Formatting your essay in MLA style

Modern Language Associate, or MLA, is a formatting style used in paper writing and citation. While it is primarily used in liberal arts and humanities studies, it is also used for many other purposes.

What is it?

MLA is a specific set of guidelines for writing in English. It also provides guidelines for properly citing resources throughout text as well as on Works Cited/Reference pages.

Why use it?

MLA is an easy format to learn quickly. Its straight-forward style makes it easy to guarantee you aren’t accused of plagiarism. Whether plagiarism is purposeful or accidental, it is a serious accusation that all students and writers should work hard to avoid.

The General Formatting Guidelines for MLA Style

  • Use double spaced text throughout the entire paper
  • Use standard 12 point font (Times New Roman/Ariel are recommended as their italics options contrast well with their original fonts)
  • Use only one space between periods and the start of another sentence
  • The first sentence of every new paragraph should be indented on inch from the margin. The “Tab” key works for this.
  • The margins for your paper should be one inch on all sides
  • Headers should number all pages consecutively
  • End notes should all be included on the Works Cited page
  • Do not use a title page, but rather, a heading on the first page of the paper
  • Headings should never be underlined, italicized or put in quotation marks
  • Headings should be capitalized

The Importance of Sections

When using MLA to format your paper, it is recommended that you divide it into numbered sections to improve readability.


  1. The Early Years
  2. Exploring the World
  3. Marriage and Children
  4. End of an Era

In-Text Citations

Citing sources is a straightforward process using MLA style formatting. Simple plug information into the citation formula and you’re done.

For in-text citations, the basic formula is (Last Name, Page Numbers). This varies, of course, but is a fairly simple process.

Examples of in-text citations:

When Author’s name is found in the text = Ferguson stated that this was true (220-224).

Author’s name in reference = This was stated to be true (Ferguson, 220-224).

Two locations = The studies were completed over a decade (Lawton, 13-16, 216).

The Works Cited page, or the list that readers will refer to when following up on an in-text citation, requires a different formula for listing references. The basic layout doesn’t change much, regardless of type of source.

Works Cited citation formula:

Last Name, First Name. Title. Publication Location: Publisher, Year Published. Publication Type.

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