Setting Up the MLA Paper Format
When writing an assignment in MLA style, you must follow the MLA paper format. This means following guidelines for everything from margins and spacing or font type and size to using a header that shows up on every page. This format also dictates putting endnotes and your Works Cited page in a certain place within your paper and other formatting guidelines.
The goal of these MLA paper format guidelines is to create a consistent page setup and to foster readability within a paper or written text. Unless you are directed by an instructor to break from the formatting guidelines below, use the information to set up your MLA paper format.
Paper size and type
Use standard white computer paper that measure 8.5 x 11 inches. Avoid using thicker, card-stock type paper.
Margins and spacing for MLA paper format
The MLA paper format for margins and spacing is easy to set up in any word processor, so make sure to follow these guidelines when formatting your paper.
- Use 1-inch margins on the top, bottom and both sides.
- Indent the first sentence of each paragraph 1 inch from the left margin of your paper. The default setup of the “Tab” key is set to 1 inch, and the MLA paper format suggests using the Tab key instead of entering five spaces using the space bar.
- Use standard double spacing throughout the entire text of your paper.
- Avoid entering a double space between paragraphs by hitting the “Enter” key twice. There is already a space, and the 1-inch indentations notes the start of a new paragraph.
- Use single spaces between sentences after the sentence-ending punctuation. This is the modern convention for spacing, so use single spacing unless assignment instructions specify otherwise.
- Avoid increasing the margins or spacing to stretch the length of your paper.
Font size and type for MLA paper format
The purpose of using a particular font size and type in your MLA paper format is to make your text easy to read. While some assignment instructions may specify which font type or size to use, not all do. When you are not given specific instructions, use the following guidelines in your MLA paper format:
- Choose a legible font by selecting one where the regular type and the italic type are different enough to make the use of either clear. “Times Roman Numeral” is always a great choice, but “Arial,” “Lucina,” “Modern,” and “Palermo” are also okay.
- Avoid scripted fonts. While these fonts might appeal to you, they often make your content harder to read.
- Use 12-pt. font as recommended by the MLA paper format. Sometimes, it is permitted to use 10- or 11-pt. font, but make sure this is okay under your instructions.
- Never increase your font size to stretch the length of your paper.
The first page of MLA paper format
The first page of the MLA paper format differs from subsequent pages. It contains more heading information, your paper title and, if it applies, an epigraph. The first page is the only page that includes the whole heading and your paper title.
- List your full name, your instructor’s full name or preferred title, the name of your course or class and the date you are turning in the paper, each on a separate line. Double space between each line.
- Make sure to use a double space between the date and your paper title.
- Center your title, and use title case for capitalization. Do not use underlining or italicizing within your title, and avoid using quotation marks unless the title of something else is within your title. Do not put your title in all capital letters.
- Double space between the title and the start of the first paragraph.
Epigraph formatting for MLA paper format
Using an epigraph (a quotation that precedes the body of your paper) is common, but there is no official MLA guideline. If you choose to include an epigraph, use the formatting guidelines for a block quote by indenting 1 inch inside your paper margins. If the epigraph consists of multiple lines of short text, center the lines below your title, and follow these MLA paper format guidelines:
- Use double spacing below and above the epigraph.
- Use single spacing within an epigraph consisting of multiple lines.
- Include the author’s name immediately below the epigraph, single-spaced from the previous line. The author’s name should appear on the right side of the text, and a corresponding entry in your Works Cited page is necessary.
Header and page numbers for MLA paper format
In addition to the extended heading information that is included on the first page, a header with page numbers is required on every page of the MLA paper format unless assignment instructions specify it is okay to omit the page number header on page one of your paper. Format your header using the following MLA paper format guidelines:
- Create a header that uses consecutive page numbers in the right-hand top corner of your paper.
- Set the header a ½ inch from the top edge of your paper while making sure the text is right aligned.
- Include your last name three character spaces to the left of the page number.
- Ensure this header appears on every page, including an endnotes or Works Cited page.
Section headings in MLA paper format
Section headings are not required in MLA paper format. However, you may opt to use them to increase the readability of your paper. You can use one or more levels of section headings and subheadings. If you choose to use section headings, keep the following MLA paper format guidelines in mind:
- If you divide your essay into sections, number the sections with Arabic numbers and a period. Enter a space, and type the section heading.
- When you are using only one level of section headings, maintain parallelism by making sure the headings are grammatically similar. If you use full-sentence section headings, make sure every section heading is a full sentence, for example. Likewise, if you use a short noun phrase, make all section headings a short noun phrase.
- Should you use section headings, there are no set formatting guidelines. You can use bold, italics or underlining within the headings, and you can place the text use left alignment or center positioning. The important thing is to stay consistent throughout all your section headings by using the same formatting.
- When using multiple levels of subheadings, you should create a key to the formatting for your instructor to avoid problems with grading on format.
Endnotes and Works Cited for MLA paper format
For endnotes and the Works Cited page, MLA paper format dictates that these are both placed on separate pages from one another and from the body of your research paper. The creation and use of endnotes and the Works Cited page are covered in another section of the MLA guide, but remember that both are separate documents that attach to your paper and use consecutive numbering in relation to your paper’s page numbers.
