MLA Guidelines for Students

by Van Thompson, Demand Media

The Modern Language Association Style Manual is one of the most common style guides and often the first one used by students. Students writing research papers in the arts and humanities, as well as in middle and high school, are often required to use MLA style. MLA provides guidance for formatting papers and citing references, ensuring that your paper is consistent and easy to read.


The first page of an MLA paper has a double-spaced header in the top left corner. Type your name on the first line, with your professor's name on the following line. The third line is for the class title and the fourth line should have the date formatted with the day first, such as 10 August 2013. Each page should have your last name followed by the page number in the upper right hand corner, and your paper needs a title centered on the first page immediately after the header.


MLA papers use 1-inch margins all around and an easy-to-read font that is distinct from italics, such as Times New Roman. Your paper must be typed and printed on 8.5-by-11-inch paper. Use italics for titles of books, magazines and other references. MLA papers do not use footnotes. Instead, use endnotes, and put the endnotes page immediately before your Works Cited page. On your endnotes page, type and center the word Endnotes. MLA style does not mandate an endnotes page. Instead endnotes are an option for providing further clarification and details.


MLA papers require double-spacing. This makes it easier to edit them and ensures that your professor can add notes to your paper. Paragraphs should begin on a new line without any additional spacing, but must be indented one-half inch. On most computers, pressing the tab key will yield the proper indentation. If you insert a quotation that is more than four lines long, the quotation should be indented on both sides and preceded by a colon and one line of space.


When you cite specific facts and figures in your paper or quote a source, use parenthetical citations. Put the author of the work first, followed by the page number. For example, if you're quoting page 9 of a book by John Smith, your citation would look like this: (Smith, 9). List all of your sources in alphabetical order on a Works Cited page at the end of your paper, with Works Cited centered and typed at the top of the page. Cite references using a hanging indent, with all lines after the first line indented. The author's name, last name first, goes first. If you are citing a specific chapter or article title, put the title in quotation marks, followed by the italicized name of the source. For books, list the city of publication, publisher's name and year of publications. For articles, list the volume and issue number and date of publication. Conclude with the page numbers you used or, if citing an entire book, omit the page numbers.

About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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