MLA Style: Step-By-Step Instructions for Formatting MLA Papers

This document is a set of instructions for formatting a paper in MLA style using Word (Dennis G. Jerz and David Neis)
  1. Setting the Document Attributes
  2. Adding a Header
  3. Adding the Title Block
  4. Saving Your File
  5. Indenting Long Quotations
  6. Formatting the Works Cited Page

1. Setting the Document Attributes

An MLA style paper should fit certain standard layout guidelines.  This section describes how to meet those guidelines.

Set the font to 12-point Times New Roman.
MS-Word documents often default to 10-point pitch.  This is too small for most people to read easily.

  1. From the menu, select "Format | Font..."
  2. Click on the "Font" tab (if it is not already on top)
  3. Set the font for Times New Roman, Regular, and 12.
  4. Click "OK" or, to reset the default, click "Default..." and then "Yes"

Set the page margins to one inch all around

  1. From the menu, select "File | Page Setup..." and click the Margins tab.
  2. Set the top, bottom, left, and right margins to 1 inch.
  3. Click "OK" or, to reset the default, click "Default..." and then "Yes".

Set the line spacing to doubleAll text is double spaced, including quotations from other sources and the Works Cited list.

Note: You may wish to draft your paper in single-space, so that you can see more words on the screen at one time; if so, follow these instructions just before you print.

  1. From the menu, select "Edit | Select All".
  2. From the menu, select "Format | Paragraph..." and click the "Indents and Spacing" tab.
  3. Set "Line spacing" to "Double".
  4. Click "OK"

Adding the Header

The following section explains how to add a header consisting of your last name and the page number (see figure, below).

    1. Click View at the top of the screen and a list of options will appear.
    2. Click Header and Footer. The header section will appear inside a gray dotted square. Inside the square you will see a flashing cursor.
    3. On the menu bar just above the ruler, click the Align Right icon (it looks like four lines aligned to the right).
    4. Type your Last Name.
    5. Add a single blank space after your name.
    6. On the floating menu bar, click the Insert Page Number icon (looks like a number symbol in a page). It will automatically place the current page number on every page of your report.
    7. Click Close to return back to your document. You can look at the top right-hand section of your page to see the header. It appears faint, to remind you that it is automatic; when you print your paper it will not appear faded.

Adding the Title Block

MLA style does not call for a separate title page. Instead, you should begin your paper with a title block (described below).

  • Note that the title is not simply "Research Paper" or "Hamlet's Madness".
  • Don't type spaces to center the title. Instead, Location of "center" iconclick the Center icon located at the top of the screen (see image, right).
  • Read the example paragraph below for a few tips about titles.

LastName 1

Firstname Lastname

Professor D. Jerz


31 January 2005

Finding A Good Paper Title: 

Informing and Intriguing Readers without Annoying Them

Too often, English professors encounter student papers with uninformative or misleading titles. "If the title, the thesis statement, and the conclusion don't match, I know I've been handed a rush job, a load of B.S., or both" (Jerz 2).

Saving Your Work

Computer crashes can and will happen. To avoid losing a huge chunk of work, you should save frequently. Your saving alternatives include a floppy disk, or networked space that your school has provided for you.

Warning: If you are working in a public lab, do not save on the "C" drive; you would have to return to that same machine in order to get those files. The computer is erased every night, so saving the files there won't do much good.

Warning: Do not save files on the "Desktop".  Windows is actually a very unstable and unreliable environment. If it encounters a network problem, the computer may end up generating a new desktop from default settings. That new desktop will overwrite the files that you placed there.

About floppies or thumb drives:

  • You may forget your portbale media at home or in the computer lab.
  • It may get smashed.
  • You could pick up a virus and transfer it to every computer you use.

Most schools offer their students a space on the school network, where they can access their files from any computer on campus. If you don't know how to use your network space, look into it.

  • Even if you forget or lose your portable media, your network space should be available across campus.
  • If the network crashes, your professors will know about it because their files will be affected too. You won't feel bad asking for reasonable extensions. (If the network is down for an hour, it's reasonable to ask for one hour's extension.)
  • Files on the network drive are usually backed up by the University; if you accidentally delete a file, you might be able to get a backup.
  • However...
    • The network can be maddeningly slow at times, especially when everyone is madly working on midterm and final assignments.
    • You usually can't access your network space from off campus.

The best option is to probably to save your work both on a portable media and on the network.

File Naming Tips

  1. If you are redrafting a paper, it is probably a good idea not to overwrite the previous draft. (Use File -> Save As, and pick a new file name for each stage of the writing process -- "LA100 Paper 1 Thesis," "LA100 Paper 1 Draft," "LA100 Paper 1 Revision" etc.
  2. Include the course name in every file name you create. (If you have a directory full of files called "paper" and "report" and "essay" you will soon forget what each one means.)

Indenting Long Quotations

This section explains how to format long quotations in your paper using MS-Word. A quotation is considered "long" if it takes up four or more lines on your paper.

Note: using long quotations to pad your paper is a fairly obvious ploy. Rather than quote a whole paragraph from an outside source, just quote a single sentence, or even just a few words; use the space you save to write more of your own original thoughts.

See "Integrating Quotations."

  If you do use a long quote, indent it one inch:

    1. Press Enter to start a new paragraph.
    2. Type the quoted material (without adding any quotation marks).
    3. Highlight the quotation by clicking and dragging over the whole quotation.
    4. Indent the text, in one of the following ways.
      • Simply press the tab key twice.
      • Or, click on the "Increase Indent" icon twice.  The Increase Indent icon Location of "Increase Indent" iconis located near the right edge of the second row of icons at the top of the screen (see image, right).
      • Or, use the paragraph format command:
        1. Click Format at the top of the screen with arrow.
        2. Scroll the arrow down to Paragraph and click. The paragraph window will then appear.
        3. Make sure the alignment is set to the left and the spacing is double.
        4. Where it says 0" for the left indention, make it 1".
        5. Click Ok. Then only the whole quotation will be indented one-inch.
        6. Press Enter.

Formatting the Works Cited List

This section describes how to use MS-Word to format the works cited list in MLA style. Check any freshman composition textbook or the MLA Handbook (available at the reference desk of any library) for help on how to cite specific sources; or, use the online Bibliography Builder.

Here is a step by step list for creating a "works cited" list using MS-Word:

    1. Append a blank page. (If you put your works cited list in a separate document, you may forget it when you submit your paper.) Instead of hitting "return" multiple times to get blank lines, force a page break -- if you add or subtract from the body of your text, you won't have to re-align the works cited page.
      1. Move the cursor to the very end of your document.
      2. Click Insert at the top of the screen.
      3. Scroll down and click Break; After the break window appears click OK to start a new page in your document.
        Location of "center" iconClick the Center icon located at the top of the screen (see image, right).
    2. Type Works Cited. Press Enter.
    3. Click Format at the top of the screen.
    4. Scroll down and click Paragraph; Make sure your spacing is at Double.
    5. In the indention section there is a Special window. At that window click the down arrow to open up a set of options. Click Hanging and then click OK.
    6. Type your entries and press Enter after each entry.

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Sandra Cole said:

I am thankful that you had this site available to be able to use.

I had misplaced a couple of my pages from the loose leaf that I

have. I was not able to find them especially the ones that told me

about the MLA Style of starting a Research Paper. I want to thank

you again.

Sandra Cole

Eric said:

Thanks you very much for this usefull "step by step" instruction !


Phil said:

Thanks a bunch of the tutorial! I've been looking for something like this for the past 2 hours.

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