MLA format essay writing Tips and Guidelines

MLA Background

 The Modern Language Association MLA is a widely recognized organization committed to developing the MLA format. The organization is meant to benefit and enable scholars, researchers, and students in language and literature to utilize a uniform style of formatting their papers. The standard model of formatting papers allows for easy reading of papers and essays. Over the years and following the continuous development of the MLA style, the citation is used not only in language and literature but also in other disciplines as well. In April 2016, the Modern Language Association developed its 8th edition handbook for citation and referencing. The handbook also contains other thorough and comprehensive guidelines that adhere to a common citation method. MLA format is widely used in most College level essays and having a clear understanding will go a long way in improving your writing skills.

MLA Header Citation

The first step of the MLA format essay writing process involves the development of a creative title. The first step of writing the header is to begin one inch from the left side of the paper, and flush with the left margin. Then, it is important to type your name, instructor, the course title, and data of the paper. This should be done in separate lines and must be double-spaced. After writing the above information, it is important to double-space once again and to center the title. It is advisable not to underline or write the title in all capital letters. Each work of the title must begin in capital letters. It is advisable to italicize only words that would normally appear in italics in the text. It is advisable not to place a full stop after the title or the heading. Finally, when writing the header in MLA format, it is advisable to double-space the heading before writing the first text or body paragraph.

Choice of the Paper

                In most cases, students and scholars are expected to submit their papers either electronically or manually. If the student selects to submit a hard copy, it is advisable to use only a white paper for submission. The MLA essay formatting prohibits the use of off-white, ivory, or any other shades of colors when submitting essays. The students are further advised to use a standard and high-quality piece of paper. It is also advisable to refrain from using cardstock or any other paper. The only provision for MLA formatting is the use of a standard photocopier or copy paper.

Essay Writing and Section Headings

                Writers most times use headings in sections to improve the essay’s readability. When heading sections are used, it is advisable to number the section using an Arabic number, followed by a period, and finally, a spacing followed by the section name. When citing books in MLA that are later used to write essays, the MLA does not prescribe a special citation for books. Rather, writers, students, and researchers are advised to follow the recommended MLA citation. The MLA further recommends that when writing one-level subheadings that are parallel and distinct, it is important to write them in the order of grammatical correctness. This simply implies that if the headings are short, it is recommended to make all the other sub-headings short. And if they are long, the others that follow must also take a long-heading.  This means that although the formatting and style of the section headings are up to the student, the MLA recommends that the headings are consistent throughout the paper. There are cases where the writers require different level headings for the sections. The level heading one must be bold and left flushed.

Text Formatting for MLA Essays

Text is a crucial component of the MLA citation, particularly for essays. The MLA recommends that the Times New Romans is the standard style and must be set at a standard point which is twelve. It is advisable not to justify the lines of text at the very right margin; this means that writers must turn off any hyphenation feature in the writing software or writing program. As part of the MLA formatting, it is advisable to double-space the entire paper including quotations, the works cited page and notes. The MLA recommends that the first line of each paragraph is indented and this style must be uniform throughout. The indentation must take a space of half-inch. The set-off quotations are also indented at half an inch. When writing essays, it is important to leave one space after a quotation mark, a period, or a concluding punctuation mark unless the instructor or professor requires two spaces.

Running Head and Page Numbers

All pages must be numbered consecutively throughout the research paper in the upper right-hand corner. It should be located half an inch at the top and flushed to the right margin. The MLA recommends the writer to type their name and space before the page number. It is advisable not to use the abbreviation p. before the page number, or a symbol, or a hyphen. The writing program enables students to write the page headings and page numbers in an above-described way automatically on every page of the paper. Some instructors prefer that the running head should not be set on the first page, and rather should only begin on the second page. As a result, it is advisable that students follow the teacher’s preference anytime when handling the MLA formatted essay.  

