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
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.