If you have grown tired of the continuous struggle with academic paper formatting and if MLA style is particularly challenging for you, you are in the right place – the article that you are reading now will shed light on the main tips and tricks concerning proper MLA formatting. Below you will find detailed and comprehensive guidelines composed by real professionals in the academic writing and formatting sphere.
The information provided below does not serve as an official reference to the MLA citation style – it is rather a comprehensive overview of the main guidelines that should be considered if you want to succeed in MLA formatting. Check them out:
- Background information about the formatting style. MLA stands for the Modern Language Association and it is a formal organization that deals with the development and update of MLA citation format. The ultimate purpose of any citation style, including MLA, is to unify different standards connected with formatting and make sure that there a single way of organizing, structuring, and formatting papers. When it comes to the subject areas where MLA is used, the most widespread of them are humanities, modern arts, literature, language, and other fields. The current edition of MLA style is given in the 8th edition of the MLA Handbook, where you can find specific rules and examples on MLA usage.
- Main guidelines. It is essential to use white paper 8,5/ 11 inches in size. One-inch margins should be maintained from all sides. If you need to insert quotation blocks, you should indent 1/2 inch from the left side. The fonts you use should be legible and clear, so prefer such as Times New Roman, Arial, and Calibri 12pt in size. Make sure you provide a header on the first page, where you include your full name, instructor`s name, course name, or number as well as the date of submission.
- Paper choice. You need to clarify whether you need to submit a hard copy or an electronic version of the document. If you print, use only white paper without any other shades, such as ivory, yellow, etc.
- Cover page guidelines and MLA headings. There are two options for title page formatting when it comes to MLA style. You may either provide a separate title page (but there are no specific requirements in this case) or you can provide a header right before the main text of your paper. In any case, you need to provide such information as your full name, your professor`s name, the course number or name, and the date of submission. Write all this information in plain format and use the same font type and size as you are using for the main body of the paper. So, there should not be any underlining, bold font or italics, quotation marks, etc. No images, photos, or other visuals are recommended to place on the title page.
- Running head and page numbering. A running head is present in many citation styles and MLA is not an exception. A running head in MLA style is placed at the top right-hand corner on each page. The main information that should be included there is the student`s last name and the page number, for example, Smith 2. Do not place any letters ‘p’ or ‘pp’ before the page number. Many text processors have the function of inserting page numbers automatically, so please find out more information about whether you can apply it to your documents.
- Page margins. Throughout the entire document, please use one-inch margins from all sides. You set the margins automatically in your text processor.
- Paragraphs in the paper body. Each paragraph should be indented 1/2 inch from the left-hand margin. If you do not want to indent each first line of the paragraphs manually, just press the ‘tab’ button on your keyboard and it will appear straight away. All lines should be double-spaced.
- Quotations. When you are preparing a paper in MLA style, be aware that quotations are used as supporting evidence for some arguments or as examples/ illustrations from specific sources (such as literary texts or movies). If the quote you use is relatively short, you can place it within the text. However, if the quote takes up more than two lines, you should format it as a block quotation and indent it one inch from the left-hand margin. Normally, there are three main ways to introduce quotations in text: a) refer to the author of the quote in the sentence (for example: ‘Smith claims that…’); b) you may not mention the author`s name in the very sentence but may include the author`s name in the brackets after the quote, e.g. ‘Kingsman 5’; c) in a block quotation as mentioned previously. MLA style sometimes also provides guidelines or rules related to the usage of footnotes and endnotes. They may be really appropriate for large papers, specifically research papers, so footnotes and endnotes are effective ways of organizing literature used in the paper.
- Paraphrases. Some information may be paraphrased as evidence in your paper, too. If you paraphrase, there is no need to put the information in the quotation marks, but be sure to indicate the author, whose opinion you are quoting. This is essential to avoid plagiarism in the paper and indicate that you do not rewrite information that was not written on your own. The core aspect of successful paraphrases is to understand the text you are reading for your assignment. If you understand its idea and the core message that the author of the text aims to communicate through, you will be easily able to paraphrase some ideas in your paper. Once you read and understand the information, take a moment to paraphrase all facts that you find important, and then choose brief facts to include in your paper. Remember that paraphrasing is not the same as text rewriting. So, do not try to substitute words from the original text with synonyms since it will look like real plagiarism. You will still need to refer to the author in the text.
