How to Use MLA Formatting

Modern Language Association style provides guidelines for formatting a research paper and including sourced information within the body of your paper. MLA is generally used in humanities courses, including English, foreign languages and cultural studies. Following the guidelines for formatting and writing create flow to your work and help produce a polished final product.

Formatting Guidelines

Use standard 8.5-by-11-inch paper with 12-point font and 1-inch margins. Indent paragraphs using one tab key and include a header in the top right corner of the page with the page number. MLA format does not require a title page unless it is required by the instructor. In the upper-left corner of the first page, use double-spaced type to list your name, the teacher's name, the course name and the date. After the heading, create a double space and type the title centered on the page. Titles are not underlined, italicized or written in bold in MLA. Begin writing after creating another double space after the title.

In-Text Citations

Information taken from research and included in your paper directly or indirectly must be cited both in the text itself and in a final works cited page. There are two ways of creating citations -- parenthetical and in-text citations. Parenthetical citations include the author's last name and the page number where the information was retrieved from. Insert this information at the end of a sentence. Note that there is no comma between the author's last name and the page number, for example: Write sentences this way (Smith 55). Alternately, include the author's name in the sentence itself with only a page number in parenthesis at the end of the sentence for an in-text citation. For example: According to Smith, sentences should be written this way (55).

Works Cited Page

Each in-text citation should have a corresponding listing on the final works cited page. The works cited page is a separate page at the end of the completed paper listing full source information for every citation in your paper. This final page retains the formatting guidelines used throughout the paper, including margins and spacing. A header also includes the page number indicating the final pages of the paper. The citations are listed one after another with no additional spacing other than the standard double spacing present throughout the paper. The second and third lines of a citation use a hanging indent of 1/2 inch. For example, each citation for books includes the author, title in italics, publisher, date of publication and medium of publication, as follows: Smith, John. My Great Writing. Los Angeles: Academic Publishers, 2015. Print.

Overall Guidelines

Verify that you have included the three specific elements that MLA requires. Review page layout and general formatting. Double-check style for the citation of sources both within the text and in a works cited page. Additionally, MLA contains specific requirements for use of quotes and abbreviations. Generally, speaking quotes of three or four lines are included in the text within quotation marks. Longer quotations are indented 1 inch from the left margin of the paper. Both styles of quotes require the use of a citation including the last name of the author and the page number referenced.

About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Jana Sosnowski holds Master of Science in educational psychology and instructional technology, She has spent the past 11 years in education, primarily in the secondary classroom teaching English and journalism. Sosnowski has also worked as a curriculum writer for a math remediation program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from the University of Southern California.

Photo Credits
  • Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images