How to Format A MLA Paper

The effort and time that goes into putting a research paper together spans across multiple requirements that are needed. Together with producing sound and quality research, the detailed citation and formatting guidelines needs to be taken into consideration by academics and students as well; whether its the The Chicago Manual of Style, American Psychology Association, or Modern Language Association guidelines for formatting.

The need to be privy towards the list of formatting requirements that abide by professional research paper publication standards can be daunting. Details about elements such as font size, line-spacing, page numbering, titling, font, headers, foot notes, endnotes, the contents page, bibliography and resources, and so on need to be given ample attention. This makes it important to be well-accustomed to and familiar with the style of formatting you should be writing in. If you're writing according to the Modern Language Association style of formatting, this article takes you through what an MLA style research paper is and it's necessary formatting elements.

What is MLA format?

MLA formatting, developed by the Modern Language Association, is a uniformed way for researchers and academics to format, organize, and structure their writing and cite their resources. This style of formatting was first used prevalently in the Languages, Arts, Cultural Studies, and Humanities disciplines. Today, MLA is not only used in Literature and Language subject fields, and many others have adopted it also.

Like the various other academic formatting and styling guides, MLA guidelines have specific margins for adherence. From the headings, to in-text citations, "Works Cited" page, size of the margins, font size, and so on, these elements are all meant to be standardized across MLA-styled papers.

How is MLA format used?

MLA formatting has been widely used and prevalent for various reasons. This format makes sure that your resources, no matter what medium, are cited and credited properly. As a formal and academic citation style, it has consistent rules as to how to go about listing the references you use, and how it should formatted and indicated in your papers. Formal and thorough citation makes sure that you do not face plagiarism issues, and allows your readers to get a good understanding of where you got your information.

It also ensures that your research paper is readable, and has all of the necessary academic elements. This promotes scientific communication by providing clarity of expression and standardizes the organization of academic papers.

MLA formatting can be used for a variety of format writing, such as essays, reports, and research papers from predominantly the Arts and Humanities fields.

When used, MLA formatting should be used throughout the entirety of the essay or paper, through sections and drafts such the research proposal, literature review, or list of resources.

In the academic writing process, there isn't an urgent need to format first drafts or any other documents that don’t reach mentors or readers. However, writers can certainly use the MLA format throughout the writing process from the get-go. One benefit of doing this is that one can approximate how many pages the final draft will span before reaching the publication or submission stage.

Rules and Guidelines of MLA Format

Formatting Elements

FontUse a legible font (e.g. Times New Roman) in font size 12.
Margins1-inch margins on all sides.
SpacingDouble-spacing on title page and in the main body of your text
ParagraphingIndent the first line of each paragraph one half-inch from the left margin.
QuotationsWith the author’s name in the sentence (a citation in prose) Example: "Dan Gutman shares a glimpse into the overall plot by stating, “I didn’t know it at the time, but a baseball card—for me—could function like a time machine” (5)."
Without the author’s name in the sentence (a parenthetical citation) Example: "The main character’s experience is realized and explained when he says “I didn’t know it at the time, but a baseball card—for me—could function like a time machine” (Gutman 5)."
In a block quote, which is used when a large quote, of 4 lines or more, is added into a paper.
PunctuationLeave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks.
Running headThe running head is placed in the upper right-hand corner, half an inch from the top margin and one inch from the right margin of the page. Type your last name before the page number. The last name and page number should be separated by a single space.
AbbreviationsWhen including abbreviations, do not place periods in between capital letters. For example: US, not U.S.
For lower case abbreviations, it is acceptable to include periods between the letters.
EndnotesIf you have any endnotes, include them on a separate page before your Works Cited page. Entitle the section Notes (centered, unformatted).
FiguresFor an image to be significant and easily identifiable, put it as close as possible to the text in the project where it is discussed - Create a label for the image or illustration and place it directly beneath the image. Begin the label with the abbreviation “Fig.,” which is short for figure. Provide a caption as well. The caption should be a brief explanation or the title of the contents of the image. Place the caption directly next to the label.
TablesInclude the label “Table” with an Arabic numeral, and title it. The table number and title should be located flush left and on separate lines.
ListsUse a colon between the introductory sentence and the list. But don't include a colon if the first item in the list is part of the sentence.
Paper size8.5 inch x 11 inch paper, white paper.

Title Page Elements

MLA Format Header

The header in an MLA formatted paper is left-aligned on the first page of your paper. It includes 4 elements:

  • Your full name
  • Your instructor’s name
  • The name and number of the course or class
  • The assignment’s due date

Begin one inch from the top of the first page and flush with the left margin. Type the elements on separate lines, using double spaces between each. Number all pages consecutively, one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin.

Runing Head and Page Numbering

At the top of every page, including the first page, state your last name and the page number. The running head will serve as your page numbering as well.

This running head is placed in the upper right-hand corner, half an inch from the top margin and one inch from the right margin of the page. Type your last name before the page number. The last name and page number should be separated by a single space.

Paper Title

State the title of your paper neatly before diving into the main body text of your paper. The title of your paper should be placed double-spaced after your header.

