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What Is MLA Format for an Essay?

by Bold Org Editorial Team
December 5, 2023
11 min read
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In any academic setting, it is essential to know how to write essays and use proper citations and formatting. For essays to reflect a professional manner, many educators might require students to abide by a certain format. Among different styles that are particularly common is MLA (Modern Language Association). Regardless of whether you are an English major or not, MLA format might be prevalent in your academic career at any point.

Having at least a basic understanding of MLA format is critical for ensuring well-organized and professional-looking papers. This Bold blog will delve into the basics of MLA format, highlight key elements, discuss common mistakes to avoid, and focus on providing tips to ensure mastery of this formatting style.

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mla format for essay

The Basics of MLA Format

MLA format is a strict set of guidelines founded by the Modern Language Association designed for writing and documenting scholarly papers. It serves as an outline for how to format the paper, cite sources, and create a list of works cited - not actually writing it.

With some academic papers, adhering to a specific format is a must. This format is most widely used in humanities subjects, including literature, language studies, and cultural studies. Reflecting these guidelines into your paper will not only produce a well-structured and organized piece of work but also be more receptive to the reader.

What Is MLA Format?

MLA format is a standardized method of organizing and presenting information in academic writing. These requirements include how to showcase the title page, headings, page numbering, margins, font size, type, quotations, and in-text citations. In addition to creating a polished look, following the MLA format ensures consistency and allows readers to easily navigate your essay.

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Why Is MLA Format Important?

There are several important purposes that MLA serves. First, the uniform structure can make your essay visually appealing and aesthetic. Every foundational requirement is built to make a cohesive document easy to read and understand.

An important component of MLA format also allows for proper credit to be given to authors and researchers referenced in your paper. Citing these sources demonstrates academic honesty and integrity. Not only does it acknowledge the contributions of others, but it also strengthens the credibility of your own arguments.

Moreover, most people require MLA format to make it easier to locate and examine different aspects of your paper.

In short, the standardized framework is convenient for organizing and presenting information, in addition to ensuring consistency and professionalism in your papers. By following MLA guidelines, you demonstrate your commitment to academic integrity and facilitate the dissemination of knowledge within the scholarly community.

What Is MLA 9th Edition?

The 9th edition of the MLA Handbook is the most updated version of the guide created by the Modern Language Association. It is most likely the format you will be asked to follow in school. Published in 2021, it provides updated guidelines for formatting academic papers, citing sources, and conducting research in the humanities. 

Since its original publication, MLA has gone through numerous revisions. Each one has added new adaptations to account for ever-evolving technology and resources. It aims to adapt to the growing landscape of research and writing, especially in the digital age, while also maintaining clarity and consistency in citation practices for academic work in the humanities. 

While you will most likely be required to cite in the latest edition of MLA, ensure to make sure you use the correct edition beforehand. Expectations can vary across schools, programs, and teachers. 

mla format

Key Elements of MLA Format

In-text Citations in MLA Format

In-text citations are one of the most common important aspects of the MLA essay format. Every paper that relies on outsourced texts includes a works cited page. Yet, in MLA, these citations are highlighted in various parts of the paper as well. This is intended to adequately acknowledge the sources of information within the body of your essay. These citations serve two important purposes: to credit the original authors/researchers and to allow readers to locate the sources for further reference.

Keep in mind there are certain guidelines provided within the MLA format essay for the works cited page to be acceptable. Typically, the author's last name and the page number(s) from which the information was taken are included in parentheses. For example, (Smith 45).

Any information taken from any source, whether it's a direct quote or paraphrased information, needs to be properly cited. Failure to cite sources or reach conclusions without proper support may result in accusations of plagiarism.

While online articles are the most popular, every MLA format paper also provides guidelines for citing electronic sources, such as websites and online articles. These guidelines ensure that readers can easily access the sources you used in your research.

