If your instructor has specific requirements for the format of your research paper, check them before preparing your final draft. When you submit your paper, be sure to keep a secure copy.
The most common formatting is presented in the sections below:
Except for the running head (see below), leave margins of one inch at the top and bottom and on both sides of the text. If you plan to submit a printout on paper larger than 8½ by 11 inches, do not print the text in an area greater than 6½ by 9 inches.
Always choose an easily readable typeface (e.g., Times New Roman) in which the regular type style contrasts clearly with the italic, and set it to a standard size (e.g., 12 points). Do not justify the lines of text at the right margin; turn off any automatic hyphenation feature in your writing program. Double-space the entire research paper, including quotations, notes, and the list of works cited. Indent the first line of a paragraph half an inch from the left margin. Indent set-off quotations half an inch as well (for examples, see 76–80 in the MLA Handbook). Leave one space after a period or other concluding punctuation mark, unless your instructor prefers two spaces.
Heading and Title
Beginning one inch from the top of the first page and flush with the left margin, type your name, your instructor’s name, the course number, and the date on separate lines, double-spacing the lines. On a new, double-spaced line, center the title (fig. 1). Do not italicize or underline your title, put it in quotation marks or boldface, or type it in all capital letters. Follow the rules for capitalization in the MLA Handbook (67–68), and italicize only the words that you would italicize in the text.
Do not use a period after your title or after any heading in the paper (e.g., Works Cited). Begin your text on a new, double-spaced line after the title, indenting the first line of the paragraph half an inch from the left margin.
A research paper does not normally need a title page, but if the paper is a group project, create a title page and list all the authors on it instead of in the header on page 1 of your essay. If your teacher requires a title page in lieu of or in addition to the header, format it according to the instructions you are given.
Running Head with Page Numbers
Number all pages consecutively throughout the research paper in the upper right-hand corner, half an inch from the top and flush with the right margin. Type your last name, followed by a space, before the page number (fig. 2). Do not use the abbreviation p. before the page number or add a period, a hyphen, or any other mark or symbol. Your writing program will probably allow you to create a running head of this kind that appears automatically on every page. Some teachers prefer that no running head appear on the first page. Follow your teacher’s preference.
Placement of the List of Works Cited
The list of works cited appears at the end of the paper, after any endnotes. Begin the list on a new page. The list contains the same running head as the main text. The page numbering in the running head continues uninterrupted throughout. For example, if the text of your research paper (including any endnotes) ends on page 10, the works-cited list begins on page 11. Center the title, Works Cited, an inch from the top of the page (fig. 3). (If the list contains only one entry, make the heading Work Cited.) Double-space between the title and the first entry. Begin each entry flush with the left margin; if an entry runs more than one line, indent the subsequent line or lines half an inch from the left margin. This format is sometimes called hanging indention, and you can set your writing program to create it automatically for a group of paragraphs. Hanging indention makes alphabetical lists easier to use. Double-space the entire list. Continue it on as many pages as necessary.
Tables and Illustrations
Place tables and illustrations as close as possible to the parts of the text to which they relate. A table is usually labeled Table, given an arabic numeral, and titled. Type both label and title flush left on separate lines above the table, and capitalize them as titles (do not use all capital letters). Give the source of the table and any notes immediately below the table in a caption. To avoid confusion between notes to the text and notes to the table, designate notes to the table with lowercase letters rather than with numerals. Double-space throughout; use dividing lines as needed (fig. 4).
Any other type of illustrative visual material—for example, a photograph, map, line drawing, graph, or chart—should be labeled Figure (usually abbreviated Fig.), assigned an arabic numeral, and given a caption: “Fig. 1. Mary Cassatt, Mother and Child, Wichita Art Museum.” A label and caption ordinarily appear directly below the illustration and have the same one-inch margins as the text of the paper (fig. 5). If the caption of a table or illustration provides complete information about the source and the source is not cited in the text, no entry for the source in the works-cited list is necessary.
Musical illustrations are labeled Example (usually abbreviated Ex.), assigned an arabic numeral, and given a caption: “Ex. 1. Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 6 in B, opus 74 (Pathétique), finale.” A label and caption ordinarily appear directly below the example and have the same one-inch margins as the text of the paper (fig. 6).
Paper and Printing
If you print your paper, use only white, 8½-by-11-inch paper of good quality. If you lack 8½-by-11-inch paper, choose the closest size available. Use a high-quality printer. Some instructors prefer papers printed on a single side because they’re easier to read, but others allow printing on both sides as a means of conserving paper; follow your instructor’s preference.
Corrections and Insertions on Printouts
Proofread and correct your research paper carefully before submitting it. If you are checking a printout and find a mistake, reopen the document, make the appropriate revisions, and reprint the corrected page or pages. Be sure to save the changed file. Spelling checkers and usage checkers are helpful when used with caution. They do not find all errors and sometimes label correct material as erroneous. If your instructor permits corrections on the printout, write them neatly and legibly in ink directly above the lines involved, using carets (⁁) to indicate where they go. Do not use the margins or write a change below the line it affects. If corrections on any page are numerous or substantial, revise your document and reprint the page.
Binding a Printed Paper
Pages of a printed research paper may get misplaced or lost if they are left unattached or merely folded down at a corner. Although a plastic folder or some other kind of binder may seem an attractive finishing touch, most instructors find such devices a nuisance in reading and commenting on students’ work. Many prefer that a paper be secured with a simple paper or binder clip, which can be easily removed and restored. Others prefer the use of staples.
There are at present no commonly accepted standards for the electronic submission of research papers. If you are asked to submit your paper electronically, obtain from your teacher guidelines for formatting, mode of submission (e.g., by e-mail, on a Web site), and so forth and follow them closely.
