Section vs. Titles in MLA Format

by Christina Lee

Modern Language Association, or MLA, format is a style characterized in part by short in-text references within a paper or manuscript. Because it lends itself to textual analysis, MLA format is the standard style guide in humanities and studies of language. The MLA "Handbook for Writers of Research Papers" -- occasionally updated and published as a new edition -- is the final authority on MLA punctuation, citations and formatting. It includes specific guidelines on how to use section headings and titles correctly.

Title Placement, Font and Punctuation

Create a one-inch margin on all four sides of each page of your essay. On the first page, place the date, your name and other identifying information in the upper left corner. Center your title. Do not use quotation marks, punctuation, italics, bold-face, underlining or over-sized fonts to bring attention to the title -- centering is sufficient. Do, however, italicize titles of other complete works -- like books and epic poems -- that appear in your title. If your essay title references an individual part of a larger work -- like a song on an album, a short story in a compilation or an essay in a journal -- put its name in quotation marks.


Always capitalize the first letter of the first word in the title; after that, capitalize the first letter of most word, but be careful of some important exceptions. Never capitalize the first letter of articles like "a," "the" or "an" when they appear after the first word. Do not capitalize the first letter of coordinating conjunctions placed after the first word -- these include "and," "but," "for," "yet," "nor," "or" and "so." Finally, don't capitalizing the first letter of prepositions situated after the first word; some examples of these include "of," "in," "to," at" or "above." If you cannot determine whether a word is a preposition, check the English Prepositions List at

Referencing Other Titles

When you name a work or a part of a work, observe the rules regarding font, punctuation and capitalization explained in the first two sections. Also, use proper word placement and grammar in working titles into sentences. To cite a title without naming it, use a parenthetical in-text citation at the end of a sentence that needs citation. Use one space after the last letter of the sentence and a period after the citation. In parentheses, provide the author's last name and a page number, like this (Last Name 345). If you already named the author in the sentence or if it is clear from the context of your paper topic, just use the page number, like this (345).

Subject Headings

Subject headings that divide your essay into separate parts should be aligned on the left side of the page. For capitalization, observe the same conventions outlined in Section 2. Number each section using Arabic numerals. Include a period after the number, one space and then the subject heading. For example, the title of this section would be punctuated as follows: 4. Subject Headings. The above section would read: 3. Referencing Other Titles.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images