Tips on Writing an Essay in MLA Style

If you are preparing an essay or research paper for college, the chances are high that you are going to need a few tips on writing an essay in MLA style. More often than not, when you get to the college level, there are two formatting styles that professors are looking for: APA (American Psychological Association) style or MLA (Modern Language Association) style. The differences are varied.

MLA style is commonly used in many colleges throughout the U.S., so learning the style and tips on writing in MLA style will serve you well throughout your college education.


Guidelines of MLA Style

The MLA essay format meets the standard layout guidelines as set out by the Modern Language Association.

General Formatting

  • Set your default font as Times New Roman, 12 point.
  • Set the margins of your paper to one inch on each side.
  • Only use one space after periods.
  • Indent the first lines of each of your paragraphs one half-inch from the edge of the left margin. (For indents, use the tab key instead of using the space bar.)
  • Double-space throughout your essay.

Titles, Citations, Page Numbers

  • Italicize titles for emphasis.
  • Endnotes should be listed on a separate page, directly before your bibliography or works cited page.
  • You need not make a title page unless your professor requests it.
  • On the first page of your essay you should type your name in the upper-left corner of the page.
  • On the line directly below your name, type in your professor’s name. Below that you should type the name of the course. Finally, below that you should write the date on which you are typing up the material.
  • In the upper-right corner you are going to insert your page numbers, making sure your last name is on the left side of the page numbers. (Jones - 2)
  • Center the title of your essay on the line below the date.
  • Use italics to emphasize any titles of longer works that you are referencing.
  • If you have sections, then you should use numbers followed by a period in order to divide them accordingly. For example, if you had three sections that you were going to discuss within your essay you would number them like so, “1. Section One, 2. Section Two, 3. Section 3” and so forth. After each number be sure to space once prior to typing in the section name.

Works Cited

MLA style references a bibliography as a works cited page. When typing up your works cited page there are a few things that you should do.

Depending on how many sources you have and the type of sources that you used (whether a book, article, or internet-based source), you will want to pay special attention to the author’s name, title of the book, publication date, publisher and place of publication.

MLA 8 uses a new method to create citation entries. This container system allows flexibility by creating nine core elements within a container. Use this basic works cited format:

  • Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Publication Date.

Let’s say that you used books only as your sources of information. You will want to list the sources in alphabetical order by the authors' last name. For example, if you had two sources you would list them as follows:

  • Johnson, James. U.S. Trade Relations. Hummingbird Press, 1989.
  • Main, Jerry. Campside Sounds. Rice Press, 1992.

If you’re including sources with no known author, place the title as the first element and alphabetize accordingly.

Each in-text citation should match up with a works-cited entry.


Finishing Touch

Don't forget to edit and proofread your essay carefully before submission and ensure it follows your professor's instructions exactly.

And if you're wondering whether to quote or paraphrase sources in your essay be sure to read our article on when to quote, paraphrase or summarize.