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MLA Style Basics

Updated on February 12, 2013
The MLA Manual is one of the style manuals that may be required to write your academic papers.
The MLA Manual is one of the style manuals that may be required to write your academic papers. | Source

By Joan Whetzel

Writing academic papers at the college or high level means knowing how to cite references properly and it means creating a bibliography. The process here makes use of the MLA writing and citation methods. The MLA stylebook can be purchased at a major book store, online or at a college book store. If need be you can always borrow a copy from a friend or from the library, or even access it online. Some of the university’s have online writing labs with condensed instructions for each of the writing styles.

MLA Writing Style Format

MLA format does not make use of a title page. In the upper, left-hand corner of the paper’s first page, list the title, the writer’s name, the instructors name, the course, and the date. MLA style is generally used to write literature, arts and humanities papers. The basic MLA formatting is as follows:

· Don’t underline or italicize the title or use quotation marks.

· Type the paper using Times New Roman, 12-pt. font.

· Double space the paper.

· Use 1-inch margins all around.

· Indent the first line of each paragraph by 0.5 inches (about 5 spaces).

· Divide the material into smaller sections using section subheadings.

· Cite the paper using parenthetical citations or endnotes.

· Place the endnotes page after the body of the paper, but before the bibliography.

· The bibliography goes at the end of the paper.

MLA Citation Style

Begin paraphrased and summarized material with a phrase such as “According to the Red Cross…” or “President Obama says…” Short quotations (1 to 2 sentences) are surrounded with quotation marks. Longer quotes are indented by 5 spaces (about ½ inch). To cite paraphrasing, summarization, and quotes, use parenthetical citations at the end of the sentence, but before the period. The basic format is: Single authors (author last name, page number). Multiple authors (author1, author 2, author 3, page number). No author (shortened and italicized title, page number).

MLA Bibliography

When including website resources, URLs are no longer required in MLA format because the websites change too frequently. Website and other electronic medium bibliography entries need to include: Author. Article Name. Website. Version Number. Publisher Information. Page number (if listed). Electronic Format (i.e. DVD, CD, Website). Download Date. <URL if teacher requires it.>

Example: Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. S. H. Butcher. The Internet Classics Archive. Web Atomic and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 13 Sept. 2007. Web. 4 Nov. 2008. ‹›.


TenBrook, Catherine. "Re: Architectural Drawings." Message to the author. 29 Aug., 2011. E- mail.

Discussion Groups and Forums

Editor, screen name, author/ compiler (if listed). "Title of posting." Forum Site Name. Version number (if listed). Institution/ Organization associated with the site. Medium of publication. Download date.

Digital files (PDF, MP3, JPEG)

Smith, George. “Pox Americana: Strife in a Time of Peace.” 2005. Microsoft Word file.

Bentley, Phyllis. “Yorkshire and the Novelist.” The Kenyon Review 30.4 (1968): 509-22.

JSTOR. PDF file.

Maroon 5. Moves Like Jagger Hands, on Hands All Over. [MP3}. ASIN: B0059H09DC

Downloaded from Amazon Jagger/dp/B0059H09DC/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=dmusic&qid=1313952847&sr=1-5

Recorded CDs

Shocked, M. Over the Waterfall, on Arkansas Traveler. New York: PolyGram Music (1992). CD.


Title. Director. Actors. Distributor. Year of Release. Medium.

The General Bibliography rules includes the following rules:

· Label the resources page as “List of Works Cited.”

· Double space between resource entries.

· Indent second and subsequent lines on entries, but leave the first line flush left.

· List page numbers as pages 225-50.

· For several entries by the same author, replace the author’s name with three dashes.


Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives. [...]

--- A Rhetoric of Motives. [...]

· Write book, newspaper, and magazine titles in italics. Write article names encapsulated within quotation marks.

· Authors are listed last name, first name. List the author’s degrees after their name but do not use titles (Dr., Mr., etc.)

· For works with no author, begin with the entry with the title.

· For interviews performed by the writer, list: Name of Person Interviewed. Personal Interview. Date Interviewed.

· For broadcast or published interviews used as a resource, list: Name of Person Interviewed. Interviewed by (interviewer’s name), Show or Publication (that broadcast or published the interview). Date. Page Numbers (for print interviews). Print/Broadcast.

This is just a basic style guide. For more information, consult the MLA Stylebook or go online and visit any of the University online writing labs that give more examples and further explanation.


Essay Town: Citation of Research Paper

Duke University Libraries: Citing Sources

Long Island University: Citation Style for Research Papers

Master Papers: Help with Research Paper Citations

Purdue University: Purdue Online Writing Lab

Capitol Community College: A Guide for Writing Research Papers Based on MLA Documentation


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