Last Updated: December 9th, 2023

How to Write a Paper in MLA Format

How To Write A Paper In Mla Format

Writing a paper is integral to every college student’s academic program. But not every student knows the right way to write a paper.

Even if you understand the basics of developing your ideas and creating a strong narrative, you might not be familiar with the basics of formatting and documentation that differ in different courses and for different papers.

Most assignments ask students to write in one of the standard styles of formatting and documentation, which include APA, MLA, and Chicago.

And even if you know one style, you might not know others. In this article, we’ll examine the Modern Language Association (MLA) style of formatting and documentation to review how you can begin formatting and using this style.

Before we begin, we must consider MLA format and its use. MLA format is a documentation and paper formatting style created by the Modern Language Association and designed primarily for English, cultural studies, the humanities, and related disciplines.

Because these fields place less weight on the currency of information and more on the publication history of information, the documentation style focuses heavily on the author, the title, and the type of information presented and much less on the publication date.

Other formatting styles, such as APA, prioritize the publication date, placing it near the beginning of a citation.

Key Elements of an MLA Citation

First, MLA citations are designed to connect the reader to the source of information for a particular part of your essay, article, research paper, etc.

There are two parts to an MLA citation. The first is the in-text citation, and the second is the reference list entry. We’ll first look at in-text citations, also known as parenthetical citations.

In MLA format, whenever you use information, ideas, or direct language from an outside source, you need to document that language with a parenthetical reference that tells the reader which entry in your works cited list to consult for the source of that information.

In MLA format, a parenthetical reference includes the author’s name and publication date. Unlike other formats, it does not include the year of publication.

For example, if you were citing a book written by a woman named Jasmine Reynolds and found the information on page 53, your in-text parenthetical citation would look like this (Reynolds 53).

The information included in parenthetical citations can differ based on specific situations.

For example, when there are two pieces from the same author, you will need to include the first word of the title after the author’s name to distinguish between them.

There are also special rules for how to list multiple authors, especially when there are three or more. 

The in-text citation must match the reference list entry in a bibliography at the end of your paper labeled “Works Cited.” This is an alphabetical list of all of the sources used in your paper—and only those sources.

Unlike a traditional bibliography, which lists all of the sources consulted in a paper, an MLA Works Cited list only provides those cited in the paper.

The MLA works cited list begins each entry with the author’s name, giving the last name first and the first name after.

Following the name, MLA gives the title of the book or article, the publication information, and the publication date. Unlike other styles, MLA gives the author’s full name with no abbreviation.

Online sources have a special format where you indicate that the source is online. Giving the full URL is now optional since MLA assumes that readers can use a search engine like Google to locate a source in the works cited list.

Hidden Aspects of MLA Formatting Style

While the majority of MLA formatting lessons fixate on reference formatting, there are other aspects of MLA style that many users often forget.

For example, MLA format has special rules for how to format headings, with different levels of heading and special rules for when and how to deploy them. When using MLA format, be sure to check a reputable style guide.

Why is Formatting Still So Important?

With new editions of APA, MLA, and other formatting style guides being published, we wonder — are those citation rules still as valuable as they have been before?

Digitalization makes things easier, simplifies everything, and one would expect to have less trouble with formatting and citations.

Finally, maybe it should be gone just like calligraphy had. Fortunately or not, formatting styles and attention to academic citations will stay on the scene for a long time.

Digitalization didn’t eliminate this need but rather increased it. The amount of “borrowed” or, better say, “plagiarized” texts grows significantly, and attention to citations in students’ papers is one way to fight it. The more texts are published, the bigger the need for uniformity.

Cataloging is often done not manually but via specially programmed algorithms. Those algorithms should be able to locate the authors of the sources, publication date, name, etc. Students often complain that they spend too much time just formatting their papers.

You can use citation generators online to save time, but you need to ensure they have the latest MLA and APA guide updates.

Second, you can delegate some of your papers to a professional writing service and focus on assignments that are interesting to you. When working on a paper that makes you curious, dealing with formatting seems much less irritating.