24 MLA Formatting Guides

Using MLA to Format Your Documents

The following are the basic guidelines for setting up an MLA-formatted document. Your word processor will have menu controls to help you with these settings.

  • Set side margins to 1” on left, right, top, and bottom.
  • Set margins to 0.5” for header and footer.
  • Use a standard* 12-point font throughout the document.
  • Double-space throughout the document.
  • Use a straight left edge and a “ragged” right edge.
  • Indent paragraphs ½” (1 tab).
  • Center a document title on page 1. Use plain 12-point font—do not bold, underline, or italicize.
  • Create an upper left heading on page 1 only. This should include the following:
    • Your name (first and last name)
    • Your instructor’s name
    • The name of the class
    • The date, in MLA style**
  • Create an upper right header for all pages. This should include the following:
    • Your last name
    • An automatic page number

*Examples of standard fonts include Times, Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica, and others. Avoid non-standard Microsoft fonts like Calibri and Cambria, typewriter fonts (Courier), and overly-casual fonts (Comic Sans and Papyrus). Your instructors may also specify fonts that they prefer.

**MLA date format is very specific: it includes, in this order, the day of month, month, and year.

For example, the day February 11 in the year 2020 would look like this: 11 February 2020.

Longer months can also be abbreviated, so it could also look like this: 11 Feb. 2020.

Note that there are no commas in an MLA-style date.

Use this format for your document heading and on your Works Cited list. When mentioning dates in your paper, use traditional U.S. format, i.e., “On February 11, 2020, I found the world’s best coffee shop.”

Consult this example of what the beginning of of an MLA-formatted paper looks like, from mla.org. For additional examples, visit Sample Papers in MLA Style.

A Four-Step Process for Working with Sources

1: Create a Works Cited Page. When you bring a source into to your writing, create a Works Cited page and immediately add your source to the page, creating a complete, correct listing.

2: Use Sources Correctly. Bring written sources into your paper using quotation, paraphrase, or summary.

3: Cite/Identify In-Text Sources. When you add a source to your paper, immediately cite or identify it where it occurs.

4: Proofread Your Work with Sources.

    • Check and double-check to make sure every sentence containing a source has been properly cited or identified.
    • Make sure Works Cited listings and in-text citations “match.” If you mention a source in your paper, it must also appear on the Works Cited list. If you mention a source on your Works Cited list, it must also appear in the paper.

Here are some excellent online resources to help you work with MLA:

The Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL): this site is used by educators and colleges all over the US and in other countries as well. It will help you not just with MLA but with all aspects of writing, research, grammar, usage, etc. It has an excellent search tool. It’s also updated almost continuously.

The MLA Style Center: this is a subdivision of the larger MLA website. It has great materials to help students practice with MLA. It has a downloadable copy of the MLA template, FAQ pages, and more.

MLA Practice Template: from the MLA Style Center. Use this to practice formatting your citations.

This chapter was adapted from “Resources for Working with MLA” from The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted. Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License  Note: links open in new tabs. 


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ENGLISH 087: Academic Advanced Writing Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Hutchison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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