Dr Abel Scribe PhD

2.0 MLA Style Page Layout

MLA Basic is a concise guide to crafting college research papers in the style of the Modern Language Association (MLA). It conforms to the highly recommended MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed., (2009), with additional features drawn from the pages of the MLA's own journal, PMLA (Publications of the Modern Language Association). MLA Basic is an introduction to the essential features of the style. © Copyright 2009-2017 by Dr. Abel Scribe PhD.

MLA Basic for Research Papers: Contents

1.0 Mechanics of Writing
  • 1.1 Abbreviations/Acronyms
  • 1.2 Capitalization (Titles)
  • 1.3 Italics/Quotation Marks
  • 1.4 Numbers & Dates
3.0 Text Citations
  • 3.1 Basic Format
  • 3.2 Ephemeral Sources
  • 3.3 Literary Citations
4.0 References
  • 4.1 Works Cited Page
  • 4.2 Articles in Journals
  • 4.3 Books & Compilations
  • 4.4 Nonprint Sources

arrowAn abridged PDF version of MLA Basic is available to download.

2.1 Title & Text Pages (TOP)

bullet Easy to Read? The goal of any research style is clarity of communication. "Effective writing depends as much on clarity and readability as on content" (MLA 49). The research paper in MLA style begins with a distinctive title page, an MLA trademark. Text pages follow the same general form.

Fig 1. Basic Style
Fig. 1. Basic format and features of MLA style. pointer The ID Block--name, instructor, course, date--must be presented exactly as shown.

Basic Instructions for MLA Page Layouts(TOP)

square Other than the ID Block, and the use of your last name as the page header (most styles use a short form of the title), the basic instructions are shared with most research styles.

  • Page numbers are required on every page. The page header is the author's last name. These go inside the margin space, one-half inch from the top of the page, next to the right margin.
  • Margins. One inch margins are required on all four sides of a page. This applies to all pages, and the contents of all pages, but excludes the page number/header.
  • Justification? "Do not justify the lines of text at the right margin; turn off your word processor's automatic hyphenation feature" (MLA 116). Hyphens introduced to break words and wrap lines can confuse a reader.
  • Typeface (fonts). The MLA Handbook expresses no clear preference, though sample pages feature a sans serif typeface (e.g., Arial, Helvetica). A 10- or 12-point type mirrors traditional typewriter typefaces, and are acceptable. The Handbook no longer prefers underlining wherever you might use italics.
  • Double-space lines throughout the text! Space twice after punctuation at the ends of sentences; space once after colons.
  • Dates may follow US format (e.g., April 1, 2009) or universal format (1 April 2009). The Handbook gives you the choice, but be consistent, including references. The preference is for the universal format.
  • Title. The title is centered on the page and formatted in heading caps (see Section 3.5 for the rule).
  • Indents. Indent paragraphs one-half inch, except block quotes. Indent block quotes one inch. There are special rules for indenting block quotes that run beyond a single paragraph (see Section 3.4).
  • Block quotes are required when a quote exceeds four lines in your paper. Indent the quote one inch, paragraphs in block quotes a quarter-inch more.
  • Endnotes are preferred, place before the works-cited list. Footnotes go inside the margins with the text.
  • Title page ID block. This is an essential feature of MLA style—do not improvise!

Block Format with Headings (TOP)

square MLA style confers a profoundly "rough draft" quality to research papers. Another popular style, that of the American Psychological Association (APA) forgoes that roughness when advising how to format college papers. While everything in MLA style is double-spaced, the APA Publication Manual offers other advice:
Double-spacing is required throughout most of the manuscript. When single-spacing would improve readability, however, it is usually encouraged. Single-spacing can be used for table titles and headings, figure captions, references (but double-spacing is required between references), footnotes, and long quotations [this is sometimes referred to as block spacing]. (APA, 2003 326)

Pointer   There is no sanction for this combination of features in MLA style, although other the heading style is common to both APA and Chicago styles. See also the section on headings and lists for more options.

Block format
Fig. 2. PMLA headings with block paragraph spacing.

Headings. The headings in Figure 2 are shared by PMLA (Publications of the Modern Language Association) and the APA Publication Manual. In descending order, these start with a centered heading (in heading caps), a side head (in heading caps), and a run-in or paragraph heading (in sentence caps). A bold font is added to make the headings stand out on the page. Properly employed, headings provide an outline of the work.

