MLA is one of the most common academic formats for a variety of papers in humanities and social sciences. It really does not matter whether you are assigned an MLA style research paper or a simple one-page essay — the formatting rules and the logic behind this format will remain the same for both assignments.
The surest way to get started with your assignment is to google for an MLA style paper example. The good news, there are plenty of samples online. The bad news, though, is that very few of them provide a specific explanation of the formatting rules and guidelines. What stays in regular text and what gets italicized? Which rules are strict and which can be seen as flexible suggestions? After all, you cannot hope to write a proper MLA style paper if you do not understand these peculiarities. So, let’s take a better look at them together.
Even though MLA paper style does presuppose a certain degree of flexibility, certain rules can never be broken. They go as follows:
We do understand that these MLA style paper format peculiarities might already seem a bit confusing, but in reality, writing an MLA paper is not a brain surgery. Let’s focus on some technical formatting tips below — they should help you save a bunch of time and effort.
The first thing you should do when working on your MLA style paper is to adjust your text editor settings. As it was already mentioned, the entire paper has to be written in Times New Roman font, double-spaced. Remember that this goes not only for the body of your essay but also for the running head with your last name and page number — they, too, have to be Times New Roman, double-spaced. To check if you’re doing it right, simply double-click on the running head — in most cases, you will notice that your main body formatting did not affect the header. Make sure to take care of that manually.
Student and course information
An MLA style paper does not presuppose a separate title page, which can be a relief. So, you start your essay with the following info (left aligned):
The next line of your MLA style paper will be the title of your essay/research. The title is centered, and all nouns and verbs in it should be capitalized. In practice, the first five lines of your MLA style paper will look like this:
The sixth line of your MLA style paper is your first paragraph — that is, your introduction. Like any other paragraph in an MLA style paper, it starts with an indent and is left-aligned. Also, remember that your thesis statement is placed at the end of the introductory paragraph — this is not an MLA requirement, but a general rule of academic writing.
Absolutely all assignments, from MLA style research paper to a personal essay presuppose internal references. Do not forget that your final page is called Works Cited, so get ready to actually cite something.The rules here are simple. You format the citation in quotation marks and state the author’s last name and the page number in brackets, right after the quotation. The name and the page number are not separated by any punctuation marks. Like this: (Black 7).
Any punctuation marks you need in a sentence also go after the reference.
If there are two or three authors of the same source, their names are separated by commas: (Right, Daven 67).
If you are referring to an online article or any other digital source that does not have a page number, simply skip the page number.
Sometimes, you might have to quote bigger chunks of text, though. The general guideline for MLA style paper citation that exceeds 40 words is to start it with a new indented line. In this case, no quotation marks are necessary. Author referencing guidelines remain the same, though.
Note, however, that it is not advisable to have over 10% of quotes in your text. For starters, you are supposed to submit your own paper, not a collection of someone else’s writings on the subject. Next, you should not forget that all academic assignments are scanned for plagiarism, and too many quotes will negatively affect your score. To put it simply, the professor will see exactly what percentage of the paper is not really yours.
The first question a lot of students ask here is how many sources they need, exactly. In most cases, your professors should indicate the number of external references they expect to see in your work. If they do not, accept one outside source per each page of your paper as the general guideline.
Another frequently asked question is what to do with the sources you paraphrased or used in your research but did not actually quote from. This one is a bit more tricky. All in all, MLA style paper presupposes giving reference to an original author even if there is no direct quote. If however, you want to stay on the safe side, just include a short (5-7 words) quote from every resource you plan to mention on your Works Cited page.
Now, let’s get to the actual formatting.
Each source you mention on your Works Cited page should have the following information
When citing a whole book, the title is italicized; the rest is not. Like this:
Connor, J. Sample Book Title. Penguin. 2011.
For referencing an article from a journal (or one short story from a collection), the logic is a bit different. In this case, you include the title of the article (or short story) in quotation marks. You use italics for the title of the periodical/book.
Black, J.D., Purnell, L.D. “Cultural Competence for the Physical Therapy Professional”. Journal of Physical Therapy Education. Vol. 16,1. 2002.
One more (optional) guideline would be to indicate page numbers in such a case. So, if you really want your Works Cited page to look neat and tidy, you can reference the same resource like this:
Black, J.D., Purnell, L.D. “Cultural Competence for the Physical Therapy Professional”. Journal of Physical Therapy Education. Vol. 16,1. 2002. Print: 3+.
Here, ‘print’ implies you actually got your hands on an in-folio source. '3+' stands for the page number where you found it. The same logic can be used with digital journal publications, like in this MLA style paper example:
O’Hearn, M. “The Elemental Identity of Physical Therapy”. Journal of Physical Therapy Education. Vol.16.3. 2002. Print: 4.
But then again, finishing the same reference with a publication year is also acceptable.