Designed to be printed out and used in the classroom. From the MLA Handbook, 8th ed., published by the Modern Language Association.
Guide to MLA Style
(printable version here)
The Modern Language Association (MLA) style is the most commonly used format for citing research sources in academic writing. Here are the guidelines for formatting a paper according to MLA style.
- Printed on standard 8.5 x 11-inch paper
- Legible text (typically Times New Roman, at least 12 pt. font)
- 1 inch margins on each side of the document
- The first line of each paragraph should be indented a half inch (MLA recommends using the TAB button rather than the space bar)
- Italicize or underline larger works referenced throughout the essay; put smaller works, such as journal article titles, in quotations; poems and other short works should be placed in quotations as well
- Do not include a title page unless specifically requested to do so
- When referring to other literary works in your title be certain to employ proper citation methods; for example in the following title, the literary work "Goblin Market" is properly cited in quotations: Desire and Sin in Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market"
- Include a header in the upper right hand corner of the page, listing your name followed by a space with the page number
- Headings may be included between different sections of the paper to improve clarity and flow
If your paper does not include a title page, your first page should resemble the following model from Purdue OWL
Formatting in Microsoft Word 2007
Featured below is a tutorial explaining how to properly format Microsoft Word 2007 to MLA style. Note that the default settings of Microsoft Word 2007 are not in accordance with MLA requirements and must be edited in order to fit this format.
Work Cited Format
MLA style formatting demands that a work cited page be included at the end of a research paper. Before jumping into the specifics of different source type formatting, note the following general rules:
- The Work Cited page should always begin on a separate page at the end of the research paper
- This page should be labeled Work Cited (centered, not italicized or in quotations)
- If the citation extends beyond one line, the second and subsequent lines should be indented five spaces (using the TAB button)
- The first letter of every word should be capitalized unless the word is an article (a, an, the), conjunction (and, but, or) or short preposition (of, to)
- Italicize or underline longer works, such as books, and put smaller works, such as article titles, in quotations
- URLs are not required for web entries, unless the teacher specifies otherwise
- If citing an article available in print but accessed via an internet database, cite both the journal and the database
Formatting Source Citations
(a) Single Author
- Author's last name should be listed first, followed by first name and possible middle initial
- The title of the work may be italicized or underlined depending on preference
- If the citation extends to a second line, indent five spaces before continuing citation (MLA recommends using the TAB button rather than the space bar)
- Indicate the format of the accessed work (i.e. Did you access it via the Web or in print?)
Author. Title of Book. City of Publication: Publisher, Year. Format.
Hasset, Constance W. Christina Rossetti: Patience of Style. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2005. Print.
(b) Two or More Authors
- List author names in accordance with how they appear on the title page of the work.
- Only the first author's name should be listed in inverted order (i.e. Last, First).
- Authors names should be divided by a comma, include "and" between the last two authors' names.
Majors, Richard M, and Janet M. Billson. Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America. New York: Macmillan Inc., 1992. Print.
Smaller Works in Anthologies
- Need the author, title, and (if relevant) translator of the piece.
- Need the name of the editor(s), translator(s), or compiler(s) of the book being cited.
- The edition number and/or editor may not be given.
- Book title may be either italicized or underlined.
Author of Smaller Work (Last name, First name). "Title of Smaller Work." Title of Book. Name of Editor. Edition. City of Publication: Publisher, Year. Page number range of smaller work.
Hill, Marylu. "Eat Me, Drink Me, Love Me: Eucharist and the Erotic Body." Augustine and Literature. Ed. John Doody, Kim Paffenroth, and Robert F. Kennedy. Oxford: Lexington Books, 2006. 215-232. Print.
Article in a Scholarly Journal (Print)
- Need author's name, title of the article, and all relevant publication information.
Author. "Title of Article." Title of Journal Volume Number. Issue number (Year): Page number range. Print
Peterson, Randall S. and Charlan J. Nemeth. "Focus Versus Flexibility: Majority and Minority Influence Can Both Improve Performance." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 22.1 (1996): 14-23.
Article in a Scholarly Journal (Online-Only Journal)
- Follow the same format as a print journal, but specify "Web" instead of print after the page numbering, and include the date of access.
- Do not include a URL with your reference.
Author. "Title of Article." Title of Journal Volume Number. Issue number (Year): Page number range. Web. Date accessed (Day Month Year).
Grass, Sean C. "Nature's Perilous Variety in Rossetti's 'Goblin Market.'" Nineteenth-Century Literature 51.3 (2009): 129-54. Web. 4 Apr. 2010.
Article in a Scholarly Journal (Print Journal Housed in Online Database)
- Follow the same format as the online-only journal article, but include the database in italics before writing "Web."
- If the article does not have pages, write "n. pag."
- As with online-only articles, do not include a URL with your reference.
Author. "Title of Article." Title of Journal Volume Number. Issue number (Year): Page number range or n. pag. Database. Web. Date accessed (Day Month Year).
Chan, Evans. "Postmodernism and Hong Kong Cinema." Postmodern Culture 10.3 (2000): n. pag. Project Muse. Web. 5 June 2008.
Herzog, Werner. Grizzly Man. Real Big Films, 2005. Film.
Useful Resources for MLA Style Citations
Above is listed the general format of the most commonly cited source types. For further clarification on how to cite a variety of different source types visit the Writer's Web page on MLA Citation Style; to access a citation generator visit EasyBib. Note that for the second site you will need to create a user name and password in order to use its services. If you do choose to use a citation generator, be certain to review the citations and correct any mistakes the automatic generator may have made--DO NOT simply copy and paste the information without checking its accuracy.
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