0.1) If you’ve been asked to submit a paper in MLA style, your instructor is asking you to format the page and present the content in a specific way. Just as football referees dress a certain way, and Japanese chefs cook a certain way, writers in certain disciplines follow a certain set of conventions. This document will show you how to format an essay in MLA style.
For the most complete information, check your campus library or writing center for the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 8th ed.
1. Document Settings
Your word processor comes with default settings (margin, line height, paragraph spacing, and typeface) that will likely need adjustment. For MLA style, you need:
|(Jump directly to instructions for adjusting MS-Word settings in Windows or Mac; or, skip ahead to 2) Page Header.)|
1.1 Adjusting Document Settings in MS-Word (Windows)
My copy of Microsoft Word for Windows defaults to
- 1-inch margins all around
- 1.15 line height
- 10pt spacing between paragraphs
- Calibri 11-point typeface.
Changing to MLA Style (Windows)
- The default margins in my test run were fine, but if you need to change them:
Page Layout -> Margins -> Normal (1-inch all around)
- The default line height is too low. Change it to 2.0.
Home -> Line Spacing -> 2.0.
(You could try fudging it to 1.9 or 2.1 to meet a page count, but any more than that and your instructor may notice.)
- The MS-Word default adds extra space after paragraphs.(MLA Style instead requires you to signal paragraph breaks by indenting the first line.)
CTRL-A (select all your text)
Home -> Line Spacing -> Remove Space After Paragraph
- Change the typeface to Times New Roman 12-point.
Home-> Font Face Selector (change to Times New Roman)
Home -> Font Size Selector (change to 12)
1.2 Adjusting Document Settings in MS-Word (Mac)
My copy of Microsoft Word for Mac defaults to
- 1.25 inch left and right margins, 1 inch top and bottom
- 1.0 line height
- no extra spacing after paragraphs
- Cambria 12-point typeface
Changing to MLA style (Mac)
- In my test run, the left and right margins are too big. To change them:
Layout -> Margins -> Normal (1-inch all around)
- The default line height is too low. Change it to 2.0.
Home -> Line Spacing -> 2.0
- My Mac copy of MS-Word does not add extra spaces after paragraphs. If yours does:
Home -> Line Spacing -> Line Spacing Options… (a new window will pop up)
Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style (check this box) -> OK
- The 12-point Cambria will probably be fine, but to change the typeface:
Home -> Font Face Selector (change to Times New Roman)
Home -> Font Size Selector (change to 12)
2. Page Header
In the top right of every page, use your word processor’s “Page Header” function add an automatic page number and your surname.
2.1 Adding the Page Header in MS-Word (Windows)
- Insert -> Page Number -> Top of Page -> (choose the right-justified “Plain Number” option)
- The cursor will jump automatically to the right place for you to type your surname.
- Click anywhere in the body of the paper to exit the header area.
2.2 Adding the Page Header in MS-Word (Mac)
- Insert (in the top menu) -> Page Numbers… -> (Set “Position” to “Top of Page (header)” and “Alignment” to “Right”)
- Click just to the left of the new page number, and type your surname.
- On my test document, my name was too far over to the left; grab the triangular tab adjuster just above your name, and drag it a notch to the right.
3. Title Block
In the upper left corner, type your name, your instructor’s name, the course number and section, and today’s date. Centered on the next line, type an informative title that actually informs the reader of your main point (not just “English Paper” or “A Comparison between Hamlet and Macbeth”).
- Like all the other text in an MLA style paper, the title block is double-spaced.
- The title is in the same font as the rest of the paper — it is not boldface, or enlarged.
- There is no extra space above or below the title.
- A truly informative title will include the general topic, and your precise opinion on that topic. (So, if you pan to compare Hamlet and Macbeth, your title should state the unique point you want to make about Hamlet and Macbeth. Reuse part of your thesis statement.)
This handout presumes you already know why you should cite your sources (to establish your authority, to introduce persuasive evidence, to avoid plagiarism, etc.), These instructions focus on how you format the page. (For a resource to help you determine how to cite a specific source, see the MLA Bibliography Builder).
To fully cite a source requires two stages. The first happens in the body of your paper (the “in-text citation”) and the second happens on a separate page at the end of your paper (see “Works Cited List,” below.)
