MLA General Format: Guidelines and Examples for MLA Format

MLA General Format: Guidelines and Examples for MLA Format

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on the MLA general format! If you’re working on an essay or any academic writing assignment, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the MLA format since it is commonly used in the humanities and liberal arts. Whether you’re a student or a writer, knowing the MLA guidelines will not only help you improve your writing, but also ensure that your papers are properly formatted and organized.

First and foremost, let’s clarify what MLA stands for – it is short for Modern Language Association. MLA format provides a set of rules and guidelines for writers to follow when referencing sources and organizing their papers. It is important to note that MLA format has evolved over the years, so some of the rules that were widely understood in the early days may not be applicable anymore. However, this guide will walk you through the most important formatting rules that are still relevant today.

When writing in MLA format, you’ll need to pay attention to several key elements, such as headings, page layout, citations, footnotes, and more. One of the most important aspects of MLA format is the inclusion of a header on each page, which usually includes your surname and the page number. Moreover, MLA format requires double-spaced paragraphs and a clear and concise flow of ideas in your writing.

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If you’re unsure about how to format your essay or need some extra help, MLA format resources are readily available on-campus libraries or online. Moreover, there are templates and sample essays that can guide you in formatting your own paper. Don’t forget that MLA format is not only about following jargon-filled rules, but also about presenting your ideas in a clear and organized manner. By adhering to the MLA formatting guidelines, you can improve the readability of your essays and ensure that your readers can easily follow your arguments.

General Guidelines

When it comes to formatting essays in MLA style, there are some general guidelines that students should follow in order to improve the readability and organization of their papers. These guidelines are provided by Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) and can be a helpful resource for students.

Title and Page Numbers: The first page of your MLA-formatted essay should include your name, your instructor’s name, the course title, and the date. The title should be centered and written in title case (capitalize the first letter of each major word). Page numbers should be placed in the top right corner of each page.

Formatting of Paragraphs: In MLA style, paragraphs should be indented by 1/2 inch from the left margin. Each paragraph should also be double-spaced, and there should be no extra spaces between paragraphs.

Headings: MLA style does not require headings, but if you choose to use them, they should be formatted in a consistent and clear way. Headings can be helpful for organizing your essay and making it easier for your reader to follow your arguments and ideas.

In-Text Citations and Quotations: MLA style requires in-text citations for any borrowed information or direct quotations. In-text citations should include the author’s surname and the page number(s) where the information can be found. If the author’s surname is already mentioned in the sentence, you can omit it from the citation. Quotations should be enclosed in quotation marks and the source should be cited immediately afterwards.

Works Cited: MLA style requires a works cited page at the end of the essay, listing all the sources that were used in the paper. The works cited page should be organized alphabetically by the author’s surname or the title of the work if there is no author.

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Clear and Concise Writing: In MLA style, it is important to write clearly and concisely. Avoid using unnecessary jargon and complex language, and strive for a clear and direct writing style. Make sure that your thesis statement is clearly stated and that each paragraph in your essay supports your thesis.

Document Layout and Formatting: MLA style has specific rules for the layout and formatting of the essay. These rules include using a readable font such as Times New Roman, using 12-point font size, and using 1-inch margins on all sides of the paper. The entire document should be double-spaced, including the title and works cited pages.

Other Helpful Resources: If you’re having trouble formatting your essay in MLA style, there are several resources available to help you. Purdue University’s OWL website provides a free MLA template and sample essays that you can use as a reference. Your campus library may also have books or other resources that can assist you with MLA formatting.

Welcome to the Purdue OWL

The MLA format provides guidelines for the general layout, formatting, and referencing rules for academic papers. By following these guidelines, you can improve the readability and clarity of your work, and also make it easier for your instructor or someone else to read and assess your paper.

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One of the key features of the MLA format is its clear and concise layout. Each page of your paper should be double-spaced and include a header with your surname and the page number. The title of your essay or research paper should be centered on the first page and should clearly convey the main topic or thesis of your work.

In the MLA format, it is important to properly cite any sources or quotations that you use in your paper. This helps to give credit to the original authors and allows readers to easily find and access the referenced works. The MLA format provides specific rules for citing different types of sources, such as books, articles, and online resources.

The Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) is a free online resource provided by Purdue University. It offers a wealth of information and resources to help students improve their writing skills and learn how to properly format their papers in MLA and other common styles, such as APA (American Psychological Association) and Harvard.

Why Use the Purdue OWL?

There are many reasons why you should consider using the Purdue OWL when writing your essays or research papers. First and foremost, it provides clear and easy-to-understand explanations of the general rules and guidelines for MLA formatting. The Purdue OWL also provides sample papers and templates that you can use as a starting point for your own work.

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The Purdue OWL is also a great resource for communication and interaction with instructors and other students. It offers a platform for asking questions, receiving feedback on your work, and participating in discussions about writing and formatting. The Purdue OWL also provides helpful tips and suggestions on how to improve your writing skills and avoid common mistakes and jargon.

How to Use the Purdue OWL

Using the Purdue OWL is easy and straightforward. Simply visit the Purdue OWL website at and navigate to the section on MLA formatting. There, you will find detailed guidelines, examples, and resources to help you understand and apply the MLA format. If you have specific questions or need further assistance, you can also reach out to the Purdue OWL team for support.


If you want to include a short quotation (less than four lines) within the body of your text, you can enclose it in quotation marks. For example, in an essay about the importance of communication on campus, you could write: “Effective communication is vital for a successful learning environment.”

When quoting a longer passage, or when citing a source such as books or articles, you should use block quotations. In MLA format, block quotations should be indented one inch from the left margin, single-spaced, and without quotation marks. Here is an example:

Early in his thesis, Smith argues that “communication is the key to building strong relationships within an academic community” (45).

Remember to include an in-text citation after each quotation to give credit to the original author and provide a reference to the works cited page at the end of your document.

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If you need help with formatting your quotations, the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) is a helpful resource. They have a series of guidelines and examples for MLA format that can assist you in properly organizing and citing your quotations.

In addition, it is important to note that quotations should be used sparingly in academic writing. While they can be a useful tool for supporting your arguments, rely too heavily on quotations can make your paper seem less original and can diminish the impact of your own ideas. Aim to quote only when necessary and make sure to clearly explain and analyze the quoted material in your own words.

Moreover, when using quotations, be sure to integrate them smoothly into your own writing. Avoid simply dropping a quotation into your paragraph without any context or explanation. Instead, introduce the quotation, provide any necessary background information, and then discuss its relevance to your topic. This will help your readers understand the purpose of the quotation and its connection to your overall argument.

Finally, always proofread your work and check all quotations for accuracy. It is not uncommon to accidentally omit or misquote a word or phrase when incorporating a quotation into your paper. If you’re unsure whether you’ve formatted a quotation correctly or if you need someone to proofread your essay, don’t hesitate to ask for assistance.

Document layout

To ensure a well-structured document, follow these guidelines:

  • Use a title page with your surname and page number
  • Double-space your text and leave one-inch margins on all sides
  • Indent the first line of paragraphs by half an inch
  • Use a clear and legible font, such as Times New Roman or Arial
  • Use headings to organize your content and make it easier to follow
  • Include a header with your surname and page number on each page
  • Avoid using footnotes in MLA format, since they are more common in Harvard/APA formats
  • Cite your sources in-text with parenthetical citations and include a Works Cited page
  • If quoting directly, enclose the quotation in quotation marks
  • If the quotation is longer than four lines, format it as a block quotation
  • Check the MLA handbook or ask your instructor for specific formatting rules

Moreover, you can use a template or sample essay to help you understand the layout guidelines. The Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) provides a series of helpful resources for students, including sample essays with properly formatted MLA pages.

In addition, many libraries have guides and books on MLA format that can assist writers in improving their document layout. Don’t forget that good formatting makes your essay more visually appealing and helps to maintain the flow of the text.

By following the MLA guidelines for document layout, you ensure that your work is understood by your readers and they can follow your arguments easily. Whether you are writing an essay or a thesis, clear and properly formatted pages add to the overall quality of your work.

So, welcome to the world of MLA formatting! Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you are unsure about any of the rules. MLA format is a common format used by students and writers, and it makes your work look professional and well-organized.