A few other guidelines you should follow while formatting the title of your paper include:

  • Refrain from underlining, italicizing, or placing 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.
  • Do not place a period after the title or after any headings
  • Double space between the title and first lines of the main body text

Section Headings

Headings and subheadings can help organize and structure your writing. In general, longer and more complex works warrant more of them than shorter ones.

MLA guidelines only state a few formatting requirements for headings. These include the headings to:

  • Be written in title case
  • Be left-aligned
  • Not end in a period

For example:

1Bold, Flushed Or Aligned With The Left Margin, Title Cased
2Normal, Flushed Or Aligned With The Left Margin, Title Cased
3Normal, Italicized, Flushed Or Aligned With The Left Margin, Title Cased

In-text Citations

In MLA Style, referring to the works of others in your text is done using parenthetical citations. This method involves providing relevant source information in parentheses whenever a sentence uses a quotation or paraphrase.

MLA format follows the "author-page" method of in-text citation. This refers to the author's last name and the page number(s) from which the quotation or paraphrase is taken appearing in the text. A complete reference should also appear on your "Works Cited" page.

The author's name may appear either in the sentence itself or in parentheses following the quotation or paraphrase, but the page number(s) should always appear in the parentheses, and not in the text of your sentence.


Endnotes refer to the notes citing a particular source in your paper, or notes that make a brief explanatory comment with regards to information that you have incorporated into your paper. They can be a reference, an extended explanation, or comment placed at the end of an article, research paper, chapter, or book.

Thes notes are placed at the end of a research paper and are arranged sequentially in relation to where the reference appears in the paper.

Endnotes are used to provide your readers with information without distracting the from the actual content of your paper. They acknowledge the source of a quotation, statistics, or summary; and they provide explanatory comments that do not interrupt the flow of the main text as they don't clutter up the page. Added as a separate section of a research paper, before the "Works Cited" page, endnotes allow the reader to look through all the notes at once.

Endnotes are numbered consecutively throughout a chapter or article, with each new chapter or section starting over with endnote 1. The notes section at the back is then broken down by chapter or section, with the corresponding endnote numbers listed underneath.

Some other formatting requirements that you would need to be aware of when adding endnotes include:

  • Place endnote numbers within the text in superscript type.
  • In the notes section, make sure to use the same number to identify the endnote with the number in the text.

"Works Cited" Page

The list of citations should be the last page of a research essay. The top of the page should include the running head and the page number of the paper as well.

The general structure for full references follows the following format:

  • Author’s Last name, Author’s First name. “Title of Source.”* Title of Container, Names of other contributors along and their specific roles, version of the source any key numbers associated with the source that aren’t dates (such as journal issue numbers or volume numbers), Name of the Publisher, publication date, location (such as the URL or page numbers).

While formatting your "Works Cited" page, make sure of the following:

  • All entries should be placed in alphabetical order by the first item in the MLA format citation.
  • The entire page should be double spaced.

Using footnotes and endnotes

MLA formatting promotes using references as described in the sections above. However, wherever need be, footnotes and endnotes can both be used as references in papers.

Here are some circumstances during which footnotes and endnotes can be used:

  • If you are referring to a number of sources by various authors. - Here, you could use a footnote or endnote to share information for parenthetical references. This will allow readers to remain focused on the text of the research paper, instead of having to read through all of the extra reference information.
  • If you are stating additional information that falls outside the scope of the paper, but is useful for the reader. - Here, footnotes and endnotes can be helpful when explaining translations, adding background or contextual information, or sharing counterexamples to research.

To include a footnote or endnote, add a superscript number at the end of the sentence the footnote or endnote refers to. They can be included mid-sentence if necessary, but be sure to add it after any punctuation, such as commas or periods.

MLA Templates

MLA Template in Markdown

This MLA Markdown template can step in as an efficient and effective bedrock to keep your MLA formatting in check for you while you work on your paper. This template follows formatting margins of the 9th Edition of the MLA citation style. While it converts Markdown into MLA formatting, characteristic MLA formatting elements such as the titles, page numbers with the author's name, formatted headers, footnotes, endnotes will also be taken care of while you work on your content.

This Markdown template is also equipped with the BibTeX citation management tool. This tool allows you to add, manage, edit and print your citations and bibliography. It helps to effectively organize your references and citations in your work, without the hassle of needed to manually input and alter your references.

MLA Template in Word

Microsoft Word's MLA template provides you a platform that is simple to understand and easy to maneuver to start writing your papers with. With formatting guidelines that follow the 9th Edition of the MLA citation style, this template can act as the starting skeleton for you to work your content into.

Despite it's uncomplicated interface, users need to manually input their bibliography and citations in their documents. This can prove to be a hassle considering the extensive formatting guidelines for MLA bibliography and citations. Having to constantly switch between your keyboard and mouse throughout a long list of references can take time.

You can download the MLA template document with Microsoft 365.

With a good understanding of the formatting elements that need to be worked into a research paper, putting together well-organized research and content would be a little less distressing.

With this article, there are a host of other online sources that can help with formatting and citation needs. Referencing these MLA Manuals and approaching your mentors and advisors for help would be beneficiary. With experience and conscientious referencing, writing in MLA style will be a breeze.