MLA Format Papers: Step-by-step Tips for Formatting Research Essays in MLA Style

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(View a Google Doc template for an MLA Style paper.)

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.

0.2) If, instead of questions about putting the final formatting touches on your essay, you have questions about what to write, see instead my handouts on writing a short research paper, coming up with a good thesis statement, and using quotations in the body of your paper.

0.3) On this page:
mla style

  1. Document Settings
    (1 inch margins; double spaced; 12-point)
  2. Page Header
    (name and page number, upper right of every page)
  3. Title Block
    (assignment info and an informative title)
  4. Citations
    (no comma between the author and page number; commas and periods go outside of inline quotes)
  5. Works Cited List
    (lots of tricky details! sort alphabetically by author, not by the order the quotes appear in your paper)

For the most complete information, check your campus library or writing center for the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 8th ed.

Use a header with your last name and the page number, a title block, and an informative title. (See for details.)

MLA Style Format (First Page)

How to format the Works Cited page of an MLA style paper.

How to format the Works Cited page of an MLA style paper.

See Also



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:

Good Example
  • 1-inch margins all around
  • 2.0 line height (double-space the whole paper, including title block and Works Cited list)
  • no extra spacing after the title, between paragraphs, or between bibliography items
  • 12-point typeface (usually Times New Roman)
(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. 1-inch margins all around
  2. 1.15 line height
  3. 10pt spacing between paragraphs
  4. Calibri 11-point  typeface.

Changing to MLA Style (Windows)

  1. The default margins in my test run were fine, but if you need to change them:
    Page Layout -> Margins -> Normal (1-inch all around)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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
  4. 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. 1.25 inch left and right margins, 1 inch top and bottom
  2. 1.0 line height
  3. no extra spacing after paragraphs
  4. Cambria 12-point typeface

Changing to MLA style (Mac)

  1. In my test run, the left and right margins are too big. To change them:
    Layout -> Margins -> Normal
    (1-inch all around)
  2. The default line height is too low. Change it to 2.0.
    Home -> Line Spacing  -> 2.0
  3. 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
  4. 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)

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)

  1. Insert -> Page Number -> Top of Page -> (choose the right-justified “Plain Number” option)
  2. The cursor will jump automatically to the right place for you to type your surname.
  3. Click anywhere in the body of the paper to exit the header area.

2.2 Adding the Page Header in MS-Word (Mac)

  1. Insert (in the top menu) -> Page Numbers…  -> (Set “Position” to “Top of Page (header)” and “Alignment” to “Right”)
  2. Click just to the left of the new page number, and type your surname.
  3. 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.)

4. Citations

This handout presumes you already know why you should cite your sources (to establish your authority, to introduce persuasive evidence, to avoid plagiarism, etc.). 

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.

Tips for avoiding common errors in MLA citations.


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.

How to format the “Works Cited” list of an MLA style paper.

  • 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 general format is as follows:

Author. Title of Source. Container, contributors, version, volume and issue, publisher, date, location.

Exactly how that basic format gets turned into a Works Cited entry depends on the source.

Here’s the basic format for any book:

  1. Note that the author’s last name goes first.
    • If the book had two authors, only reverse the names of the first author.
      • Gibaldi, Joseph, and George Spelvin.
    • If the book has three, authors:
        • Gibaldi, Joseph, Alan Smithee, and George Spelvin.
    • More than three authors?
      • GIbaldi, Joseph et al.
      • The italicized phrase “et al.” is an abbreviation for the Latin “et alia,” meaning “and others.”
      • The “al.” is short for a longer word, so we mark the abbreviation with a period.
      • The “et” is not an abbreviation, so it doesn’t get a period.
  2. Place periods after the author’s name, after the title of the book, and at the end of the entry.
  3. The title of the book is italicized.
  4. The publisher is the name of the organization responsible for publishing the book. In this example it’s the Modern Language Association. It might instead be Project Gutenberg, the US Department of Agriculture, or the World Health Organization,

Basic Format for Any Academic Article

Author. “Title of Article in Quotation Marks.” Title of Journal in Italics, volume #, issue #, YEAR, pp. [pages of article]. Italicized Name of Database.

Let’s break that example down.

