MLA STYLE GUIDE
Find tips on how to properly format your MLA-style paper.
WHAT IS MLA STYLE?
The MLA style manual puts forth a detailed guide as to how to cite in your paper according to the Modern Language Association’s framework. It is important to properly cite the sources you’ve used in your paper so you are not plagiarizing, and remember: you can be caught for plagiarism even unintentionally! Attribution for this reason is more than important, and MLA style allows a simple way to show what sources you’ve used and who you have quoted in your standard essay. MLA is the most familiar of the style guides and is used for most papers; in particular, it targets essays within the liberal arts and humanities – namely, English! Always check with your teacher or professor as to which citation style is expected (there are two other options – APA and Chicago style- that may be used to reference your sources). For a detailed understanding of the expectations of MLA style, check out the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th edition). It is widely available and referenced, and includes maybe more than you care to know! If you need to know the basics of MLA style, we’ve got you covered!
GENERAL MLA STYLE GUIDELINES
MLA provides a simple, identifiable way to track resources used and format a paper within the liberal arts curriculum. It is the perfect system to use when avoiding plagiarism accusation and helps streamline a literary or research essay. Your essay should be typed and double-spaced on standard paper (8.5 x 11-inch) with 1 inch margins on all sides. Use a legible font in 12 pt. The best to use is Times New Roman, but if you use another, be sure it has clear contrast between regular and italic text. You should be sure to leave just one space after periods or other punctuation marks. When you begin a new paragraph, hit Tab to get the spacing correct. An important component to the MLA paper is the header, which provides page number identification for your reader. The header is included on all pages flush right. Using Microsoft Word, you can easily insert page numbers automatically in the “Insert Page Number Tab.” In front of the page number, you will want to type your last name only. It should roughly look like this: Last 1. This will follow through for all pages following the first. Use italics to reference the titles of works. A MLA paper will not have a cover page, but rather specific guidelines for heading and title. It will also include detailed MLA-style in-text citations which vary by media used (we will discuss later) and a Works Cited Page that establishes all works consulted attached to the end of your document.
MAJOR PAPER SECTIONS
The first page of an MLA Paper will include a particular header. Don’t forget your running header, as we’ve already discussed, that includes your last name and the page number flush right at the top of every page. Beyond this, in the upper left of your paper, you’ll want to establish the following format (Note: This is not another header but begins your document):
First Last Name
Day Month Year.
This provides some basic information about your essay. It shows who authored it (you) and for which professor, who teaches you in which class, and on which day it was written or due. The formatting there should be day, month, year, or, in example, 5 October 2015. It’s simple for a reason! It provides a basic standard. Following this, you’ll want to insert your title. It will be centered, capitalized as necessary, but not in all caps. Don’t italicize or bold or underline – it’s good just the way it is! Then, you’re all set to begin writing your paper.
One of the most important components of MLA style is that it offers a consistent way to attribute sources. It is perhaps the most effective way to do so, and MLA includes extensive details on formatting in-text that can be found online in regards to varying media.
IN-TEXT CITATIONS: THE BASIC
In general, MLA refers to “parentheticals” which are relevant sources of information used to cite in-text. How you cite your parenthetical reference depends firstly on which type of source you used. You want to know what media you consulted – was it a DVD? A novel? By how many authors? You may find through Purdue OWL (online) a detailed account of how to cite specific media you may have consulted in your research, such as Video or Electronic Sources. The MLA Handbook also discusses these variations in detail. What’s important to keep in mind is that each parenthetical notation must refer to an exact match on the Works Cited page at the end of your document. It is of your utmost concern to match the signal word (such as author last name) found in your parenthetical to the first item in the list on the Works Cited. For example, if you’ve used an author’s last name as your signal word, which is most common (i.e. Blah 98) then on your Works Cited, the reader should be able to easily locate Blah as the first piece of information in regards to the source. Keep in mind – the signal word does exactly that; it attaches your notation to the actual source in the Works Cited. It’s pretty easy to cite any information from a book, such as a direct quote or paraphrase, using MLA. If it’s a typical work, all you’ll have to do is put the author’s last name and the page number in parentheses at the end of your sentence. For example: (Blah 98). Just be sure to cite ANYTHING that was knowledge you didn’t have prior to researching. Remember, different types of sources have DIFFERENT parenthetical rules; consult the Handbook or Purdue OWL for extensive details.
There are some standard rules for quotation you will want to keep in mind. In short quotations, be sure that you properly place the citation at the end of the quote. Here is an example:
Blah pointed out, “MLA isn’t so bad if you get the basics down” (Blah 98).
See how the period was dragged out all the way to the end of the parenthetical? You’ll want to do exactly that every time.
If you’ve got a long quotation – say it’s over four lines of prose, as the MLA guidebook indicates would define it- then you need to block it off. To do so, set up information before your quote and then place a colon. Then, indent as a new paragraph (one inch off the margin) for EACH line of the quotation. You do NOT need quotation marks. When the quote is through, end it with a period THEN insert your regular parenthetical without a period at the end. Here’s a quick example:
Blah further contends that MLA is efficient:
Once you learn how to use the guidelines, it becomes clear. MLA is the best way to cite information. There is no confusion as to which works you’ve consulted. All your research is well-documented. It prevents plagiarism. (Blah 98)
Remember, you can alter quotes by adding speech in [brackets] or omitting speech indicated by ellipses. Use these style tools to adjust quotes!
The Works Cited is the important last and separate page of your document in which you detail each and every source you’ve consulted. All sources should be matched by parentheticals and signal word. Just as in-text citations vary by media form, so do the references included on your Works Cited, so get out your style guides and double check! You indicate that you’re going to list your Works Cited simply by typing “Works Cited” in center at the top of the page as you would a title. No quotes, italics, underlining, bolding, etc. Works Cited. Keep your sources alphabetical and indent the second and subsequent lines of citations by 0.5 inches to create a hanging indent. You’ll see in our example. Your basic novel reference goes as follows:
Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Medium of Publication.
Here’s that with some pretend information inserted:
Blah, Mister. You Too Can Use MLA Because It’s Not So Hard. New York, Best Publisher, 2015. Print.
Note the hanging indent above!
Remember to get out your style guide to look for all the specific variations based on the medium of publication, source, number of authors, etc.!