MLA paper and MLA essay

Best Tips on how to Write an Outstanding MLA Format Essay

How to Write Your MLA Format Essay

Why we use MLA format? Writing an academic paper is a process ordered by strict guidelines. This fact may seem annoying, but following the formatting requirements makes the process easier by limiting the options the writer may take in the process. Moreover, being aligned to set formatting rules makes an essay easier for the readers to follow and understand. It also helps to reference the sources used for writing an essay precisely to boost the credibility of the argument.

The Modern Language Academy (MLA) handbook provides instructions on one of the most common formatting styles used in writing essays and other academic papers. It is commonly applied for assignments on literature, linguistics, and other humanities. Let’s take a look at the basic requirements of MLA style.

  • The general rule is to type your paper in 12 pt. Font. Times New Roman and Arial are the most commonly used ones.
  • One space between words and after any punctuation marks has to be used.
  • 1 inch margins are to be applied on each side of the page.
  • The first line of every paragraph is to be half-inch indented using the TAB key rather than manually.
  • MLA style documents must have a header in the upper right corner of each page. The header must contain the author’s last name and page number.

Further in this article, we will discuss formatting of the particular sections of an MLA essay.

MLA Formatting in Action


It only makes sense to start our MLA guide from the beginning. As a rule MLA format does not presuppose creating a separate title page for your paper. At the same time, some instructors may request you to create a title page, especially for comparatively long papers. The requirements for such title pages are not set strictly in MLA format guidelines.

At the same time, there are clear instructions on how to format the beginning of your MLA paper.

  • The first page must contain mentioning your last name and page number.
  • In the upper left corner, provide your full name, your instructor’s name, the title of the course for which the paper has been written, and the date when it was completed. Each element of this list must be mentioned in a separate line. This section has to be double spaced. The order in which this information is presented must ot be changed from the one mentioned above.
  • Write the title one double space below. It has to be written in Title Case but in standard font (not in bold or italics).
  • If you mention a title of another work in the title, use quotation marks for the titles of short works (poems, chapters of a book) and italicize the titles of larger works (books, albums and so on).

Section headings in MLA format

One of the keys to writing a successful academic paper, be it essay, case study, or any other type of work, is to structure it properly. Headings help a lot in this endeavor. For the writer, they set a clear theme of the current section so that there are fewer opportunities to wander off the topic. For the reader, headings clarify the structure of the paper making comprehending and analyzing it easier.

There are two ways to format your headings using MLA Style.

  1. The first tactic is to present the headings in the form of a numbered list. Subheadings can be presented as subpoints in the list.
  2. Another technique is to format the headings differentially depending on their level. This formatting approach is preferred for essays since numbering the headings appears too dry and technical.

Let’s have a look at the proper design of unnumbered headings in an MLA format essay.

Level 1 Heading is Left-aligned, Written in Bold

Notice that no punctuation mark is placed at the end of the heading. While the heading itself is flush left, the first paragraph of the following section has to be indented.

Level 2 Heading is written in Italics, flush left 

The same points apply to formatting the subsection after the heading.

Level 3 Heading Is Centered and Written in Bold

Level 4 Heading is also Centered but Written in Italics

Level 5 heading is flush left and underlined

Formatting your MLA research paper

We have already mentioned several basic principles of formatting an MLA format essay. However, there are several things to bear in mind while writing and formatting a large-scale research paper using MLA guidelines.

Margins and Headings

The points about the title page being unnecessary and formatting the beginning of the document discussed earlier in this article apply to research papers. One-inch margins are to be used as well. Also, you need to use headings and subheadings in your research paper. The choice whether to number them or format as shown above is yours.


When it comes to citing the sources, the rules are common for all types of sources. In-text citations are based on author-page principle. We will discuss referencing your source in the bibliography section later in this article

Illustrative Materials

The issue that differentiates a substantial research paper from an essay is that the former is likely to include tables and other forms of illustrative material. The approach to their formatting differs in what can be perceived as miniscule detail. However, you must remember that proper formatting shows that you master the discipline and attention to detail necessary for success in both academic and professional settings.

Therefore, when you embed a table into your paper, label it using the word “table” an arabic numeral. Place the title of the table written using the title case in the next line. The label and title have to precede the table itself. The source of information presented in the table has to be referenced below it.

Things are different when it comes to any other type of illustrative material as it is labelled “figure” regardless of its particular form. The label is followed by an arabical numeral and caption which are placed below the illustration.

MLA Referencing

MLA references are designed to provide all the necessary information about the sources you have used to write your essay or research paper. A properly formatted entry in the works cited list has the following structure.

  1. Name of the author. It should be presented in the reverse order which means that the author’s last name has to be mentioned first. The exception made is for the last person appearing in the list of two or three authors.
  2. Source title. As already mentioned, the titles of short works are written in quotation marks, while the titles of large works are italicized. It is a huge mistake to enclose an italicized title in quotation marks.
  3. The title of the container, the term that refers to a large whole within which your source is located. Examples of containers are books if you are citing a chapter or poem, TV series, websites, and so on.
  4. Other contributors. This section is optional as it mentions editors, translators, illustrators and other people who might help the author produce the source you are citing.
  5. Version.
  6. Number.
  7. Publisher.
  8. Date of publication. Make sure to use the date when the version of the source you are citing has been published.
  9. Location, which refers to both physical location and URL for online sources.  

MLA Format Checklist

MLA format is not as hard to learn as it seems. Here are some general tips on how to write an MLA format paper easily: 

  1. There are no strict rules regarding the font, but it is always best to use Times New Roman. The size of the font should always be 12 pt, not more or less. 
  2. The whole paper should be double spaced. It is something many students forget about when writing an MLA paper, so try to keep that in mind.
  3. Margins for your document should be 1 margin on all sides. For the beginning of every paragraph, you should indent it a one-half inch. Use the button “Tab” for that purpose.
  4. If the header is required, start with the one inch at the top of the page. You should write your name, the name of your professor, the course number, and date.
  5. The title page is not always necessary for this paper. It should be double-spaced and centered. Don’t write in all capital letters; for the title, you need to use the Title Case.
  6. Page numbers should be put in the right corner at the top. You should include your last name before the page number. Page numbers can also be optional, so check out the instructions to be sure.
  7. If you want to include images in the text, put them as close to the place where they are referenced as you can. You should give a number for each image and cite it as well. 

It might be hard to keep in mind all of these rules, but it is not as hard as it seems. Just use this guide, and your paper will stay on top.