MLA Paper Format Guide

Almost every time you are assigned a paper in school you will be asked to type the assignment in MLA paper format. However, MLA is also useful when typing up business reports, proposals and when writing a book.

MLA format is widely used because writers who use MLA build credibility by demonstrating that they know how to properly format documents using proper English language in writing.

What is MLA paper format?

MLA is basically a style and format a document is written in. Once you practice the format a few times, it become extremely easy and you will not even realize you are automatically writing in MLA format.

It is a good rule of thumb to always use MLA paper format for everything you write, unless you have specific instructions to write your paper in a different format.

MLA format provides documents with a much more polished and professional look.


Below are some universal guidelines for MLA paper format:

  • Type your document on a word processor such as Microsoft Word and use standard white 8.5 x 11 inch paper to print it out.
  • Select Times New Roman as a font type and select a font size of 12pt. The size 12 font should be the font size for your whole document even the heading and title.
  • Double-space the text of your paper. Make sure that the line spacing before and after the spacing are at zero. Note that the double space applies also for in between paragraphs and the title as well. There are no additional spaces between the title and the document or between paragraphs. This is one of the most common problems I see in papers from my students.
  • Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides (top, bottom, right and left).
  • Before each new paragraph, indent the first line five spaces. I strongly recommend using the Tab key button on the keyboard rather than hitting the Space Bar five times. By pushing the Tab key, you eliminate the chance for error and it is also quicker.
  • If you are writing numbers in your paper, click here to see how to write numbers in MLA paper format.
  • There should only be one space after all punctuation marks; not two. Click here for more information punctuation and for some punctuation exercises.
  • Do not underline the title of books in your document; rather italicize them. When you are hand writing a document, underline the title of books since you are unable to italicize them.
  • Create a header in the top right hand of your document that has your last name, a space and the page number. Microsoft Office has a feature for adding page numbers to your document. I strongly recommend using the automated page number feature so that each page is numbered correctly. This header should look something like this but without the quotation marks “Jones 1”.
  • Do not create a title page for your document unless you have been instructed to do so. If you are writing a business proposal or contract, then a title/cover page may be appropriate. However, this additional page for an essay is unnecessary,
  • On the first page of your document in the upper left-hand corner, type your name, your instructor’s name, the course and the date. Remember everything in your whole document is double-spaced.
  • If you are using quotes in your essay, make sure you follow the proper format of quoting. For a quick step-by-step guide on how to use quotes, click here.
  • If you have quoted works in your paper, create a page at the end of your document for a works cited page. A proper works cited page can seem challenging for some. For a step-by-step guide on how to create a works cited page, click here.

Check out this PDF sample of what an MLA paper format looks like

It shows you just what your paper should look like and if you spend a few minutes reading the information, it give you a more in depth understanding of the MLA process.

Remember the guidelines that I have mentioned above are just for the format of your actual paper. For information on how to create a work cited page, click here or for information on how to use quotes correctly click here.

By using MLA format in your writing, you can rest assured that you are creating a polished and well formatted fraft of your paper. Learn to incorporate the techniques above, so you can focus on the content of your paper rather than the technical aspects of it.

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