MLA, or Modern Language Association, is one of the most common formatting styles that is widely used in a variety of academic papers. MLA guides contain numerous requirements for styling a paper, but one of the most important ones is properly citing the sources.
Citing the sources that you have used in your paper allows the reader to better understand the content of the citation and refer to the source in case they need an additional reading on the matter. Learning how to cite sources in MLA is not the easiest task, and it’s often a time-consuming endeavor. However, failing to comply with the MLA citation standard will likely result in a low grade despite the high overall quality of the paper.
Now that you understand how important citing is for MLA papers, you can find some helpful tips on the correct formatting of citations below.
How to Format Your Paper in MLA
There are two basic ways to cite an outside source in your paper. The first one is to directly quote the material, in which case you will need to take the whole fragment from the source and include it in your text, putting the cited material in quotation marks. The other way of citing a source is to take the information from the source and putting it to your own words. This method is referred to as paraphrasing. In both cases, you need to properly attribute the information to the source by including an MLA in-text citation. Formatting this citation is rather simple: after the paraphrased fragment or quotation marks, you need to put the author’s last name and page number in parenthesis.
The title page is not mandatory in the MLA format, but professors will often require their students to include a title page — it gives the paper a more polished and professional look. In some cases, you will be given instructions on how to format your title page by your professor. If there are no instructions, here are tips on how to do it in MLA format:
- All text should be double-spaced and the characters should be centered.
- Skip one inch from the top of the paper and write the name of your institution.
- The title of the paper should be located around one-third down from the top of the page. The subtitle, if necessary, goes underneath the title.
- Skip a few lines and type in your name, the title and number of the course, your professor’s name, and the due date of the assignment.
The header in the MLA format is very different from the APA format header: according to the APA guidelines, the header should consist of the title of the paper and page number, while the MLA header should include your last name and page number. The header should be flush right and located ½ inch from the top of the page. Each page of your paper should also have 1-inch margins from all four sides.
There are no strict instructions on which font to use in your APA paper; it depends on the preferences of your professor or your own preferences. The only condition for choosing a font is that it should be easily readable. For that reason, most academic writers choose Times New Roman or Arial for their papers. 12 pt font size should be used throughout the paper.
At the end of your paper, there needs to be a separate page that contains the list of every source you’ve used in your paper. This page should be titled “Works Cited”, where both words should be put in italics. You need to list the entries in alphabetical order by the first author’s last name. In case you don’t know the name of the author and only know the title of the page, use it instead, but make sure to omit words like “A” and “The” from the beginning of the title.
MLA citations require you to put the month and year of the publication in the bibliography page. You will need to abbreviate the name of the month, except May, June, and July. As for the choice between month-day-year and day-month-year format, either one is acceptable, but the latter one is commonly used internationally, while the former one is more common in the United States. You need to pick one format and stick to it throughout the paper.
Italics vs. underlining
The tradition of underlining the titles of the publications in the bibliography page comes from the time when most of the papers were done on a typewriter, which cannot italicize the font. As computers became more common, italicized publication numbers became the new standard. If you are typing your papers on a computer, always use italics when typing the publication title. Of course, if you prefer your typewriter, continue underlining the titles.
Similarly to the APA format, the MLA format calls for the hanging indents on your bibliography page. The first line of the entry should be flush left, while the second and subsequent lines should have a ½ inch indent.
Using capitalization, punctuation, and abbreviation
According to the MLA format, each first, last, and principal word of the source title needs to be capitalized, even when it’s the second word after the hyphen. The abbreviations like vol. and ed. should be typed in lower-case letters, unless they come after a period. You can also abbreviate the names of the publishers.
When listing the author, title, and publication information about your source, separate each with a period followed by a single space. If the title includes a subtitle, use a colon and a single space to separate the two. Other types of punctuation should only be used if they are featured in the title of the publication. If you are making references to a fragment of a large collection of works, use quotation marks around its title. Any unpublished works should also be introduced within quotation marks.
Tables and illustrations
All tables and illustrations in your paper should be placed as closely as possible to the corresponding text. The tables should be titled and include the word Table and a number. The table number and title should be capitalized, typed on separate lines on top of the table, and flush left. Below the table you need to include any additional notes, as well as indicated the source of information used in the table.
MLA citation format
- Books: Last name, first name of the author. Title of the Book. Additional information. Publication city: publisher’s name, publication date.
- Dictionaries and encyclopedias: Last name, first name of the author. “Title of the Article” Title of the Book. Publication date.
- Journals and magazines: “Article title”. Title of the periodical Volume number Date: pages where the article can be found.
- Online sources: Last name, first name of the author, if provided. “Title of the Article” Title of the website. Publication date, availability of sponsoring organizations. Date when the article was retrieved, full URL.