For the purpose of this article, let's assume that you are referencing page 27 in a book by John Smith titled “Book.” Using the 9th edition of MLA as a guideline, you must include in-text citations in your essay If you: 

  • Directly quote the author in your sentence
    • Smith argues that "the book is amazing" (27).
  • If you're paraphrasing or summarizing John Smith's idea without mentioning his name directly in the sentence:
    • “The book is amazing” (Smith 27).

Works Cited Page in MLA Format

At the end of your paper, you must have a works cited page, a separate page with all the references used. The cited page provides a comprehensive list of all the sources you cited in your essay, allowing readers to locate and verify the information you used.

Each entry listed should include the author's name, the title of the work, the publication date, and other pertinent information critical to the identification of the piece. Depending on the source, the specific format may vary, so always check with the MLA handbook or online resources for detailed instructions.

There are specific guidelines for formatting, such as it should be organized alphabetically. The MLA handbook or online resources can provide more detailed instructions for formatting every type of source correctly.

It is also important to stay updated with the latest guidelines, as MLA format may evolve over time to accommodate new types of sources and technological advancements. Currently, MLA style is on its ninth edition, with room to grow.

While these feature MLA references from different types of sources, a works cited page would include all of these on the page preceding the end of your paper. It would be in alphabetical order and provide a comprehensive list of all the sources featured.

Book Entry:

Smith, John. Book Title. Publisher, Year.

Journal Article:

Smith, John. "The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity." Environmental Studies Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 3, 2019, pp. 45-60.

Website Article:

Doe, Jane. "Understanding Artificial Intelligence." Tech Insights,, Accessed 15 Nov. 2023.

Film or Video:

Director's Last Name, Director's First Name. Film Title. Production Company, Year.

mla format for document

MLA Format for Different Sources

To dive deeper, let's explore how to cite different types of sources in MLA format.

In regards to citing books in MLA format, there are several key elements you need to look out for. These elements ensure that your citation is complete and accurate. Here is a list of components you need to gather about every source you include:

  • Author's name, which consists of the last name followed by the first name.
  • Title of the book
  • Publication date
  • Publisher's name
  • Page numbers of the information you referenced

All of this information is critical in ensuring that the correct information is found easily for any reader interested in knowing more. Not only must it be included, but there is also a certain order in which it is shown.

For example:

  • Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Publication Date.


Another area you might find yourself finding sources is online. In today's digital age, most of the information is located on various parts of the web. Given its prevalence, you might want to master these requirements as well.

When citing a website or an online article, there are a few additional elements that you need to include, such as:

  • Authors name
  • Title of the web page or article
  • Name of the website
  • Publication data
  • URL, or web address, of the online source (most important)

For example:

  • Last Name, First Name. "Title of Web Page/Article." Name of Website, Publication Date, URL.


If the article is found in a PDF final, you would repeat the steps above but include PDF at the end of it. This tells the reader that the article was located in PDF form, which is usually the case with most books and scientific articles. 

For example:

  • Last Name, First Name. "Title of Web Page/Article." Name of Website, Publication Date, URL. PDF file or PDF download.

Among the diverse types of sources you will find, the recent influx of video production might have you relying on videography as a reliable piece of information. Although these aren’t traditional sources, there are still easy templates that MLA has provided. 

When citing a source in video formatting, here are the additional requirements to look out for. 

  • Video Creator / Username
  • Title of the video
  • Name of the hosting website/platform
  • Publication data
  • URL, or web address, of the online source (most important)

For example: 

  • Creator last name, First name. “Title of Video.” Website, uploaded by Username, Day Month Year, URL.


Some of the most influential people express their ideas in the form of tweets through the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. Considering the amount of information that is updated daily, tweets could be a great form of information in your article. 

