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Common Questions About Using MLA Style to Write a Paper: Answered

Updated on July 17, 2013
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Sarah has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and works as a manager of communications for a multinational risk management company.

General Information About MLA Formatting

MLA format is a general format created by the Modern Language Association. It exists so that people who read a lot of papers can know how to find a lot of information quickly. It also exists so that the meaning of a seemingly arbitrary bit of information (like a random name or at the top of the paper) have meaning to the reader without you having to type it out every time. Learning to follow this standard early in your college career is recommended.

The purpose of citing in the text of your paper is to attribute particular information to its particular source, and the purpose of the Works Cited page is to show your reader where that source was found. This makes you look more reliable and gives credit where credit is due.

MLA formatting concerns your entire paper. The basic rules are that you must:

  • use 12-point Times New Roman font
  • double space
  • no extra spaces before or after paragraphs
  • use a heading for your paper that includes: your name, your professor's name, the course name, and the date
  • use a title
  • include the page number on every page after page 1
  • include a Works Cited page
  • cite your sources in your paper

The general format for each source in a Works Cited Page is (double spaced in 12-point Times New Roman):

Author's last name, Author's first name. "Title of Specific Resource." Title of Overall Resource. Publisher/Owner. Date.

Note the indentation of the second line. Each type of source has its own method of being cited, so check out a comprehensive resource like the MLA Handbook or the Purdue OWL. If you don't know what these things are, google it!

When you cite a source parenthetically, cite the author's last name and page number inside of a pair of open and closed parentheses, then put the period at the end, like this:

  • Exampleexampleexampleexample (Citation 2).

If there is no page number, don't put one.

If the information you are citing is a quote, put the quote in parentheses and then the citation outside of the quotation marks, like this:

  • "Exampleexampleexampleexample" (Citation 2).

Note that there is no period inside the quotation marks.

You may also cite the author in the sentence. Then, if there is a page number, you put it in parentheses at the end, like this,

  • According to Citation, Exampleexampleexampleexample (2).

If it is a quote, you cite it just like you cited the quoted words above, like this:

  • According to Citation, "Exampleexampleexampleexample" (2).

The Answers to Common MLA Questions

Q. How do you put the last name and page number at the top of each page?

A. Follow these steps:

  1. In Microsoft Word, double click in the header/footer area.
  2. Select the check box next to "Different First Page" under the "Design" tab.
  3. Double click on the right side, or click Ctrl+R to right justify your header.
  4. Scroll to the second page.
  5. Type your name. Make sure it is in Times New Roman, size 12.
  6. On the "Header & Footer" subtab, click "Page Number" and select "Current Position" > "Plain Number."

Please Note: There are other ways to do this. Use whichever way works. MLA format calls for a blank header on the first page, then your last name and the page number on every page thereafter.

Q. How do I cite an e-mail?

A. Remember that you have to cite it in-text and on your Works Cited page.

  • On your Works Cited page, write:

Author/sender of the e-mail. "E-mail subject line." Recipient of the e-mail. Date the e-mail was sent. E-mail.

Example: Doe, Jane. "Meeting tomorrow." Deere, John. July 23, 2016. E-mail.

  • In-text, you cite it like any other source:

Either parenthetically: (Doe).

Or in the sentence: According to an e-mail from Jane Doe, gibberty gabberty gibberty.

Q. Are there any guidelines or rules I have to follow when doing my citing page? What am I supposed to include on it?

A. Yes, there are specific guidelines. Your citing page is called your "Works Cited" page. It is the last page of your essay and should be an entirely separate page (or pages). These are the formatting requirements:

  • Type in the center "Works Cited" at the top (not "Bibliography" or "References" for MLA).
  • Each work cited should start at the left margin of the page. The second line of that work cited should be indented.
  • Put the citations in alphabetical order according to the first identifying information in the complete citation (usually the author's last name).
  • Use 12-point Times New Roman font.
  • Double space the whole page.
  • Do not skip extra lines between each citation.

Q. In the Works Cited page, are you supposed to include the URL when citing an online page?

A. It is no longer required, but you can. If you choose to use the URL, MLA suggests that you put it in brackets. (Note that a suggestion is not a requirement. Some teachers may not require it.)

