Writing college papers and essays often requires students to follow the MLA (Modern Language Association) style. Therefore, students must learn how to format an essay in MLA. The MLA essay format is mostly used in humanities and the language arts.

Writers who correctly follow MLA guidelines also establish credibility by committing to their sources. Most importantly, following MLA guidelines protect writers from allegations of plagiarism. Here’s an informational guide on how to write an essay following the MLA guidelines.

General MLA Formatting for Texts

The MLA Handbook offers instructions for preparing academic papers and making MLA citations. Generally, any type of MLA-formatted work will abide by these five formatting guidelines:

  • Times New Roman font style with 12 point
  • Set 1″ page margins on all sides
  • Use title case capitalization for headings
  • New paragraphs should be indented half-inch from the left margin.
  • Double-line spacing throughout the essay
Person sitting in front of a laptop computer placed on a wooden table
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

How to Format an Essay in MLA Style

The Modern Language Association (MLA) is an institution that created the MLA format. It was developed for academics, students, and researchers in the domains of language and literature to structure their papers and assignments uniformly. This consistent approach to writing a paper, essay, or assignment makes it simple and easy to read. Here are the guidelines on how to format an essay in MLA style:

Header and Title Formatting

From headers to cover pages, it’s crucial to have the information right to improve the readability of your document. Also, providing precise information shields you from plagiarism penalties.

In MLA format, the header must be aligned in the upper left corner of the first page. It includes the following information in the given order:

  • Your full name
  • Your professor’s or supervisor’s name
  • Course name or number
  • Assignment due date

Write your essay’s or paper’s title below the MLA header. Center the title of your essay and make sure to use title-case capitalization. If you have multiple sections within your essay, use numbered headings to separate them. For instance, an essay with three sections should be numbered like 1. Section One, 2. Section Two, and so forth.

Running Head Formatting

You must include your last name and the page number at the top right-hand corner of each page, starting with the first page. This is known as the running header, which should be included on all pages of the paper. To set up the MLA running head in your Word or Google Docs document, follow these instructions:

  1. Double-click on a page’s header
  2. Write your last name
  3. Choose automatic page numbering
  4. Right-align the content

Works Cited Page Formatting

A Works Cited page is used in MLA formatting in place of a Bibliography or References page. The Works Cited list is usually included on a separate page at the end of your essay or paper. You alphabetically list all the references used in your essay. Don’t use sources that weren’t cited in the paper.

At the top of the page, center the title “Works Cited.” Then, insert your MLA citations by giving one-line spacing after the title.

For references longer than one line, you must indent each additional line by half inches after the first line. Like the rest of the text, make sure each entry is double-spaced.

Headings and Subheadings

Although headings and subheadings are not always mandatory, they can help structure and organize your essay, especially in lengthier papers.

There aren’t many formatting rules for heading in MLA. Here are a few header requirements that you can follow:

  • Write in title case capitalization
  • Should be left-aligned
  • It must not end in a period

We advise capitalizing the title and using the same font size and style as the body text. Italics are appropriate for subordinate headings, whereas boldface often denotes higher significance.


The MLA format can seem somewhat overwhelming for some people, but it becomes simpler when you know the proper rules. It is one of the most commonly used formats for academic papers because it simplifies what makes a paper seem cohesive.

MLA standardizes a lot of formatting and writing conventions. If you’re ever confused about how to format an essay in MLA, just refer back to this article for a quick understanding.

Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.

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