The author Margaret Kantz wrote the article “Helping Students Use Textual Sources Persuasively.” That article doesn’t exist on its own floating in space; it was published by a journal called College English, in the 52nd year of publication, in the first issue of its 52nd volume, in the year 1990, the article started on page 74 and ran through page 91. The student found this article while searching the database Academic Search Elite.

Every academic article has a specific title, and is published in a journal with a different title. (Online citation generators often get this wrong, and will often repeat the same title twice.)

What is this “volume 52, number 1”?

If College English were a TV series, then “volume” would be which season, and “number” would be the episode number. The title of the article would be the equivalent of a scene within that episode.

The title of the database, Academic Search Elite, is like the title of the streaming service you’d need to sign into.
If you were talking about your favorite TV show and you told me it was on Netflix, or Disney+, I could find it. But if you told me “It’s on my MacBook” or “It’s on my Samsung phone,” that wouldn’t help me to find it.

Bad ExampleEBSCOhost is not specific enough.

It’s not the name of a database; it’s a tool researchers use to access databases, but different schools can access different databases through different EBSCOhost subscription plans

If you tell me that I can find your favorite TV show “on a MacBook,” that’s too vague.

Just because I own a MacBook doesn’t automatically grant me access to all the streaming services you access on your MacBook.

In a similar way, telling me you found a source on “EBSCOhost” is too vague.

Good ExampleAcademic Search Elite” or “SPORTDiscus with Full Text” are titles of specific databases.
This is like telling me your favorite TV show is on Netflix or Disney+. It tells me the specific name of the database I need to access in order to find the article you found.

Basic Format for Any Web Page

In the above example, reporter Camila Domonoske filed a news story called “Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds,” that aired on a news program called The Two-Way, which is published by National Public Radio, and the story aired Nov 23, 2016.

In MLS Style, the full URL is optional. Really long URLs with long strings of numbers in them are often generated for specific users, so someone else who visits that same URL will often get an error message.

You might shorten the URL to “,” because it would be a simple matter to use a search engine to find the actual story.

Other Citation Examples

What if your source doesn’t fit any of my examples?

You might be trying to cite something that doesn’t fit the above pattern, like a social media post, a video game, a work of art, an email from a relative, a billboard, or something else. It’s just not practical for me to try to include an example of every single thing it’s possible to cite.

The MLA citation format is designed to be flexible, so that it works for forms of media that haven’t been invented yet.

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.
07 Sep 2020 — updated section 5.1

Related Writing Links

  • 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 (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)
    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. My “BibBuilder” is more like a guide than a full-fledged utility, but you may nevertheless find it helpful.
  • EasyBib’s MLA Guide
    Find everything you need to know about formatting a paper, name, number, quotations, works cited, and more in MLA format!

571 thoughts on “MLA Format Papers: Step-by-step Tips for Formatting Research Essays in MLA Style

    • While it’s theoretically possible that your instructor may ask you to write a one-paragraph research paper, paragraphs are an important building block for any essay. I’m not the one grading your homework, but I’d say you should follow the conventions of academic writing and use paragraphs.

  1. Pingback: Easy steps in MLA Citing | mmdrees

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    • There’s no special formatting for the title… it’s just centered text. On my word processor, I select the text, then choose Format -> Paragraph -> Alignment -> Centered. I don’t know what word processor you are using, but you can search the Internet for how to center text if you need to.

    • Teresa, this handout covers how to write papers in MLA (“Modern Language Association”) style. A psychology paper would not use MLA style, so this is not the right place to ask your question. Sorry!

    • That depends on the assignment. I ask my students to format their personal essays in MLA style, and of course I want them to refer to I, me and my in a personal essay. If you think you probably shouldn’t use personal pronouns, then don’t. But your instructor would really be the best person to ask.

    • That depends on why you don’t have the page number. If the source is an ebook that doesn’t have fixed page numbers, you can cite by chapter (Smith ch. 2). If you don’t have the page number because you’ve never had any access to any version of the book (maybe you are relying on a source that quoted the book, but didn’t include the page number) then you should find a different source to help you make whatever point you want to make. There is no rule that forbids scholars from using sources without page numbers, but careful scholars and reputable publishers will take care to make sure that their texts are paginated; thus, a source without page numbers is less likely to be a credible source.

