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MLA short for Modern Language Association is an American academic writing style guide founded in 1883. MLA offers its members opportunities to share scholarly findings and their teaching experiences with colleagues. It also helps them to discuss the trends in academia during meetings and the annual convention. MLA members work with other organizations to strengthen study and teaching of languages and literature.

History of MLA editions

MLA citation style has been in use for over a century. It began when members developed an MLA style sheet of 1951, an official writing standard of 31 pages. It then grew to The MLA Handbook. There have been eight editions published in the following years:

  • First: 1977
  • Second: 1984
  • Third: 1988
  • Fourth: 1995
  • Fifth: 1999
  • Sixth: 2003
  • Seventh: 2009
  • Eighth: 2016

The title of first five editions was The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. This title changed in 2003 during 6th edition to MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. MLA developed 7th edition to help the researchers to cite their sources accurately. MLA 8 is available, but many researchers still use MLA 7 for citing sources to cite correctly. Known as MLA Handbook 8th, Edition 2016 was adopted widely for classroom instructions.

Who uses MLA?

MLA styles us used widely by journal publishers, scholars, commercial and academic presses. It provides guidelines for writing and documenting research in humanities like English studies, the study of other modern languages, literature, and related disciplines. It also applies to cultural studies.

Purpose of MLA

MLA is commonly used when writing papers and citing sources within liberal arts and humanities. The goal of MLA format guidelines is creating consistent page setup to foster readability with written text or academic paper. For writers, MLA also helps them to give credit to their source. It also allows readers to identify your sources quickly and provides future researchers to get a starting point.

When writing an academic paper in MLA style, you should strictly follow the guidelines for margins, spacing, font type, and page headers. The format also dictates that you insert endnotes and work cited page within your paper according to formatting guidelines.

Setting up MLA paper format

Unless your instructor directs you divert from the standard MLA formatting guidelines, you should do it in the following format:

Paper size and type

Use the computer white paper of 8.5 by 11 inches. Do not use thicker card type of paper.

Margins and spacing

You can quickly set up MLA format on any word processors according to these guidelines.

  • 1-inch margins at the top, bottom and also both sides.
  • Indent your first sentence in each paragraph for 1-inch from the paper’s left margin. MLA paper requires you to use the “Tab” key. It is set to 1-inch. Do not enter five spaces on the space bar.
  • Use double space in all text. You can access it in many word processors by going to “Page Layout” from the “File” menu. Find “Line Spacing” in the dialogue box and under the heading, select the “2.0” spacing.
  • Avoid double space between your paragraphs by twice hitting the Enter key. Already there is a space. Moreover, a 1-inch indentation notes the starting of another paragraph.
  • For sentences, use single spaces between them after ending with punctuation.
  • Do not increase spacing or margins to increase the length of the paper.
  • Font size and type
  • Unless you got specific instructions, choose your font according to these guidelines;
  • Choose legible font. Select one where the italic and regular types are different enough to the clear use of either. Times Roman numeral is a great choice. Another good choice is Arial, Modern, Lucina, and Palermo.
  • Avoid any scripted fonts. They might seem appealing but are harder to read.
  • MLA paper format recommends the use of the 12-point font. You may use 10- or 11-point font but under instruction.
  • Do not increase font size to stretch your paper’s length.

Formatting the first page

Your first page is different from others. It might contain more heading information such as the title of the paper if it needs an epigraph. Your first page is the only one that will include a whole heading and title of your paper.

  • List your full name, the full name of your instructor (or preferred title), name or your course or the class and the date for submitting your paper. Use First Name Last Name format. Write the date in Numerical Day Month Numerical Year format, e.g., 02/09/2016. Each should be on separate lines with double space between them.
  • Write your title at the center of the page using title case to capitalize. Do not capitalize minor word like and, to or unless they are they are your first word on title or sub-title. It should be on 1/3 of the paper’s length from the top of your page. If it has a subtitle, add it on the same line but separate the two using a colon after your title. Avoid italicizing, underlining or all capital letters for your title. Avoid quotation marks unless you have a title of something else as part of academic paper’s title.
  • Double space the space between your title and beginning of your first paragraph.

Cover page

MLA format does not require a separate cover page unless your instructor asks for its inclusion, especially for a long paper.

Epigraph Formatting

An epigraph is a quotation preceding the main body of an MLA paper. There is no official MLA guideline on epigraph use, but it is common. If you opt to use an epigraph, block quote guidelines by indenting 1-inch inside the paper margins. For an epigraph with short text or multiple lines, center the lines below the title the follow these MLA format guidelines:

  • Use double spacing above and below the epigraph
  • Within the epigraph, use single spacing consisting of multiple lines.
  • Include the name of the author below the epigraph, single-spaced from the preceding line.
  • Write the name of the author on the right side of the text. A corresponding entry in the Works Cited page will be necessary.

The body

  • Indent your first line of paragraphs by 1.25 cm (1/2 inch). Indent by hitting the “Tab” key on the keyboard.
  • Do not separate paragraphs with any extra spacing. Indentation is enough for marking the start of a paragraph.
  • Separate the body of your academic paper to into section headings if it is long but after informing your instructor.
  • Use an Arabic number and a period to number each section.
  • Capitalize the first letter of each word of every section.
  • Center section headings on the page and place them in own separate lines.

Pictures and tables

If your body includes an image or a table, provide a figure number. Center your figure; provide the figure number, label, and the source information.

  • Use “Fig 1, Fig 2” etc. for or photographs and illustrations use “Table 1, Table 2, Table 3,” etc. for charts and tables.
  • Label the figure with descriptive terms like “statistical table” or “drawing.”
  • Provide the name of the creator, the source of your figure, date of the publication and page number.
  • Include all the information below the picture in a single line.

