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Educational Essentials: MLA Formatting Essay

The Modern Language Association (MLA) is a group that developed a formatting system for essay and article writing that is used by students, educators, and researchers in the English speaking world. Among the major format styles, it is considered the easiest to follow and finds its way to most humanities and liberal arts majors. The formatting rules have been revised and edited several times since the MLA was first introduced in 1985 (currently in its 8th edition) and has been widely accepted in the U.S. for classroom instruction and essay writing. Here are the most important rules you should know for formatting an essay in MLA:

Page Format Rules

Papers must have 1-inch margins all the way around. The text must be a legible font such as Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman). A further consideration for selecting the right font depends on how the piece of writing will be presented. Font size should be 12-point and all text should be double spaced without extra spaces used for paragraph breaks or indented block quotes.

Verb Tense and Voice

This varies according to assignment type but the standard is to use the active voice (i.e., the subject of the sentence should act upon the main verb) as well as the present tense when referencing the action that occurs within a given text. Consistency is key – moving back and forth in verb tense or voice will distract or confuse readers.

Title on First Page

Unlike other style formats, the MLA does not require a separate title page in an essay. You need to include your name, your teacher’s name, the name of the course, and the date of submission in the upper left-hand corner. You also need to include a running head which includes your last name and the page number repeated throughout the document (e.g., Johnson 1, Johnson 2, etc.) placed on the upper right-hand corner ½-inch from the top.

Introduction, Body, and Conclusion Paragraphs

Your paragraphs are uniform. Indent the first line ½ inch or five spaces of each paragraph. Use a single space after each sentence or closing punctuation mark. Use quotes sparingly. Short quotations of three lines or less should be included within your main text. Long quotations of four lines or more need to be set in a block indented ½-inch from the left margin. Each quote should include a citation with the author’s last name and the page number the quote appears. For example, (Tully 213).

Works Cited Page

Finally, you need to include separate works cited page at the end of the essay which lists all publication information for each of the works you have referenced in your document. Each entry should include the author’s last name, first name, title of the work, other contributors, publisher, date of publication, and location of publication.

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