Structure Of A Research Paper Mla

MLA General Format


MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook (8th ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.

Contributors: Tony Russell, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli, Russell Keck, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo Rodríguez-Fuentes, Daniel P. Kenzie, Susan Wegener, Maryam Ghafoor, Purdue OWL Staff
Last Edited: 2016-08-11 04:27:59

MLA style specifies guidelines for formatting manuscripts and using the English language in writing. MLA style also provides writers with a system for referencing their sources through parenthetical citation in their essays and Works Cited pages.

Writers who properly use MLA also build their credibility by demonstrating accountability to their source material. Most importantly, the use of MLA style can protect writers from accusations of plagiarism, which is the purposeful or accidental uncredited use of source material by other writers.

If you are asked to use MLA format, be sure to consult the MLA Handbook (8th edition). Publishing scholars and graduate students should also consult the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (3rd edition). The MLA Handbook is available in most writing centers and reference libraries; it is also widely available in bookstores, libraries, and at the MLA web site. See the Additional Resources section of this handout for a list of helpful books and sites about using MLA style.

Paper Format

The preparation of papers and manuscripts in MLA style is covered in chapter four of the MLA Handbook, and chapter four of the MLA Style Manual. Below are some basic guidelines for formatting a paper in MLA style.

General Guidelines

  • Type your paper on a computer and print it out on standard, white 8.5 x 11-inch paper.
  • Double-space the text of your paper, and use a legible font (e.g. Times New Roman). Whatever font you choose, MLA recommends that the regular and italics type styles contrast enough that they are recognizable one from another. The font size should be 12 pt.
  • Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks (unless otherwise instructed by your instructor).
  • Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides.
  • Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch from the left margin. MLA recommends that you use the Tab key as opposed to pushing the Space Bar five times.
  • Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor may ask that you omit the number on your first page. Always follow your instructor's guidelines.)
  • Use italics throughout your essay for the titles of longer works and, only when absolutely necessary, providing emphasis.
  • If you have any endnotes, include them on a separate page before your Works Cited page. Entitle the section Notes (centered, unformatted).

Formatting the First Page of Your Paper

  • Do not make a title page for your paper unless specifically requested.
  • In the upper left-hand corner of the first page, list your name, your instructor's name, the course, and the date. Again, be sure to use double-spaced text.
  • Double space again and center the title. Do not underline, italicize, or place your title in quotation marks; write the title in Title Case (standard capitalization), not in all capital letters.
  • Use quotation marks and/or italics when referring to other works in your title, just as you would in your text: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as Morality Play; Human Weariness in "After Apple Picking"
  • Double space between the title and the first line of the text.
  • Create a header in the upper right-hand corner that includes your last name, followed by a space with a page number; number all pages consecutively with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor or other readers may ask that you omit last name/page number header on your first page. Always follow instructor guidelines.)

Here is a sample of the first page of a paper in MLA style:

Image Caption: The First Page of an MLA Paper

Section Headings

Writers sometimes use Section Headings to improve a document’s readability. These sections may include individual chapters or other named parts of a book or essay.


MLA recommends that when you divide an essay into sections that you number those sections with an arabic number and a period followed by a space and the section name.

1. Early Writings

2. The London Years

3. Traveling the Continent

4. Final Years


MLA does not have a prescribed system of headings for books (for more information on headings, please see page 146 in the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition). If you are only using one level of headings, meaning that all of the sections are distinct and parallel and have no additional sections that fit within them, MLA recommends that these sections resemble one another grammatically. For instance, if your headings are typically short phrases, make all of the headings short phrases (and not, for example, full sentences). Otherwise, the formatting is up to you. It should, however, be consistent throughout the document.

If you employ multiple levels of headings (some of your sections have sections within sections), you may want to provide a key of your chosen level headings and their formatting to your instructor or editor.

Sample Section Headings

The following sample headings are meant to be used only as a reference. You may employ whatever system of formatting that works best for you so long as it remains consistent throughout the document.


1. Soil Conservation

1.1 Erosion

1.2 Terracing

2. Water Conservation

3. Energy Conservation

Formatted, unnumbered:

Level 1 Heading: bold, flush left

Level 2 Heading: italics, flush left

     Level 3 Heading: centered, bold

     Level 4 Heading: centered, italics

Level 5 Heading: underlined, flush left

Writing academically accurate research works demands abidance of established rules of formatting texts. Each country and its institutes provide their own writing formats taking into account local specificities. But there are few internationally accepted formatting styles. One of the most recognizable is the MLA writing standard.