In-Text Citations

Include parenthetical citations for all borrowed materials. When you include a paraphrase, direct quote or a summary of your paper, cite the source of this material in parentheses after presenting the material.

  • When information is available, you should include the last name of the author and page number from the source of your material. E.g., (Geoffrey, K, J and Diana Gyle. Literature: Introduction to Drama, Poetry, and Fiction .5th ed. Washington: Longman, 2010 .699)
  • For materials from online sources but without page numbers, you will only include the name of the author.
  • In the absence of author’s name, include the abbreviation portion of your source material’s title.
  • If you introduce the name of the author earlier in the sentence, you need not incorporate it in the parentheses. E.g. ‘to succeed, you should be ambitious’ (John Arthur), ambition will help to focus.

Formatting “in-line” quotation

Most of your quotations are “in-line” meaning you can treat them as regular text without special formatting.

  • Avoid hanging quotes without any lead. Include citation as a part of another sentence.
  • Commas and periods should follow a parenthetical citation. The parenthesis should be outside the ending quotation marks. For example. It is sad “how people accept gossip as the truth,” lamented Jane to her friends.

Formatting block quotes

MLA requires quotes exceeding three lines to be separated from other text.

  • After typing the last word before the quote, press “Enter” key before moving to a new line.
  • Indent each line of block quote in by another 1.25 cm (1/2 inch).
  • You do not have to include quotation marks, but you need to include a parenthetical citation.

Formatting block quotes

MLA requires quotes exceeding three lines to be separated from other text.

Endnotes Page

Type your “Notes” title without italics, underlining or bold in the heading.

  • If you had inserted notes in your document, they should appear in the endnotes that you list on a separate page after the body of your paper. Do not include these notes as footnotes.
  • Number the endnotes. Precede each number note with an Arabic number that corresponds to a number places in that section of your paper’s body relating to the information the endnote provides. If you were using Endnote tool on a word processor when inserting endnotes, it would have completed the numbering for you.
  • Indent the first line of your endnote by half an inch (1.25cm).
  • Only include brief and very relevant information in the notes. Endnotes are for discussing information that does fit into a paragraph the fits into it coherently but not new points. They should be more than four lines in length.


An appendix carries the information that is useful to your paper but not would tire up the writer if added to the body.

  • Center the heading of your appendix. Avoid bolding, italicizing or underlining the title.
  • Label every appendix separately as “Appendix A,” “Appendix B,” till the final one if your paper has multiple appendices.
  • Add information that relates to the content in your paper but is not crucial to your argument.

Example of an appendix


Other poems included:

Life is fine

Dream deferred


Works Cited

All papers in MLA format should include this page. It should contain all the texts you referenced directly in the body of the academic paper. Center the heading “Works Cited” without italics, underline or bold.

Alphabetize the cited material according to last names of the authors.

Citing a book

Write the Author’s Last Name, First Name. “The Book’s Title.” City of the publication: Name of the Publisher, Year of publication. Medium (Print or eBook). E.g Joel, Warner. “Citing Works.”Washington, Longman, 2010. Print

For any text without a known author, arrange your citation alphabetically according to the first word on the book title or article.

You can also cite the following references

Journal articles

Include the author’s name, article title, and title of the journal, issue information and the medium of publication.

Magazine article

Author(s). “Title of the Article.” The Title of Periodical, Day Month Year, pages.

Newspaper article

Article Author. “Title of the Article.” The Title of Newspaper, Day Month Year Page.

If the paper has more than one edition for the day, identify it after article title. Include the name of the publication city in brackets after the newspaper title if it is not well-known or is a local circulation.

A review

Review Author. “Title of the Review (if you find one).”Review of Performance Title, by Author/Artist/Director. The Title of Periodical, Day Month Year, Page.

Scholarly Journal Article

Write the Author(s). "Title of the Article." The Journal's title, Volume, Issue, Year, Pages.

Articles in special issue of scholarly journal

List the Authors. “Title of the Article.” The title of the Journal. The title of the Special Issue, Journal Vol. Number, Number, Special Issue’s Number, Year, Pages.


Editor, author, or compiler's name (if available). Name of website. Version number, Name of affiliated institution/organization (sponsor or publisher), date of the resource creation (if available), URL, permalink or DOI. Date of access (if it is applicable).

Department or course websites

List the name of the instructor. Then list the course title (or the school’s catalog designation for this course) in italics. Give the correct department and school name, Day Month. Year, website.

Website page

List the Author or Alias (if known). “Information Covered.” Website (List just one if the publisher and site name is the same), Day, Month Year.

Image (Sculpture, Photograph or Painting)

Provide the name of the artist, work of art, creation date, institution and city housing the work (website name if stored online), the date, Month (in words) and year of access.

Web magazine article

Give the name of the author, Article name in quotation marks, web magazine title in italics, the name of the publisher, publication date URL, Access Date, Month(in words) and year.

Article on online scholarly journal

Provide Author(s) names, “Name of The Article” Title of the Publication, all volume and issue numbers, the year of publication. Include the DOI, URL or permalink.

MLA allows citing these contemporary sources.

A YouTube video

Author’s name, “Title of the Video in Italics.” Youtube, Up loader’s Name, Date, Month(In Words) Year and URL.

A Tweet

Start with User’s Twitter handle, “place the tweet in quotations”. Twitter, 22 Sept. 2016, 5.06 p.m twitter.com/mla/status/17…63.

There are more sources to cite, and you can still get information on proper formatting from MLA or other online guides.

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