MLA General Format
MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook (8th ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.
Contributors: Tony Russell, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli, Russell Keck, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo Rodríguez-Fuentes, Daniel P. Kenzie, Susan Wegener, Maryam Ghafoor, Purdue OWL Staff
Last Edited: 2016-08-11 04:27:59
MLA style specifies guidelines for formatting manuscripts and using the English language in writing. MLA style also provides writers with a system for referencing their sources through parenthetical citation in their essays and Works Cited pages.
Writers who properly use MLA also build their credibility by demonstrating accountability to their source material. Most importantly, the use of MLA style can protect writers from accusations of plagiarism, which is the purposeful or accidental uncredited use of source material by other writers.
If you are asked to use MLA format, be sure to consult the MLA Handbook (8th edition). Publishing scholars and graduate students should also consult the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (3rd edition). The MLA Handbook is available in most writing centers and reference libraries; it is also widely available in bookstores, libraries, and at the MLA web site. See the Additional Resources section of this handout for a list of helpful books and sites about using MLA style.
The preparation of papers and manuscripts in MLA style is covered in chapter four of the MLA Handbook, and chapter four of the MLA Style Manual. Below are some basic guidelines for formatting a paper in MLA style.
- Type your paper on a computer and print it out on standard, white 8.5 x 11-inch paper.
- Double-space the text of your paper, and use a legible font (e.g. Times New Roman). Whatever font you choose, MLA recommends that the regular and italics type styles contrast enough that they are recognizable one from another. The font size should be 12 pt.
- Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks (unless otherwise instructed by your instructor).
- Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides.
- Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch from the left margin. MLA recommends that you use the Tab key as opposed to pushing the Space Bar five times.
- Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor may ask that you omit the number on your first page. Always follow your instructor's guidelines.)
- Use italics throughout your essay for the titles of longer works and, only when absolutely necessary, providing emphasis.
- If you have any endnotes, include them on a separate page before your Works Cited page. Entitle the section Notes (centered, unformatted).
Formatting the First Page of Your Paper
- Do not make a title page for your paper unless specifically requested.
- In the upper left-hand corner of the first page, list your name, your instructor's name, the course, and the date. Again, be sure to use double-spaced text.
- Double space again and center the title. Do not underline, italicize, or place your title in quotation marks; write the title in Title Case (standard capitalization), not in all capital letters.
- Use quotation marks and/or italics when referring to other works in your title, just as you would in your text: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as Morality Play; Human Weariness in "After Apple Picking"
- Double space between the title and the first line of the text.
- Create a header in the upper right-hand corner that includes your last name, followed by a space with a page number; number all pages consecutively with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor or other readers may ask that you omit last name/page number header on your first page. Always follow instructor guidelines.)
Here is a sample of the first page of a paper in MLA style:
Image Caption: The First Page of an MLA Paper
Writers sometimes use Section Headings to improve a document’s readability. These sections may include individual chapters or other named parts of a book or essay.
MLA recommends that when you divide an essay into sections that you number those sections with an arabic number and a period followed by a space and the section name.
1. Early Writings
2. The London Years
3. Traveling the Continent
4. Final Years
MLA does not have a prescribed system of headings for books (for more information on headings, please see page 146 in the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition). If you are only using one level of headings, meaning that all of the sections are distinct and parallel and have no additional sections that fit within them, MLA recommends that these sections resemble one another grammatically. For instance, if your headings are typically short phrases, make all of the headings short phrases (and not, for example, full sentences). Otherwise, the formatting is up to you. It should, however, be consistent throughout the document.
If you employ multiple levels of headings (some of your sections have sections within sections), you may want to provide a key of your chosen level headings and their formatting to your instructor or editor.
Sample Section Headings
The following sample headings are meant to be used only as a reference. You may employ whatever system of formatting that works best for you so long as it remains consistent throughout the document.
