How to Use the MLA Style Guide


You might be surprised to hear that the MLA format is still alive and well in English writing. This format is requested often for technical editing, and it is a tad trickier than other style guides because it differs in the use of basic formatting, quotations, and in-text citations, among others. By the end of this blog, you should be well on your way to becoming an expert in the MLA style guide. Let’s begin!

The first page of your MLA-formatted paper MUST be formatted in this manner:

Your First Name Your Last Name

Your Professor’s Name

Your Class’ Name

Date Month Year of Submission

Title of Your Paper

In the above formatting, in the upper-right hand corner, “1” refers to the page number. Subsequent pages would use the header of your last name and the subsequent page number. Ideally, the formatting of your first page will look like this:

Expert 1

Iman Expert

Professor First Editing

MLA Formatting Skills

21 April 2011

Displaying My Expertise in MLA Formatting

Looks pretty easy, no? Keep in mind that your paper must be double spaced, and the recommended font (as with almost every style guide) is Times New Roman. Font size should be 12 pt. When writing the body of the paper, indent all of your paragraphs, including the first paragraph, by 0.5” throughout the paper.

In MLA, a long quotation is considered anything more than four lines of text. When setting a long quote apart in MLA, the ENTIRE QUOTE must be intended one inch from the left-hand side. Observe:

This is my fabulous MLA-formatted paragraph. In this paper, from this paragraph, I would like to segue into a long quote. This would happen like this:

This is my long quote. Note that the entire quote is set off one whole inch from the left margin. Also note that my parenthetical citation appears after my ending punctuation mark. Isn’t life grand? (Editor 30)

In-text citations in MLA differ slightly from other style guides. MLA uses what is considered the author-page style of citation. As evidenced in the above quote, the last name of the author, in this case, “Editor,” and the page number of the quote, “30,” are used. There is no year included. This is not specific to direct quotes, but rather is used throughout the entirety of an MLA-formatted paper. While any idea that is not your own must be cited, MLA likes to show the reader the page of the author’s work from which the new idea was formed, as opposed to just citing the author and his year of work. It looks something like this:

Even though this sentence is not a direct quote, this idea was not mine originally. I must give the author credit (Thanks 24).

Therefore, it is very important when writing a paper that will be formatted in MLA style to keep meticulous notes on your references. While MLA helps to insulate a writer against plagiarism, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that all of the page numbers cited throughout the text are correct.

Finally, in MLA, your references section is not named “references.” MLA calls the bibliography “Works Cited,” referring back to the fact that you have credited all of those authors and their page numbers throughout your work.

Some minor MLA notes:

Use italics on longer titles of works, and only use them sparingly for emphasis.
When abbreviating the United States (US) or degrees (PsyD) in MLA, you do not use periods. This one tends to throw a lot of people, because it is the antithesis of what most of us were taught.

Remember, if any of this proves difficult, or you would like a second set of eyes to examine your work for MLA accuracy, the expert editors at First Editing are available to help.

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