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Demystifying MLA Format: A Guide to Crafting Polished Essays


Mastering a written essay takes a combination of in-depth knowledge of the subject matter as well as proficiency in understanding and adhering to the correct format style. With this, there are several different formats to select, and it is essential to ensure that you choose the correct one for your topic. MLA format, which was developed by the Modern Language Association, is a uniform way for humanities and arts students or academics to cite, reference, and format their work. These intricate guidelines are often a struggle for students to get to grips with initially, but with the guidance in this article, we’ll grant you the tools to navigate the specifics so that you can focus on the content.

When to use MLA Format

The first step in writing your scholarly essay is to identify the correct format to use, as there are a few variations depending on the subject matter at hand. Other styles include Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago) and American Psychological Association (APA).

MLA is one of the most commonly used formats, so it is worth understanding the fundamentals as early as possible during your academic studies. MLA is used in the subject areas of humanities and art, including subjects such as English, Philosophy, Arts, and Ethics. It also has a strong focus on authorship in comparison to the other styles, whereas Chicago has a focus on the supplementary and supporting elements such as footnotes and APA emphasizes dates.

All these styles have their own variation of citation rules, so you must spend some time familiarizing yourself with the standards set by the type you are writing to.

MLA Page Setup

Let’s take a look at the technical setup and formatting of MLA standards first:

  • Ensure you place a 1-inch margin around the entire page. The exception is the running head
  • Paper size should be 8 ½ inch by 11 inch
  • All text should be double-spaced, including the Works Cited page
  • Use a legible font such as Times New Roman, Ariel, or Helvetica, with a font size of between 11-13
  • Each page should include a running head, including the author’s last name and page number in the top right-hand corner. This running head should adhere to the right margin but is 1.5 inches from the top of the page
  • Abbreviations should not include periods between letters; for example, S. should be US
  • A title page is not required. However, the heading on the first page should contain your name, instructor’s name, course number, and due date of the paper
  • Your sourced page should be referred to as the ‘works cited’ page and will be placed at the end of the article, after the endnotes, if any.

Citation and Sources

A hallmark of the ML approach to essay writing is the use of in-text quotations that acknowledge the source of the information. To avoid accusations of plagiarism, the proper use of citations must be included in the text. It’s also recommended that you keep quotes short and use them sparingly to avoid the concept of being unable to create original works and ideas.

There are two types of in-text citations and they are parenthetical and narrative. Parenthetical citations use minimal information and include the author’s last name and an optional date, timestamp, or page reference number in MLA format. In contrast, the narrative citation differs by having the creator’s name in the quote itself and will consist of the page number or location at the end of the quoted sentence.

Regardless of which in-text citation method you use, the works must be fully cited in the Works Cited page and this is at the end of your paper. This page should be a fully comprehensive reference to all cited work included in your essay and should be presented alphabetically by the author’s last name. Each entry should follow the same specific format throughout, including the author’s name, title of the source, publication information, and medium. Note that this page follows a slightly different formatting, as each line should have an indent of half an inch.

Formatting Footnotes and Endnotes

Since MLA prefers in-text citations, it is much less common to have footnotes or endnotes; however, should you need them, it is still important to follow the correct formatting as per MLA. Our first tip is that you should flag editions or translations. This is especially important when citing from classic works that have multiple editions and reprints or various different languages.

Footnotes and Endnotes are also useful when adding personal commentary that doesn’t fit within the main body of the text. For example, explaining a word choice or additional information that is relevant. You should also use footnotes and endnotes when deviating from standard documentation, such as line numbers in poetry, rather than page numbers.

It is important that you decide whether to use footnotes or endnotes in your MLA format essay, as you must not use both. Footnotes will be placed at the end of the page you are referencing, whereas endnotes can be found at the end of a section, a chapter, or at the end of the piece of work itself.


Understanding and utilizing the MLA format in your essay writing is a key part of ensuring that your work is polished and standardized. You should have a thorough knowledge of the standard page setup, including margins, font style, and font sizing. Pay close attention to the use of punctuation, such as using the Oxford comma. Having a strong grasp on how to proficiently cite sources, references, and quotes both in-text and for your Works Cited page, will ensure that you are offering up the best work for your course. This allows you to showcase your knowledge and academic abilities with quality content.

It is important to note that mastering the MLA style isn’t just about following rules and page setups. Still, it is a way in which you can produce work with enhanced clarity, professionalism, and credibility.