Q. If a Writer's Memo or introductory page is supposed to be included, does the header begin on the first page or where the essay begins?

A. Where the essay begins.

Q. If I can't find the name of the publisher, do I put "unknown" when I cite it or do I just leave it blank?

A. If you cannot find the name of the publisher, use n.p. in its place. Use italics, put the n and the p in lowercase, and put a period after both letters.

Q. How do I insert an interview into my paper successfully?

A. Format an interview as you would a block quote. Use "Q." to denote the question and "A." to denote the answer. Remember to preface the interview to provide your reader with its context.

Q. What is the proper way to cite a questionnaire or survey?

A. It depends. There are several ways to cite the information from a questionnaire or survey. Here are some:

  • Use the responses as a whole. In this case, you may want to quantify the responses and present them as statistics. Then, you would say something like: 25% of respondents agreed. For this, you would not use quotation marks.
  • Quote a particular response (or multiple responses) to make a point. In this case, you would use quotation marks to denote that the text you are presenting is a direct quotation.

Q. Should I cite the original source of an article even though that is not the first place I saw it?

A. Cite your source. In other words, cite what you found.

Q. How do I format section headings?

A. MLA has suggestions for section headings, not requirements. The only requirement is that the type remains in MLA format. You may choose to number them or differentiate them using bold font or italics. Do not skip lines before or after and do not change the typeface or the font size. Make sure the section headings stand out for your reader.

Q. How do I cite something that quotes from something else?

A. That is called an "indirect source." In your paper, you can do it two ways:

  1. Note the quotation in the sentence. For example: As quoted in The Meaning of Life, Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more than knowledge" (Frances 59).
  2. Note the quotation parenthetically. For example: "Imagination is more than knowledge" (Frances 59).

Q. How do I write an in-text citation using the phrase: "According to"?

A. There are three common ways to do this. Notice the placement of the comma. If you want to just state the name of the website, write:

According to the website Dogs R' Us, giberty gabberty giberty...

If you want to qualify/describe the website, write:

According to Dogs R' Us, a popular website about dogs, giberty gabberty giberty...

If you want to make your point first, then name the website, write:

Giberty gabberty giberty, according to the website Dogs R' Us.

Q. Do I cite paraphrased statements.

A. Yes.

Q. Is it proper to cite in your paper as well as on the Works Cited page?

A. Yes. Include every citation on your Works Cited page and place them in alphabetical order.

Q. How do I indent my citations?

A. On your Work Cited page, left justify everything but the title, "Works Cited." Do not indent the first line of each citation. Indent the second line and every line thereafter.

Q. Is the author's name and the date of publication the proper way to cite within the paper?

A. No, not for MLA. MLA requires the author's name and a page number, if applicable.

Q. How are long quotes formatted? (Is it supposed to be in the paragraph or outside of the paragraph by itself?)

A. Long quotes are formatted as "block quotations," which are separated from the rest of the essay. It is considered a long quote if the text is more than four lines long. (Three lines if it is a song or poem.) The entire quote should be indented one inch from the left margin. Only indent the first line more if you are citing multiple paragraphs. Include your parenthetical citation at the end of the long quote. The long quote should be double-spaced. Check out the Purdue OWL for an example.

Q. When a quote is taken from a source, but it is not said by a particular person, how do I insert it in my essay?

A. Treat a quote from an article the same way you would treat any other quote. In other words, be sure to cite it.

Q. Is citing a blog the same thing as citing a website?

A. Yes, more or less. With a blog, be sure to cite the date of the particular blog post you chose to cite, not just the most recent date. Consider the title of the blog post the webpage name and the title of the blog the website name.

Q. Should the paper be justified? (Centered?)

A. No. The text of the paper should be left justified. The title should be centered. The page heading and page number should be right justified.

Q. What do I call the page with all of my citations? Is it a bibliography?

A. No, it is called "Works Cited." Write it at the top of the last page in the center. The Works Cited page is a separate page.

Q. What should I call my professor on my heading?

A. Write their abbreviated title (if they have one), then first, then last name.


  • Prof. Jane Seymour
  • Dr. Michaela Quinn
  • Mr. Byron Sully

Q. In MLA format, does the heading go to the right or the left?

A. Left.

Q. Is the title supposed to be bolded?

A. No.


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