Works Cited Page

Like many other formatting styles, the MLA requires that a work cited page is provided at the end of any essay. The MLA recommends that the works cited page appear at the very end of the paper after any endnotes. The works cited page list contains the running head at the many texts of the page, therefore, the running head is consistent throughout. For instance, if the text of the essay ends on page 8, the works cited page must be labeled as number 11. It is also advisable to center the heading of the 'works cited' page and must be centered half-an-inch from the top of every page.  If the list contains only a single entry, label it as works cited. The MLA recommends spacing the works cited and the first entry. Each entry must be written with the left flush, which means the writer must left flush before writing the first entry. The subsequent lines must be indented half an inch from the left margin. This format of indenting is also called the hanging indentation style and one can set the writing program to automatically add the hanging indentation. The significance of hanging indentation is the ability to make alphabetical lists easier to add. The entire list of the works cited page must be double-spaced and arranged in alphabetical order.

Illustrations and Tables

The MLA formatting style recommends that tables and illustrations are used where necessary. In doing this, it is advisable to place the illustrations and tables as close as possible to the text parts in which they relate. A table is usually labeled as a Table followed by an Arabic numeral and titled. The tables can be capitalized but it is not advisable to use all bold. The MLA recommends that the source of the table and any other information is given below the table. To also avoid the confusion between the notes to the text and notes to the table, writers must designate notes to the table with lower case numbers instead of numerals. Finally, the essay must be double-spaced throughout with the necessary dividing lines.


Corrections and Insertion in Essays and Printouts

                The writer must proofread and correct the document carefully before submission. If a mistake is identified, the document should be reopened, changes made, and the final corrected copy reprinted. The student must always remember to save the final corrected copy. It is also advisable to use speller checkers with caution since they do not detect all errors, and may at times label correct material as erroneous. In the MLA formatting, the instructor may require changes on the final print-out, the student must always write them nearly and in a legible manner. These corrections must be written directly above the involved lines using the carat sign to clearly indicate where the corrections go. It is advisable to refrain from using margins and writing corrections below the lines involved. However, if the corrections requested are quite numerous and substantial, the document should be revised in the writing program and reprinted. The MLA does not provide a standard electronic submission model or format. As a result, it advises that students obtain any contact information like an email from their instructors, and follow the submission guidelines carefully as required by the instructor or tutor.




Quotations in MLA

                Basically, quotations are an important part of any essay writing process. Quotations are either used to support a claim in a text by the means of direct referencing to the author, as well as to indicate to readers that we have read widely and wildly of the text, and gained a solid understanding of literature material. Quotes should not be used in a majority part of the essay body, but are rather sprinkled sparingly throughout the essay. The Modern Language Association MLA precludes three methods of adding quotations in the MLA format. The first method of adding a direct quotation in MLA is by stating the author’s name. For example, Paul Dutchman offers a deep glance into the overall plot of the story by stating that, "a baseball card could be used as a time machine." The second way of adding the quotation is to omit the author's name. For instance, Dutchman said that by then, he did not know that a baseball card could be used as a time machine (Dutman, 2008). The final way of adding a quotation is to include it in a quotation block, particularly when a saying or a large quote of four lines or more is added into an essay or a project.

General Rules for Writing an MLA Essay

                Like most standard format citation styles like Harvard, Chicago, APA, and Turabian, MLA format essays follow a structured model. It is advisable that when writing an essay in MLA, the opening paragraph must explicitly describe what you are going to discuss throughout the essay. This means that the opening paragraph must explicitly capture the contents of the essay. The MLA essay must be structured such that each specific sub-heading helps support the main point of the thesis. The writer must be careful to select specific sub-headings that contain detailed information to support the thesis. It is also advisable to start paragraphs with opening statements that describe what exactly the paragraphs are going to discuss.  The MLA formatting requires that writers create smooth transitions between paragraphs to clearly demonstrate the flow of ideas. Transitions help provide an easy flow of ideas and information, and in the process make it easy to read and understand the text. The standard essay citation requires that sentences are easy to understand and short. Whenever in doubt, writers are advised to break down long sentences and settle for shorter ones. Also, writers must avoid sentences that are either too repetitive or fail to provide new insight or new information. The essay must contain sentences that complement one another, and help strengthen the argument of the essay.

