MLA Formatting and Style Guide


MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th ed.) and the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (3rd ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.

.General Format

MLA style specifies guidelines for formatting manuscripts and using the English language in writing. MLA style also provides writers with a system for referencing their sources through parenthetical citation in their essays and Works Cited pages.

Writers who properly use MLA also build their credibility by demonstrating accountability to their source material. Most importantly, the use of MLA style can protect writers from accusations of plagiarism, which is the purposeful or accidental uncredited use of source material by other writers.

If you are asked to use MLA format, be sure to consult the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th edition). Publishing scholars and graduate students should also consult the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (3rd edition).

Paper Format

The preparation of papers and manuscripts in MLA style is covered in chapter four of the MLA Handbook, and chapter four of the MLA Style Manual. Below are some basic guidelines for formatting a paper in MLA style.

General Guidelines

  • Type your paper on a computer and print it out on standard, white 8.5 x 11-inch paper.

  • Double-space the text of your paper, and use a legible font (e.g. Times New Roman). Whatever font you choose, MLA recommends that the regular and italics type styles contrast enough that they are recognizable one from another. The font size should be 12 pt.

  • Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks (unless otherwise instructed by your instructor).

  • Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides.

  • Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch from the left margin. MLA recommends that you use the Tab key as opposed to pushing the Space Bar five times.

  • Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor may ask that you omit the number on your first page. Always follow your instructor’s guidelines.)

  • Use italics throughout your essay for the titles of longer works and, only when absolutely necessary, providing emphasis.

  • If you have any endnotes, include them on a separate page before your Works Cited page. Entitle the section Notes (centered, unformatted).

Formatting the First Page of Your Paper

  • Do not make a title page for your paper unless specifically requested.

  • In the upper left-hand corner of the first page, list your name, your instructor’s name, the course, and the date. Again, be sure to use double-spaced text.

  • Double space again and center the title. Do not underline, italicize, or place your title in quotation marks; write the title in Title Case (standard capitalization), not in all capital letters.

  • Use quotation marks and/or italics when referring to other works in your title, just as you would in your text: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as Morality Play; Human Weariness in “After Apple Picking”

  • Double space between the title and the first line of the text.

  • Create a header in the upper right-hand corner that includes your last name, followed by a space with a page number; number all pages consecutively with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor or other readers may ask that you omit last name/page number header on your first page. Always follow instructor guidelines.)

Here is a sample of the first page of a paper in MLA style:

Image Caption: The First Page of an MLA Paper

Section Headings

Writers sometimes use Section Headings to improve a document’s readability. These sections may include individual chapters or other named parts of a book or essay.


MLA recommends that when you divide an essay into sections that you number those sections with an arabic number and a period followed by a space and the section name.

1. Early Writings

2. The London Years

3. Traveling the Continent

4. Final Years


MLA does not have a prescribed system of headings for books (for more information on headings, please see page 146 in the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition). If you are only using one level of headings, meaning that all of the sections are distinct and parallel and have no additional sections that fit within them, MLA recommends that these sections resemble one another grammatically. For instance, if your headings are typically short phrases, make all of the headings short phrases (and not, for example, full sentences). Otherwise, the formatting is up to you. It should, however, be consistent throughout the document.

If you employ multiple levels of headings (some of your sections have sections within sections), you may want to provide a key of your chosen level headings and their formatting to your instructor or editor.

Sample Section Headings

The following sample headings are meant to be used only as a reference. You may employ whatever system of formatting that works best for you so long as it remains consistent throughout the document.


1. Soil Conservation

1.1 Erosion

1.2 Terracing

2. Water Conservation

3. Energy Conservation

Formatted, unnumbered:

Level 1 Heading: bold, flush left

Level 2 Heading: italics, flush left

     Level 3 Heading: centered, bold

     Level 4 Heading: centered, italics

Level 5 Heading: underlined, flush left

MLA in-text citations

MLA in-text citations are made with a combination of signal phrases and parenthetical references. A signal phrase introduces information taken from a source (a quotation, summary, paraphrase, or fact); usually the signal phrase includes the author’s name. The parenthetical reference comes after the cited material, often at the end of the sentence. It includes at least a page number (except for unpaginated sources, such as those found online).

The guidelines presented here are consistent with advice given in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed. (2009).


Kwon points out that the Fourth Amendment does not give employees any protections from employers’ “unreasonable searches and seizures” (6).

Readers can look up the author’s last name in the alphabetized list of works cited, where they will learn the work’s title and other publication information. If readers decide to consult the source, the page number will take them straight to the passage that has been cited.

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Basic rules for print and online sources

The MLA system of in-text citations, which depends heavily on authors’ names and page numbers, was created with print sources in mind. Although many online sources have unclear authorship and lack page numbers, the basic rules are the same for both print and online sources.

The models in this section (items 1–5) show how the MLA system usually works and explain what to do if your source has no author or page numbers.

1. Author named in a signal phraseOrdinarily, introduce the material being cited with a signal phrase that includes the author’s name. In addition to preparing readers for the source, the signal phrase allows you to keep the parenthetical citation brief.

Frederick Lane reports that employers do not necessarily have to use software to monitor how their employees use the Web: employers can “use a hidden video camera pointed at an employee’s monitor” and even position a camera ”so that a number of monitors [can] be viewed at the same time” (147).

The signal phrase — Frederick Lane reports — names the author; the parenthetical citation gives the page number of the book in which the quoted words may be found.

Notice that the period follows the parenthetical citation. When a quotation ends with a question mark or an exclamation point, leave the end punctuation inside the quotation mark and add a period at the end of your sentence: “. . .?” (8).

2. Author named in parenthesesIf a signal phrase does not name the author, put the author’s last name in parentheses along with the page number. Use no punctuation between the name and the page number.

Companies can monitor employees’ every keystroke without legal penalty, but they may have to combat low morale as a result (Lane 129).

3. Author unknown Either use the complete title in a signal phrase or use a short form of the title in parentheses. Titles of books are italicized; titles of articles are put in quotation marks.

A popular keystroke logging program operates invisibly on workers’ computers yet provides supervisors with details of the workers’ online activities (“Automatically”).

TIP: Before assuming that a Web source has no author, do some detective work. Often the author’s name is available but is not easy to find. For example, it may appear at the end of the page, in tiny print. Or it may appear on another page of the site, such as the home page.

NOTE: If a source has no author and is sponsored by a corporation or government agency, name the corporation or agency as the author 

4. Page number unknownDo not include the page number if a work lacks page numbers, as is the case with many Web sources. Even if a printout from a Web site shows page numbers, treat the source as unpaginated in the in-text citation because not all printouts give the same page numbers. (When the pages of a Web source are stable, as in PDF files, supply a page number in your in-text citation.)

As a 2005 study by and America Online indicates, the Internet ranked as the top choice among employees for ways of wasting time on the job; it beat talking with co-workers—the second most popular method—by a margin of nearly two to one (Frauenheim).

If a source has numbered paragraphs or sections, use “par.” (or “pars.”) or “sec.” (or “secs.”) in the parentheses: (Smith, par. 4). Notice that a comma follows the author’s name in this case.

 5. One-page source If the source is one page long, MLA allows (but does not require) you to omit the page number. Many instructors will want you to supply the page number because without it readers may not know where your citation ends or, worse, may not realize that you have provided a citation at all.


AnushYegyazarian reports that in 2000 the National Labor Relations Board’s Office of the General Counsel helped win restitution for two workers who had been dismissed because their employers were displeased by the employees’ e-mails about work-related issues. The case points to the ongoing struggle to define what constitutes protected speech in the workplace.


AnushYegyazarian reports that in 2000 the National Labor Relations Board’s Office of the General Counsel helped win restitution for two workers who had been dismissed because their employers were displeased by the employees’ e-mails about work-related issues (62). The case points to the ongoing struggle to define what constitutes protected speech in the workplace.

Variations on the basic rules

This section describes the MLA guidelines for handling a variety of situations not covered by the basic rules in items 1–5. These rules for in-text citations are the same for both print and online sources.

6. Two or three authors Name the authors in a signal phrase, as in the following example, or include their last names in the parenthetical reference: (Kizza and Ssanyu 2).

Kizza and Ssanyu note that “employee monitoring is a dependable, capable, and very affordable process of electronically or otherwise recording all employee activities at work” and elsewhere (2).

When three authors are named in the parentheses, separate the names with commas: (Alton, Davies, and Rice 56).

7. Four or more authors Name all of the authors or include only the first author’s name followed by “et al.” (Latin for “and others”). The format you use should match the format in your works cited entry (see item item 3).

The study was extended for two years, and only after results were reviewed by an independent panel did the researchers publish their findings (Blaine et al. 35).

8. Organization as authorWhen the author is a corporation or an organization, name that author either in the signal phrase or in the parentheses. (For a government agency as author, see item 17)

According to a 2001 survey of human resources managers by the American Management Association, more than three-quarters of the responding companies reported disciplining employees for “misuse or personal use of office telecommunications equipment” (2).

In the list of works cited, the American Management Association is treated as the author and alphabetized under A. When you give the organization name in parentheses, abbreviate common words in the name: “Assn.,” “Dept.,” “Natl.,” “Soc.,” and so on.

In a 2001 survey of human resources managers, more than three-quarters of the responding companies reported disciplining employees for “misuse or personal use of office telecommunications equipment” (Amer. Management Assn. 2).

9. Authors with the same last nameIf your list of works cited includes works by two or more authors with the same last name, include the author’s first name in the signal phrase or first initial in the parentheses.

Estimates of the frequency with which employers monitor employees’ use of the Internet each day vary widely (A. Jones 15).

10. Two or more works by the same author Mention the title of the work in the signal phrase or include a short version of the title in the parentheses.

The American Management Association and ePolicy Institute have tracked employers’ practices in monitoring employees’ e-mail use. The groups’ 2003 survey found that one-third of companies had a policy of keeping and reviewing employees’ e-mail messages (“2003 E-mail” 2); in 2005, more than 55% of companies engaged in e-mail monitoring (“2005 Electronic” 1).

Titles of articles and other short works are placed in quotation marks; titles of books are italicized.

In the rare case when both the author’s name and a short title must be given in parentheses, separate them with a comma.

A 2004 survey found that 20% of employers responding had employees’ e-mail “subpoenaed in the course of a lawsuit or regulatory investigation,” up 7% from the previous year (Amer. Management Assn. and ePolicy Inst., “2004 Workplace” 1).

11. Two or more works in one citationTo cite more than one source in the parentheses, give the citations in alphabetical order and separate them with a semicolon.

The effects of sleep deprivation among college students have been well documented (Cahill 42; Leduc 114; Vasquez 73).

Multiple citations can be distracting, so you should not overuse the technique. If you want to alert readers to several sources that discuss a particular topic, consider using an information note instead.

 12. Repeated citations from the same source When you are writing about a single work of fiction, you do not need to include the author’s name each time you quote from or paraphrase the work. After you mention the author’s name at the beginning of your paper, you may include just the page number in your parenthetical citations.

In Susan Glaspell’s short story “A Jury of Her Peers,” two women accompany their husbands and a county attorney to an isolated house where a farmer named John Wright has been choked to death in his bed with a rope. The chief suspect is Wright’s wife, Minnie, who is in jail awaiting trial. The sheriff’s wife, Mrs. Peters, has come along to gather some personal items for Minnie, and Mrs. Hale has joined her. Early in the story, Mrs. Hale sympathizes with Minnie and objects to the way the male investigators are “snoopin’ round and criticizin’” her kitchen (200). In contrast, Mrs. Peters shows respect for the law, saying that the men are doing “no more than their duty” (201).

In a second citation from the same nonfiction source in one paragraph, you may omit the author’s name in the signal phrase as long as it is clear that you are still referring to the same source.

 13. Encyclopedia or dictionary entryUnless an encyclopedia or a dictionary has an author, it will be alphabetized in the list of works cited under the word or entry that you consulted (see item 18). Either in your text or in your parenthetical citation, mention the word or entry. No page number is required, since readers can easily look up the word or entry.

The word crocodile has a surprisingly complex etymology (“Crocodile”).

14. Multivolume workIf your paper cites more than one volume of a multivolume work, indicate in the parentheses the volume you are referring to, followed by a colon and the page number.

In his studies of gifted children, Terman describes a pattern of accelerated language acquisition (2: 279).

If you cite only one volume of a multivolume work, you will include the volume number in the list of works cited and will not need to include it in the parentheses. (See the second example in item 17.)


15. Entire work Use the author’s name in a signal phrase or a parenthetical citation. There is no need to use a page number.

Lane explores the evolution of surveillance in the workplace.

16. Selection in an anthologyPut the name of the author of the selection (not the editor of the anthology) in the signal phrase or the parentheses.

In “Love Is a Fallacy,” the narrator’s logical teachings disintegrate when Polly declares that she should date Petey because “[h]e’s got a raccoon coat” (Shulman 379).

In the list of works cited, the work is alphabetized under Shulman, not under the name of the editor of the anthology.

Shulman, Max. “Love Is a Fallacy.” Current Issues and Enduring Questions.Ed. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford, 2008. 371-79. Print.

17. Government document When a government agency is the author, you will alphabetize it in the list of works cited under the name of the government, such as United States or Great Britain (see item 73). For this reason, you must name the government as well as the agency in your in-text citation.

Online monitoring by the United States Department of the Interior over a one-week period found that employees’ use of “sexually explicit and gambling websites . . . accounted for over 24 hours of Internet use” and that “computer users spent over 2,004 hours accessing game and auction sites” during the same period (3).

18. Historical document For a historical document, such as the United States Constitution or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, provide the document title, neither italicized nor in quotation marks, along with relevant article and section numbers. In parenthetical citations, use common abbreviations such as “art.” and “sec.” and abbreviations of well-known titles (US Const., art. 1, sec. 2).

While the United States Constitution provides for the formation of new states (art. 4, sec. 3), it does not explicitly allow or prohibit the secession of states.

For other historical documents, cite as you would any other work, by the first element in the works cited entry (see item 74).

 19. Legal sourceFor legislative acts (laws) and court cases, name the act or case either in a signal phrase or in parentheses. Italicize the names of cases but not the names of acts.

The Jones Act of 1917 granted US citizenship to Puerto Ricans.

In 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney declared in Dred Scott v. Sandford that blacks, whether enslaved or free, could not be citizens of the United States.

20. Visual such as a photograph, map, or chartTo cite a visual that has a figure number in the source, use the abbreviation “fig.” and the number in place of a page number in your parenthetical citation: (Manning, fig. 4). Spell out the word “figure” if you refer to it in your text.

To cite a visual that does not have a figure number in a print source, use the visual’s title or a general description in your text and cite the author and page number as for any other source.

For a visual that is not contained in a source such as a book or periodical, identify the visual in your text and then cite it using the first element in the works cited entry: the photographer’s or artist’s name or the title of the work. (See item 69.)

Photographs such as Woman Aircraft Worker (Bransby) and Women Welders (Parks) demonstrate the US government’s attempt to document the contributions of women on the home front during World War II.

21. E-mail, letter, or personal interview Cite e-mail messages, personal letters, and personal interviews by the name listed in the works cited entry, as for any other source. Identify the type of source in your text if you feel it is necessary. (See item 53 and items 83 and 84.)

 22. Web site or other electronic sourceYour in-text citation for an electronic source should follow the same guidelines as for other sources. If the source lacks page numbers but has numbered paragraphs, sections, or divisions, use those numbers with the appropriate abbreviation in your in-text citation: “par.,” “sec.,” “ch.,” “pt.,” and so on. Do not add such numbers if the source itself does not use them. In that case, simply give the author or title in your in-text citation.

Julian Hawthorne points out profound differences between his father and Ralph Waldo Emerson but concludes that, in their lives and their writing, “together they met the needs of nearly all that is worthy in human nature” (ch. 4).

 23. Indirect source (source quoted in another source) When a writer’s or a speaker’s quoted words appear in a source written by someone else, begin the parenthetical citation with the abbreviation “qtd. in.”

Researchers Botan and McCreadie point out that “workers are objects of information collection without participating in the process of exchanging the information . . .” (qtd. in Kizza and Ssanyu 14).

 Literary works and sacred texts

Literary works and sacred texts are usually available in a variety of editions. Your list of works cited will specify which edition you are using, and your in-text citation will usually consist of a page number from the edition you consulted (see item 24). When possible, give enough information — such as book parts, play divisions, or line numbers — so that readers can locate the cited passage in any edition of the work (see items 25–27).

24. Literary work without parts or line numbersMany literary works, such as most short stories and many novels and plays, do not have parts or line numbers. In such cases, simply cite the page number.

At the end of Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” Mrs. Mallard drops dead upon learning that her husband is alive. In the final irony of the story, doctors report that she has died of a “joy that kills” (25).

25. Verse play or poemFor verse plays, give act, scene, and line numbers that can be located in any edition of the work. Use arabic numerals and separate the numbers with periods.

In Shakespeare’s King Lear, Gloucester, blinded for suspected treason, learns a profound lesson from his tragic experience: “A man may see how this world goes / with no eyes” (4.6.148-49).

For a poem, cite the part, stanza, and line numbers, if it has them, separated by periods.

The Green Knight claims to approach King Arthur’s court “because the praise of you, prince, is puffed so high, / And your manor and your men are considered so magnificent” (1.12.258-59).

For poems that are not divided into numbered parts or stanzas, use line numbers. For a first reference, use the word “lines”: (lines 5-8). Thereafter use just the numbers: (12-13).

 26. Novel with numbered divisionsWhen a novel has numbered divisions, put the page number first, followed by a semicolon, and then the book, part, or chapter in which the passage may be found. Use abbreviations such as “pt.” and “ch.”

One of Kingsolver’s narrators, teenager Rachel, pushes her vocabulary beyond its limits. For example, Rachel complains that being forced to live in the Congo with her missionary family is “a sheer tapestry of justice” because her chances of finding a boyfriend are “dull and void” (117; bk. 2, ch. 10).

27. Sacred text When citing a sacred text such as the Bible or the Qur’an, name the edition you are using in your works cited entry (see item 19). In your parenthetical citation, give the book, chapter, and verse (or their equivalent), separated by periods. Common abbreviations for books of the Bible are acceptable.

Consider the words of Solomon: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink” (Oxford Annotated Bible, Prov. 25.21).

The title of a sacred work is italicized when it refers to a specific edition of the work, as in the preceding example. If you refer to the book in a general sense in your text, neither italicize it nor put it in quotation marks: “The Bible and the Qur’an provide allegories that help readers understand how to lead a moral life.”

Russell, Tony, Allen Brizee, and Elizabeth Angeli. “MLA Formatting and Style Guide.” The Purdue OWL. Purdue U Writing Lab, 4 Apr. 2010. Web. 20 July 2010.