like the other parts of your work, it follows some pretty specific rules:

  • The title of the section, Works Cited, is centered
  • The reference sources are left-aligned
  • Each source starts with a new line
  • The first line of every new source has NO indent
  • The following lines, pertaining to the same reference, come WITH an indent
  • Sources are listed alphabetically

Every source you use here has the following information

  • Author’s name (last name and first name initial; OR last and first name)
  • Resource title
  • Place of publication
  • Year of publication

The actual formatting example will look like this:

For an entire book:
Williams, K. Academic Formats Explained. Miami. 2015.

A chapter from a book or an article from a magazine:
Williams, K. “MLA Format Explained”. Academic Formats Explained. Miami. 2015.

When quoting on online source, you can use the following principle
Musso, C.G. “Renaissance Painting: The triadic matter of reality”. n.d. Web. 2010.

In this example, n.d. stands for ‘no date’.

Finally, remember that the number of sources you indicate on MLA style Works Cited page will mostly depend on the type of paper and its length. Obviously, you do not necessarily have to use any outside references in a personal essay (even though a literary quote can make your writing more vivid). Speaking of length, it is common to have as many sources as there are pages in your paper. However, you can always consult your professors to find out what exactly they expect from you when it comes to references.