Setting Up the MLA Paper Format
When writing an assignment in MLA style, you must follow the MLA paper format. This means following guidelines for everything from margins and spacing or font type and size to using a header that shows up on every page. This format also dictates putting endnotes and your Works Cited page in a certain place within your paper and other formatting guidelines.
The goal of these MLA paper format guidelines is to create a consistent page setup and to foster readability within a paper or written text. Unless you are directed by an instructor to break from the formatting guidelines below, use the information to set up your MLA paper format.
Paper size and type
Use standard white computer paper that measure 8.5 x 11 inches. Avoid using thicker, card-stock type paper.
Margins and spacing for MLA paper format
The MLA paper format for margins and spacing is easy to set up in any word processor, so make sure to follow these guidelines when formatting your paper.
- Use 1-inch margins on the top, bottom and both sides.
- Indent the first sentence of each paragraph 1 inch from the left margin of your paper. The default setup of the “Tab” key is set to 1 inch, and the MLA paper format suggests using the Tab key instead of entering five spaces using the space bar.
- Use standard double spacing throughout the entire text of your paper.
- Avoid entering a double space between paragraphs by hitting the “Enter” key twice. There is already a space, and the 1-inch indentations notes the start of a new paragraph.
- Use single spaces between sentences after the sentence-ending punctuation. This is the modern convention for spacing, so use single spacing unless assignment instructions specify otherwise.
- Avoid increasing the margins or spacing to stretch the length of your paper.
Font size and type for MLA paper format
The purpose of using a particular font size and type in your MLA paper format is to make your text easy to read. While some assignment instructions may specify which font type or size to use, not all do. When you are not given specific instructions, use the following guidelines in your MLA paper format:
- Choose a legible font by selecting one where the regular type and the italic type are different enough to make the use of either clear. “Times Roman Numeral” is always a great choice, but “Arial,” “Lucina,” “Modern,” and “Palermo” are also okay.
- Avoid scripted fonts. While these fonts might appeal to you, they often make your content harder to read.
- Use 12-pt. font as recommended by the MLA paper format. Sometimes, it is permitted to use 10- or 11-pt. font, but make sure this is okay under your instructions.
- Never increase your font size to stretch the length of your paper.
The first page of MLA paper format
The first page of the MLA paper format differs from subsequent pages. It contains more heading information, your paper title and, if it applies, an epigraph. The first page is the only page that includes the whole heading and your paper title.
- List your full name, your instructor’s full name or preferred title, the name of your course or class and the date you are turning in the paper, each on a separate line. Double space between each line.
- Make sure to use a double space between the date and your paper title.
- Center your title, and use title case for capitalization. Do not use underlining or italicizing within your title, and avoid using quotation marks unless the title of something else is within your title. Do not put your title in all capital letters.
- Double space between the title and the start of the first paragraph.
Epigraph formatting for MLA paper format
Using an epigraph (a quotation that precedes the body of your paper) is common, but there is no official MLA guideline. If you choose to include an epigraph, use the formatting guidelines for a block quote by indenting 1 inch inside your paper margins. If the epigraph consists of multiple lines of short text, center the lines below your title, and follow these MLA paper format guidelines:
- Use double spacing below and above the epigraph.
- Use single spacing within an epigraph consisting of multiple lines.
- Include the author’s name immediately below the epigraph, single-spaced from the previous line. The author’s name should appear on the right side of the text, and a corresponding entry in your Works Cited page is necessary.
Header and page numbers for MLA paper format
In addition to the extended heading information that is included on the first page, a header with page numbers is required on every page of the MLA paper format unless assignment instructions specify it is okay to omit the page number header on page one of your paper. Format your header using the following MLA paper format guidelines:
- Create a header that uses consecutive page numbers in the right-hand top corner of your paper.
- Set the header a ½ inch from the top edge of your paper while making sure the text is right aligned.
- Include your last name three character spaces to the left of the page number.
- Ensure this header appears on every page, including an endnotes or Works Cited page.
Section headings in MLA paper format
Section headings are not required in MLA paper format. However, you may opt to use them to increase the readability of your paper. You can use one or more levels of section headings and subheadings. If you choose to use section headings, keep the following MLA paper format guidelines in mind:
- If you divide your essay into sections, number the sections with Arabic numbers and a period. Enter a space, and type the section heading.
