The following checklist addresses all of the important aspects of formatting that you should consider before submitting your essay. While the recommendations here reflect the expectations of most professors, some may prefer that you follow their own essay guidelines. Consult with your professor if you have any questions about the formatting of your paper.
Your essays should always be neat and easy to read. When you use a word processor, use left justification and choose a standard font (e.g., Times New Roman 12 pt.). If you use a typewriter, make sure that it produces dark, clear letters. Print or type on plain white 8 1/2" X 11" paper.
While professors have the authority to require that you submit a printed copy of your essays, some professors will accept handwritten work. Consult your professor if you have questions about what is acceptable in his/her course. If you handwrite your essay, write neatly (in blue or black ink) on lined paper, and space, number, and format your pages according to the following guidelines.
Whether you word process, type, or handwrite your paper, you should always double-space the text of your essay, including indented quotations, the works cited list, and any endnotes or footnotes.
Number your pages in the upper right-hand corner, starting with the first page of your text. (Do not include title pages or outlines in the numbering). The page number is usually 1/2" from the top of the page or two lines above the top line of your text. Most word processing programs have a tool which inserts page numbers for you.
Do not put an abbreviation (e.g., p.14) before your page numbers. You may, however, type your last name before the page number to prevent confusion or loss (e.g., Johnson 14).
Underlining or Italics
Underline or italicize titles of books, plays, films, long poems, magazines, CD-ROMs and any work usually published by itself. The main exceptions are the titles of sacred books (e.g., the books of the Bible, the Koran), titles of series (e.g., the Loeb Classical Library), and political documents (e.g., The Treaty of Versailles).
Do not underline or italicize the title of a work if it occurs within an underlined title (e.g., the title of a book about another book). For example, Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior is not underlined or italicized in the title of Shirley Geok-lin Lim's Approaches to teaching Kingston's The Woman Warrior.
While underlining and italics represent the same thing, the MLA Handbook recommends that students underline in their papers because italic type is less distinctive (Gibaldi 75). Some professors, however, accept (or prefer) italics. Whether you choose to underline or italicize, you should always be consistent throughout your paper. In this guide, we use italics.
Put quotation marks around titles of short works--such as poems, short stories, and essays--which are normally published only as part of a collection with a separate title. Note that when an anthology includes large works (e.g., novels, plays), you should still underline or italicize their titles. Hamlet does not become "Hamlet" in even the biggest anthology.
You should underline or italicize foreign words and phrases or words and phrases that need emphasis.
In contrast, use quotation marks around words deliberately misused or used in a special sense, words referred to as words, or parenthetical translations or definitions. Do not use quotation marks or bolding for emphasis.
Unless your instructor requires a separate title page, put the following on your first page, double-spaced, starting at the top left corner:
Start the text of your essay four spaces under the last line of your title. Indent each paragraph a single tab (equivalent to five spaces), but do not put extra space between paragraphs.
Sequence of Parts
- title page (only if your instructor requires it)
- an outline (only if your instructor requires it)
- the text of your essay
- notes (if any)
- a list of works cited or a list of works you consulted while preparing your essay
Fasten the pages of your paper with a paper clip. Do not staple them or fasten them in a folder of any kind.
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If your instructor has specific requirements for the format of your research paper, check them before preparing your final draft. When you submit your paper, be sure to keep a secure copy.
The most common formatting is presented in the sections below:
Except for the running head (see below), leave margins of one inch at the top and bottom and on both sides of the text. If you plan to submit a printout on paper larger than 8½ by 11 inches, do not print the text in an area greater than 6½ by 9 inches.
Always choose an easily readable typeface (e.g., Times New Roman) in which the regular type style contrasts clearly with the italic, and set it to a standard size (e.g., 12 points). Do not justify the lines of text at the right margin; turn off any automatic hyphenation feature in your writing program. Double-space the entire research paper, including quotations, notes, and the list of works cited. Indent the first line of a paragraph half an inch from the left margin. Indent set-off quotations half an inch as well (for examples, see 76–80 in the MLA Handbook). Leave one space after a period or other concluding punctuation mark, unless your instructor prefers two spaces.
Heading and Title
Beginning one inch from the top of the first page and flush with the left margin, type your name, your instructor’s name, the course number, and the date on separate lines, double-spacing the lines. On a new, double-spaced line, center the title (fig. 1). Do not italicize or underline your title, put it in quotation marks or boldface, or type it in all capital letters. Follow the rules for capitalization in the MLA Handbook (67–68), and italicize only the words that you would italicize in the text.