2.2 Quotations (TOP)

bullet Quotations must be placed in quotes or indented as a block quote. All quotations must include a citation referring the reader to the source document. As a matter of form, quotations should flow with your text, and may be edited to do so. But note that MLA style, like Chicago style, has complex rules for editing quotations, especially for deleting material from a quote.

  • "The accuracy of quotations in research writing is extremely important" (MLA 2009, 92). Direct quotations must reproduce exactly not only the wording but the spelling, capitalization, and internal punctuation of the original.
  • "If you quote material in a language other than English, you must reproduce all accents and other marks exactly as they appear in the original (école, pietà, tête, leçon, Fähre, año)" (MLA 2009, 66).
  • If you quote material that contains a citation to another work, include this citation in your quotation. The work cited does not have to be included in the list of works cited if it is cited only in the quotation.

pointer  "Quotations are effective in research papers when used selectively. Quote only words, phrases, lines, and passages that are particularly interesting, vivid, unusual, or apt, and keep all quotations as brief as possible. Overquotation can bore your readers and might lead them to conclude that you are neither an original thinker nor a skillful writer" (MLA 2009, 92).

Fig. 3. Short and long quotations. The style uses three indents: (1) a standard half-inch indent to start paragraphs in the main text, (2) a full one-inch indent for block quotes, and (3) a one and one-quarter inch indent beginning some paragraphs inside block quotations.

Quotations in Running Text. Shorter quotations, most quotes in research writing, are embedded directly in the text. Place quotes in running text inside quotation marks.

  • When the author is introduced in the text the page number follows the quotation. Smith reported that "the creature walked like a duck and quacked like a duck" (23). Do not use the abbreviation "p." or "P." for "page" (nor "pp." or "Pp." for "pages").
  • Without an introductory phrase, the author and page are placed together. For example—It was reported that "the creature walked like a duck and quacked like a duck" (Smith 23). When citing a quote drawn from several pages in the source, separate page numbers in the citation with commas. For example, write (Thoreau, Walden 23, 129-31, 144).

Block quotes are required with longer quotations, "more than four lines in your paper" (emphasis added) (MLA 2009, 94). Block quotes are continuously indented from the left margin one inch (most styles indent only one-half inch). Double space within, before, and after a block quote, as with the rest of the text. Do not place the quote inside quotation marks.

  • "If you quote only a single paragraph or part of one, do not indent the first line more than the rest" (MLA 2009, 94).
  • "If you need to quote two or more paragraphs, indent the first line of each paragraph an additional quarter inch. . . . If the first sentence quoted does not begin a paragraph in the source, however, do not indent it the additional amount. Indent only the first line of successive paragraphs" (MLA 2009, 94).

What the MLA Handbook is trying to say is that the first paragraph of a block quote—whether it was indented in the original or not—is not indented if only one paragraph is quoted. But if two or more paragraphs are quoted, then all paragraphs begin with an indent—in addition to the one inch block quote indent—if they were indented in the original.

NB> Paragraph indents in block quotes are one-quarter inch, half the standard indent.

Editing quotations. MLA style has restored it traditional rules for editing quotations after expanding them in the last (5th) edition of the Handbook. Capitalization and punctuation may be freely changed to merge a quote into the text. Examples are drawn from the paragraph below.

Effective writing seeks to merge a quotation into the flow of the text. It is not necessary to indicate the minor changes needed to do so. The reader should not stumble over a quote. Edit a quotation according to the following rules.

  • If a quote begins in what is mid-sentence in the original, the first letter of the first word may be uppercased to open a sentence. "Merge quotations into the flow of the text." Do not write "[M]erge quotations . . . ."
  • An introductory phrase may lead into a quote that starts with an uppercased letter in the original. This should be changed to a lowercased letter to match the syntax. It is not necessary to indicate this change. For example, the effective writer understands that "the reader should not stumble over a quote."
  • The punctuation mark at the end of a quotation may be changed to fit the syntax without indicating the change in the text. For example, good writers caution that a "reader should not stumble over a quote!" But, "if the [original] quotation ends with a question mark or an exclamation point . . . the original punctuation is retained" (MLA 2009, 103).
  • Double quotation marks may be changed to single quotation marks, and the reverse, without indicating the change.

NB> "A quotation should never be presented in a way that could cause a reader to misunderstand the sentence structure of the original source" (MLA 2009, 97). Don't quote someone out of context. Leave that to politicians and journalists.

