MLA Format: Examples and Simplified Style Guide

Regardless of what you are writing, if you are quoting, paraphrasing or summarizing someone else’s work, you must give credit to the original author. Otherwise, this is called plagiarism. Although there are numerous writing style guidelines, MLA style is commonly preferred by academic institutions, particularly in the humanities.

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Who Uses MLA Style?

The Modern Language Association (MLA) format is one of the most popular and simplest forms used to attribute information. It is currently in its 9th edition as of 2021. This particular style is the preferred format for writing research papers on a variety of subjects in the humanities. Additionally, MLA format is used by nearly 1,100 scholarly journals, newsletters and magazines.

General MLA Formatting

In order to adhere to MLA requirements, you will need to set up your page layout accordingly.

  • Set one-inch margins throughout.

  • Twelve-point size and Times New Roman font style are generally preferred, though this can vary.

  • The paper should be double-spaced.

Running Head and Page Numbers

Before you begin writing your paper, create a running header and add page numbers following these steps:

  1. Create a running head in the top right corner half an inch from the top.

  2. Add page numbers to each page. This will vary depending on what word processor you are using.

  3. Type your last name before the page number. Each page should have your surname followed by a page number.

  4. The running head often begins on the second page, but it can begin on the first page and continue throughout. This typically depends on the instructions of the professor or editor.

MLA Header Format

MLA does not require a formal cover page, but you do need to feature a header on the first page. Make sure you intend to use a uniform heading plan throughout the whole document.

  1. Create one-inch margins on all sides.

  2. Begin in the top left corner of the first page, one inch from the top and flush with the left margin.

  3. Type your full name on the first line, then add your professor’s title and name on the second line, the course name and number on the third line, and the date on the fourth line. The date should be formatted like this: 24 April 2021.

  4. Go down another line (this should be double-spaced so you should not add another space) and center the title. The title should not be bold, underlined or italicized. Follow the capitalization rules for the title.

  5. Drop down again to a new line and create a ½ inch margin (usually using the tab key) before writing your introduction.

MLA Format Header Example
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Headings and Subheadings in MLA Style

Once you begin writing your paper, you may need to break it up into sections to make it more organized and easier to read.

  • If you decide to label the first part of your paper “Heading 1,” each subsequent heading must be labeled accordingly in sequential order.

  • All subheadings must also adhere to the same rule. In other words, if you want to sub-head a "Heading 1" like 1.1 and 1.2 and so on, each subsequent heading and subheading must follow the same format.

Formatting Quotations and In-Text Citations in MLA Style

MLA requires the use of in-text citations for work that is paraphrased or quoted within a paper in order to attribute the work.

  • Short quotations that are four lines or fewer should be enclosed in quotation marks.
  • Place the punctuation after the citation in parentheses.

Following the quotation, cite the work in parentheses. This is known as parenthetical citation. To directly quote another author in your paper, your parenthetical citation would appear in one of the following ways:

  • Author Name stated the fact that "insert very interesting fact" (202).
  • My paper includes "this very interesting quote" (Author Last Name 202).
  • Author Name extensively explored the concept of this very interesting idea (202).

As shown above, each in-text citation must include both the author's name and the page number where the information in the sentence can be located. You can put the author’s name in the sentence or in the parenthetical citation, but not both. The information in each in-text citation will correspond to an entry in the Works Cited section at the end of the paper.

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MLA Format for Long Quotations

If a quotation is more than four lines long, it should be indented and formatted as a block quote.

  1. Start the quotation on the next line.

  2. Indent the quotation ½ an inch from the left margin.

  3. Do not use quotation marks for block quotations.

  4. Place the parenthetical citation at the end of the quotation after the punctuation mark.

  5. If you are quoting a poem or song, maintain the line breaks of the original.

Citing Paraphrased Material

Sometimes you do not want to quote an author word for word, but you do want to convey the information they’re discussing. In this case, you can paraphrase the information in your own words and then credit the source in a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence.

This author expresses some interesting ideas on this and that (Author last name 202).