General Rules for Writing an Essay


When formatting your essay, always use a 12-point font, such as Times New Roman. Your essay should be double-spaced, with 1-inch margins on all sides. The first line of each paragraph should be indented by 0.5 inches. The title of your essay should be centered and formatted in bold. The header of your essay should include your last name and the page number, aligning to the right margin.

Organizing Your Essay

Within your essay, remember to use headings to help guide the reader through different sections. Headings should be clear and descriptive, indicating the main topic of each section. Use subheadings if necessary to further organize your ideas.

Referencing and Citations

When referencing works within your essay, be sure to use proper MLA formatting. Include in-text citations for any direct quotes, paraphrases, or summaries of other works. These citations should include the author’s last name and the page number or paragraph number. At the end of your essay, create a list of works cited that includes all the sources you referenced in your essay. Make sure to alphabetize the list by the author’s last name.

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Style and Tone

When writing your essay, adhere to an academic tone and style. Use clear and concise language, avoiding jargon or overly technical terms unless necessary. Write in the third person and maintain a professional and scholarly tone throughout your essay.

Proofread and Edit

Before submitting your essay, make sure to proofread and edit it carefully. Check for any spelling or grammatical errors and correct them. Review the flow and coherence of your essay, ensuring that your ideas are presented in a logical and organized manner. Read your essay aloud to check for clarity and coherence.

These general rules and guidelines for writing an essay will help you in creating a well-structured and coherent essay. Remember to utilize the resources provided by the Purdue Libraries and refer back to sample essays for reference. Good luck with your writing!

Section Headings

In an MLA-formatted document, section headings are used to help organize and improve the readability of your text. Moreover, they also serve as markers for readers to easily refer back to specific parts of your essay.

When writing an academic paper, it is important to follow the guidelines provided by your instructor or the formatting rules specified in your assignment. However, if no specific rules are given, the MLA general format can be a good template to follow.

According to the MLA guidelines, section headings should be clearly labeled and properly formatted. They should be positioned in the same font and size as the rest of the text, and they should be capitalized using title case.

For example, if you were writing a thesis on the importance of communication in the workplace, you might have section headings such as:

The Role of Communication in Organizations

Within this section, you could discuss the general importance of communication within different types of organizations and how it affects overall productivity and success.

Effective Communication Strategies

In this part of your paper, you could delve into specific strategies for improving communication in the workplace, such as active listening or using clear and concise language.

By using section headings, you make it easier for your readers to navigate through your document and find the information they need. This is especially helpful for longer papers, where it’s easy to get lost within a series of paragraphs.

Moreover, section headings can also be used to organize and structure your own writing process. By creating headings early on, you can outline your main points and ensure a logical flow of ideas throughout your paper.

Some writers might also find it helpful to use subheadings within each section. This can further break down the information and make it more digestible for the readers.

In addition, don’t forget to make use of footnotes or endnotes if you need to include additional information or references within your text. These can be helpful for providing further explanations or citing sources that are not directly related to the main content.


What are the general guidelines for MLA format?

The general guidelines for MLA format include using a standard font, such as Times New Roman, in a 12-point size; double spacing the text; setting the margins to one inch on all sides; and including a header with your last name and page number on each page.

What are some common essay writing rules that students often forget?

Some common essay writing rules that students often forget include avoiding the use of personal pronouns, such as “I” or “you”; avoiding contractions; and using formal language and tone throughout the essay.

How should the first page of a paper be formatted in MLA format?

The first page of a paper in MLA format should include the author’s name, the instructor’s name, the course title, and the date, all aligned to the left. The title of the paper should be centered, and the text should be double spaced. There should also be a header with the author’s last name and the page number.

What are some guidelines for using quotations in an essay?

When using quotations in an essay, it is important to introduce them properly, citing the author’s name and providing a brief explanation of the context. Quotations should be enclosed in quotation marks and integrated seamlessly into the text. Additionally, the source of the quotation should be cited in a works cited or bibliography page.

What are the key elements of formatting an essay in MLA format?

The key elements of formatting an essay in MLA format include using a legible font and size, double spacing the text, setting one-inch margins on all sides, and including a header with the author’s last name and page number. In addition, the essay should be properly cited and include a works cited or bibliography page.

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By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.