4.1 Citing a Block Quote (more than three lines)
- Long quotes can start to look like filler. Only use a block quote if you have a very good reason to include the whole passage. (You can usually make your point with a shorter quote.)
- If you do have a good reason to quote a passage that is several lines long:
- Select the text and click the “Increase Indent” icon (see image, right).
- Place the parenthetical citation (the author’s name and the page number) after the period. (This is different from inline quotes, below.)
- There is no comma between the author’s name and the page number.
- If the quotation runs across more than one page: (Wordsworth-Fuller 20-21) or (Wordsworth-Fuller 420-21).
- Skip wordy introductions such as, “In his informative guide The Amazing Writing Book, published by Elizabeth Mount College in 2010, the noted composition expert Maxwell Wordsworth-Fuller describes the importance of citations in MLA style papers.” Cutting the filler leaves more room to develop your own original ideas. (See “Integrating Quotations.”)
4.2 Citing an Inline Quotation
When the passage you want to quote is less than three lines long, use inline style. Here we have two brief passages, taken from the same page of the same source, so we can handle both with a single parenthetical citation.
- The parenthetical citation appears outside the quoted material.
- The period that ends the sentence comes after the close parenthesis. (This is different from block quotes, above.)
- In this example, we have changed the first word a little, lowercasing it in order to fit it into our own sentence. To let the reader know what we changed, we put  around it.
- Again, note the absence of a full sentence that explains who Wordsworth-Fuller is and where the quote comes from. All that info will be in the Works Cited list, so we leave it out of the body of the paper.
4.3 Citing a Paraphrase
Let’s imagine we want to reference Wordsworth-Fuller’s general idea about citation as a way to establish credibility, but we don’t need to include any of the technical details. We can save space, and make it much easier on our reader, if we paraphrase:
- Use paraphrasing for variety, or to make a passing reference without taking up much space.
- If we use an author’s idea, rephrased in our own words, we must still cite the idea.
5. Works Cited List
A research paper isn’t a research paper unless you end with full bibliographical details on every source you cited. This part can be tedious and tricky; leave yourself plenty of time to do it.
- Start a new page.
- MS-Word Wind: Insert -> Page Break -> New Page.
- MS-Word Mac: Document Elements -> Break -> Page.
- Title your new page: Works Cited
MLA style calls for no extra spaces above or below the page title; no special formatting.
5.1. How to Create an Individual Works Cited Entry
Exactly what goes into each item in your bibliography depends on what kind of item it is. The following pages give you some questions to answer, then let you push a button to get an individual works-cited entry.
MLA-Style Bibliography Builder: Create Works Cited Entries by Filling in a Form
- Article (in a periodical, or chapter; printed or electronic)
- Book (printed or electronic)
- Web Page (corporate web page, blog entry, YouTube video, etc.)
If you prefer a more narrative explanation, see Purdue OWL’s handouts for how to create a bibliography entry for a book, an article in a periodical (such as a journal or newspaper), or an electronic source (such as an email, web page or a YouTube clip). See also this list of other common sources (such as a personal interview or a movie).
5.2. How to Organize Your Works Cited list
Sort the entries alphabetically by the author‘s last name.
- If the author is an organization (such as a government agency or non-profit foundation), alphabetize according to the name of the organization.
- If you are citing a painting, or a composer, then obviously “author” has to be interpreted a little loosely.
- Unless your instructor ask you to organize your Works Cited list differently, everything should be alphabetized together, in a single list. MLA does not require that you separate works of different kinds, or that you cite works in the order that they appeared in your paper, or that you write annotations to go along with each item.
- Use double-spaced line height. (in my copy of Word, I select the text and choose Format -> Paragraph -> Line spacing -> Double -> OK.)
- Use hanging indent paragraph format. (In my copy of word, I select the text then choose Format -> Paragraph -> Indentation -> Special -> Hanging Indent.)