Citing Works Where the Author Is Known

If you know the author’s name, cite their name either in the text or in the parenthetical citation after the sentence. Place the punctuation after the citation, not in the parenthesis.

  • My paper is improved by Johnson's description of the idea as "very interesting" (202).
  • My paper has been described as "very interesting" (Johnson 202).

Citing Works With No Known Author

If you do not know the author of a work, you can cite the title of the article and the page number if applicable.

I am making my paper more interesting by including this referenced idea that "the sky is blue ..." ("Article on Blue Skies" 8).
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Citing Authors With the Same Last Name

On occasion, you may even cite two or more authors with the same last name. In this case, you can cite the first initials of the authors’ first names before the surname.

Although some believe this interesting fact (T. Adams 202), others note that something else may be true (F. Adams 203).

Citing Works by Multiple Authors

If you are citing a work by three or fewer authors, mention all their names in the parenthetical citation. If there are more than three authors, mention all their surnames the first time, and for each subsequent appearance use the last name of the first listed author followed by the abbreviation et al., which means “and others.”

  • Thomas Author, Virginia Writer, and Francis Author argue that this concept is quite interesting (202).
  • The authors state "this concept is quite interesting" (Austin, Baker, and Cook 76).

Citing Electronic Sources

The name of the author should be cited in-text if known. If the author's name is not known, you may cite the article's title. If the title is very long, you can use a shortened version. For example:

  • The easiest way to prepare the ground for planting is to add a rich soil conditioner (Smith).
  • The easiest way to prepare the ground for planting is to add a rich soil conditioner ("Things to Do Before Planting ...").

Using the Nine Core Elements of Works Cited

Different rules apply for citing different resources. Ultimately, these nine core elements became the standard in a Works Cited section. If you don’t have data for each element, you can skip it. The in-text citation and the Works Cited reference will vary based on the medium (book, journal, online article, etc.).

Author. Title of source, Title of container, Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location.
MLA Format Works Cited Example
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Format for Works Cited

As the final page for your research paper, you will need to create a Works Cited page. This page should contain all the specific information regarding the whereabouts of the information that was cited in parenthetical citations throughout your paper.

  • Use a hanging indent to create each entry.
  • List the entries on the Works Cited page in alphabetical order.
  • Double-space just the same as the rest of the paper.

Format for Works Where the Author Is Known

Usually, when you are citing a book or article, the author will be listed. For a book, cite the author's last name followed by their first name and then the title of the work, the publisher and the publication date.

  • Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Publication Date.
  • Paige, Penn. The Art of Writing. Penn Press, 2012.

Format When the Author Is Unknown

When the author is unknown, simply skip to the title of the article or other work

  • "Article title" Name of Magazine. Month, Year.
  • "Article on Blue Skies." Sky Magazine. January, 2021.

Format for Authors With the Same Last Name

If there are two or more authors with the same last name, cite them as usual with the first name following the last name.

  • Author's A Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Publication Date.
    Author B's Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Publication Date.
  • Adams, Susan. A Really Good Book. Excellence, Inc., 2013.
    Adams, Benjamin. Another Really Good Book. Excellence, Inc., 2017.
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Format for a Source With Two or More Authors

If an article or book has more than one author, list the authors in the same order they appear on the book. For the first author, cite the last name followed by the first name and write the names of the second, third, etc. authors' first name followed by their last name.

  • Last Name, First Name and First Name Last Name. Title of Book. City of Publication, Publisher, Publication Date.
  • Austin, Susan, Henry Baker, and Ted Cook. The Best Book Ever. Education Press, 2020.

Format for Electronic Sources

You don’t need to include the access date unless you can’t find a date for the article.

  • Last Name, First Name. "Title of Article." Website. Day Month, Year. URL.
  • Smith, John. "Things to Do Before Planting a Plant." Like2learn.org. 5 July, 2018. www.like2learn.org/amazing-article

Master MLA Style

Mastering MLA style will help prepare you for school, and depending on your career path you may use it long after you graduate.