How to Cite in MLA Format: A Short Guide for Students

Modern Language Association is the organization responsible for developing the MLA format. It offers uniform guidelines you must use as a student to cite academic sources and format your research papers correctly, from survey research papers to argumentative essays.

What is the MLA Format?

Every student writing a research paper or essay follows some general formatting guidelines when using MLA style.

  • Use double-spacing when typing the document. 
  • Use one-inch margins.
  • Indent all paragraphs one half inch from the left margin. 
  • Use Times New Roman font size 12.
  • Avoid or limit bolding text or italicizing.
  • Use italics for book titles and longer works.
  • Indent all block quotations one-half inch from the left margin. 
  • Use only one space after punctuation marks. 

At the top of each page, you must include your last name and the page number. If you’re typing in Word or Google Docs, double-click at the top of a page, type your last name, insert automatic page numbering, and align the content to the right.

How Do You Write the Title, Headings and Subheadings?

The title of the paper appears on the first page, and you need to center it. Use 12 Times New Roman size 12 and apply title case capitalization. Don’t write the title in bold. Use italics, underline it or put it in quotation marks. 

Apply double spacing between the title and the first line of text. 

MLA does not have many formatting requirements for headings and subheadings. The shorter the headings, the better they are for readability. Both should have the initial letter of each word capitalized (title case). 

No periods must follow after headings or subheadings. Each level of subheading must be in the same size, format and style. They should be flush left to avoid confusion with block quotations. 

What are Some MLA Style and Formatting Examples?

MLA Heading helps you to learn MLA style and formatting while at college. For example, you must include a four-line MLA header on the first page when using MLA Format. This must include your full name, your supervisor’s name, the course name or number and the due date. 

You must also learn how to cite an in-text citation and reference it in the Works Cited list at the end of your paper. This will make it perfect, and the professors will admire it highly. After all, every detail matters in academic papers. 

Using numbers

The general rule regarding numbers is to use words to express numbers in one or two words (e.g., one, five, fifty-five, one hundred, etc.) and express other longer numbers using Arabic numerals. 

Other rules are:

  • Use a hyphen in compound numbers such as twenty-one or ninety-nine. 
  • Use words to express any number or date that begins a sentence.
  • Write out the terms for the symbols that accompany the numbers you spell out. 
  • Use numerals with symbols and abbreviations (e.g., %, p.m., ed. vol.) if you use them often in text or references. 

Citing sources

You will need to cite all your sources in MLA style. An in-text citation must appear directly after a relevant quote or paraphrase and before the period. In parenthesis, you will give the last name of the author and a page number. 

For a source with two authors, name both. If there are more than two authors, name the first author and follow this with ‘et al..’ Separate page numbers with commas if you want to cite more than one page at the same time. 

When you use an in-text citation, cite the source fully in the Work Cited list at the end of the paper. 

Works cited page

A Works Cited list appears on a separate page at the end of your paper. The title of the page is “Works Cited,” which you center at the top of the page. Leave a space and then insert the sources you reference in your paper in alphabetical order. Use double-spacing for all entries. If a reference is longer than one line, each line after the first line must be indented half an inch. 

Citing Concepts Not Your Own

reading books in the library

MLA formatting, much like every style guide, contains multiple rules. And it’s likely to be daunting at times, having to remember every guideline while trying to finish your college homework. How are you expected to retain so much information? 

When in doubt, refer to an MLA reference.

Once you’re armed with the formatting knowledge, your research papers will be easy to set up. When you use the MLA formatting correctly, it enhances not only the readability of your paper but your credibility as a writer because you’re citing the source of your information.

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