                The MLA citation guideline provides that writers must explain. Novel ideas should be explained fully by the writer to draw attention and understand from readers or the audience. It is important that writers stop assuming that the readers understand jargon or novel terms; rather, easy to understand terms and vocabularies are advised. The MLA citation for essays warns against the use of “that”, “this”, “they”, “them”, and “those”. These words do not accurately reference what readers think and act as potential sources of misunderstanding. When writing "them" the readers may not understand the person the essay is referring to. Also, when using "these" the readers may confuse the exact reference that the text wanted to make. Writers are therefore expected to specify exactly what they are referring to by making reference using the exact names of people, things, objects, situations, events, and circumstances. Finally, the very best MLA formatted essays provide their own critique of the main point. This means that the author must provide a detailed critique that is well referenced. Also, the writer can provide a critique of the criticizer that they referenced. In such instances, the essay demonstrates clearly what the writer understood everything about the topic.


                The basic essay format for MLA contains three main sections: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. The introduction captures the main ideas of the essay with detailed information about the key points of the text. The body paragraph contains dissected sub-headings each of which describes specific information and key points. It is crucial to include paragraphs that complement one another and which progressively discuss different ideas. Part of the body paragraphs is the inclusion of supporting points and strong ideas that support the plot. The concluding paragraph reiterates the main point of the essay, it takes a stand on the discussed topic, and most importantly usher in a critique that takes an independent stand on the essay. The organization of the essay in the above three sub-sections provides a comprehensive understanding of the topic and enables the writer to successfully progress from one idea to another. The conclusion plays a central role as it brings together all parts of the essay, it makes clear reference to the thesis statement, and most importantly helps readers with a sense of closure or the final thought of the topic.

                Unity and coherence are crucial components of an MLA essay. A proper essay with the appropriate paragraph structure achieves coherence and unity in the text and improves the reader's understanding. Concluding sentences and well-worded topic sentences help achieve coherence throughout the text of the MLA essay. The existing literature terms “unity” as the continuity of a single idea or a thesis in a body of work or essay; each detail develops logically and makes direct reference to the original focus of the essay. Coherence, on the other hand, means that each point should directly be connected to the previous point. The ability to connect point after point makes the essay flow logically and clearly. One of the easiest ways to link points is to use transitions between paragraphs and topic sentences. In its most basic form, an MLA essay paragraph contains a paragraph statement, two detail statements supporting the paragraph statement, and a concluding statement that surmises the argument or thesis. Although this is the general order of an MLA essay, flexibility in the transition of ideas is highly encouraged to provide an easy read to the audience.

Illustrative Visual Material

                The MLA standard citation for essays stipulates that any visual material must be appropriately referenced. For example, a map, table, chart, line, or graph must be labeled Figure usually abbreviated as (Fig.), assigned an Arabic number or numeral and often followed by Fig. 1 Mary Worchester Mother and Child. Additionally, a caption and a label ordinarily appear below the illustration and often contain a one-inch margin as the body of the text. It is crucial to note that musical illustrations are labeled as an example (Ex.), and closely followed by an Arabic numeral. The captions have a one-inch margin like the text of the essay. It is crucial to note that including the right references and formatting for illustrative visuals enable for better understanding, and provides a solid structure for referencing any visuals.


Finally, it must be acknowledged that the printing of MLA essays takes a standard form. The MLA association recommends the use of a white paper, 8 ½ by 11 inch paper of good quality. If there is no 8 ½ by 11-inch paper, the student or writer must choose the paper closest in size. Most instructors require that essays are printed by a high-quality printer and printing is done on a single side since they are easier to read. However, some instructors recommend printing on both sides to conserve paper, and therefore it is advisable to follow your instructor's preference. Finally, it must be established that MLA essays are generally easier to write and follow a standard format – as a result, most readers find the essays easy to understand. The above analysis surmises the paper adding knowledge and creating insight on how to write an MLA format essay.  This format is useful in writing your Profile essays, argumentative essays and in writing research papers and dissertations so it is importatnt to be competent in it.








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Published on: 14, Oct 2020
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