    • If the subject of your paper is Benjamin Franklin, then you would cite the historical letter, pamphlet, or other document in which Franklin actually published those words (or the historical document in which somebody wrote down that this is what Franklin said in a speech on this particular occasion). I wouldn’t use a quote I found on a list of famous quotations in a research paper, since such lists are often full of errors.

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  5. I’ve always been good at the first 3/4 of MLA writing style except for the citations. I knew to put down the author and page number with all that info but I never understood WHAT ORDER to put them all in. This is soooooooooooo helpful! There need to be more people like you in this world. May The Lord bless you! :)

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  7. I have this page saved and refer to it whenever I need to write a paper, I find it very helpful, thank you so much for making it :)

    • Bryanna, if there is any part of this page that you find confusing, I’d be happy to try to clear things up, but your question is not specific enough for me to provide a helpful response.

  8. Very useful in creating my first paper for the COMPOSITION class! Thanks! You are amazingly helpful! And so clear. Terrific! (And thanks for putting both MAC and PC instructions up because I just switched to a MAC and needed that extra clarity).

  9. thank you so much you have helped me out with my paper more than I can say or express. all I can say is thank you.

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  11. ok thanks – I actually did find a PDF of the article. One more source that I do not know how to list in “Works Cites” and in-text citing: A transcript from a PBS show – can you help with this? Thanks.

  12. You explain everything very well – easy to follow. The only thing I am confused by is what to do if citing an article posted on the internet but no page numbers?

  13. I have read over this multiple times and I still don’t understand this. I’m in my computer class now trying to create a MLA style research paper and I just don’t get it.

    P.S Someone please help !

  14. Thanks so much for the information. I have not had to type up papers for over 20 years but have to now. Is there an MLA standard for the point size and font type for papers? Would love to get an answer on this within the next 2 weeks from 11/29/12. Thanks in advance for your advice and assistance!

  15. I have a research paper due next Wednesday and my English teacher wants it 6 pages long. I was wondering, for a paper that long, could i use different section headings with the MLA format? I have never used it before and have no idea what to do.

  16. I could use your help in writting a term papper on the history and culture of the Cherrokee Indians. I need ; Journal Articles, ten Bibliography’s two books ten sources 30 notecards on this subject, two outlines. One rough draft andthe final outline. I have never written a term paper before, I need some serious help. Will you help me PLEASE!!

  17. Thank you so much. Your information to me waslike a blessing in th sky… Thanks and God bless.

    • Nickolas, if there’s a particular instruction on this page that you find confusing, I’d be happy to help clarify, but as it is there isn’t enough information in your request for me to be very helpful.

        • Facing difficult things is the only way to grow. If you have a specific question about something you read on this page, I’ll do what I can to clarify it for you. Assuming the paper isn’t due tomorrow morning, I’m sure your teacher will be willing to help.

  18. Thank you so much!!! I couldn’t figure out how to do this for nothing and I had begun to get points taken off of my papers.

  19. Pingback: Works Cited Notes – Seminar in Thinking and Writing (LA101)

  20. Thank you so much for this. I’m really grateful that there are people like you out there who help others out like this :)

    May Allah / God bless you :)

  21. Thank you so much for putting this up! I really needed it for an essay due tomorrow, and this is my first time using this format. I had no idea how to set everything up, and I couldn’t get it from anyone. You have saved me from an embarrassing Brit Lit class tomorrow. Thanks!

  22. Could you please add something about how to change from A4 to 8.5 x 11? The big problem I and many other teachers have is that increasing numbers of students from the rest of the world use A4 by default, which causes all sorts of printer explosions. (I know, this is really backwards America’s fault, but until the happy day when we standardize …)

    Thanks for an excellent and clear page!

    • The exact process for changing the paper size would probably change quite a bit depending on what printer you are using, and there are hundreds of different printers and printer drivers out there.

    • In MLA style, it’s your name, not the paper title, at the top of the page. Margins are one inch all around — the distance is not measured in spaces. I hope that helps.

  23. It was heartening to go through such a fantastic explanation of MLA Style. A real praiseworthy job. I will remember this for a long time to come.