Title page for MLA paper format
A title page is not required under the MLA paper format. However, you might be asked in assignment instructions to provide one. If the format for the title page is identified within those instructions, use the details provided in formatting the title page. If not, follow the below guide for making a title page:
- Do not put a page number on your title page. The first numbered page in MLA paper format is the first page with your paper text.
- On the title page, create a 2-inch top margin.
- Details to include in your title page should be included in the assignment instructions when a title page is asked for, so incorporate any additional information asked for within them. Following any formatting guidelines outlined in the instructions as well.
Following the MLA paper format helps increase the readability of your paper and helps your grade. Whenever you are unsure of the correct formatting, check the MLA guide to determine which, if any, MLA paper format rules applies. In addition, parenthetical citations (in-text citations) should be documented properly with all your sources cited correctly. When you follow these guidelines, your paper is a stronger one that has easy readability.
0.1) If you’ve been asked to submit a paper in MLA style, your instructor is asking you to format the page and present the content in a specific way. Just as football referees dress a certain way, and Japanese chefs cook a certain way, writers in certain disciplines follow a certain set of conventions. This document will show you how to format an essay in MLA style.
For the most complete information, check your campus library or writing center for the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 8th ed.
1. Document Settings
Your word processor comes with default settings (margin, line height, paragraph spacing, and typeface) that will likely need adjustment. For MLA style, you need:
|(Jump directly to instructions for adjusting MS-Word settings in Windows or Mac; or, skip ahead to 2) Page Header.)|
1.1 Adjusting Document Settings in MS-Word (Windows)
My copy of Microsoft Word for Windows defaults to
- 1-inch margins all around
- 1.15 line height
- 10pt spacing between paragraphs
- Calibri 11-point typeface.
Changing to MLA Style (Windows)
- The default margins in my test run were fine, but if you need to change them:
Page Layout -> Margins -> Normal (1-inch all around)
- The default line height is too low. Change it to 2.0.
Home -> Line Spacing -> 2.0.
(You could try fudging it to 1.9 or 2.1 to meet a page count, but any more than that and your instructor may notice.)
- The MS-Word default adds extra space after paragraphs.(MLA Style instead requires you to signal paragraph breaks by indenting the first line.)
CTRL-A (select all your text)
Home -> Line Spacing -> Remove Space After Paragraph
- Change the typeface to Times New Roman 12-point.
Home-> Font Face Selector (change to Times New Roman)
Home -> Font Size Selector (change to 12)
1.2 Adjusting Document Settings in MS-Word (Mac)
My copy of Microsoft Word for Mac defaults to
- 1.25 inch left and right margins, 1 inch top and bottom
- 1.0 line height
- no extra spacing after paragraphs
- Cambria 12-point typeface
Changing to MLA style (Mac)
- In my test run, the left and right margins are too big. To change them:
Layout -> Margins -> Normal (1-inch all around)
- The default line height is too low. Change it to 2.0.
Home -> Line Spacing -> 2.0
- My Mac copy of MS-Word does not add extra spaces after paragraphs. If yours does:
Home -> Line Spacing -> Line Spacing Options… (a new window will pop up)
Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style (check this box) -> OK
- The 12-point Cambria will probably be fine, but to change the typeface:
Home -> Font Face Selector (change to Times New Roman)
Home -> Font Size Selector (change to 12)
2. Page Header
In the top right of every page, use your word processor’s “Page Header” function add an automatic page number and your surname.
2.1 Adding the Page Header in MS-Word (Windows)
- Insert -> Page Number -> Top of Page -> (choose the right-justified “Plain Number” option)
- The cursor will jump automatically to the right place for you to type your surname.
- Click anywhere in the body of the paper to exit the header area.
2.2 Adding the Page Header in MS-Word (Mac)
- Insert (in the top menu) -> Page Numbers… -> (Set “Position” to “Top of Page (header)” and “Alignment” to “Right”)
- Click just to the left of the new page number, and type your surname.
- On my test document, my name was too far over to the left; grab the triangular tab adjuster just above your name, and drag it a notch to the right.
3. Title Block
In the upper left corner, type your name, your instructor’s name, the course number and section, and today’s date. Centered on the next line, type an informative title that actually informs the reader of your main point (not just “English Paper” or “A Comparison between Hamlet and Macbeth”).
- Like all the other text in an MLA style paper, the title block is double-spaced.
- The title is in the same font as the rest of the paper — it is not boldface, or enlarged.
- There is no extra space above or below the title.
- A truly informative title will include the general topic, and your precise opinion on that topic. (So, if you pan to compare Hamlet and Macbeth, your title should state the unique point you want to make about Hamlet and Macbeth. Reuse part of your thesis statement.)
This handout presumes you already know why you should cite your sources (to establish your authority, to introduce persuasive evidence, to avoid plagiarism, etc.), These instructions focus on how you format the page. (For a resource to help you determine how to cite a specific source, see the MLA Bibliography Builder).
