How to Write a Paper in the MLA Format

Updated July 12, 2018

College students writing a paper in the MLA format for the first time can struggle to get their attribution and page formats correctly. MLA stands for Modern Language Association, and it's among the most popular style guides for liberal arts classes. The format is straightforward and simple. Most MLA formatted papers do not require a cover sheet, but you should check your syllabus or with your instructor to see if a cover sheet is needed.

Set your font. Use a standard Times New Roman font, size 12. Set the paper to double-space. If using Microsoft Word 2007, click "Paragraph" and remove the default after spacing of "10 pts" and set it to zero. Verify that the lines are defaulting to double space.

Format your paper. Using the standard 8.5-by-11 inch size paper. You should have 1-inch margins all the way around. The page number and your last name should be 1.2 inch from the top of the page and flushed right. List your name, the instructor's name, class name and date 1 inch from the top of the page, left flushed. On the next line, center the title of the paper.

Write the paper in MLA format. Indent each paragraph five spaces or one standard tab from the left margin. MLA papers require a standard introduction, body of paper and conclusion.

Cite your references properly. When citing references in MLA you attribute information and quotes by author's name and page in parenthesis. For example, when referencing the book "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley, you would reference it by "(Shelley 32)." Do not use a comma or the date. If you don't have an author or the work is anonymous, reference it by the title of the work and the page number.

List works cited. On the last page of your paper, list your works cited (not references). Use this form exactly (minus the quotes): "The author's last name, first name. Title of the book (underlined or italicized). Place of publication: publisher, year of publication." First line is flushed left with all subsequent lines of the reference to be indented.

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  • Use straightforward titles. Limit subtitles unless it is very pertinent to the paper. MLA format is used in essays as well as research papers. .


  • Do not use misleading titles--teachers dislike them.

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