MLA format for papers

As well as rules for citing sources, each citation style has specific requirements for formatting essays and papers. To adhere to MLA format guidelines, pay attention to:

  • Font: 12 pt Times New Roman (body and headings)
  • Margins: 1 inch
  • Line spacing: double
  • Alignment: left
  • Indentation: ½ inch on the first line of each new paragraph
  • Header: your surname and the page number in the top right of each page

There are specific formatting requirements for headings and for the Works Cited page.

MLA sample paper

MLA sample paper

Word templateGoogle Docs template

If you wish to use the Google Docs template, go to “File” in the top left corner and click “make a copy.”

General formatting guidelines

Every page of an MLA paper needs to follow certain formatting rules. These are related to the text itself, as well as spacing and alignment.

Text formatting

  • Times New Roman 12 pt (or an equally readable font)
  • Double space all text
  • Title case for headings

Indentation, spacing and alignment

  • 1 inch page margins
  • 0.5 inch indent for the first line of each paragraph
  • One space after periods
  • Left-aligned

Example of MLA formatting

MLA format

Every page must include a header, also known as a running head. This header consists of your surname and the page number in the top right corner, half an inch from the top of the page.

To implement this, simply insert automatic page numbering and add your name in the “header” section of the document. Make sure the text is justified to the right. This header will then automatically appear on every page in the document.

Check if your university or supervisor wish for you to include the header on the first page.

Example MLA header

MLA running head

First page or cover page

On the first page of your paper, you should include an MLA heading. This appears on the first four lines, left-aligned, and contains:

  • Your full name
  • Supervisor’s name
  • Course name
  • Date of submission

It is followed by the title of the paper, centred with no styling.MLA first page

In MLA style you do not need to create a separate cover page, unless your supervisor specifically asks for this. If you are required to add a cover page, you should generally include:

  • University name
  • Title of paper (including subtitle, if applicable)
  • Your name
  • Course name and number
  • Professor/supervisor name
  • Date

MLA cover page

Headings and subheadings

Headings and subheadings can help organize and provide structure to your paper, especially in longer assignments.

The different “levels” of headings refer to the order of prominence. For example, in a dissertation, each chapter heading will be a “first-level heading.” Sub-sections within each chapter will be “second-level headings,” and so on.

There is no set formatting required by MLA for the different levels – the only rule is that you must be consistent. In general, boldface indicates greater prominence, while italics is appropriate for subordinate headings.

Example of different heading formatting styles

Level 1 Heading: bold
Level 2 Heading: italicized
Level 3 Heading: plain text
Level 4 Heading: underlined

Both Google Docs and Microsoft Word have functions that allow you to automatically set different heading levels. You can also download our MLA heading template that adds these heading styles to Word. Import the template by clicking on ‘Tools’, ‘Templates and Add-ins’ in Word.

MLA heading template (.docx)

Tips for MLA headings

  • Shorter is better
  • Write in title case
  • Include a space above and below each heading
  • Avoid numbers and letters to signify different headings, unless this is the norm in your field of study

Aim to use parallelism in your headings. This simply means that headings at the same level should take the same grammatical form. If the first heading uses a present tense verb, the next heading should do the same. For example: Going to the zoo; Eating at the zoo; Travelling home.

MLA citations

Whenever you quote, paraphrase or summarize any information from another source (such as a book, website or journal article), you must include an in-text citation. You must also reference that source in the Works Cited list at the end of your paper.

There are specific formatting guidelines for both the in-text citations and Works Cited list. You can learn more about these guidelines in our guide to MLA format citations or use Scribbr’s free MLA CItation Generator to automatically create MLA format citation.

Scribbr MLA Citation Generator

Footnotes and endnotes

You can use MLA footnotes to direct the reader to additional sources or add extra information that isn’t essential to your main point.

Footnotes are numbered in superscript and appear at the bottom of the page. Alternatively, you can use MLA endnotes, which appear in a list at the very end of your paper. You can create footnotes and endnotes automatically in Word.

Every source you mention in a footnote or endnote must appear in the Works Cited list.

List of Works Cited

An MLA Works Cited list appears at the end of your paper and must include all sources referenced in the text. You do not include works that were only consulted.

The format of an MLA Works Cited list follows many of the same rules as the rest of the paper, including font size, the application of double spacing and the inclusion of the header.

You should also use hanging indents for entries that cover more than one line of text and end all entries with a period.

MLA Works Cited example

Gahan 16

Works Cited

Aronson, Marc. “The Evolution of the American Editor.” Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do, edited by Gerald Gross, 3rd ed., Grove Press, 1993, pp. 10-21.

“Bad Speller: Austen’s Books Were Heavily Edited.” smh.com.au. The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Oct. 2010, https://​www.smh.com.au/​entertainment/​books/​bad-speller-​austens-books-were-​heavily-edited. Accessed 2 Jun. 2012.

Barker, Juliet. The Brontës. 2nd ed., Great Britain, Phoenix Giants, 1995.

‐‐‐ The Brontës: A Life in Letters. London, Viking, 1997.

‐‐‐ The Brontes: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of a Literary Family. Pegasus, 2012.

Creating source entries

Every source type requires specific information. You can read more about what to include in an MLA book citation, a play citation, a journal article citation, and more in our MLA citation quick guide.

Alphabetizing the list of Works Cited

All sources in the Works Cited list are sorted alphabetically by the author name. For sources without an author, alphabetize based on the source title instead (ignoring thea and an).

An MLA citation generator or the automatic reference list feature in Microsoft Word can alphabetize the list automatically.

Tables and figures

Depending on your subject of study, you may need to include some tables, illustrations or even musical examples in your paper. MLA follows specific guidelines for how to format the labels and notes for these. Be sure to place tables and figures as close to the relevant part of text as possible.

Tables

  • Label the table with the word “Table,” a number, and the title.
  • Use title case for the title
  • Place the label (Table 1) and title on separate lines
  • Include any notes immediately below the table.
Example of a table in an MLA paper

MLA Table

Figures

  • Label any other kind of visual using “Figure.” This includes photographs, maps, graphs and charts. Usually, Figure is abbreviated to “Fig.”
  • Assign each figure a number as well as a caption
  • The label and caption should appear directly under the figure
Example of a figure in an MLA paper

MLA figure

Musical illustrations

  • Musical illustrations should be labelled “Example,” abbreviated to “Ex.”
  • Assign each a number and include a caption
  • The label and caption should appear immediately below the example

Note that, if you provide the full source information for the table or figure in the caption or notes and the source is not cited in the text, you do not need to include this source in the full Works Cited list.

Is this article helpful?
Courtney Gahan

Courtney has a Bachelor in Communication and a Master in Editing and Publishing. She has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 2013, and joined the Scribbr team as an editor in June 2017. She loves helping students and academics all over the world improve their writing (and learning about their research while doing so!).

4 comments

lisa
December 4, 2019 at 7:37 AM

If I am required to use a cover page do I still need to list name, class, professor, and date on the first page?

Also, numbering the pages with a cover page is the first page with the actual paper page 2 or would it still be the first page?

Reply

Ambedkar Bodigadla
April 22, 2019 at 10:32 PM

Useful content

Reply

sr. maria tran
October 31, 2018 at 3:55 AM

How do I capitalize my title: My feeling "A Little like God"?

Reply

Leon Smits
Leon Smits (Scribbr-team)
November 4, 2018 at 10:41 PM

Hi Maria!

I would suggest: My Feeling: "A Little Like God"

Cheers,
Leon

Reply

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