Student Life

How to Write a College Paper in MLA Format

Learn how to format your high school and college papers perfectly in the MLA style.

Charles Schnell, Student Contributor

November 13, 2020

How to Write a College Paper in MLA Format
Our how-to-guide on the MLA Format.
To the high school students and fellow college students reading this: Most of us will have multiple paper assignments in college. Teachers will often specify as to what format in which they would like you to write your paper. They may say MLA, APA, Chicago, or another. This post serves to assist you in writing papers in the MLA format. The MLA format essay was the format with which I became most acquainted in high school, as that is what most teachers asked for. I am uncertain as to whether this is typical or extraordinary. I hope this serves either as a detailed reminder or as an MLA format example. To start you will want to configure your font and spacing. MLA is written in Times New Roman and size 12 font, and the spacing throughout the paper is 2.0, or doubled. Additionally, configure all of the margins to be one inch in length. (From my experience, this margin length is what word processors default to, although it may be something else if you have modified it in the past.)
Unlike other formats MLA does not include a title page. The first action you’ll want to perform is to insert page numbers. Your word processor will have a command to “insert page numbers” or of similar wording. You’ll want to select the top right corner of every page, including the first page. Once complete, click on the header and type your last name before the page number 1. That will add your name to every page number. (If it does not work, confirm that the “different first page” feature is off!) Next will be your heading. This should be aligned left. I was taught that a heading includes four pieces of information: your name, your teacher or professor, the class for which the paper is written, and the due date. The title appears after the heading. The title should be aligned center. All words in the title should be capitalized except for articles, conjunctions, and prepositions. The length of the title is up to stylistic preference, but I would not make it redundantly long. You should format it thus:

Last Name 1

Your Name Your Professor (don’t forget “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Professor,” or “Dr.”!)
The Class The Due Date

How To Write a Paper in MLA

(The word “to” is a preposition when followed by a noun—I’m going “to the store”—but not when it proceeds the infinitive form of a verb—I want “to study” for this test.) Once you have written your heading and title you can start writing your essay below it. This is fairly simple. The first line of each paragraph is indented; every line thereafter starts as close as possible to the left one-inch margin. Once you reach a new paragraph you indent again, but you only indent the first line. As we all know well, most papers are usually about another work and often call for the use of sources. MLA has special rules for this. Whenever you are referring to a large work, such as a novel, a T.V. show, or an album, you should italicize the title. (The Brothers Karamazov, Seinfeld, Versatile, etc.) When referring to a smaller work—which is often a part of a larger work—such as a chapter title, the title of an episode from a T.V. Show, or a song, you should frame it in quotation marks. (“The Grand Inquisitor,” “Pilot,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” etc.) When directly quoting a line from a book, you will want to put the quote in quotation marks, add a parenthetical citation, and then place a period. The parenthetical citation includes the last name of the author (only if it is the first time you are quoting the book in the paper or quoting it immediately after having quoted another book) and the page number. If you paraphrase an idea from a book, you must add your parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence, but no quotation marks are need. For example, if I were writing an essay on The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky and I were to quote the book for the first time, this is what I would write: After talking to his brother, “Ivan [turns] suddenly and [goes] his way without looking back” (Dostoevsky, 264). Now if I were to quote it again a few lines later, I would write: After leaving the restaurant, Ivan is in much turmoil: “But, strangely, an unbearable anguish suddenly came over him, and, moreover, the closer he came home, the worse it grew with every step” (265). Notice that I do not repeat the last name of the author the second time I quote The Brothers Karamazov. Now, if the essay also studies a second book that I must quote, I will use the author’s last name the first time I quote that book. I will only have to use last names again after that if I return to quoting The Brothers Karamazov after discussing the other book. This is to clarify to the reader who is being quoted. (Also, notice how I used brackets. I was taught that, whenever writing about literature, it is proper to write in the present tense. If the quote is merged into your sentence, much like in my first example, you can use brackets to change the tense of the word to fit your sentence. I changed “turned” to “turns” and “went” to “goes.” In the second instance, since I have finished my main clause before quoting and am using the quote to prove my point instead of say what happened, it is alright for the sentence to remain as written.) Finally, when you get to the end of your MLA paper, there is one more thing you need: a Works Cited page. This is a new page after the end of your paper and serves to properly cite the sources you used in your paper. The proper way to cite a source depends on its format—books, websties, movies. Since websites and books are the most popular, I will explain those two. ( is a useful tool for learning and citing, though!) To site a book: Last Name, First Name of Author. Title. Translated/edited by _________, Publisher, Year of Publication (of specific edition). To site a website: Listed Author(s) (skip if none). “Title.” Title of container (usually the name of the website). Date accessed/last edited date. I will now show you a Works Cited page using the two sources I used to write this article!

Works Cited

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002. "MLA Formatting and Style Guide." The Purdue OWL, Purdue U Writing Lab. Accessed 09 Nov. 2020. Your sources should be cited in alphabetical order, decided by the first letter of the citation. (Here: D and M.) If the citation is more than one line, every line after the first is indented until you get to the next citation! I hope this helps you in your future scholarly pursuits. Write on!

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