1. Soil Conservation
2. Water Conservation
3. Energy Conservation
Level 1 Heading: bold, flush left
Level 2 Heading: italics, flush left
Level 3 Heading: centered, bold
Level 4 Heading: centered, italics
Level 5 Heading: underlined, flush left
The Modern Language Association, or MLA, is an organization that seeks to strengthen the world of language. One of the ways it does this is through a set of documentation style guidelines, which is used widely in the United States and elsewhere, especially in academic settings. In Humanities classes such, as english or literature, you'll more than likely have to format your essays in MLA formatting.
It's easy enough to remember to use 1" margins and 12pt Times New Roman, but the rest of the MLA formatting rules can be difficult to recall off hand. That's why you should have your word processor remember them for you.
In this tutorial, I will show you how to make MLA style templates in Pages and Microsoft Word to eliminate the need to remember each and every style rule each time you write an MLA style paper. You'll only need to make the template once, and every time after that it'll only take a click to get your paper formatted correctly.
The MLA Style Guide
MLA has several style rules that remain constant, no matter what word processor you use. Before we make the template, here is a quick run down of the rules you’ll need to remember while configuring your template document:
MLA style papers should be typed in 12pt, double-spaced, Times New Roman font.
MLA standards require one-inch margins on every side of the paper. MLA papers should be printed on 8.5"x11" (US Letter) paper, and even if your essay is to be submitted digitally, it should still be formatted to this paper size.
Proper MLA headers have your last name followed by the page number in the top right corner of each page. The header should be located ½" from the top of your page.
MLA-style headings might be the most difficult to remember, as there's 4 parts to include in this order:
- Your name
- Your instructor’s name
- The name of the course
- The date, stylized Day Month Year (i.e. 12 March 2014)
The heading should be double-spaced and aligned to the left side of your first page.
Titles should be centered on the page. Other stylings, such as underlining, italicizing, putting the title in quotation marks, or changing the size of the title font, are not permitted.
Body text remains double-spaced. Body text is left-aligned, and ½" indentations are required with every new paragraph.
Quotes should be blocked if they exceed four typed lines (or, if dealing with poetry, three lines). Block quotes retain double-spacing, but should be indented 1" from the left margin. Block quotes should not be put inside quotation marks unless you are quoting dialogue, and they should follow a colon.
Turning MLA Style Into a Template
All you need now is to turn the MLA page formatting into a template, so you can easily use it whenever you need to write an MLA formatted document. Then, when you need to make a new MLA formatted document, it'll take only one click to create with perfect formatting. Here are the steps to create an MLA template, first in Pages and then in Microsoft Word.
In this tutorial, I'm using Pages 5, which is the latest version and comes free with every new Mac. If you're using another version, the steps should still be very similar—and even on the iPad or in the Pages for iCloud web app, you can follow most of the same steps to format your document in MLA style.
To get started, first open Pages and start a new document using the Blank template.
To make sure you have 1" margins, click the Setup button in the top righthand corner of the screen. Under the Document menu, there is a field called Document Margins. If any of your margins are not set to 1 in, make sure you adjust them accordingly.
Adding a Header
To add a header, hover your mouse around the top of the page until three boxes appear. Click on the box furthest to the right, and open the Format panel. Change your font to 12 pt Times New Roman. Type your last name, and follow it with a space. Then, go to Insert > Page Number. This will automatically add the page number to your header as your document spills over to other pages.
Once you have inserted your header, click the blue Update button that appears next to the Header & Footer* option in the text formatting sidebar to save your header style.
Setting Up a Heading
Once you have your header in place, you can proceed to set up your heading. From the Format panel, select the Heading setting. Set your font to 12 pt Times New Roman, and your set Spacing to 2.0 — Double. Then, click the blue Update button as before to save your Heading preferences.
Fill out the heading information that was listed above in one line, then separate each of the items by pressing the enter key once. You could leave filler text for the date, though, so you'll remember to update it whenever you're making a new document with MLA formatting using this template.