  24. can you tell me if using internet sources how do you list those in mla style rather then author title ect. are they listed by website or author then title, I just wanted to know thank you,

    • In MLA style, we sort alphabetically by the last name of the author (or editor, producer, director, etc.). If there is no author, then we sort according to the title.

  25. This website saved my life. It was my first time doing an mla paper in years and I aced it. Thank you for creating this blog! :)

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  27. dear sir! i just need to understand the mla formatting for writing papers and i couldn’t understand your given description about it so, please can teach me about mla formatting in simple or easy way. if can, then kindly reply me soon i just wait.

    • If I knew exactly what section you found confusing, then perhaps I could improve that section, or direct you to a different page altogether that already answers your question.

      This page assumes you already have written your paper, and that now you just need to format it. See section 0.2 — perhaps you need to read a different page first.

  28. I don’t usually comment on sites like this, but man, this article rocks! I had to do an assignment last minute, and man you really saved my hide and gave my something quick and easy to understand. Keep up the good work!

  29. I am confused. On your other weblog, you have the name of your book listed as “MLA Style Papers: Step-by-Step Instructions for Formatting Research Papers” but on this weblog you have it listed as “MLA Style Papers: Step-by-s>tep Instructions for Formatting Research Papers”. Which is correct?

      • Still confused, since you ostensibly write both blogs (with 2 separate variants), but thank you for your reply.

        • Tiva…breathe and stop being snarky. It’s an informative article. You have enough sense to use ostensibly correctly, but you’re coming to his playground for help. If you’re taking his guidance, you may want to also take his reply – which he did answer – and move on about your merry way.

  30. Perhaps I missed this somewhere, I found the information on how to cite the email interview, but how do I note this in parenthetical citation, just surname? I need to distinguish this from another interview with the same author (which is on the web). Thank you so much.

  31. I think this is very helpful i got all the information i needed to complete my research paper. Thanks alot.

  32. hi again,
    thanks for the last info on citing from web. wondering about quoting a person from an email interview? how to cite?

    Thanks again

  33. Thanks for the website and the instructions, I just finished my paper and had a few questions. This site answered them, thank you

  34. Mr. Jerz,

    Thank you for providing an easy to use guide for essay writing. I am linking this to our web site so the cadets will be able to produce MLA style papers that are required for their Civil Air Patrol (CAP) promotions.

    By using the acceptable format our hope is they will continue to use this style in their other academic classes.

    If you go to (our main page), Links (left hand menu), all the way down on the right side of page and click on How to write an essay.

    Deputy Commander SER-FL-457
    Palm Bay Cadet Squadron

  35. i would like to personly thank the person who has made this website. i wouldnt beable to finish my research paper without it.

    • In MLA style, anything that stands alone (a book, a play, a journal, an album of songs) is italicized. Anything that appears as part of a collection (a chapter, a story, an article, a song) gets put in quotes. Short stories are published in magazines or collections, not on their own, so they get quotations marks.

  36. How do I define sections in MLA format? I want to title certain parts of my paper, not just the citations. Thanks

    • I would only consider section headings for very long papers (20+ pages), and even then I’d advise against it, because section headings can encourage you to try to avoid the challenging but valuable intellectual task of providing logical transitions for your reader. But your instructor may have a different opinion. Since I am not the one who will grade your paper, I won’t be able to give you good advice. MLA does not require section headings, do I don’t recommend them.

  37. This was very useful. I am going to bookmark this site, so I hope it does not go down or this blog is deleted anytime soon.

  38. I have to write a paper in MLA format but have to include at least two pitures/drawings/diagrams. how would i put thos into my paper correctly?

  39. When writing a short MLA paper how often should you state or cite information? Or should you only state your source to reiterate your points?

    • In MLA style, we cite every fact or opinion we are taking from an outside source. There are ways to do that more and less elegantly, but that would be a subject for a whole textbook on college writing. This page is only here to answer formatting questions.

  40. would you kindly explain or provide a link as to how to enter a citation from information gathered from a webpage? thanks

  41. I thought there was a way a list had to be put in a paper. Am I imagining this or ?? I cannot find anywhere online where this is covered. I am trying to fill some space by using a list of 4 items (the 4 stages of piaget’s theory of cognitive development) :-). I am using MLA format if that makes a difference. Thanks for any help.

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