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MLA Style Paper

Modern Language Association, shorty MLA, is one of the most common academic writing formats for social sciences and humanities. Starting from high school, plenty of students are assigned English papers formatted in this particular style. Even though an MLA style research paper is relatively uncommon, an MLA formatted essay is a standard procedure when it comes to literature, linguistics, English, and other subjects.

If you have never used the style before, the best word of advice will be to look for an MLA style paper example - fortunately, there are plenty of those online. However, when working on your very first MLA style paper, it is advisable to pay some extra attention to general policies to understand the logic behind this formatting style. Here, we will try to quickly enumerate all of the essential MLA guidelines, as well as offer you some tips that will help you save time on formatting and structuring your MLA paper.

MLA Style Paper Format: General Policies

MLA paper style, no matter how long or on what subject, presupposes the following rules:

  • One-inch margins on all sides of the paper
  • 12-point Times New Roman font
  • Double spacing all through the assignment
  • Page numbers in the top right corner
  • Student's name in the header, right aligned
  • Left body text alignment all through the paper
  • No separate title page
  • A separate Works Cited page
  • Every paragraph starts with an ident
  • No "enter" and blank lines between paragraphs

So far, does not seem that hard, does it? Now, let's try and dig a little deeper, answering most common questions when it comes to MLA style paper format.

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Where do I place my name?

Your name will be placed on every page your MLA paper - you type your last name in the header of your doc file, and your text editor will do the rest. Use regular sentence structure; start your last name with a capital letter (obviously), but do not capitalize all of it.

Make sure the name in the header is right-aligned and has the same font as the rest of your paper (that is, Times New Roman, 12-point). This one is important because very few editors still use this font as a default option. And, since font change in the main body of your document does not affect fonts in the header, you will have to manually do that once again.

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The same goes for your page enumeration - page numbers in the top right corner also have to be Times New Roman, 12-point. If you do everything right, your last name and your page numbers will be on an even line.

Do I need to include my professor's name, too?

Yes. As a matter of fact, any MLA style paper should include the following info in the top left corner of your first page:

  • Student Name
  • Instructor Name
  • Subject
  • Date

Start typing this information at the first line of the page. This means that the title of your paper will be on the fifth line. The title is always centered; nouns and verbs start with a capital letter. After that, you can begin writing your paper. If you get everything right, it should look like this:

  • Mary Smith
  • Professor Black
  • Art 101
  • November 20, 2017
  • Diego Velazquez' Shift from Renaissance Traditions to the Baroque Style

Diego Velazquez, one of the greatest artists of the Spanish Golden Age, is celebrated as an outstanding master of the Baroque style (continue your introduction here).

MLA Style Paper: Citation Guidelines

No matter if you are working on an MLA style research paper or a one-page essay, you will have to provide evidence for your arguments. This, in its turn, presupposes in-text citations. If the quotation is under 40 words, you place in line with your paragraph text and frame the piece in quotation marks. After that, you indicate the author's last name and the page number in brackets. Do not separate the two by a comma. Here is an example:

In Velazquez' paintings, "light is no longer exclusively form-defining" (Wolfflin 200).

Pay attention: any punctuation marks you need are placed AFTER the second bracket.

If there is no page number available (typically, for online sources), use only the author's last name in brackets.

If you are citing a big chunk of text (over 40 words), you will have to start your citation on a separate line and indent the entire quotation. In such a case, a quotation is typically preceded by a colon. Like this:

In Velazquez's paintings,

light serves the same purpose as the use of perspective two centuries earlier - to make

space tangible. Areas of light and shadow are shifted to create the illusion of a place

where elements are not painted but actually "are' (Collins).

Mind, though, that your paper cannot have too many block quotes. There are no strict rules as to the exact amount here, but the commonly accepted guideline is to have no more than 10% of the other authors' material in your work.

Note: if you are referring to a particular work (book, work of art, journal article, etc.) in your MLA style paper, the name of the work in question is placed in italics. No quotation marks are necessary. Here's an example:

The interesting aspect of this technique, evidently present in Las Meninas, is the fact that...

Finally, it may seem that MLA paper format does not presuppose tagging a source if you are rephrasing the information in your own words. The confusion is understandable - after all, the bibliography section in MLA format is called Works Cited, not Works Used.

Still, you have to remember that any academic paper has to properly reference other authors' ideas. Perhaps, the best way out of this little dilemma would be to quote from every single source you used during the research phase - even if the quote has about five words or so.

MLA Paper Style: Referencing

As it was already mentioned, this section of your MLA style paper is called Works Cited and is placed on a separate page of your doc file. The heading is centered, but neither bold, nor italicized. Each source you mention on this page should include

  1. Author's name
  2. Work title
  3. Publisher
  4. Place of publication
  5. Year of publication

Note, however, that there will be certain differences when it comes to referencing material from different sources. In practice, MLA referencing should look more or less like this:

Referencing an entire book

Joe, John. Sample Book Title. Publisher. 2017.

A book that has more than one author

Smith, Black, et. al. New Sample Book Title, Publisher. 2017.

A book without an author (issued by a company or an organization)

Corporate Book Title. Corporate Law & Business, 1995.

Referencing a journal article is a bit different. Here, you should also mention if the source was found online or in print. Formatting is a bit different, too:

Smith, J. "Sample Article Title". Sample Journal Title. Publisher. Year.

Here is a real-life MLA style paper example for this page:

Works Cited

Collins, N. "Spanish Baroque Art. History, Characteristics, 17th Century Arts in Spain".

Visual-arts-cork.com. n.d. Web.

Musso, C.G. "Diego Velazquez and His Painting: The triadic matter of reality".

Humanehealthcare.com. n.d. Web. 2010.

Wolfflin, H. "Principles of Art History". Courier Dover Publications. New York. 1950. Print.

Finally, note that most of the time, the professor will indicate how many academic sources you are supposed to use in your work. If he/she does not, a commonly accepted guideline is to have one source for each page of your text. So, the example above is an excerpt from a 3-page MLA style paper.

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