How to Format an MLA Research Paper

The Modern Language Association provides a consistent format for students to follow when developing research papers. MLA style is most commonly used in papers written in the humanities or liberal arts. Students use brief references to previous research and published work to support their findings and conclusions.

Set up the formatting in a word-processing application. MLA style calls for a typed, double-spaced report with one-inch margins all the way around. Use 12-point font that is easily readable, such as Times New Roman. All punctuation used in the paper, including periods, is followed by one space.

Set up the page header with your last name and the page number. Type your last name in the upper right-hand corner of the page, a half inch from the top. Leave one space after your name and insert the page number. Each page of the paper must include the header with this information.

Format the first page. MLA style does not include a separate title page; instead, identifying information is included on the first page along with the text of the paper. In the upper left-hand corner of the page, one inch from the top, type your first and last name, followed by the instructor's name, the course name and the date of the paper, each on its own line. This information, like the rest of the paper, should be double-spaced. Type and center the title of the paper on the line below the date. The main body of the paper follows the title, with the first line of each paragraph indented a half inch from the left margin.

As you draw on your source material in your essay, cite each reference in the same sentence in which you use it. Most references to source material include the author's last name and the page number in parentheses at the end of your sentence but before its final punctuation. For specific citation examples, visit the Purdue Online Writing Lab or refer to the "MLA Handbook."

End the research paper with a list of the source material used. At the top of a new page after your essay concludes, type and center the words "Works Cited." Include all sources used in the paper in alphabetical order by the author's last name. The first line of each reference is not indented, but any following lines are indented a half inch from the left margin. For specific examples of references in the works cited list, visit the Purdue Online Writing Lab or refer to the "MLA Handbook."

About the Author

Based in Omaha, Neb., Amy Adkins has been a professional writer and editor since 2001. She writes primarily on the topic of health and health care and has experience in marketing communications, public relations, corporate communication and technical writing. She received her Master of Arts degree in communication from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

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