What is MLA?

It is an abbreviation for Modern Language Association. The activity of this organization concentrates on popularizing of teaching and studying, surprisingly, modern languages such as English. As for the practical significance of this association, it publishes MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers – a special guide for proper editing texts academically.

This manual is a desk book for each research writer in North America. The surveys that predominantly use it are in the field of humanities (literature, history, philosophy, English studies). This fact makes this format one of the most usable writing standards.

MLA formatting guidelines

Although this format is popular in humanities-oriented writers` society, its demands concerning technical aspects of formatting the texts are widely used in other writing standards as well. The rules of formatting meets old academic writer`s friends:

  • The margins are placed to 1 inch all around.
  • The text is recommended to be typed using the common font like Times New Roman. The font size strictly is 12 pt.
  • Spacing implies two rules: double-space the text and single-space separation marks..
  • Indentation rule requires half-inch spacing from left margin. Edition gives a hint to use Tab to improve the time-management.
  • Pagination means placing numbers of the pages to the upper corner from the right side of a created header. Usually, numbers are set from the first page successively to the last  and Arabic numerals are used as numbers.
  • If having endnotes in the text, they are to be written down separately from both main body text, and works cited page.
  • The last rule, which usually is the opening one, but today it`s unconsciously clear that text should be typed on the computer and printed according to well-known standard – white 8.5 x 11-inch paper.


MLA style insistently advises proofreading the text carefully in order to find and fix up the mistakes. As the style is formal, this caring moment is not touchy but pointing.

It also gives some well-known but forgettable advice like using of grammar and spell checkers, double copying the file, looking through the printed version in your word processor.

MLA research paper structure

While general technical recommendations of how to format academic text in this style are almost similar to other style`s framework, paper structure tangibly contrasts and have unique rules. This style is usable in humanities environ because of the simplified demands which allow concentrating less on formatting but work. Surprises occur at the very beginning.

Title page

MLA style proposes to omit the title page. There still are rules of how to format the first page.

  1. Starting from the upper corner from the left side of the main page, indicate your name, the next line goes with the name of your mentor, the next with course and the last with the date.
  2. The next line introduces the title of the paper. Make it centered. The title doesn't need marking with the font or with a quotation and is advised to be standardly capitalized.
  3. Marking with fonts or quotation is only acceptable when title cites other texts.
  4. Numbering starts with the first page, and you have to build up a header, which comprises the number of the page itself and your last name afore numeral. The header form coincides with pagination rules described supra.

Section headings

Section headings help writers to organize the paper most appropriately. The section itself means dividing, so it does. Dividing information into sections gives more support in both editing and perceiving information. MLA standard has no strict rules of how to format section headings but advises to use Arabic numerals for numeration of each and to put the name of the heading after the gap. If the subheading is needed, number it by a coherent period (1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc.) and place directly below the main heading.

Body format

As it remembered to be caring about writers, MLA style doesn`t have any requires for the body of the text. It considers the long established rule of the essay structure, which recommends writing three body paragraphs along the paper to support the idea of the study, but it is not mandatory. You may use five, seven or even a single paragraph, but keep in mind, that paper should have introduction, body, and conclusion.

Text citation

Rules of quoting and citation are the most valuable in the framework of MLA research paper guidelines. The question of the academic honesty is acute and accurate citation becomes the most important thing in how to write research papers.

The rules of an in-text citation are used in the form of parenthesis. Meaning, putting the authorship in the parenthesis after every quote that implies citing. The data used in this parenthesis should coincide with the works cited list filling.

The form of citation also differs from other writing styles. The quote shouldn`t be marked with a quotation mark, but with the parenthesis that includes the number of the page of the work the quote is taken from and author`s last name.

Works cited page, or bibliography is necessarily present ending of the work. It includes all external sources to which writer refers. This list not only shows which literature writer used while writing the paper but also confirms the correctness of the citation.


MLA style shows itself as a convenient way of formatting research paper that allows the writer to write, but not to think of format a lot. Starting with the absence of the title page and finishing with font types and margins, writer appreciates the style he chose.

Since this format style is used preferably in humanities, citation rules are less caring and more demanding, but today it is vital to cite accurately. And keep in mind that formatting style helps to write academically accurate papers and concentrate on the information, but the idea of the research could be supported only by the writer.

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