- Spacing. If you have no specific instructions from the professor, be sure that MLA style requires double-spacing throughout the text. Sometimes, you may be asked to format your text in single spacing but it is more of an exception than a frequent requirement. You should not place any extra lines between chapters or paragraphs however tempting it may seem.
- Font type and size. MLA does not have any strict requirements that specific font type to use. Actually, you are free to use any as long as it is legible. Some of the font types that are frequently recommended are Arial and Times New Roman. Concerning the font size, 12 pt. is highly recommended. However, sometimes, depending on the font type and specific instructions from your professor, you may opt for 11.5 and 11 font size.
- Punctuation. When it comes to punctuation, it is essential to pay attention to comma usage. Specifically, use commas when pauses come in naturally, when you need to make a logical pause within a sentence, or when it is essential to separate different logical parts of the sentence. Besides, you need to insert commas in the concluding sentences when you want to close out one part of the text from the other. Use quotation marks when you provide a direct quotation and also use brackets when you provide specific concepts in the paper.
- Abbreviation. When writing blogs or articles, students will sooner or later come across abbreviations – what is more, they will have to use them on their own. As such, there is a necessity to be aware of the main rules of how abbreviations are written. According to the principles of academic writing, however, students are not encouraged to overuse abbreviations but rather provide the full meaning of specific terms or concepts. This is the central principle of avoiding possible confusion when narrating something. Nonetheless, when you still prefer to use some abbreviations, make sure to write them in all capitals and exclude placing full stops between the letters. Since different abbreviations are written in different ways (for instance, some of them may include both upper-case and lower-case letters), it is advisable to check their spelling in dictionaries. In any case, you can use the MLA style handbook and check all the abbreviation rules there.
- Use of numerals. Depending on the topic and the area of research your topic is based, you may be required to use numbers. They can be frequently used when you provide some numbers, figures, and statistics. Normally, when you refer to some measures, you are to use numerals, e.g. 7 pounds, 376 milliliters, and so on. The same is when you refer to divisions within books or papers: on page 17 of the research. If you have to present an outline before you submit the final draft, be sure to enlist the sections with Roman numerals, Arabic numbers, as well as capital letters.
- Tables, images, and musical scores. If you want your study to be better understood by your target audience, be sure to enrich your paper with visuals. As such, when you need to present your topic, you may want to provide some images, photos, graphs, diagrams, tables, and other data sets. All of these are really helpful since they prove to be meaningful to readers. Be sure to avoid pictures, tables, and other images that are not clear since they will not help your target audience better understand the material but will merely cause confusion. Once you have decided to provide images to your paper, be sure they have a specific function. Therefore, you need to name them and provide a brief description of their function and meaning there are. So, the first thing you need to do is to come up with a proper label to the chosen image, i.e. if it is a figure, a photo, whatsoever. Second, you need to assign an Arabic number to the image (as you may have more than one image within your paper). Third, create an image caption, where you will provide a short and logical explanation of its contents. The most important thing here is to make the image insertion logical in terms of what you write in the paper. In case you have taken a specific image or photo from the outside source, be sure to provide citations with the information about the media. The captions are provided in relevance to the type of visual. For example, if you insert a table, you need to name it ‘Table 1,’ ‘Table 2,’ and so on. If you have some figures, you name them as ‘Fig. 1.’ and so on.
- Lists. Be sure that lists in academic papers formatted according to MLA style look nothing like to-do lists or grocery lists. The very first striking difference is that the list is provided in the horizontal order unlike to-do lists, where each point is written vertically. Therefore, avoid bullet points or numbered lists. Regardless of whether the list is long or short, you need to place a colon before the first point on the list and then enumerate all the constituents in the order of priority (or some other order you like) by placing commas between them.
- Works cited page format in MLA. You may find some specific online sources that will provide you with clear and comprehensible guidelines on how to format your list of references in MLA style. First of all, remember that the list of references is called a ‘Works Cited’ page in MLA. Some of the general rules are as follows: a) the list of all cited and consulted materials is placed after the paper`s body – actually, this is the final section of the paper; b) the top of the page is formatted just as the rest of the paper – you need to place the page number at the top-right corner and provide a running head; c) all sources that you include on the list should be provided in the alphabetical order.
- Citation format in MLA style. The main guidelines are provided in the MLA handbook – you will find there most detailed and comprehensive information with clear and specific examples. Still, you can also refer to our specific posts devoted to separate topics of different citation styles and types.
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