29 May 2011 — new document posted, replacing outdated handout written in 1999.
06 Jun 2011 — expanded section on organizing the Works Cited list, since several readers asked for clarification.
07 Jun 2011 — reorganized for emphasis
19 Apr 2012 — added numbers to more subheads
24 Mar 2014 — added details on Works Cited paragraph formatting.
02 Oct 2016 — updated with MLA 8th Edition details.
30 Nov 2016 — added annotated Works Cited sample image.
Related Writing Links
|Dennis G. Jerz|
Researched Papers: Using Quotations Effectively
If your college instructor wants you to cite every fact or opinion you find in an outside source, how do you make room for your own opinion? Paraphrase, quote selectively, and avoid summary.Dennis G. Jerz
MLA Works Cited Citation Builder
Choose a form, fill it out, and push the button… you will get an individual entry for a “Works Cited” page, which you may then copy and paste into your word processor. The BibBuilder is more like a guide than a full-fledged utility, but you may nevertheless find it helpful.
|Jerz’s Literacy Weblog|
ACADEMIC TITLES AND DEGREES
Dr. and Professor
Don't use these in writing before people's names, as a rule. Not all faculty members hold a doctoral degree, and not all hold the rank of full professor. Instead, use the styles below:
Jane Smith, Ph.D., biology
Jane Smith, biology faculty Jane Smith (biology)
To authoritatively confirm a faculty member's official title and degree(s), contact that faculty member directly, or Cathy Thiele, assistant to the provost and academic dean. (The GO site [people tab] is a handy reference for current faculty job titles, but occasionally a posted title is out of date.)
Formal College communications occasionally use Dr. before a person's name—particularly when referring to speakers visiting the campus. We also occasionally use "Professor" (never "Prof.") as a courtesy title before the name of an established faculty member who does not have a Ph.D.
Our goal is to be courteous and appropriate, and these guidelines are flexible. They apply to the College's more formal written communications. They don't apply to the many forms of less formal writing that occur in the course of College life—departmental newsletters, on-campus posters, et al. When speaking, many of us routinely use "Dr." and "Professor" as titles, and these guidelines are not intended to criticize this.
First and second references
In a formal first reference to a faculty or staff member, use the person's formal first name and last name followed by degree (if applicable) and lowercased job title. If the individual routinely uses his or her middle name, include it. If the individual is widely known by a shortened name or nickname, include it in parentheses.
Margaret DeWeese-Boyd, Ph.D., associate professor of social work
If the faculty member holds an endowed chair, include and capitalize all honorifics.
Bruce Herman, M.F.A., Lothlórien Distinguished Chair of Visual Arts
In formal and informational College communications, use the person's last name only in references that follow. However, it's fine to use first names when that style better suits the tone of a feature article.
Spelling out and abbreviating academic degrees
When writing about one of the five degrees the College grants, spell out the name of the degree on first reference and use the abbreviation thereafter. Spell, space and abbreviate like this:
Bachelor of Arts / B.A. Bachelor of Music / B.M. Bachelor of Science / B.S.
Master of Education / M.Ed. Master of Music Education / M.M.E.
In general reference to a type of degree, lowercase the name/level of the degree, and in some cases, use the possessive (not plural) form.
doctorate master's degree bachelor's degree
In a sentence that mentions a degree earned by an individual, spell out and lowercase the name of the degree on first reference; abbreviate it thereafter.
Dr. DeWeese-Boyd earned a doctorate in political science from the University of Missouri–St. Louis, and a master's degree in social work at Washington University. Her M.S.W. focused on social and economic development.
Some publications omit periods from the abbreviations of academic degrees. It is Gordon College style to include periods.
Capitalize the first letter of the abbreviation for each word the abbreviation represents, and follow each with a period. Don't space between them. Common abbreviations appear below; find others on the Internet, and adjust the style to match the guidelines above.
Emeritus versus retired
Refer to retired faculty in one of two ways. Sequence the words as shown below; do not capitalize or italicize.
Niles Logue, retired professor of economics and business
Russell Bishop, professor emeritus of history and Stephen Phillips Chair of History
Emeritus is the masculine form, emerita is the feminine form, and emeriti is the plural form of an official honorific. At Gordon the trustees confer these titles on faculty members who retire after 10 or more years of service at Gordon College. This occurs one year after the individual retires. A list of professors emeriti appears near the end of the academic catalog as the last subsection of the list of faculty; use the boldfaced Latin words above only in reference to individuals listed there.