To fully cite a source requires two stages. The first happens in the body of your paper (the “in-text citation”) and the second happens on a separate page at the end of your paper (see “Works Cited List,” below.)
4.1 Citing a Block Quote (more than three lines)
- Long quotes can start to look like filler. Only use a block quote if you have a very good reason to include the whole passage. (You can usually make your point with a shorter quote.)
- If you do have a good reason to quote a passage that is several lines long:
- Select the text and click the “Increase Indent” icon (see image, right).
- Place the parenthetical citation (the author’s name and the page number) after the period. (This is different from inline quotes, below.)
- There is no comma between the author’s name and the page number.
- If the quotation runs across more than one page: (Wordsworth-Fuller 20-21) or (Wordsworth-Fuller 420-21).
- Skip wordy introductions such as, “In his informative guide The Amazing Writing Book, published by Elizabeth Mount College in 2010, the noted composition expert Maxwell Wordsworth-Fuller describes the importance of citations in MLA style papers.” Cutting the filler leaves more room to develop your own original ideas. (See “Integrating Quotations.”)
4.2 Citing an Inline Quotation
When the passage you want to quote is less than three lines long, use inline style. Here we have two brief passages, taken from the same page of the same source, so we can handle both with a single parenthetical citation.
- The parenthetical citation appears outside the quoted material.
- The period that ends the sentence comes after the close parenthesis. (This is different from block quotes, above.)
- In this example, we have changed the first word a little, lowercasing it in order to fit it into our own sentence. To let the reader know what we changed, we put  around it.
- Again, note the absence of a full sentence that explains who Wordsworth-Fuller is and where the quote comes from. All that info will be in the Works Cited list, so we leave it out of the body of the paper.
4.3 Citing a Paraphrase
Let’s imagine we want to reference Wordsworth-Fuller’s general idea about citation as a way to establish credibility, but we don’t need to include any of the technical details. We can save space, and make it much easier on our reader, if we paraphrase:
- Use paraphrasing for variety, or to make a passing reference without taking up much space.
- If we use an author’s idea, rephrased in our own words, we must still cite the idea.
5. Works Cited List
A research paper isn’t a research paper unless you end with full bibliographical details on every source you cited. This part can be tedious and tricky; leave yourself plenty of time to do it.
- Start a new page.
- MS-Word Wind: Insert -> Page Break -> New Page.
- MS-Word Mac: Document Elements -> Break -> Page.
- Title your new page: Works Cited
MLA style calls for no extra spaces above or below the page title; no special formatting.
5.1. How to Create an Individual Works Cited Entry
Exactly what goes into each item in your bibliography depends on what kind of item it is. The following pages give you some questions to answer, then let you push a button to get an individual works-cited entry.
MLA-Style Bibliography Builder: Create Works Cited Entries by Filling in a Form
- Article (in a periodical, or chapter; printed or electronic)
- Book (printed or electronic)
- Web Page (corporate web page, blog entry, YouTube video, etc.)
If you prefer a more narrative explanation, see Purdue OWL’s handouts for how to create a bibliography entry for a book, an article in a periodical (such as a journal or newspaper), or an electronic source (such as an email, web page or a YouTube clip). See also this list of other common sources (such as a personal interview or a movie).
5.2. How to Organize Your Works Cited list
Sort the entries alphabetically by the author‘s last name.
- If the author is an organization (such as a government agency or non-profit foundation), alphabetize according to the name of the organization.
- If you are citing a painting, or a composer, then obviously “author” has to be interpreted a little loosely.
- Unless your instructor ask you to organize your Works Cited list differently, everything should be alphabetized together, in a single list. MLA does not require that you separate works of different kinds, or that you cite works in the order that they appeared in your paper, or that you write annotations to go along with each item.
- Use double-spaced line height. (in my copy of Word, I select the text and choose Format -> Paragraph -> Line spacing -> Double -> OK.)
- Use hanging indent paragraph format. (In my copy of word, I select the text then choose Format -> Paragraph -> Indentation -> Special -> Hanging Indent.)
29 May 2011 — new document posted, replacing outdated handout written in 1999.
06 Jun 2011 — expanded section on organizing the Works Cited list, since several readers asked for clarification.
07 Jun 2011 — reorganized for emphasis
19 Apr 2012 — added numbers to more subheads
24 Mar 2014 — added details on Works Cited paragraph formatting.
02 Oct 2016 — updated with MLA 8th Edition details.
30 Nov 2016 — added annotated Works Cited sample image.
Related Writing Links
|Dennis G. Jerz|
Researched Papers: Using Quotations Effectively
If your college instructor wants you to cite every fact or opinion you find in an outside source, how do you make room for your own opinion? Paraphrase, quote selectively, and avoid summary.Dennis G. Jerz
MLA Works Cited Citation Builder
Choose a form, fill it out, and push the button… you will get an individual entry for a “Works Cited” page, which you may then copy and paste into your word processor. The BibBuilder is more like a guide than a full-fledged utility, but you may nevertheless find it helpful.
|Jerz’s Literacy Weblog|