How to Write an Essay in MLA Format: Best Strategies to Follow

MLA format is a popular academic style guide learners use in disciplines such as literature, language, and liberal arts. The format was introduced by the Modern Language Association and abbreviated as MLA. Students must adhere to particular guidelines to meet the specific style requirements when writing an essay in MLA format. In this article, we’ll provide a comprehensive guide about how to write an essay in MLA format and what strategies to choose to complete flawless essays according to the academic standard. 

Writing a perfectly-formatted essay in MLA

Before delving into details, let’s consider the question: what is MLA format for an essay? This style may be suitable for completing papers when studying humanities, like literature, history, and composition. Comparing APA vs. MLA, the discussed citation format is not as data-centric as other formatting styles. Discover some of its particularities.


These elements must be set to one inch on all sides of each page, including all the appendices and bibliography. This requirement is easy to meet since many word processors have this as the default setting. Thus, when you begin completing your document, you won't need to concern yourself with MLA format margins.


Knowing paragraph formatting rules helps you understand how to format an essay in MLA. While the MLA guide doesn't specify a set number of sentences for a paragraph, it does require that each new paragraph starts with an indentation half an inch away from the right margin.


The MLA format requires double spacing throughout all sections, including the bibliography and appendices. The paragraph spacing must also be doubled in the text body. While a few universities permit using single spacing for digital content, it’s not the norm, and it's advisable to consult with your tutor before submitting your essay. This gives your professor ample space to make corrections and give feedback on a printed copy for final grading.

Font and font size

Everybody interested in how to write an MLA essay should use an appropriate MLA format font, as it’s crucial to maintain your work seriousness and avoid any distractions caused by a messy or inappropriate font. The recommended MLA font for academic writing is Times New Roman, which is widely accepted and easily read. Use a 12-point font size in your MLA formatted paper to ensure readability. This will guarantee that your text is not too small to read comfortably or too large to distract from the content.


English grammar takes precedence in MLA format. Although punctuation rules are more flexible, some important considerations must be remembered. For instance, when creating the title of your paper in MLA format, apply the standard title case. Additionally, consult MLA punctuation rules for quotations to define where to locate your inline citations. It's also important to use Oxford or serial commas when completing lists of three or more points in a single sentence. You should include a comma before the conjunction preceding the list's final item. Consistency is essential in this writing style, and adhering to its guidelines can earn you recognition for uniform and well-crafted texts.

Header and title

To insert a header, you can either place it on the essay title page (if you choose to add one) or include it in the upper part of the first page. The header has to follow four main formatting rules, which must be arranged in the next order: the student’s full name, the professor’s name, the course or class name, and the deadline. Each header element should have one-inch margins on all sides and be double-spaced.

In an MLA format paper, the final header element (the project’s deadline) should be followed by the work’s name unless a title page is used. As for a title page, the paper should begin on the next page. The title of the essay should be placed in the center. There is no need to make it italicized, bolded, underlined, or add quotation marks.

Is a title page required for my MLA paper?

A title page is not typically necessary in this format, and instead, a header is usually included in the upper part of the first page. However, there are two exceptions where a title page is required when writing an essay in MLA format: if instructed by your tutor or when the assignment is a group project. A title page should be used in such cases, containing the same information as the header but on a separate page.

Running head

This element is a brief heading in the upper right corner of each page and typically includes the author's last name followed by the page number separated by a space. Several general requirements apply to creating a running head:

  • This element should be located on every page in the top right corner.
  • The running head should only consist of the student's last name and the page number.
  • Avoid including the abbreviation “p.” before the number of a page in MLA format.
  • It’s necessary to place the running head half an inch from the top margin and one inch from the right margin of the page.

Headings and subheadings

No matter what kind of assignment you're working on, including headings and subheadings in your writing is essential to ensure logically organized and well-structured content. If you want to learn how to write an essay in MLA format and complete papers in this style, you’ll likely need to use chapter titles, headings for your sections, and other subheadings.

The MLA style guide doesn’t provide particular rules for formatting different titles. Instead, it offers some recommendations to pay attention to:

  1. Do not include a period after your heading.
  2. Stay consistent with your formatting choices for headings in your whole document.

Stick to using the same size and font for all elements in the text. Only the font style should change. Subheadings, the least important of all heading types, must remain in the standard font style. Use italics for less prominent section headings and bold font for chapter titles to show their greater importance. 

Table of contents

While there are no strict guidelines for formatting a table of contents in MLA style, creating one in longer essays with multiple sections is recommended. A table of contents can help readers easily navigate to the most relevant sections and provide a content overview covered in the paper. Consider including a preface acknowledging the primary sources that influenced your essay (this recommendation will also be helpful for those interested in how to write an essay in APA format). You may also insert a glossary or appendix containing supplementary details to clarify background information or provide additional facts for readers to scrutinize.

