Writing an essay in MLA format: title page, header, citations, tables, and more
Whether you complete the assignment on your own or hire a fast paper writing service, if it isn't formatted properly, you risk losing points and annoying your professor. To ensure your paper makes the best first impression, check out this quick overview on how to format an essay using the ubiquitous MLA format.
How to write an essay in MLA format
Think of this post as your cheat sheet for an MLA format essay, and remember to consult your TA, instructor, and MLA Handbook if you have any concerns. Check out our guide on how to write an essay in APA format if your professors prefer it to MLA.
MLA format background
Modern Language Association (MLA) introduced what we now know as MLA format back in 1985 to create streamlined guidelines for formatting papers in soft sciences and humanities. Since then, the MLA essay format has evolved to accommodate technological advances and publishing standards. You can find the latest version of the official recommendations in the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook of 2021. It includes an extended version of the MLA 8 format, and we'll discuss its requirements in this post.
And if you want more tips on how to write a thesis for a research paper or other writing advice, make sure to check out other entries in our blog.
What are the general guidelines for formatting a paper in MLA?
Before we dive into the specifics of MLA format for individual components of your paper, let's go over the foundational principles that apply to the whole thing. Here are some basic recommendations for MLA format for essay writing:
- Use a standard 8.5 x 11-inch sheet size to format and print your MLA format essay.
- Set margins to one inch on all sides and align the text flush left.
- Use a readable font at 12 pt size and double line spacing throughout the whole paper.
- Indent the first line of each paragraph half an inch using the "Tab" key.
- Leave one space after periods and other punctuation marks unless otherwise instructed.
- Include page numbers in the upper right corner of the page, half an inch from the top and flush with the right margin.
- Use italics for the names of longer cited works or for emphasis.
- Include separate notes and works cited pages.
If you have trouble keeping track of all the requirements, consider using a "grade my paper" or "format my paper" service to highlight potential formatting mistakes or correct them.
What is a header in MLA?
A header in the MLA format includes your last name and page number separated by a single space. The header should be placed half an inch from the top of the page and flush with the right margin. Although the MLA essay format requires the header to be present on every page, your instructor may want you to skip the first page. In this case, the header will start with the second page with a corresponding page number.
How do I format running head & page numbers in MLA?
Unlike other formatting styles, including APA, the MLA format does not require a running head with a shortened title of the paper on every page. Instead, it is referred to as a header or a running header and includes your last name and page number in the upper right corner of each page. This "running head" follows the same formatting conventions used throughout the paper, including font, size, and capitalization.
What do MLA format essay heading & title page entail?
Unless your professor requires it or you work on a group project, the MLA research paper format does not require a separate title page. Instead, in the upper left corner of the first page, include:
- Your name
- Your professor's name
Place this information flush left against the left margin, and make sure to use double line spacing within the heading and between it and the title of your paper. The title should be centered and typed in Title Case aligned with the MLA format, without quotation marks, underlining, or other formatting. You can only use italics or quotation marks to signify the name of the works you're analyzing. The title and the first line of the paper should also be double-spaced.
The rest of the body of text on the first page should follow standard MLA essay format guidelines, including font, font size, line spacing, margins, indents, and alignment.
You may divide the essay into sections, using Arabic numbers with periods, before including the names of the sections in Title Case. You may include up to five levels of headings, using either Arabic numbers with periods to signify the level of the heading or different formatting tools, like italics and bold font. As the MLA format does not have specific recommendations for section headings, you are free to use any formatting you like as long as you keep it consistent. You can consult with your TA or instructor if you're unsure of the proper way to format the headings.
What is the MLA citation format?
In an MLA format essay, all references are presented in a separate section that follows these basic requirements:
- Center "Works Cited" without quotation marks or italics at the top of the page.
- List the references in alphabetical order by the first author's last name.
- Use the "Tab" key to indent the second and following lines of the citation to create a hanging indent in every citation.
- Finish each citation with a period.
- Double-space the list of references.
- Use italics for the names of long works, such as books, and quotation marks for short works, such as articles or poems.
- Specify the pages referenced using the abbreviation "p." for one page or "pp." for several pages. Use hyphens to signify the span of pages. You can delete the repeating numbers within the page spans, i.e., "pp. 254-63" instead of "pp. 254-263".
Here are a few examples of formatting common references for an essay in MLA format:
- For books: Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. City of Publication, Publisher, Publication Date.
- For periodicals: Last Name, First Name. "Title of Article." Title of Periodical, Day Month Year, pages.
- For electronic sources: Editor, author, or compiler name (if available). Name of Site. Version number, Name of institution/organization affiliated with the site (sponsor or publisher), date of resource creation (if available), URL, DOI, or permalink. Date of access (if applicable).
For specific instructions on how to cite particular sources using MLA format for essay, consult the latest edition of the MLA Handbook. You can also try automatic citation generators, though we recommend double-checking generated citations.
How do you format tables and figures in MLA?
If you decide to include tables in your MLA format essay, follow these guidelines to properly format them:
- Reference the table within the text (see table 1) in parentheses without capitalizing the word "table". And include the table near the part of the paper that references it.
- Align the table flush left while keeping the page margin at one inch.
- Indicate and number the table, i.e., "Table 1" without using any punctuation marks.
- On the next line, include the table caption or title using the Title Case and double line spacing.
- After the table, include the reference information, starting with the descriptor "Source" followed by a colon and an MLA format citation.
- If additional information is necessary, include lowercase superscript letters to signify notes within the table and include corresponding notes below the source information. Type the letter with a period, add a space, and add the necessary notes ("a. Note:").
If your essay in MLA format includes illustrations that are neither tables nor musical scores, you should use the following recommendations to format them:
- Reference the illustration within the essay text using "figure" or "fig." with an Arabic number, not capitalized. Provide the image near the text that references it.
- The MLA essay format does not specify alignment recommendations for illustrations, so you can center them or place them flush left while retaining the standard one-inch margin.
- Below the image, include the label "Figure" or "Fig." followed by an Arabic numeral and a period. After a space, include the figure title on the same line and provide reference information.
If you include full MLA citations within the reference information for either tables or figures, you can avoid repeating them within the Works Cited list.
Hopefully, you've found answers to all your questions on how to use MLA format in your paper. But if you still need to write the piece before formatting it, consider getting professional help. All you need is to ask, "Can you write my research paper?" and we'll assign SpeedyPaper experts to help you out.