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How to Format a Document to MLA Format


Regardless of how hard a writer has worked on a paper, formatting errors will distract readers and call into question a writer's credibility. According to the book “Writing Matters” by Rebecca Howard, writers should continue the care they put into their papers by formatting the paper according to reader expectations. While following formatting guidelines can be tedious, paying careful attention to formatting is important for readers to take your work seriously.

Set your document's margins to one inch all around. If using Word 2007, select the "Page Layout" tab, and then choose the "Margins" icon. Clicking "Normal" will ensure that margins are one inch on the top, bottom, left and right.

Set your font size and style to 12-point Times New Roman using the drop-down menus under the "Font" tab.

Double-space and left-align all text in the document. Under the "Paragraph" tab, choose the "Line Spacing" icon, then "Line Spacing Options," which opens the paragraph dialogue box. Under "Alignment," choose "Left." Set to zero all numbers under "Indentation and Spacing," and under "Line Spacing," select "Double."

Number each page at the right, one-half inch from the top. Under the "Insert" tab, select the "Page Number" icon. Choose "Top of Page," and type your surname in the numbered box before the number. Make sure that every page has your surname and a page number, including the Works Cited page.

Place an assignment block on the first page, one inch from the top. Put your name on the first line, the instructor’s name on the second, the course name and section on the third, and the date -- starting with the number, the month spelled out and the year, as in, "23 January 2014" -- on the fourth line.

Center the title of your paper on the first page. The title should appear two lines below the date, since the whole document is double-spaced. Do not italicize or place quotation marks around the title.

Indent each paragraph throughout the paper one-half inch. Hit the "tab" key to indent, as its default setting is one-half inch. To customize indentations, go to the "Line Spacing" options and enter your preferred setting.

Direct readers to a figure, table or illustration by enclosing a reference to it inside parentheses -- for example, "(see Fig.1)" -- placing the visual close to the reference. Label the figure, illustration or table directly underneath as "Figure 1" or "Table 1," and include a caption.

Center the heading "Works Cited" on a new page after the end of your paper. Begin each alphabetized entry at the one-inch margin, then indent all other lines a half inch. To do so, select all the reference entries, return to the "Indentation and Spacing" window you used in step 3, and choose a hanging indent of 0.5 inches.

Tip
  • Remember to cite all sources using MLA style in addition to formatting your document correctly. MLA provides style guidelines for both in-text and Works Cited-page citations.
References
  • Writing Matters; Rebecca Howard; 2011
  • The Hodges Harbrace Handbook; Cheryl Glenn and Loretta Gray; 2010
  • MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition; Joseph Gibaldi
About the Author

Marie Brown is a Nashville-based writer who has been writing professionally since 2004. She began writing instructional articles online in 2009, writing articles about writing, business, home organizing and childcare issues. Brown holds a master’s degree in English, a minor in writing and has an associate degree in early childhood education.

Photo Credits
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