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What is MLA Format?

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stacy Redd

Stacy has taught college English and has a master's degree in literature.

Writing in certain academic disciplines must follow the style requirements of the format created by the Modern Language Association (MLA). Explore the MLA format for the structure of citations, in-text citations, and the works cited page. Updated: 08/22/2021

What is MLA?

MLA stands for Modern Language Association, and MLA format refers to the format the association created that is commonly used in many areas of academic writing, particularly in the humanities. In this video, we'll go over the defining aspects of MLA formatting and citation style, though it's important to note that updates are made to the style from time to time, so you should consult an updated style guide to make sure you're up to date.

First, let's start with formatting. Bear with me here if any of this seems like review, it's all in the name of being thorough and accurate. Remember that you should always consult your paper's prompt to see if your instructor requires any deviations from traditional MLA formatting. Since she's the one giving you the grade, it's important to follow her instructions above any others when it comes to your paper.

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  • 0:07 What Is MLA?
  • 0:56 Formatting Your Paper
  • 3:06 In-Text Citations
  • 5:19 Works Cited Page
  • 7:11 Lesson Summary
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Formatting Your Paper the MLA Way

A properly-formatted MLA-style paper will be constructed as follows:

  • Typed on 8.5 X 11 inch paper with 12 pt. font
  • 1-inch margins on all sides
  • First line of each paragraph indented one half-inch from the left margin (pro tip: use the tab key instead of the space bar to ensure perfect indentation)
  • Body text of the paper should be double spaced
  • Only one space after periods or other punctuation marks
  • Number all of your pages in the upper right hand corner - your page numbers should be a half inch from the top of the paper and in line with your right margin

There's some specific formatting requirements with regards to the first page of your paper that I want to cover before we move onto the rules of MLA citation. Typically, in MLA formatting, there is no title page, though of course if your instructor requests one, please be sure to follow her instructions.

Let's take a look at this sample:

Sample paper written in MLA style
sample MLA style paper

You'll notice in the upper left-hand corner of the page, I've listed my full name, the name of my instructor (I like to pretend I'm a student at Hogwarts whenever I can), my course name and number, and the date. Like the rest of your paper, this should be double spaced.

In the upper right hand corner, you'll notice my last name and the page number. Sometimes, your instructor may not want a page number on the first page, but instead want you to start numbering on page 2. Sometimes she may want you to omit your last name in the page number. If you're unsure, ask.

The title of your page should be centered and not use special formatting: no italics, bold, all caps, etc. MLA is typically light on that kind of formatting, unless you're referring to a specific publication, in which case you should italicize the publication name. I know it's fun to use italics or all caps for emphasis in email, but it's not standard practice in MLA.

Depending on the level of detail your instructor requires you to adhere to MLA formatting, you may need to consult a style guide for information on things like section headings, abbreviations, and formatting quotations. There are great style guides available for free online, but make sure they're from a reliable source (like a university) and using the most updated version of the guide.

In-Text Citations

The next defining characteristic of MLA style we're going to cover is in-text citations. In-text citations are important for ensuring that you properly credit your sources. Your instructor needs to be able to identify which parts of your paper are your own versus the work of others. Giving credit to your sources and not implying that someone else's words or ideas are yours is hugely important in academic writing.

The pieces of information you'll need to know when creating an in-text citation for your paper are: the name of the author (or authors) of the work you're citing and the page number on which the information you're using can be found. This allows your instructor or any reader to find the source you used on your Works Cited page (which we'll get to in a moment) and look it up for himself, either to verify that your information is correct or get more information on the topic you've addressed in your paper.

Pro tip: keeping track of the pages where you found pieces of information you know you'll want to use in your paper while still in the research phase will save you time when you're citing because you won't have to flip through all your sources to find the right page numbers for the information at the end of your process, which, I can tell you from experience, is frustrating.

Here are a couple of different ways that MLA in-text citations can look, depending on how you introduce your source:

If you're mentioning the author, your parenthetical citation only needs to include the page number. For example: According to Redd, Harry Potter is a far more compelling character than Bella Swan (219). In this case, I've mentioned the author's name, so I only need to include the page number in the parenthetical reference.

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