Works Cited page

This is an essential component of an MLA formatted paper and is placed on a separate page at the end of the document. It must have an alphabetical list of all the sources mentioned in your essay. Not cited in the paper sources should not be included. 

To begin, create a heading titled Works Cited and center it in the upper part of your page. After the header, press ENTER once, and then list your sources. If a reference entry extends beyond one line, the second and subsequent lines should be indented half an inch from the left margin (also known as a hanging indent). All entries on the Works Cited page should be double-spaced, consistent with the rest of the text.

How to create correct MLA style citations?

To generate an MLA-style citation for your sources, you can take advantage of the MLA citation generator by EduBirdie. Simply input the book title, author’s name, or ISBN, and the tool will take care of the rest. Suppose you prefer to create your citations manually. In that case, an example is available below to help you understand what the Works Cited entry and MLA in-text citation should look like for various sources.

Example of a book citation:

Works Cited entry: Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. Dutton Books, 2012.

In-text citation: (Green 36)


The MLA format generally recommends avoiding abbreviations and spelling out words in full to prevent any confusion. However, there are some situations where abbreviations may be appropriate. In such cases, it’s important to follow specific rules:

  • Do not use periods between capital letters (e.g., use US instead of U.S. for the United States);
  • If the full words are written in lowercase, it is acceptable to use periods between the words (e.g., for “that is”);
  • If the full phrase has a mix of lowercase and uppercase letters, you shouldn’t use periods if uppercase letters are prevalent (e.g., PhD instead of Ph.D.);
  • The full month names should be used in the body of a paper (abbreviations for months longer than four letters can be used in references); 
  • Abbreviations for particular words like page, chapter, volume, etc., are allowed in the Works Cited page. 
  • Some publishers’ names and certain biblical and classical sources can also be abbreviated on the Works Cited page (this is because they are cited very often). However, in the body of the document, full names are expected.


To use numbers in an MLA format for an essay, you should follow these guidelines:

  • Use numerals before measurements (e.g., 5 kilograms, 8 meters);
  • Spell out numbers written in one or two words and use digits for large numbers written in more than two words (e.g., three, forty-two, 598);
  • Use digits for decimals, fractions, and numbers placed before labels or measurements (e.g., 7 years, 5 a.m.);
  • Roman numerals can be used in outlines or to denote suffixes;
  • Avoid including ISBNs in your work;
  • Refrain from starting a sentence with a number.

Tables and figures 

To properly present tables and figures in a paper, it is important to follow the MLA guidelines. These should be placed as close to the relevant section as possible. Tables should be numbered and labeled, with a descriptive title placed above it in bold. The source information should appear in a caption below the table, and any explanatory notes should be marked with a superscript letter. 

On the other hand, figures are also numbered and labeled. However, with the label "Fig.",m the number and period are placed below the image in a centered caption. The rest of the caption can provide full source information or only essential descriptive details about the image. It is important to remember that the text in both tables and figures should be double-spaced, and title case capitalization should be used for the title (but not for the caption or notes).


You should follow basic grammar rules to create a list in MLA format. There are also some particular guidelines to know:

  • All lists must be horizontal;
  • The list and the introductory sentence should be separated with a colon, except when the list is included in the sentence;
  • Use semicolons for formal lists with a period after the last line item or bullet points for informal lists;
  • Numbered lists are required when giving instructions in a particular order;
  • Use lists sparingly to enhance readability, but not to the point where they take over the paper.

Get assistance with your MLA assignment!

Following our guidelines explaining how to write an essay in MLA format can be an important step in ensuring that your work meets the standards of academic papers. You can ensure that your content is presented clearly and professionally by correctly formatting your document, citing your sources with our useful MLA citation generator, and adhering to the guidelines for headings and margins. These guidelines are designed to promote clarity and consistency in academic writing. Following them, you can make your text well-organized, well-documented, and easily read. If you need additional recommendations and explanations, feel free to contact writing experts at EduBirdie, who are always ready to polish your assignments. 


What are the requirements for size and font in MLA format? 

To ensure readability and accessibility, MLA suggests utilizing a 12-point Times New Roman font available on every PC. Other common fonts, such as Georgia or Arial, are also acceptable. However, if uncertain, it’s advisable to consult with your supervisor to determine the appropriate font for your work.

What is the newest edition of the MLA Handbook? 

The 9th edition of the MLA Handbook, published in 2021, contains the most up-to-date guidelines for formatting writing pieces and citing sources in MLA style. This concise guide to MLA style outlines the latest recommendations for adhering to MLA guidelines.

What is the spacing requirement for an essay in MLA format? 

The entire document should be double-spaced, including the text, notes, block quotations, and a page with Works Cited. This spacing should be applied to the main paper text and between the lines of the heading, title, and paragraphs. It is important to note that there should be no extra space between paragraphs or sections aside from the ½ inch indentation at the beginning of each new paragraph.

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