Adding a Title
Press enter so that there is one space below your heading before selecting the Title option from the drop-down menu in the Format panel.
Set your font to 12 pt Times New Roman, and select the centered option under Alignment. Add some placeholder text for your title, so once again you'll easily remember to update it for new papers in the future when using this template, then click the blue Update button to save your Title preferences.
Adding Body Text
Press enter so that there is one space between your title and where your body text begins. Pages defaults to the Body option in the Format panel, which is what you want to use to set the style for the bulk of your paper. Go to Layout > Indents and set First to 0.5 in. This will automatically indent your paragraphs as you write.
Set your font to 12 pt Times New Roman, and change Spacing to 2.0 — Double, then press the blue Update button to save these preferences. Insert random text to create placeholder paragraphs for the time being, just so your paper will look almost like a real paper.
Adding a Block Quote
To create a block quote style, you will have to create a new paragraph style. In the Format panel, open the Text drop-down menu and click the Plus button to create a new style. Rename this style to Block Quote. Set the font to 12 pt Times New Roman, and set spacing to 2.0 — Double. Make sure to reset Indents in the Layout panel back to 0 in, then press the blue Update button to save the style.
Next, go to the Bullets & Lists field, expand the drop-down menu, and press the Plus button to create a new list style. Name the list style Block Quote, or something else that's easy for you to remember for quotes.
Expand the Bullets & Lists panel to reveal more formatting options, and set the Text indent to 1 in. Expand the List Styles drop-down again and click the blue Update button to save the style. Insert random text as before to create a placeholder block quote.
Exporting as a Template
At long last, you're finally done. Your document is a perfectly formatted MLA document—albeit one with dummy text instead of real content—and it's ready to be saved as a template so you can easily reuse these settings in the future. To do that, go to File > Save as Template… > Add to Template Chooser. The template window should open, and it will prompt you to rename your template. I’d recommend renaming it to something along the lines of MLA Template.
The template should now be easily accessible and available to use under the My Templates section of Pages whenever you open the app or start a new document.
Creating an MLA style template in Microsoft Word is slightly more difficult than creating one in Pages, but it can be done. I will be using Microsoft Word 2011 to create my template, but the steps should be almost the exact same using Word 2008 or newer on the Mac, or Word 2007 or newer on a PC.
To start, open Microsoft Word and create a new Blank document.
To check your margins, go to Layout > Margins, and set each margin to 1.
Adding a Header
Next, go to Document Elements > Header and Footer. Press the Header button, and from the drop-down menu select the Basic (All Pages) option. Delete the text in the left and middle columns, and type your last name into the right-most column.
Then, click the Page # button. For Position, you will want to select Top of page (Header) if it isn't already default, and for Alignment, select Right. Check off the Show number on first page box, then click OK to save the settings. A page number should automatically appear in the top right corner of every page.
Since Microsoft Word's font of choice is Calibri, you will have to change the typeface to fit MLA standards. To do this, highlight all of the header text and go to Home > Styles, and press the Window button. This will open the Styles menu. The Current style of selected text should be Header. Press the Paragraph button next to the Header option, and then select Modify Style.
Keep all Properties as they are, but change the font to 12 pt Times New Roman, and check the Add to Template and Add to Quick Styles boxes before clicking OK to update the style.
If your name intersects with the page number, adjust the right margin until the two don't intersect. Then, click the Close button to finish editing the header.
Setting up a Heading
In the Home menu, select the Heading 1 option from Styles. Open the Styles menu, and click the Paragraph button to the left of the Heading 1 option and select Modify Style.
Rename the style to MLA Heading, but keep the rest of the Properties the same. Change the font of the heading to 12 pt Times New Roman, and change the spacing to Double, which is notated by the lines placed furthest apart in the second column in the second row under the Formatting section of the menu.
Next, click on the Format drop-down in the bottom left of the menu, and select the Paragraph option.
