Formatting a College Essay MLA Style

Learning Objectives:

  • Employ correct citation format for MLA style.
  • Identify proper MLA formatting for college essays, including a works cited page.

You will likely be asked to write numerous essaysA short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. over the course of your academic career. While the contentThe text in a writing that includes facts, thoughts, and ideas. The information that forms the body of the work. of your work is significant, it is also essential that you develop strong and accurate formattingThe way in which content is arranged, usually following a set of rules. In writing, outlines and essays often follow a format specified by their purpose or where they are published. skills. Formatting an essay correctly is not only good authorship but is also important to instructors who often have to read hundreds of essays over the course of a semester. Your instructors will likely provide you with essay guidelines indicating whether you should use MLAA grammar and reference guide used mainly by students and scholars writing about the humanities (languages and literature). or APAA set of guidelines for citing sources used in literary and academic writing. APA style is most commonly used in the social sciences. style to format your paper. If you are uncertain as to your instructor's expectations, be sure to ask. Instructors appreciate students taking extra measures needed to correctly format essays. In this lesson, you will learn how to correctly format a college essay using MLA style. Note: This foundation lesson is not meant to include or cover all of the rules and guidelines for properly formatting an essay. Be sure to refer to the MLA style guide to ensure that you follow all of the formatting rules.

Part of formatting an essay is properly formatting in-text citationsInformation about a source, such as the author, date, and page number, in an essay or research paper that helps readers find the source in the works cited or references page. There are different rules for how to use in-text citations depending on the context of the citation and the style of formatting you are using. and your list of sourcesA person, book, article, or other thing that supplies information.. MLA refers to the list of sources as a works cited pageAn alphabetized list of publication information about the sources used in an MLA-formatted essay or research paper.. Keep in mind that in-text citations and the works cited page work together. Without one, you cannot have the other. The in-text citations lead readers to the listing of complete source information in the works cited page.

Formatting an Essay in MLA Style

Headers and page numbers

In MLA style, the headerInformation that appears at the very top of a page and may appear on subsequent pages of a work. includes your last name followed by one space and then consecutive page numbers. It appears in the upper-right corner, one half-inch from the top and flush with the right-hand marginThe outer edges of a document that do not contain writing or images.. Include this header on every page, including the first. (Note: Some instructors prefer that the header be left off of the first page. As always, follow the guidelines your instructor provides.) 

MLA Headers


  • Your last name
  • Consecutive page numbers


  • 1/2" from top
  • Upper-right corner
  • Flush with right margin
  • Every page

Essay information

MLA style does not require a cover pageA page that comes before an essay or article and contains basic information about the work, including its title and author. The format of a cover page (also called the title page) will vary depending on the style guide in use.. (As always, though, check with your instructor about his or her preference.) Instead, include the following information about the essay in the upper left-hand corner of the first page of your essay: your full name, instructor's name, course, and date. Your title should be centered on the next line after the date, and your essay should start on the next line after that. Like the rest of the essay, all of this information should be double-spaced.


MLA Essay Information

 Cover page

 No cover page required


 On First Page:

  • Your name
  • Instructor's name
  • Course
  • Date
  • Title


 Your information: upper 

 left-hand corner of first page,



 Title: centered, one line after

 the date and one line before 

 the beginning of essay

Here is an example of the first page of an MLA paper:

It is important to note that your name, instructor's name, course, and date should only appear on the first page of your paper. When students mistakenly place this information in the header, the information appears on every page and not just on the first page as it should.

Margins, font, and spacing

MLA has specific requirements with respect to margins, fontA set of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks that are the same style. Examples: Times New Roman and Arial are fonts., and line spacingThe vertical distance between lines of text on a page. The most common types of spacing are single and double.. Set one-inch margins on all sides. Use 12-point font. MLA advises using a font that is both easily readable and has regular and italicized versions of the font that are distinguishable. Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, Baskerville, and Garamond are all good options; however, if you are ever in doubt as to which font to use, ask your instructor. Whichever font you choose, remain consistent throughout your essay. Your essay should always be double-spaced throughout. Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch from the margin. Use only one space after all end punctuationThe punctuation at the end of a sentence, which can be a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point. The end punctuation helps define the tone and meaning of a sentence. Notice the difference in tone in these examples: Someone ate my last cookie! (I'm really mad about that.) Someone ate my last cookie. (Oh well, I wasn't hungry anyway.) Someone ate my last cookie? (I'm not sure I even had another cookie.).

MLA Margins, Font, and Spacing


 1" on all sides


 12 point

 Times New Roman  

 (or another suitable font)





 First line of paragraphs

 1/2" from left margin



 One space following

Click here to view an example of the body of a properly formatted MLA essay.

Punctuating and Formatting In-text Citations

Here are the guidelines for formatting in-text citations when using MLA style.



There are occasions when all pertinent information is included in the attributive phrase. In these cases, a parenthetical citation is not needed.


There will be times when all the information for a citation is not available--for example, websites do not always list dates and usually do not include page numbers, sources are sometimes published without authors, and so on. If you cannot obtain all the required information on a source, provide as much information as you can in order to allow readers to find your source.

Here are some more specific requirements with respect to the punctuationMarks such as such as a comma (,), period (.), question mark (?), and exclamation mark (!), among others, that help break a writing into phrases, clauses, and sentences. Different types of punctuation marks give the reader different impressions of the writer’s purpose in that sentence. and format of MLA in-text citations:

Works Cited Pages

MLA style requires a works cited page to list the sources at the end of the work. Here are the guidelines for formatting works cited pages.


Morrison, Toni. Beloved: A Novel. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1987. Print.

---. The Bluest Eye. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. 1970. Print.

Works Cited Page