MLA Format
Summary of Rules

Many people who visit my writing help websites are looking for help with formatting and adding citations to their academic and/or professional papers. A lot of those folks are required to use the standards of the Modern Language Association (MLA).

In its more than 330 pages, the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers covers literally thousands of technical details for the writing and publishing of papers, and should be consulted if that level of detail is required.

Nevertheless, there are a number of overall rules and general guidelines, which are normally sufficient for the preparation of most papers at the undergraduate level that require use of the MLA standard. For the purposes of this article, I have divided those into three distinct sections, as follow:

  1. Overall MLA Paper Format Rules

  2. MLA Rules For In-Text Citation of Sources

  3. Compiling and Formatting the MLA Works Cited List
Each of the above sections below contains a link to an actual sample pages of of the format being discussed.

Overall Paper Format - MLA

  • The paper should be typed and double-spaced, on standard 8 ½” x 11”, 20-pound white paper.

  • All four outside margins should be set at 1 inch.

  • A header with consecutive page numbering should appear on the upper right-hand corner of each page. It must be flush with the right margin, and one-half inch down from the top margin.

  • A title page is not necessary (unless otherwise requested). Instead of the title page, four double-spaced entries are made, beginning at the top left-hand corner of the first page, listing author (your) name, course instructor’s name, course name/number, and the date.

  • The title of the paper should be centered, one double-space from the bottom of the previous entry (either the header, or the date if there was no title page).

To see a sample MLA Title Page click here.

In-Text Citations of Sources - MLA

  • When citing a work within the text of a paper, try to mention the material being cited in a “signal phrase” that includes the author’s name. After that phrase, insert in brackets, the page number in the work referred to from which the information is drawn.

  • For example: [ In his final study, Smith said that the response “far exceeded our expectations” (253) ]. The reader can then look up Smith in the works cited list for complete information about the publication for which page 253 is being cited.

  • In cases where the author is not mentioned in a "signal phrase" the author’s name, followed by the page number, must appear in parentheses. Example: [ When he left that job he felt it was time to move back to the sea (Smith 309). ]

  • For citations of Internet resources, refer to the special page that I have set up about this right here.

To see a sample MLA Inside Page click here.

Works Cited List - MLA

  • Sources are referred to in a "Works Cited" list that should begin at the top of a separate page after the last page of essay text. (do not capitalize, underline, etc.).

  • All entries in the works cited list should be double-spaced with no extra line spaces between entries.

  • The first line of each entry in the works cited list should be flush to the left margin, and each subsequent line for that entry should be indented one-half inch (i.e. hanging indent).

  • For the title of the work being cited, use underlining or italics, not both. They are equivalent in this case. Whichever convention is chosen must be used throughout the essay for all titles cited.

  • The works cited list should be arranged in alphabetical order, based on the first word of each entry. For most entries, this will be the last name of the author.

  • As a general rule, the names of authors are inverted (i.e. last name first). In cases where a work has more than one author, invert the first author’s name only, followed by a comma, after which the other authors are listed (names not inverted).

  • If more than one work by the same author is cited, the entries should appear as consecutive entries in the list, in alphabetical order by title. For the second, and all subsequent entries for that author, replace the author’s name with a line of three hyphens at the beginning of the entry.

  • In cases where an author appears both as a sole author of a work, and as the first of a group of authors for another work, place the solo-entry first.

  • If the author of a work is unknown, alphabetize the entry by the title of the work.

  • Generally, when citing BOOKS, arrange the information into three units, each followed by a period and one space as follows: (1) author’s name (last name first), (2) title and sub-title, underlined (or italics), (3) place of publication, publisher, and date (in that order).

  • Generally, when citing ARTICLES, list the information in the following order: (1) author name (inverted), (2) article title (enclosed in quotations), (3) title of the magazine or journal (underlined or italics), (4) date and page numbers (in that order).

  • When listing ranges of page numbers, use the format 354-359 for an article appearing on those pages. The efficient form, 354-59, may also be used.

To see a sample MLA Works Cited Page click here.

MLA Software

RFW’s Paper Wizard for MLA and APA is powerful software that automatically formats your MLA and/or APA papers for you. Paper Wizard integrates with Microsoft Word and becomes a part of it. It even has a built-in grammar-speller checker! If your paper is due soon, RFW Paper Wizard will save the day.
RFW Paper Wizard

Other MLA Resources

If you feel that the above summarized rules and guidelines are too general in nature for you, links to a number of online sites with more detailed MLA format information and examples are listed here.

Disclaimer: This site is not affiliated with either the Modern Language Association of America (MLA) or the American Psychological Association (APA). The information and links posted above were gathered through a variety of publicly available sources, and have been assembled here for the convenience of users. Accordingly, does not accept any liability for the information posted above.

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