Under Spacing, change Before to 0 pt. Click OK to save these settings and return to the main menu. Make sure that the Add to template and Add to Quick Style list boxes are checked before pressing OK to save your settings.
Now, add all the necessary information for a heading in one line, then separate each item by pressing the Enter key after each one.
Adding a Title
Press the Enter key once more so there is a space between your heading and what will be your title.
In the Home menu, select the Title style from the Styles panel. Open up the Styles menu and click the Paragraph button to the right of the Title option and select Modify Style.
Select the Paragraph option from the Format drop-down.
Under Spacing, change After to 0 pt. Click OK to save your changes and return to the main Modify Style menu.
Return to the Format drop-down, and select the Border option.
There, select None from the Setting column, and press OK to save your changes.
Keep all Properties the same. Change the font to 12 pt Times New Roman, and toggle center alignment on. Press OK to save the style.
Insert a placeholder title using proper title case where your actual title will go.
Adding Body Text
Press the Enter key so that there is a space between your title and what will become the body of your template. By pressing enter, Word should default to the Normal text style, which is what you want to use for your body text.
Open the Styles menu from the Home menu, then click the Paragraph button to the right of the Normal text style and select Modify Style.
Select the Paragraph option from the Format drop-down.
Under the Indentation field, change Special to First line, and enter 0.5" in the By box. This will automatically indent new paragraphs in your paper. Click OK to save this option and return to the main Modify Style menu.
Keep all Properties the same. Change the font to 12 pt Times New Roman, and toggle double spacing on. Make sure the Add to template and Add to Quick Style list boxes are checked off before pressing OK to save your style.
Insert random text to create placeholder paragraphs where the body of your paper will be.
Adding a Block Quote
Press Enter once more so there is a space between your body text and where your block quote will be. From the Styles panel, select the Quote option. Open the Styles menu, and click the Paragraph button to the right of the Quote option and select Modify Style.
From the Format drop-down, select the Paragraph option. Under Indentation, change Special to (none), then insert 1" in the Left box. This will indent your block quote 1" from the left margin. Press OK to save these changes and return to the main Modify Style menu.
Keep all Properties the same. Change the font to 12 pt Times New Roman, and toggle double spacing on. Make sure the Add to template and Add to Quick Style list boxes are checked before pressing OK to save the style.
Insert random text to serve as a placeholder block quote.
Exporting as a Template
Once you have finished setting up your document, go to File > Save As, and change your Format to Word Template (.dotx). By selecting that option, the file should save to My Templates, which is the proper directory for this file. Rename your file to something along the lines of MLA Template so you can easily find it. Press Save to save your template.
Now, your template should be easily accessible under the My Templates section of the Word Document Gallery for use whenever creating a new document.
And you're done!
You have now successfully made MLA style templates in both Pages and Microsoft Word, which you can use to easily set up an MLA style paper whenever you need. If your essay also needs a works cited page, you can use sites such as Easybib to easily set up MLA style bibliographies. And, if you need to make another document template—say, to make it easier to make documents formatted the way your employer wants—you can use these same steps to make any template you need, as long as you substitute the settings in this tutorial for the template you need.
If you're using an online or mobile word processor, such as Pages for iCloud or on your iPad, Microsoft Word Online, Google Docs, or QuickOffice, you won't be able create your own template to quickly reproduce the same way you can in Word or Pages. But, you could follow most of these steps and make your own template document, save it, and then just duplicate that document any time you want to make a MLA formatted document. It's not a perfect solution, but it'll still be better than tweaking all these settings every time.
It's always best to follow along with the tutorials so you'll learn how to get the most out of your own apps, but if you're in a hurry, we've included MLA style templates for both Microsoft Word and Pages crafted with this tutorial as well. You can download them from the link at the beginning of the tutorial, and then save them directly in your copy of Word or Pages for easy access.
If you have any further questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section down below!