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A How-To Guide: Everything You Need To Know About MLA Formatting

mla format a paper

How To MLA Format A Paper

  • Introduction

  • Basic MLA Formatting

  • General MLA Format Guidelines

  • MLA Header

  • MLA Paper Formatting

  • In-Text Citations

  • MLA Heading & Title Page

  • MLA Running Head Titles & Page Numbers

  • MLA Quotation

  • MLA Paraphrase

  • MLA  Abbreviations

  • Other Considerations

In an academic setting, you will often be asked to format your paper in MLA format and include citations within the text of your paper. 


If you require assistance with this, you’re not alone; when I was in college, I also found the rules for MLA formatting and citations confusing! I’m writing this simple guide to show you how to properly format a paper and include citations using the MLA style guidelines.


In this handy guide, I will o guide you through every action you must take and decide what kind of document will be appropriate (academic essay, research paper, etc.) for the MLA style.


Many people wonder how MLA format a paper and how to do in-text citations. This guide will show you the basics of formatting your essay and referencing and offer some examples for all citation types.


MLA formatting is used in many disciplines, including humanities, social sciences, and sciences. MLA offers a consistent system for documenting sources using parenthetical citations, essential for footnotes or endnotes within a body of text. 


There are six main pieces to this style: a bibliography page, in-text citations, cover page (optional), running head (optional), abstract (optional), and title page. The bibliography page lists all of the sources cited throughout your work. 


MLA recommends listing three to five sources per line with one space between each entry. MLA also recommends that you only list work on your bibliography page if it has been cited more than once in the document.

Basic MLA Formatting

The MLA format is a standard style used in academic writing to provide citations and formatting. It is used primarily in the humanities but can be adapted for any discipline or field of study.


The most important part of MLA formatting is understanding how to format your citations and properly format your paper. There are three main parts of an MLA formatted paper: the header, in-text citations, and the bibliography page (more on these later). Each citation has one corresponding footnote with its endnote number.


All MLA citations must have four components: the author’s last name, the year published, the work’s title (italicized), and publication information (either No information if no publication information was given or publisher). MLA formatting begins on the first page by including a heading on the left side with all the necessary information.

General MLA Format Guidelines

An MLA format follows the listed rules. The title page of a paper should be the first page, and it should list the author’s name, course title and institution, the date of completion, and any other information necessary for understanding how to cite the paper. 


The body of an MLA formatted paper comprises paragraphs with indented lines. Each paragraph should have a topic sentence, then a series of sentences that provide support and concluding sentences that summarize the main points. 


MLA citation in text begins with the author’s last name; this is followed by parentheses that include page numbers when needed (usually not in quotes). For books, the title and publication date follow. For articles or essays from journals, magazines, or newspapers, you need only give the year and the last name of the publication author.


If there are multiple authors, use Co. before all but the first author’s name. MLA formatting on papers consists of italicizing titles and underlining book titles, so they are easy to read.

MLA Header

The MLA format for papers includes an easy-to-read and informative header. You should provide your name, the paper’s title, the course name and number, and the date. More specific instructions are included in MLA style guidelines, but you can always reference a general guide like this one for help. 


Your MLA format on paper will differ depending on whether you’re writing an essay or a term paper. Generally speaking, your MLA format example will include a page header (where the information is located) at the top of every page that follows MLA formatting rules; it’ll also include headings on both sides of the page with underlined titles for any subheadings (i.e., Abstract).

MLA Paper Formatting

The general format for an MLA paper is as follows. 


1) Put your last name and the page number in the upper right corner of each page. Do not use periods after either of these. 


2) Double-space everything on the paper, including any headers and footers. 


3) Double-space your essay, but only put one space between sentences. 


4) Include a header on the first page with your last name, the course name and number, and the date. You should also include the title of your paper in this header. 


5) List all references alphabetically by author’s last name and corresponding page number(s). Use parenthetical citations within the text when you cite sources using MLA style formatting.

In-Text Citations

It’s important to use in-text citations to give credit to your sources. This information will be found at the end of the sentence. It should include a title, the author’s name, and the page number. Let’s look at an example from the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (6th edition). 


Here we see what MLA format on paper would look like for an example essay with five in-text citations. The first citation is put into parentheses where it belongs, with no quotation marks or italics. 


The other four citations are underlined and follow the same pattern as the first. They are also without quotation marks or italics.

MLA Heading & Title Page

In MLA format, a heading should be placed at the top of your paper and include the following information. The title of your paper should be italicized and centred on the page. The full name of your course should be italicized. 


Your instructor’s name should not be in italics or capitalized. Your date must also appear in parentheses after the course title, but it does not need to be italicized or put into quotation marks. If your instructor has instructed you on the number of pages needed for your paper, this should follow the Pages at the end of the heading.

MLA Running Head Titles & Page Numbers

The running head and page numbers are important for MLA formatting. The running head should be located in the top left corner of the first page, and specify the page number and your last name. All pages following that should have a running head with the page number and the appropriate paragraph indentation.


Page numbers need not be consecutive; they must be on each page. Your MLA format essay may also have a title page with your name, institution, thesis statement, etc., but that is not necessary for MLA formatting. The bibliography lists all of the sources you used for this paper and must be placed at the end of your paper (see MLA style below).

MLA Quotation

Quotations in MLA should always be enclosed in quotation marks. The title of the book or essay, or Italicize the poetry and include the page number. Be included at the end of the citation. If you are using a quotation that spans more than one paragraph or page, use an ellipsis to indicate any omissions on your part.

MLA Paraphrase

The Guide to Scholarly Publishing and MLA Style Manual says that paraphrases are often more like summaries than direct quotations. They are usually indicated with the word paraphrase. 

In the MLA style, use double quotes around paraphrasing (not italics). 


You should also include the author’s name of the original text and an indication in parentheses of where you found it. 

MLA  Abbreviations

Abbreviations in MLA are typically used after a statement. They can be used to shorten or simplify a word to avoid repetition. 


In MLA formatting, Abbreviations should always be capped and in italics. It’s also important to remember that abbreviations should not replace words when they are already known or understood by the reader, as this may need clarification. 


Additionally, MLA format requires using parentheses after an abbreviation to provide information about what it stands for if it isn’t obvious.


Other Considerations

It’s important to remember that MLA formatting is not just for essays. MLA formatting is a style of writing that includes guidelines on how to format your research paper and cite sources in your work. 


It can be used for any academic paper, including research papers and lab reports. With this style, you should use hanging indents (instead of block indents) when you want to indent a new paragraph or sentence within a paragraph. 


If you’re looking for a way to format your paper, MLA formatting is the best. Remember to include your in-text citations and bibliography; you’ll be all set. 


MLA format has been around since 1953 and is used by most universities in the US and other countries. It’s flexible enough to work with any genre of writing, from history to philosophy.


The format for MLA style is similar to the APA style, with minor variations, so if you need help deciding which one to use, consult your professor. Additionally, many online resources can provide detailed information on MLA formatting and in-text citations.

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