The MLA Format for a Descriptive Essay

MLA, or Modern Language Association, is a formatting style most often used in the humanities and liberal arts. When writing a descriptive essay, or an essay that describes something in detail, students will sometimes be asked to follow MLA guidelines. These guidelines, as found in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th Edition, offer formatting rules for overall paper presentation, citations and the works cited or reference page.

Overall Essay Format

A descriptive essay in MLA format is typed in a legible 12-point font and is double-spaced throughout. Margins are set to 1-inch on all sides and each paragraph is indented five spaces. A header is created that numbers each page consecutively in the upper right hand corner flush with the right margin and 1/2 inch from the top. MLA-formatted papers typically do not have a separate title page, unless specifically requested in the assignment.

First Page

Descriptive essays written in MLA format follow specific first page formatting guidelines.The upper left-hand corner of the first page contains your name, your instructor's name, the course name and the date, double-spaced. Additionally, a header should begin on the first page flush with the right margin and one-half inch from the top, that includes your last name, a space, and consecutive Arabic numeral page numbers. The title appears on the first page, centered and title-cased. The paper begins after a double space following the title.

Basic In-Text Citation

MLA-formatted essays follow the author-page style of parenthetical citations. This means that source information is included in parentheses after outside information is quoted or paraphrased within the essay. This includes the author's last name and page number. For example: (Smith 4). For sources without authors, a shortened version of the title is included. Longer works, like books, should be italicized while shorter works, like articles, are in quotation marks. For example: (The Effects of Uniforms 15).

Works Cited Page

A works cited page follows the descriptive essay and lists the sources used within the paper. The works cited page in a MLA-formatted essay begins on a separate page, follows the same margins and uses the same headers as the rest of the essay. It is center-titled Works Cited. All of the citations are double spaced and a hanging indent is created by indenting the second and subsequent lines of each citation one-half inch. Citations are in alphabetical order by the last name of the author, and include the first name and middle initial of the author, when available. For works with no author, the source is alphabetized by title.