When citing a tweet, here is what to look for:

  • Username
  • Authors name
  • Tweet in quotations 
  • Date 
  • Time, using the reader’s time zone

For example:

@tombrokaw. “SC demonstrated why all the debates are the engines of this campaign.” Twitter, 22 Jan. 2012, 3:06 a.m.,

By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your citations in MLA format are accurate and complete and provide readers with all the necessary information to locate and verify your sources. Try to fill it out the best you can, even if there are a few missing aspects.

mla format for essays

Formatting the Essay in MLA Style

To help you get started, here are a few pointers that reflect the writing style expectations. When it comes to formatting your essay in MLA style, there are a few general guidelines that you should follow.

Time New Roman

First, the entire article must be written in 12-point Times New Roman font. This font is widely requested in academic writing as it provides clear and readable text. Additionally, every MLA paper should be double-spaced, including the text, quotations, and the Works Cited page. While it may seem small, it improves readability and makes it easier to receive feedback.


Furthermore, setting 1 inch from the left margins on all sides of the page is essential in MLA formatting. This standard margin size ensures that your essay looks neat by preventing it from being cluttered. It also provides sufficient space for your instructor or any other reader to write comments and feedback.

MLA Format Heading

The header in MLA format plays a significant role in organizing your essay. This specific header appears on every page and contains your last name and page number. For example, Smith 1. The header should be aligned to the right on the very top, providing a clear distinction between the header and the main text.

mla format for documents

Tips for Mastering MLA Format

When it comes to academic writing, following the appropriate formatting guidelines is crucial. You most likely will come across MLA format in at least one of your essays, given that it is one of the most commonly used styles for writing essays. Since it's standardized, if any part is arrayed, including citing sources, formatting the paper, and creating a works cited page, it might be noticed quickly.

The best way to master MLA format is to practice using it regularly. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the guidelines by applying them to your essays and research papers. The more you use MLA format, the easier it will become.

Using MLA Format Effectively

To use the MLA format effectively, you must understand it beyond the rules. It involves comprehending the intention behind each guideline. Rather than learning how to write research papers, use it to enhance the clarity and credibility of your writing.

For example, it might seem frustrating to fulfill the guidelines for in-text citations, but they help readers easily locate the sources you have used. Furthermore, formatting guidelines elevate your work to reflect well-organized professionalism.

When using MLA format, always pay attention to details such as font size, margins, and line spacing. These seemingly small elements contribute to the overall presentation of your paper and can make a difference in how your readers and instructors perceive your work.

Tools for MLA Formatting

Writing a paper in MLA does not have to be hard. In fact, several resources are committed to making your life easier. Look into online tools or citation generators that can help you correctly format your essays in MLA style. These tools were created as templates for formatting your paper, generating in-text citations, and creating a works cited page. Purdue Owl is one resource many students use for checking MLA formatting.

Another positive is that many programs you might write your paper on, such as Microsoft Word, have built-in formatting aid features. These features can save you time and ensure that your paper adheres to the required formatting standards.

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mla format for paper

Frequently Asked Questions About MLA Format

Are college application essays written in MLA style?

College essays are not typically written in MLA format for a college application. The formatting style largely depends on the institution and prompt at hand or leaves it up to the applicant's jurisdiction. However, many colleges and universities commonly use the Modern Language Association (MLA) format for academic papers in disciplines related to the humanities and liberal arts.

Are scholarship essays written in MLA style?

Scholarship essays are typically not required to be written in a specific academic format. The formatting requirements for scholarship essays can vary widely depending on the scholarship provider or organization offering the scholarship.

Therefore, it's crucial to carefully read and follow the specific guidelines and instructions provided by the scholarship application. As a rule of thumb, most scholarships require essays to be between 400-600 words unless otherwise specified.

How is a paper written in MLA format spaced?

For an MLA-formatted paper, maintain double-spacing throughout the entire document. Ensure 1-inch margins on the top, bottom, and both sides. Indent the first line of each paragraph by half an inch from the left margin. If you have quotes longer than four lines, present them as a block of text, also indented by half an inch from the left margin.

Curious to learn more? Access’s blog to read about everything you need to know regarding college life. You can even check out the Chicago Manual of Style blog!

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