- When you are using only one level of section headings, maintain parallelism by making sure the headings are grammatically similar. If you use full-sentence section headings, make sure every section heading is a full sentence, for example. Likewise, if you use a short noun phrase, make all section headings a short noun phrase.
- Should you use section headings, there are no set formatting guidelines. You can use bold, italics or underlining within the headings, and you can place the text use left alignment or center positioning. The important thing is to stay consistent throughout all your section headings by using the same formatting.
- When using multiple levels of subheadings, you should create a key to the formatting for your instructor to avoid problems with grading on format.
Endnotes and Works Cited for MLA paper format
For endnotes and the Works Cited page, MLA paper format dictates that these are both placed on separate pages from one another and from the body of your research paper. The creation and use of endnotes and the Works Cited page are covered in another section of the MLA guide, but remember that both are separate documents that attach to your paper and use consecutive numbering in relation to your paper’s page numbers.
Title page for MLA paper format
A title page is not required under the MLA paper format. However, you might be asked in assignment instructions to provide one. If the format for the title page is identified within those instructions, use the details provided in formatting the title page. If not, follow the below guide for making a title page:
- Do not put a page number on your title page. The first numbered page in MLA paper format is the first page with your paper text.
- On the title page, create a 2-inch top margin.
- Details to include in your title page should be included in the assignment instructions when a title page is asked for, so incorporate any additional information asked for within them. Following any formatting guidelines outlined in the instructions as well.
Following the MLA paper format helps increase the readability of your paper and helps your grade. Whenever you are unsure of the correct formatting, check the MLA guide to determine which, if any, MLA paper format rules applies. In addition, parenthetical citations (in-text citations) should be documented properly with all your sources cited correctly. When you follow these guidelines, your paper is a stronger one that has easy readability.
An epigraph is a stand-alone quotation that appears before the beginning of a text. Epigraphs tend to be used as a literary device in fictional writing to engage a reader’s curiosity and imagination regarding the narrative.
Epigraphs are less common in academic writing because the goal of the writing is to demonstrate the author’s critical thinking on a topic using an evidence-based, analytical approach. Academic writing connects with readers through demonstrating the author’s critical thinking and understanding, rather than connecting via engaging the readers’ imaginations or interpretations of the material. When taking an evidence-based approach to writing, academic authors typically use quotations as research evidence within a paragraph, and the quotations are accompanied by an explanation of the connection between the quotation and the claim it supports. Since epigraphs are stand-alone quotations at the beginning of the text, readers don’t yet have the necessary information to understand why the quotation is important to the larger discussion presented in the text.
If an author chooses to use an epigraph, there are a couple of considerations to keep in mind:
Sourcing the epigraph
If the text is a well-known phrase by an individual, authors must make sure to use a reputable source, such as the published transcript of a speech or something the person in question actually wrote. There are many websites that provide quotations, but contributors may not have checked if the quotation’s wording or attribution is correct. For example, many people credit Mahatma Gandhi with the phrase “be the change you wish to see in the world”, yet he never actually said the phrase (Morton, 2011). Therefore, please avoid websites that compile quotations; instead, go to a reputable source for the quotation.
Formatting and citing the epigraph
If the rest of the document is formatted according to the APA Style rules, so too must the epigraph be correctly formatted. The quotation should be formatted like a block quotation (Hume-Pratuch, 2013, para. 3) with the double-spaced text indented from the left margin and no quotation marks. Also, the text should be in the same font as the rest of the work and should not be italicized. Finally,
on the line below the end of the epigraph, the author’s name (and only the author’s last name if he or she is well-known) and the source’s title should be given. This credit line should be flush right, preceded by an em dash. An epigraph’s source is not listed in the References section. (para. 3).
If the source of the epigraph is “a scholarly book or journal and a quotation used by permission” (Hume-Pratuch, 2013, para. 4), the citation takes a different form: “cite the author, year, and page number at the end of the epigraph, in parentheses with no period—just as you would for a block quote. The source should be listed in the References section” (para. 4). For example:
For more information on formatting epigraphs according to the APA Style rules, please visit “How to Format an Epigraph” in the APA Style Blog.
Do you have questions about this tip or any other writing matter? Please contact the Writing Centre as we would be pleased to assist you.
Writing Centre manager
(Originally published in Crossroads January 25, 2017)
Hume-Pratuch, J. (2013, October 10). How to format an epigraph? [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2013/10/how-to-format-an-epigraph.html
Morton, B. (2011, August 30). Falser words were never spoken. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/
Senge, P. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday.