Proper use of Modern Language Association (MLA) style makes it easier for readers to navigate and comprehend a text through familiar cues that refer to sources and borrowed information. Editors and instructors also encourage everyone to use the same format so there is consistency of style within a given field. Abiding by MLA's standards as a writer will allow you to:
- Compose work that is aligned with the accepted style and format of various fields, including literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities
- Provide your readers with cues they can use to follow your ideas more efficiently and to locate information of interest to them
- Allow readers to focus more on your ideas by not distracting them with unfamiliar or complicated formatting
- Establish your credibility or ethos in the field by demonstrating an awareness of your audience and their needs as fellow researchers (particularly concerning the citing of references)
Generally, papers written using MLA style will use Times New Roman 12-point font. However, this can vary as long as your chosen font is clearly readable and the change has been approved by your professor. Additionally, if using a different font, make sure that the normal font clearly contrasts with italics, as italics are used for emphasis in MLA. You should keep this font consistent throughout the entire paper, but MLA does allow for variability if you are inserting endnotes.
At the top of your first page and aligned with the left margin (do not indent), type your name, your professor’s (or professors’ if there is more than one in your course) name, the course name and number, and the date on individual double-spaced lines. Make sure that each of these elements is in this order, and that each one is on a separate line. For your paper’s title, start a new double-spaced line and center-align it. When writing your title, do not underline, bold, or put it in quotations. Capitalize the first, last, and all primary words in the title. Additionally, italicize any words that you would italicize in the body of your paper. Do not add a period to the end of your title or any other header in the paper. Your text should begin on the next double-spaced line. MLA does not have specifications for title pages; however, there are some allowances to consider. If your paper is part of a group project, include all the authors on a title page instead of in the header detailed above. If your professor requires a title page, follow their formatting guidelines and include it in addition to, or in lieu of, your header.
The first and last words of your title should always be capitalized, as should any other principal words in the title. While you may capitalize “The” or “A” if it is the first word of your title, articles should not be capitalized in the remainder of the title. Other words that do not require capitalization (unless they are the first word of the title) include words such as “and,” “or,” “for,” “in,” and “if.” Generally, all words that are four letters long or longer should be capitalized, including pronouns, adjectives, nouns, adverbs, and verbs. Any words that come after a punctuation mark should be capitalized as well.
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Page numbers should be numbered consecutively and aligned with the right margin of your paper, half an inch from the top of the page. Before each number, include your last name followed by a space. If your paper is part of a group project, and all the author’s names do not fit into the header, do not include any names and use only the page number. Do not use abbreviations (p, pg, pp, etc.), periods, hyphens or any other marks alongside the number. Most word processors will allow you to create a running page number automatically, so check to see if that is a possibility.
When writing an essay, headings and subheadings can be a useful tool to keep your thoughts organized and to make sure your reader stays oriented as you change topics. Headings should be a concise description or indication of what you will be covering in the subsequent section of your text. Brevity is key, as you do not want your reader to focus more on the heading than your topic sentence.
When formatting your heading, align the text with the left margin and do not indent or center it. Include a space above and below your heading to keep it readable. You should avoid using numbers or letters when ordering headings (i.e., A., B. C., etc...; 1., 2., 3., etc...) unless your field of study utilizes this format as a convention.
If you are using subheadings, or a heading to indicate a subsection of a larger section of your paper, be sure to keep the format of these headings stylistically consistent. This consistency is important for keeping your reader from becoming lost in the structure of your text. When formatting your headings and subheadings, style them in descending order of prominence. For example, a heading that is bolded (Example 1) will be more prominent than a heading that is neutral (Example 2), and this neutral heading will be more prominent than a heading that is Italicized (Example 3). Generally, try to avoid using all capital letters for your headings, but what matters most is that consistency is maintained throughout your paper. Be sure that if you have included a subheading, the next new heading you make returns to the style of the first heading you have written.
Every part of your paper should be double-spaced. This includes your title, heading, Works Cited, as well as any block quotes. The first line of each new paragraph should be indented half an inch from the left margin. Works Cited entries should be formatted with a hanging indent (first line of entry is left-aligned, second and subsequent lines of entry are indented half an inch). If you’re not sure how to create a hanging indent, look up “hanging indent” + your word processor for help.
Your paper’s margins should be 1 inch from the top and the bottom of the page.
The bulk of your paper should be double-spaced and aligned with the left margin. The first line of each paragraph should be indented half an inch from the left margin. If you include a block quotation, make sure the whole quotation is indented one inch from the left margin (see “Block Quotes” below). Indenting can be easily done by pressing the Tab key at the beginning of a new line. After each period, only put one space before the start of a new sentence, unless your professor specifies that they prefer two spaces.
In MLA, the use of active voice prevents your writing from becoming unfocused and over-complicated. Because active voice not only communicates direct action, but also uses fewer words to portray action, your writing becomes more concise and thus easier to follow.
It is customary to use the active voice as much as possible throughout your writing, particularly within non-scientific writing. A sentence that uses the active voice requires its subject to perform the action being described in the verb. Active voice also includes the use of active verbs, or verbs that describe direct action (i.e., run, catch, drink, buy...etc.).
A generous grading curve boosted the class average.
Scientific writing in MLA uses the passive voice to both maintain objectivity as well as to establish an authoritative tone. What separates passive voice from active voice is that instead of the subject performing the action described by the verb, the subject receives the action described by the verb. Passive voice is also more likely to use verbs of being, or verbs that describe the state of the subject (i.e., am, is, are, was, were...etc.).
The class average was boosted by a generous grading curve.
When changing a sentence from passive voice to active voice, first identify what and/or who is performing the action described by the verb. For brevity’s sake, this will be referred to as the “performative agent.” Once you have identified this, rewrite the sentence using the performative agent as the subject, then omit any attached verbs of being and convert the verb to its active form.
Passive to Active:
(Passive) The fact that consistent eye contact builds rapport has been confirmed by numerous studies.
(Active) Numerous studies confirm that consistent eye contact builds rapport.
Alternatively, when changing a sentence from active voice to passive voice, identify the performative agent and make it the object of the sentence. This is usually done by adding a “by the...” phrase, in which the object demonstrates action upon the subject. Couple the “by the...” phrase with a verb of being and the past participle of the primary verb.
Active to Passive:
(Active) In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick incorporates pre-existing pieces of music into his film, and thus music scholars consider its soundtrack non-diegetic.
(Passive) The soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is considered non-diegetic because he incorporated pre-existing pieces of music into his film.
When to Quote
The following criteria for when to quote are adapted from Behrens and Rosen’s ninth edition of Writing and Reading across the Curriculum.
Use quotation marks with:
- Memorable language - use quotation when the author of your source turns a phrase, sentence, or passage of particularly powerful, vivid, or memorable language.
- Clear and concise language - use quotation when the language in your source is so clear and succinct that any attempt to paraphrase would be ineffective.
- Authoritative language - use quotation to add the authority of experts and prominent figures. Quotations from authoritative sources can be useful in supporting your argument.
- Language for analysis - use quotation to highlight source passages that you will discuss and engage with analytically.
How to Integrate
Integrate quotations into your own sentences. Quotations cannot stand alone as sentences; an unembedded quotation is a sentence fragment. Contextualize the quote before or after using it in a sentence. This can be done with a sentence introducing the author, a sentence providing background information about what inspired the quote, a sentence of analysis firmly fitting the quote into your argument, etc. Provide signal phrases, which include the author’s name and a signal verb. MLA style uses present tense signal verbs, in- text citations, and full source listings on the works-cited list at paper’s end.
Freedman states, “Bittman is hardly alone in his reflexive dismissals” (534).
Vary the placement of your signal phrases and use a variety of signal verbs. “Bittman is hardly alone in his reflexive dismissals,” Freedman claims (534).
“Denying the humanity of other people has always been a way to justify oppressing and exterminating them,” argues Olson, “and science has a long, sad history of contributing to these atrocities" (13).
Examples of Present Tense Signal Verbs
- points out
Combine paraphrasing with quotations to capture the idea and language necessary to express your point:
Science has contributed to the “long, sad history” of atrocities justified by “denying the humanity of other people” (Olson 13).
Include the credentials of the author you are quoting in an appositive phrase:
William McDonough, green architect and co-author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, states, “Nature operates according to a system of nutrients and metabolisms in which there is no such thing as waste” (92).
To alter a quotation for clarification or to fit the grammar of your sentence, indicate any changes by placing the altered language in brackets. Be careful not to alter the original meaning:
Furthermore, Pollan asserts that “[Food] also comprises a set of social and ecological relationships, reaching back to the land and outward to other people” (439).
To shorten the original quotation, use an ellipsis (three periods with a space between each):
Pollan states, “American gas stations now make more money selling food . . . than gasoline . . .” (192).
To quote someone quoted in your source, include the phrase qtd. in in the parenthetical citation. The best practice is to search for the original source quoted by your source, if available.
Gladys Block, Berkeley professor and epidemiologist, says, “I don’t believe anything I read in nutritional epidemiology anymore” (qtd. in Pollan 78).
When quoting a source that uses a labeling system other than page numbers (e.g., poetry, scripts), include that label in your in-text citation. Labels may include lines (mainly for poetry), scenes (abbreviate sc.), paragraphs (abbreviate par.), and chapters (abbreviate ch.). Only use these numbering systems if they already exist in the text; do not create your own numbering system.
Wallace Stevens gives a beloved dessert a poetic twist in “The Emperor of Ice-Cream,” writing “Let the lamp affix its beam. / The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream" (lines 15-16).
If the quotation takes up more than four lines of prose or three lines of verse in your typed text, indent the quotation one inch from the left margin, omit quotation marks, and place the passage-ending period before the in-text citation. When quoting verse, keep line breaks as close to the original as possible.
Hamby describes King’s focus and strategy during the final two years of his life:
The Poor People’s Campaign underscored a shift in King’s social vision away from an emphasis upon integration and toward a more class-oriented critique of American social structure. The elements of the new approach, however, were solidly rooted in King’s theology. [H]e was expressing more clearly than ever—in his calls for massive aid to the poor, for a new spirit of Christian brotherhood, for the salvation of American society—the Christian socialism of Walter Rauschenbusch that had so long captured his imagination. (211-12)
Langston Hughes relays a message of hope in the short poem “Dream Dust”:
Gather out of star-dust
And splinters of hail,
One handful of dream-dust
Not for sale. (lines 1-6)
Introduce quotations with a comma unless there is a word (such as “that”) after the signal verb. Use a colon if the language preceding forms a complete sentence.
Pollan urges, “Avoid food products that make health claims” (154).
Pollan reports that “Americans are increasingly eating in solitude” (192).
Pollan proposes developing a strategy for navigating the supermarket: “If you keep to the edges of the store you’ll be that much more likely to wind up with real food in your shopping cart” (157).
- If you are unable to verify a publication date, do not include a date, but do include the date when you accessed the work at the end of your citation.
- If the source is online and has a DOI (Digital Object Identifier), include that at the end as a URL (https://doi.org/###).
- If your source has no known author, alphabetize the source by its title and use a shortened version of the title in your in-text citation.
- If your source was published by an author using a pseudonym, cite the author's real name followed by their pseudonym in brackets (e.g., Jackson, James [50 Cent]).
Common Types of References
Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. City of Publication, Publisher, Publication Date.
(Author, First, and Author, Second, or Author, Author et al.)
Harjo, Joy. Crazy Brave. W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.
Last name, First name. "Title of Essay." Title of Collection, edited by Editor's Name(s), Publisher, Year, Page range of entry.
Livingston, Chip. “Funny, You Don’t Look Like (My Preconceived Ideas of) An Essay.” Shapes of Native Nonfiction, edited by Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton, University of Washington Press, 2019, pp. 39-52.
Author Last, Author First. "Title of Article." Title of Journal, Volume, Issue, Year, pages. DOI/URL (if online)
Ezedom, Theresa et al. “Biochemical evaluation of autoclaved and solid state fermented tropical pasture grasses.” Journal of Agricultural Biotechnology and Sustainable Development, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 24-32, July 2022. https://doi.org/10.5897/JABSD2022.0393.
Online news and magazine articles:
Author(s). "Title of Article." Title of Periodical, Publication Day Month Year, the article’s URL. The date you accessed the content.
Van Dam, Andrew and Alyssa Fowers. “Who Spends the Most Time (and Money) on Pets?” The Washington Post, 30 Dec. 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/12/30/american-pet-spending/. Accessed 3 Jan. 2023.
Print news and magazine articles:
Author(s). "Title of Article." Title of Periodical, Day Month Year, pages.
Sterling, Bruce. “Slipstream.” Science Fiction Eye, July 1989, pp. 77-80.
If there is a group responsible for the page, use the group name instead.
“Title of Article or Webpage.” Name of the website, the site’s URL. the date you accessed the content.
“Top 10 Methods for Becoming a Businessperson.” Bizness, www.bizness.org/top_10_methods_businessperson.html. Accessed 11 July 2022.
If the author of the work is a division or committee of the organization, list the division or committee as the author and list the organization as the publisher.
Name of the group. “Title of Article or Webpage.” Name of the website, the article's URL. The date you accessed the content.
MLA Ad Hoc Committee on Foreign Languages. “Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World.” Modern Language Association, www.mla.org/flreport. Accessed 12 Sept. 2019.
Author Last Name, First name or Account Name. Description of the Post. Facebook, Day Month Year of the post. Time of the post, URL.
World Wildlife Fund. “Five Things to Know on Shark Awareness Day.” Facebook, 14 July 2020, www.facebook.com/worldwildlifefund/videos/745925785979440/.
Director name, director. “Title of film”. Contributors, Distributor, year of release. Medium.
Coraline. Directed by Henry Selick, Laika, 2009.
Author or account name. Title of the Post or a Description in Place of a Title. Instagram, Date of publication, URL.
Thomas, Angie. Photo of The Hate U Give cover. Instagram, 4 Dec. 2018, www.instagram.com/p/Bq_PaXKgqPw/.
Host name. “Episode Title.” Podcast Title from Publisher, season number, episode number, Day Month Year of publication, URL.
Koenig, Sarah. “The Alibi.” Serial from Serial Productions, season 1, episode 1, Oct. 2014, https://open.spotify.com/episode/2ZRVxPgjm8aPRqYf1FA7WV?si=07bd7aa0da9f4498
Speaker last name, first. “Title of Talk.” Name of website, date posted, URL. Date you accessed the content.
Courtois, Valérie. “How Indigenous Guardians Protect the Planet and Humanity.” TED Salon, Dec. 2022, https://www.ted.com/talks/valerie_courtois_how_indigenous_guardians_protect_the_planet_and_humanity. Accessed 20 Jan. 2023.
@twitterhandle. “Tweet written out”. Twitter, Day Month Year, Time, URL.
@kanyewest. “I hate when I’m on a flight and I wake up with a water bottle next to me like oh great now I gotta be responsible for this water bottle”. Twitter, 16 October 2011, 11:08 PM, https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/986022573904363520.
Author last name, first. Dissertation or Thesis Title. Date of publication. Institution granting the degree, description of the work, title of container or database where you found the work, URL.
Njus, Jesse. Performing the Passion: A Study on the Nature of Medieval Acting. 2010. Northwestern University, PhD dissertation. ProQuest, search.proquest.com/docview/305212264?accountid=7432.
“Title of Article.” Wikipedia, http://url.com. Accessed day month year.
“Second Punic War.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Punic_War. Accessed June 21 2022.
Author Name, Author. “Title.” Youtube, uploaded by uploader account, Day Month Year, URL.
Bailin, Emily. “The Power of Digital Storytelling.” Youtube, uploaded by TEDx Talks, 16 June 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jA2cTZK9hzw&t=203s. Accessed 16 Mar. 2015.
Page Reference List
“Active Versus Passive Voice.” Purdue OWL - Purdue University,
“Changing Passive to Active Voice.” Purdue OWL - Purdue University,
“Format & Cite: MLA 9th Edition.” Columbia College Library, 26 Oct. 2022,
“MLA Formatting Quotations.” Purdue OWL - Purdue University,
MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2021.
"MLA Works Cited Page: Basic Format.” Purdue OWL - Purdue University,
Rappaport, Jennifer. “Citing Material Posted on Social Media Platforms” MLA Style Center,