Do not use a period after your title or after any heading in the paper (e.g., Works Cited). Begin your text on a new, double-spaced line after the title, indenting the first line of the paragraph half an inch from the left margin.
A research paper does not normally need a title page, but if the paper is a group project, create a title page and list all the authors on it instead of in the header on page 1 of your essay. If your teacher requires a title page in lieu of or in addition to the header, format it according to the instructions you are given.
Running Head with Page Numbers
Number all pages consecutively throughout the research paper in the upper right-hand corner, half an inch from the top and flush with the right margin. Type your last name, followed by a space, before the page number (fig. 2). Do not use the abbreviation p. before the page number or add a period, a hyphen, or any other mark or symbol. Your writing program will probably allow you to create a running head of this kind that appears automatically on every page. Some teachers prefer that no running head appear on the first page. Follow your teacher’s preference.
Placement of the List of Works Cited
The list of works cited appears at the end of the paper, after any endnotes. Begin the list on a new page. The list contains the same running head as the main text. The page numbering in the running head continues uninterrupted throughout. For example, if the text of your research paper (including any endnotes) ends on page 10, the works-cited list begins on page 11. Center the title, Works Cited, an inch from the top of the page (fig. 3). (If the list contains only one entry, make the heading Work Cited.) Double-space between the title and the first entry. Begin each entry flush with the left margin; if an entry runs more than one line, indent the subsequent line or lines half an inch from the left margin. This format is sometimes called hanging indention, and you can set your writing program to create it automatically for a group of paragraphs. Hanging indention makes alphabetical lists easier to use. Double-space the entire list. Continue it on as many pages as necessary.
Tables and Illustrations
Place tables and illustrations as close as possible to the parts of the text to which they relate. A table is usually labeled Table, given an arabic numeral, and titled. Type both label and title flush left on separate lines above the table, and capitalize them as titles (do not use all capital letters). Give the source of the table and any notes immediately below the table in a caption. To avoid confusion between notes to the text and notes to the table, designate notes to the table with lowercase letters rather than with numerals. Double-space throughout; use dividing lines as needed (fig. 4).
Any other type of illustrative visual material—for example, a photograph, map, line drawing, graph, or chart—should be labeled Figure (usually abbreviated Fig.), assigned an arabic numeral, and given a caption: “Fig. 1. Mary Cassatt, Mother and Child, Wichita Art Museum.” A label and caption ordinarily appear directly below the illustration and have the same one-inch margins as the text of the paper (fig. 5). If the caption of a table or illustration provides complete information about the source and the source is not cited in the text, no entry for the source in the works-cited list is necessary.
Musical illustrations are labeled Example (usually abbreviated Ex.), assigned an arabic numeral, and given a caption: “Ex. 1. Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 6 in B, opus 74 (Pathétique), finale.” A label and caption ordinarily appear directly below the example and have the same one-inch margins as the text of the paper (fig. 6).
Paper and Printing
If you print your paper, use only white, 8½-by-11-inch paper of good quality. If you lack 8½-by-11-inch paper, choose the closest size available. Use a high-quality printer. Some instructors prefer papers printed on a single side because they’re easier to read, but others allow printing on both sides as a means of conserving paper; follow your instructor’s preference.
Corrections and Insertions on Printouts
Proofread and correct your research paper carefully before submitting it. If you are checking a printout and find a mistake, reopen the document, make the appropriate revisions, and reprint the corrected page or pages. Be sure to save the changed file. Spelling checkers and usage checkers are helpful when used with caution. They do not find all errors and sometimes label correct material as erroneous. If your instructor permits corrections on the printout, write them neatly and legibly in ink directly above the lines involved, using carets (⁁) to indicate where they go. Do not use the margins or write a change below the line it affects. If corrections on any page are numerous or substantial, revise your document and reprint the page.
Binding a Printed Paper
Pages of a printed research paper may get misplaced or lost if they are left unattached or merely folded down at a corner. Although a plastic folder or some other kind of binder may seem an attractive finishing touch, most instructors find such devices a nuisance in reading and commenting on students’ work. Many prefer that a paper be secured with a simple paper or binder clip, which can be easily removed and restored. Others prefer the use of staples.
There are at present no commonly accepted standards for the electronic submission of research papers. If you are asked to submit your paper electronically, obtain from your teacher guidelines for formatting, mode of submission (e.g., by e-mail, on a Web site), and so forth and follow them closely.
Designed to be printed out and used in the classroom. From the MLA Handbook, 8th ed., published by the Modern Language Association.