Always refer to former members of the board of trustees as emeritus, emerita or emeriti.
James H. Roberts '66B, trustee emeritus
Capitalize and spell out in their entirety Gordon College job titles that precede names. If you wish to make an exception to the rule of thumb above and use "Professor" before a faculty member's name, spell it out, and omit the name of the academic department.
President D. Michael Lindsay
Vice President for Marketing and Strategic Communications Rick Sweeney
Professor Elaine Phillips
Lowercase and spell out job titles that follow names or stand alone.
D. Michael Lindsay, president of Gordon College
Rick Sweeney, vice president for marketing and strategic communications
Elaine Phillips, professor of biblical studies
An admissions counselor will present an overview of the application process.
Lowercase words that identify jobs, but are not official job titles.
groundskeeper member of the design staff librarian lecturer
PERSONAL NAMES AND TITLES
Use a person's full name on first reference. Thereafter, in formal and informational College communications use the last name only. However, it's fine to use first names when that style better suits the tone of a feature article.
Use the style above, and on first reference, follow the name with the person's abbreviated class year, spaced, punctuated and abbreviated as shown below. For a Barrington alumnus, follow the year with a capital B. To refer to an individual who spent just one year at Gordon or Barrington, follow the name with an abbreviation of that academic year, and precede it with a lowercase x.
On this web page, the apostrophe before the class year appears as a "straight quote," but for other media type an apostrophe that is a "smart quote" —a curved single closing quotation mark that points to the left.
If an alumna's last name is different than it was at the time she attended Gordon, use the style shown below: position the class year after the person's "Gordon era last name" and then follow it with the last name she uses now. If a couple's names appear together in sequence, put parentheses around the wife's Gordon-era last name to make it clear this is not the name she uses at present as her surname; place their common last name after the husband's name only.
For Jessica Hansmeier '07, serving and working are wrapped in one package. Hansmeier moved to Palestine in August without a return ticket.
Odell Grooms '78B
Ruth-Marie Bratt x'49 Goff
Sasha (Massand) '01 and Dan Moen '04
Exception: In STILLPOINTAlumni Notes and in some Alumni Office communications, use first names on second/subsequent reference.
Daughter Hannah Charin to Sasha (Massand) '01 and Dan Moen '04, November 8, 2011. Dan is an active duty chaplain serving at Fort Drum, NY in the 10th Mountain Division.
When an alumnus also is the parent of a Gordon student (or more recent alumnus), add a capital P and the son or daughter's class year, in this format:
Conventions for how to refer to a member of the clergy differ among denominations. If written communication from the individual is on hand or can be viewed online, let that be your guide. Consult on-campus sponsors about the correct title to use when writing about a member of the clergy who will be participating in a campus event.
Some denominations still use phrases such as the Most Reverend in clerical titles. On this point it is the College's policy to err on the side of respectfulness. Use the when the honorific is spelled out and the individual's full name is used; with abbreviations, or on second reference with the person's last name only, it is not necessary. Consult the Chicago Manual of Style 8.29, 15.18, and 15.22 for additional style points regarding abbreviation, capitalization and word sequence.
Abbreviate some clergy titles before names; spell others out.
Rev. Dr. Pastor Rabbi Sister Father
The rules above apply. Capitalize Coach or Assistant Coach before a name (and any other major words in the coach's official job title if you wish to state it in full). Lowercase them when they follow a name. On subsequent references, use the person's last name only in College communications for a broad audience. Never refer to a person just as "Coach," except in a direct quotation. As a rule, Gordon communications do not include degrees after coaches' names.
Coach Peter Amadon Peter Amadon, tennis coach Amadon
Exception: In Gordon Athletics communications, second references may include the title.
Jr., Sr., III, IV
Don't use a comma between a name and Jr., Sr., III, and so on.
Mr., Ms. and other personal titles
In some formal College communications, it is appropriate to use a title before an individual's last name on second and subsequent references. Use abbreviations: Mr., Ms., Mrs., Miss, Dr., Rev.
Ms. works for married and unmarried women. Some women prefer it; if possible, ask. If it’s not feasible to inquire about a woman’s preference, use Ms. It is the safest term to use when marital status is unknown (in the same way Mr. is used).