What Are Section Headings in MLA Format?

Generally, do not begin headings with articles such as “the” or “a.”
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Writers use section headings to add organization and clarity to their work. The third edition of "MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing" offers recommendations, but not strict guidelines for creating headings. MLA suggestions for title creation and formatting help writers develop headings that improve rather than distract from their material.

1 Choosing Headings

MLA style does not require specific section headings. If you want to use headings, choose labels that divide your topic into logical parts, such as components, chronology, geography or steps of a process. For example, a paper on African animals might have the following section headings: Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable and Not Endangered. If the focus were different, the headings might include these headings: Northern, Western, Eastern, Central and Southern, or Mammals, Insects, Reptiles, Amphibians, Birds and Fish. Whichever approach you take, make the headings parallel. For example, use the same parts of speech, such as nouns, or choose phrases of similar lengths.

2 Formatting Headings

Whichever section headings you choose, MLA style recommends, but does not mandate, a specific format. Number each section with an Arabic numeral followed by a period. Insert a space, then put the section heading in title format, such as "1. Childhood of Mozart." If there are subheadings, identify them by adding consecutive Arabic numerals after the period; for instance: 1.1 Early Compositions 1.2 Early Performances. Place subheadings directly under headings; do not indent.

Living in upstate New York, Susan Sherwood is a researcher who has been writing within educational settings for more than 10 years. She has co-authored papers for Horizons Research, Inc. and the Capital Region Science Education Partnership. Sherwood has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University at Albany.