MLA Document Formatting

Learning Objectives

  • Describe overall MLA document formatting, including page layout

Overall Structure of an MLA Paper

One purpose of using MLA format is to streamline the writing process and establish a consistent and uniform way of presenting the material. For this reason, there are specific guidelines you’ll need to follow when formatting your paper. The general idea is to use a 12-point font, have 1-inch margins, double-space the paper, include page numbers, and to include your personal information in the upper-left-hand corner. Your paper should look like this:

Sample MLA paper showing the student last name and page number in the top right corner. In the top left corner is the student's name (Brandon Freeman), the instructor name (Professor Lee), the course name (English 101), and the date (25 February 2017). All pieces of information are on separate lines. The title is shown with a partial indent, and the first line of the first paragraph is fully indented.

Figure 1. This sample paper shows how the first page of a paper written in MLA is formatted. Note the header information in the upper-left corner, the last name and page numbers in the upper-right corner, the double spaced text, and indentations that begin each paragraph.

Document Formatting

You can use this MLA formatted template to help you get started.

Remember, the heading appears only on page 1 and includes your name, the professor’s name, the name of the class, and the date in military-style format: day month year. Don’t misspell your professor’s name—you would be surprised at how many students make this mistake!

General MLA Formatting Rules

  • Font: Your paper should be written in 12-point text. Whichever font you choose, MLA requires that regular and italicized text be easily distinguishable from each other. Times and Times New Roman are often recommended.
  • Line Spacing: All text in your paper should be double-spaced.
  • Margins: All page margins (top, bottom, left, and right) should be 1 inch. All text should be left-justified.
  • Indentation: The first line of every paragraph should be indented 0.5 inches.
  • Page Numbers: Create a right-justified header 0.5 inches from the top edge of every page. This header should include your last name, followed by a space and the page number. Your pages should be numbered with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3…) and should start with the number 1 on your title page. Most word-processing programs have the ability to automatically add the correct page number to each page so you don’t have to do this by hand.
  • Use of Italics: In MLA style, you should italicize (rather than underline) the titles of books, plays, or other standalone works. You should also italicize (rather than underline) words or phrases you want to lend particular emphasis—though you should do this rarely.
  • Sentence Spacing: Include just one single space after a period before the next sentence: “Mary went to the store. She bought some milk. Then she went home.”
  • The First Page: Like the rest of your paper, everything on your first page, even the headers, should be double-spaced. The following information should be left-justified in regular font at the top of the first page (in the main part of the page, not the header):
    • on the first line, your first and last name
    • on the second line, your instructor’s name
    • on the third line, the name of the class
    • on the fourth line, the date
  • The Title: After the header, the next double-spaced line should include the title of your paper. This should be centered and in title case, and it should not be bolded, underlined, or italicized (unless it includes the name of a book, in which case just the book title should be italicized).
  • The Oxford Comma: The Oxford comma (also called the serial comma) is the comma that comes after the second-to-last item in a series or list. For example: The UK includes the countries of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In the previous sentence, the comma immediately after “Wales” is the Oxford comma. In general writing conventions, whether the Oxford comma should be used is actually a point of fervent debate among passionate grammarians. However, it’s a requirement in MLA style, so double-check all your lists and series to make sure you include it!
  • Subheadings: If you include subheadings, they should be bolded and left-justified (not indented or centered).

Watch It

Watch this video to get an overall feel for the style and format of a paper written in MLA style.

You can view the transcript for “MLA Overview” here (opens in new window).


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