Add text to a quotation. It may be helpful to add text to merge a quote with the flow and tense of your text, to add emphasis, or to clarify the original. Brackets are required to indicate material or emphasis added to a quote. For example: "They [the Irish Republican Army] initiated a cease fire."

Emphasis may be added to a word or phrase in a quotation by placing it in italics. When this is done the note (emphasis added) or (italics added) must be added after the quotation marks.

Correct errors. Obvious typographical errors in a quotation may be corrected without making a special notation. But for an unusual word choice, concept, term, or spelling it may be appropriate to emphasize that the original is being quoted faithfully. This is done by inserting the Latin term sic (thus), in italics or underlined, in brackets within the quotation (but in parentheses at the end of a quote), immediately following the term. For example, "The ship struck an iceberg and floundered [sic], with the loss of all on board." Or write "The ship struck an iceberg and floundered" (sic). (Note, to flounder is to thrash about wildly. To founder is to fill with water and sink.)

Delete parts of quotes. Ellipsis points are used to indicate text omitted from a quotation. Three ellipsis points (periods with a single space before, between, and after each period) indicate material has been omitted within a sentence or at the end of a sentence. Unless clarity demands it, do not use ellipsis points to begin a quotation. For example, Henry David Thoreau asserts:

"To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but to so love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust" (15, ch. 1).

An omission within the quote is edited:

"To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts,  .  .  .  but to so love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust" (Thoreau 15; ch. 1).

An omission at the end of a sentence is edited:

"To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but to so love wisdom as to live according to its dictates  .  .  . " (Thoreau 15; ch. 1).

Delete entire sentences. If the original text reads:

This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself. As I walk along the stony shore of the pond in my shirt-sleeves, though it is cool as well as windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all the elements are unusually congenial to me (Thoreau, Walden, 90; ch. 5).

Omitting a full sentence:

"This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore.  .  .  .  As I walk along the stony shore of the pond in my shirt-sleeves, though it is cool as well as windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all the elements are unusually congenial to me" (Thoreau 90).

Omitting the end of one sentence, and the next:

"This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense.  .  .  .   As I walk along the stony shore of the pond in my shirt-sleeves, though it is cool as well as windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all the elements are unusually congenial to me" (Thoreau 90).

Omitting text from the middle of one sentence to the middle of another:

"This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense,  .  .  .  though it is cool as well as windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all the elements are unusually congenial to me" (Thoreau 90).

Delete the beginning a sentence. General convention allows the leading portion of a sentence opening a quotation to be omitted from the quotation without indicating an omission as long as the original meaning is not marred.

2.3 PMLA Style Headings & Lists (TOP)

bullet No headings? The MLA Handbook has no instructions for using headings or subheadings in a research paper other than for the title and works cited. However, the MLA's own journal, PMLA (Publications of the Modern Language Association), publishes about half its articles with headings in one of two styles. The first is shown in Figure 2. This should be acceptable to most instructors (except the pedantic kind—you be the judge).

Figure 2. Austere Headings
Fig. 4. PMLA austere style (sub)headings. Headings are roman numerals set inside square brackets. There is just a single level with this heading style. These look better in a serif typeface (eg, Times Roman).

Figure 3. PMLA style conventional (sub)headings
Fig. 5. PMLA style conventional headings/subheadings, with the bold font added for emphasis. There are three levels with this heading style used in the order shown. This style is widely shared with other popular styles, such as that of the American Psychological Association.

Seriation (Lists) (TOP)

bullet Lists (seriation). Seriation is a technique to itemize or enumerate the parts to a series or an argument. This can be helpful when the parts are complex, elaborate, or disparate. It is particularly useful in constructing a transition paragraph to introduce a series of topics. Chicago style refers to this as a process of enumeration.

Sentence seriation. A series or list of terms or phrases can be introduced following a colon: (1) marked by numbers in parentheses; (2) to enumerate a series of topics; (3) especially when the topics differentiated are complex, lengthy, or disparate. The MLA Handbook is silent on this practice, but recent papers in PMLA also use numbers.

Paragraph seriation. If each element in the series requires a separate paragraph, these are set flush with the left margin with each paragraph indented and numbered appropriately. An introductory clause or sentence ending with a colon typically introduces the series:

Tab1. This form of seriation is useful in detailing and summarizing an argument, or perhaps the results of a research study in the conclusion.

Tab2. Each element in the series may contribute to the general topic with extensive commentary.

