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MLA Referencing - The Basics

by Krista

MLA For Dummies (Or those who just don't remember)

MLA or the Modern Language Association style of referencing is used widely by academic institutions around the world. The association's formal guidelines are taught and used everyday by millions of students, teachers and scholars alike. MLA is mostly known in the realms of liberal arts, the humanities as well as language and literature of many different writing styles. MLA features "brief parenthetical citations" in which is referenced at the end of a specific document (MLA). Just like that!

Universities and colleges will require you to reference everything you write, otherwise you may be charged for plagiarism which is the i ntentional or accidental use of someone else's work as your own without recognition of their original ideas.

So what's the format?

The format of writing in MLA style formatting can be found in the MLA Handbook for Wriers of Research Papers or the MLA Handbook, which you can easily find in public library or the university stacks. Like we've said, MLA uses citation style with parenthesis within the text to reference material and lists it at the end of the document (MLA).

There are a few general guidelines you should be following to format your paper correctly. Here's a great and comprehensive list as presented by Jennifer Liethen Kunka and Joe Barbato of The Writing Lab, OWL at Purdue and Purdue University (OWL)…


General Guidelines

  • Type your paper on a computer and print it out on standard, white 8.5 × 11-inch paper,
  • Double-space the text of your paper, and use a legible font like Times New Roman or Courier. The font size should be 10-12 pt.
  • Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks (unless otherwise instructed by your instructor).
  • Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides. Indent the first line of a paragraph one half-inch (five spaces or press tab once) from the left margin.
  • Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor may ask that you omit the number on your first page. Always follow your instructor's guidelines.)
  • Use either italics or underlining throughout your essay for the titles of longer works and, only when absolutely necessary, providing emphasis.
  • If you have any endnotes, include them on a separate page before your Works Cited page.

Formatting the First Page of Your Paper

  • Do not make a title page for your paper unless specifically requested.
  • In the upper left-hand corner of the first page, list your name, your instructor's name, the course, and the date. Again, be sure to use double-spaced text.
  • Double space again and center the title. Don't underline your title or put it in quotation marks; write the title in Title Case, not in all capital letters.
  • Use quotation marks and underlining or italics when referring to other works in your title, just as you would in your text, e.g.,
    • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as Morality Play
    • Human Weariness in "After Apple Picking"

  • Double space between the title and the first line of the text.
  • Create a header in the upper right-hand corner that includes your last name, followed by a space with a page number; number all pages
    consecutively with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor or other readers may ask that you omit last name/page number header on your first page. Always follow their guidelines.)

Here is a sample first page of an essay in MLA style:

Image of a sample first page of an MLA-formatted paper, demonstrating double-spacing, right-hand placement of last name and page number, left-hand placement of student/instructor information, centered title, and half-inch indented paragraph text.


Image Caption: A sample first page of an MLA-formatted paper.

Here is the Citation of the Purdue OWL in MLA:

Entire Website

The Purdue OWL. 26 Aug.
2008. The Writing Lab and OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. 16 June 2008 <http://owl.english.purdue.edu>.

Individual Resources

Purdue OWL. "MLA Formatting and Style Guide." The Online Writing Lab at Purdue. 10 May 2008. Purdue University Writing Lab. 16 June 2008
<http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/557/01/>.

Other References used in this article:

Modern Language Association. "What is MLA Style." Modern Language Association. 29 Apr. 2007. MLA Style. 16 June 2008. <http://www.mla.org/style>

The Trial. "Write". Flickr. 26 August 2007. Flickr Photo Sharing. 16 June 2008. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/thetrial/1241596127/>

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Last Updated At Dec 07, 2012
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