Things You Should Remember: How to Write a MLA Essay

One thing that surprises many new college students is the number of different formal styles they are expected to use when organizing, citing, and referencing their writing assignments. Two of the most commonly used are MLA and APA styles. While APA styles are often used in high school, MLA is less commonly required. Here are some basic tips on writing an MLA paper:


MLA papers should be formatted on standard, 8.5 x 11 inch paper (unlined), and must be typed. The text of the paper should be double spaced. The only formal requirement for the typeface is that it be legible; note, however, that most instructors will require Times New Roman or a another specific typeface, especially if the paper length is dictated in pages rather than word count.

The paper should have one inch margins on all sizes. Page numbers should be located in the upper right hand corner of the header; check with the instructor regarding first page or title page numbering!

Title Pages/ First Pages

In contrast to APA assignments, which almost always have a title page, most short MLA assignments do not require a separate title page. Of course, one should always defer to any differing instructions from the professor, but if none are given it should be assumed that the first page will contain the title and a header, and that directly following these will be the content of the essay. Typically, the header should include the following elements, aligned on the left side of the page, and double spaced:

  • Student’s first and last name
  • Instructor’s title and name
  • Name of the class
  • Date
  • Note: While this section is referred to as the “header” in MLA formatting, it is located on the body of the page, not in the “header section” of the margin.

In-Text Citations

Another major difference between APA and MLA styles is the use of in-text citations. While both styles use this form of citation, the layout is quite different. Rather than including the author and year, MLA in-text citations include the author’s name and the page number, even when the material cited is not a direct quote. The citation is presented like so: (Name 123). There is no comma present between the name and page number. If the name of the author is mentioned in the text, the page number in parentheses is sufficient.

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