Tab3. But as a practical matter, this form of seriation is not particularly common in research papers. When the elements require this form of elaboration it is more common to set them under their own subheadings in the text, perhaps following sentence seriation in a transition paragraph under a major heading.

pointer  No Bullets! Chicago advises "the use of bullets (heavy dots) in place of enumeration is sometimes resorted to, but these may be considered cumbersome, especially in scholarly work" (314).

2.3 Tables, Figures, & Exhibits (TOP)

bullet Tables and illustrations are rare in MLA publications. The MLA Handbook has very little to say about tables and illustrations, devoting just two and a half pages to the topic. The APA (American Psychological Association) Publications Manual addresses the subject in fifty-five pages; the Chicago Manual of Style has fifty pages on tables and illustrations. If you are crafting a large complex table refer to the APA Manual or Chicago Manual; tables in these styles are virtually identical to MLA style. Illustrations, figures and exhibits, require just a caption. There is no guidance in the Handbook for graphs. The APA Manual has much to say on the subject if you need help.

Fig 6. Tables. The source is formatted with a hanging indent, table notes are formatted as indented paragraphs (MLA 119).

Number tables consecutively as they appear in your text.

  • Each table must have a label beginning with the table number and describing the contents. The label needs to inform the reader what the table presents (coefficients, means, percentages, rates, etc.), the time frame, and the coverage (e.g., United States, Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, South Side).
  • Each row and column must have a heading. Subheadings may be used to expand or clarify headings. MLA tables may use symbols in column headings, e.g., % or $.
  • A general note is the first note below the table. If the contents of a table are drawn or adapted from a published source, note that as a source note as shown in figure 5. Sources are referenced using the endnote-footnote (see Sec. 7.0), not the works cited bibliography format.
  • Add footnotes to explain specific features of the table contents, such as units of measure (e.g., population in 1000s). These are labeled with superscript letters, e.g., a, b, c, etc., to avoid confusion with numbered text endnotes (if any), and placed below the source note or general table note.
pointer  The more information that is put in a table the harder it is to read. Readers rarely study tables. "An informative table supplements—it does not duplicate—the text" (APA 2003, 84).

Figures & Exhibits
Fig 7. Illustrations: figures & exhibits.

Number figures and exhibits consecutively throughout your text, independently from tables (each has their own number sequence). Musical scores are presented as "exhibits," captioned Ex. 1, Ex. 2, etc., numbered independently of figures.

Attribution. When tables and illustrations are borrowed a reference to that source is required. The table or illustration may be mentioned in the text in cited in the same manner as any other source and referenced in the works-cited list at the end of the paper. When this is not the case, a source note must be added as a table note or appended to the caption. A special format is required, although this is not documented in the Handbook, merely shown in examples. The format was featured in an appendix to the previous edition.

Book (Musical Score)

Source: John Francis Wade, "O Come All Ye Faithful," arg. by John Cacavas, Christmas Songs the World Over: A Song Book for Individual or Group Singing, rev ed. (New York: Remick Music, 1968) 7. Print.

Source: Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 8 in F. Op. 93 (New York: Dover, 1989).


Source: Juan Campo, "Shrines and Talismans: Domestic Islam in the Pilgrimage Paintings of Egypt," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 55 (1987): 285–305.

Endnotes & Footnotes (TOP)

bullet Historically, MLA style frowned on the use of notes, though many journals using the style employ endnotes. The previous edition of the MLA Handbook even had an appendix featuring a special format for references in notes (and for sources referenced in table or figure notes). This is gone. The MLA Handbook now explains the use of two types of endnotes or footnotes: bibliographic notes and content notes (MLA 230-232).1,2

Tab1Bibliographic notes enable an author to refer readers to sources not directly cite in the text for additional information. For example, the MLA Handbook is a popular style guide for research papers as are the APA Publication Manual, the Chicago Manual of Style, and Kate Turabian's venerable Manual for Writers of Research Papers. Each of these sources must be listed in the works-cited list. However, a parenthetical citation in the text is also acceptable: There are several popular style guides (e.g., APA Publication Manual, Chicago Manual of Style, Turabian's Manual for Writers). This is illustrated in the MLA Handbook (216).

Tab2Content notes let an author present a useful digression that might otherwise disrupt the main theme of the text. Journals using notes appear to favor endnotes. Whether as endnotes or footnotes the format is that of an indented paragraph, marked with a superscript number in the text and note, with each numbered note starting a new paragraph. Notes are numbered consecutively through the text. Footnotes are placed within the margins, that is, sharing the text space (not the margin space). Endnotes go before the list of works cited.