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MLA Format: General Features

MLA style implies a system of rules. These rules regulate methods of formatting for different kinds of papers. Along with this, MLA style provides a certain formatting method for citations, and parenthetical in-text citations in particular.

If you are familiar with all rules of MLA style, it shows your serious preparation and increases your credibility. Another important feature of MLA is that this style helps you avoid plagiarism, since it regulates the use of quotes, so you won’t steal somebody else’s material accidentally.

If a commission or a lecturer asks you to use MLA style, we suggest you to study the MLA Handbook. It was recently updated to the 8th edition. Along with that, you can check out the Guide to Scholarly Publishing, and the MLA Style Manual. You can find the MLA Handbook in the internet, or in various libraries. You can visit the official MLA website, or buy a book in a bookstore. This handbook also includes the Additional Resources part, where you can find a lot of useful references.

Paper Format

The process of preparation of papers is described in the 4th chapter of the MLA Handbook, as well as in the 4th chapter of the MLA Style Manual. We collected some general features of formatting, so you could get some information to start with.

Basic Guidelines

  • Use standard paper sheets (8.5” x 11”).
  • Use a Times New Roman font (12 pt), and don’t forget about double-spacing. You can also try other fonts, but make sure that regular and italic styles of such a font look different enough.
  • Unless your lecturer specified other rules, don’t use double spaces after periods.
  • Make one-inch margins from each side of the sheet.
  • Every paragraph must start with a sentence that is indented on 0.5” from the left margin. You don’t have to press the Space bar five times straight, just use the Tab button.
  • Every page must include a header with a number of the page. This number must be placed in the upper-right corner, on the distance of 0.5” from the top, and taking into account the right margin. If your instructor doesn’t want you to include a page number on the first page, follow his or her guidelines.
  • If you mention a long work, such as a book, write it in italics. Short works are written in quotation marks.
  • Your additional notes must be written in a separate section, titled “Notes”. This section must precede the Works Cited.
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Formatting the First Page

  • Don’t write a separate title page, unless you were asked for it.
  • The title page begins with your name, the name of your instructor, the course, and the date. Don’t forget about double-spacing. These data is placed in the top left corner of the page.
  • The title must be double-spaced once again, and centered. You don’t need to use italics, underlines, or quotation marks. Use traditional Title Case method of capitalization, and never write the title in all caps.
  • All works you are referring to must be written either in italics, or in quotation marks.
  • The first line of the text must be double-spaced from the title.
  • Write a header in the top-right corner of the page. It must include your last name, and the page number, separated with a single space. Use the same scheme for all pages in your paper. Ask your instructor for particular guidelines (instructors may ask you not to include your last name, or page numbers).

Section Headings

Many writers use additional sections, in order to make a text easier to read. These may be chapters of your book or essay, or other specific parts.


MLA allows you to divide an essay into chapters, using Arabic numbers, a period, and a space:

  1. First Works
  2. The New York Years
  3. Travelling Around the World
  4. Last Works


Generally, MLA doesn’t have any strict rules regarding headings for books. If there is only one level of headings in your work, MLA style suggest you to write all headings in a similar manner. For example, if your headings are mostly short, make sure that all headings are short, and vice versa. The heading style shouldn’t change throughout the book. For more detailed information, check out the 146 page of the MLA Style Manual, as well as the 3rd edition of the Guide to Scholarly Publishing.

Some writers use multiple heading levels. In other words, some sections include other sections. In this case, we suggest you to ask your instructor about the required style.


We made a couple examples of possible formatting for multiple levels. You can use them as examples, and discuss these styles with your instructor.


1. Essays

1.1 Persuasive Essays

1.2 Expository Essays

2. Dissertations

3. Other Papers

Unnumbered headings:

Level 1 Header

Level 2 Header

Level 3 Header

Level 4 Header

Level 5 Header


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