One of the ways we can create a sense of being part of one larger academic conversation is by adopting an agreed-upon, consistent and uniform way of presenting academic material. By following these conventions, we build our credibility because we signal to readers that we are part of the larger conversation and aware of its customs. For English classes and a variety of humanities disciplines, the agreed-upon style is called MLA. For other classes, you may also be asked to format your papers in APA or Chicago Style.
The following sample paper shows how the first page of a paper written in MLA is formatted. Note the header information in the upper-left corner, the last name and page numbers in the upper-right corner, the double spaced text, and indentations that begin each paragraph:
Use a Template
The simplest way to get the format right is to use a template. You can download this MLA format essay template and open it in any word processing program. (You can also make a copy of the Google Docs template rather than downloading.) Then just replace the text with your own name, title, and essay. A slightly different way is to create a new document in Google Docs, Pages, or Microsoft Word and use the built-in template for MLA essays. You'll want to choose the option to create a new document from a template and then search the template gallery for "MLA," which may be categorized under "Education."
General MLA Formatting Rules
If you prefer not to use a template, you can also manually format your essay.
- Font: Your paper should be written in 12-point text. Whichever font you choose, MLA requires that regular and italicized text be easily distinguishable from each other. Times and Times New Roman are often recommended.
- Line Spacing: All text in your paper should be double-spaced.
- Margins: All page margins (top, bottom, left, and right) should be 1 inch. All text should be left justified.
- Indentation: The first line of every paragraph should be indented 0.5 inches.
- Page Numbers: Create a right-justified header 0.5 inches from the top edge of every page. This header should include your last name, followed by a space and the page number. Your pages should be numbered with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3…) and should start with the number 1 on your title page. Most word-processing programs have the ability to automatically add the correct page number to each page so you don’t have to do this by hand.
- Use of Italics: In MLA style, you should italicize (rather than underline) the titles of books, plays, or other standalone works (shorter works such as articles or speeches should be in quotation marks with no italics). You should also italicize (rather than underline) words or phrases you want to lend particular emphasis—though you should do this rarely.
- The first page: Like the rest of your paper, everything on your first page, even the headers, should be double-spaced. The following information should be left justified in regular font at the top of the first page (in the main part of the page, not the header):
- on the first line, your first and last name
- on the second line, your instructor’s name
- on the third line, the name of the class
- on the fourth line, the date
- The title: After the header, the next double-spaced line should include the title of your paper. This should be centered and in title case, and it should not be bolded, underlined, or italicized (unless it includes the name of a book, in which case just the book title should be italicized).
Visit the Modern Language Association website to see an example of a student paper following MLA guidelines. You can also read more on the MLA website about correctly formatting your document.