Learn How to Write a Research Paper in MLA Format with Samples

This guide will help you learn how to format and structure your research paper based on MLA format guidelines. We shall focus on general formatting guidelines and essential MLA research paper structure. Our guide will provide several helpful tips that will add to your writing confidence. Essentially, you will learn how to write a research paper in MLA format correctly.

What is MLA Formatting? 

MLA stands for Modern Language Association and is currently in its 9th edition, which has been published in 2021. In simple terms, MLA style formatting is a special system of referencing and structuring research papers. The main purpose is to cite sources correctly and keep your research writing always accurate. By learning how to write a research paper in MLA format, you will be able to submit your college homework according to specified rules and will avoid confusion. You will also learn how to format and structure the list of bibliography references for a research or essay paper by using the Works Cited page. It is another essential aspect of MLA style format.

MLA style format aims to help your college professor and the target audience to navigate through your paper by turning to various in-text citations with an opportunity to see where information has been taken. Since MLA has specific standards, your academic advisor will check whether you have followed the rules and used the same format, font sizes, headers, and other aspects that make research writing universal.

What is MLA format then? The MLA style is mostly used by college students majoring in English, Literature, social sciences, arts, and humanities. One can assume that MLA style format is one of the most accessible writing standards, which is why it is often required during an introductory course where students learn how to structure their papers and keep information properly referenced.

When you are looking for reliable sources online, it will be easy to recognize the use of MLA format because of the famous MLA header that is always included on the first page where you must mention your full name, instructor's name, your course, and the date. It is also necessary to use page formatting with your last name on each page, which also helps to determine that an MLA format has been used. We shall discuss this aspect further on as you proceed with our guide. 

MLA Research Paper Format: General Guidelines 

If you are already familiar with at least one other academic writing format, you will already know the basics and it will be easier for you to process the information in MLA style. The majority of formats of research paper writing stand for the general rules on how to structure your page layout and a list of rules regarding correct citation. The most important is to start with the MLA header, which will look this way:

Adam Greeley

Professor Smith

Humanities 7311

14 May 2022 

This header is always placed at the top left corner of the first page (no title page is required in most cases!) with the page number and your name aligned to the top right of the page. It will look this way: 

Greeley 1

The other rules on how to write a MLA research paper include:

  • The recommended fonts include Times New Roman, Arial, or Verdana in 12 pt size. 
  • All the margins of the page in MS Word or a similar processor should be set at 1 inch. 
  • The main content is double-spaced unless specified otherwise. 
  • The MLA header is included only on the first page of your research paper. 
  • The title of your work must be centered. 
  • Every new research paper paragraph should have a hanging indent. 
  • The MLA style uses the author-page citation pattern where you should list the author's last name with the page number. 
  • The Bibliography page has the "Works Cited" title at the top and center of the first page with your citations. 
  • The sources are listed alphabetically. 
  • Do not place a period after the title or headers. 
  • Do not underline words unless it’s necessary.

It is recommended to use the rules of inclusive language, according to the latest manual edition of the MLA style. It means that you must avoid certain terms that focus on ethnic peculiarities, religion, gender, disability, age, or social challenges unless it is absolutely necessary. You can also use words like "human-made" to specify gender-neutral aspects. 

MLA Research Paper Structure: Essential Parts

One of the most important parts of writing a research paper successfully is following the correct structure that is specified by the chosen writing style. Here are the MLA research paper format parts that you should consider:

Title Page

It should have your university's name on top of the page, then the title of your research paper at the center of the page, and at the bottom of the page: your name, course name, professor's name, and the paper's due date (all centered).

Section Headings

The main heading should include your name, instructor's name, relevant class information, and the paper's delivery date.

The other MLA page headings:

First Level Heading.

Your text 

Second Level Heading.

Your text.

Third Level Heading 

Your text

Fourth Level Heading

Your text

Fifth Level Heading 

Your text

Research Paper Outline

Title of the page (centered)

1. Introduction

  • Talk about the importance of your subject. 
  • An interesting topic sentence.

2. Thesis Statement

3. Body Paragraphs

  • Methodology. 
  • Research Justification. 
  • Research Findings.

4. Research Discussion

5. Conclusion

  • Thesis explanation. 

Introduction & Thesis

Talk about the importance of your research and use a strong thesis statement. Research paper MLA style guidebook recommends allocating about 10% of your final word count to this part.

Body Parts

This is where you must use in-text citations to support your arguments. Always introduce the subject that you want to explore, make a claim, and use citing only then to make it suitable.

In-text Citations

The classic in-text citation will look this way:

According to Darren Smith, “certain peculiarities have been noticed in Shakespeare’s perception of time and death” (9).

The majority of references to youth and the fragility help to understand how age has been limited by social circumstances (Smith 11).

Works Cited Page.

If you already know how to format your Bibliography, it is essential to look for complete information and provide as much as you can. If you are citing from a poetry book or an analysis paper that has been published:

Last Name, First Name of the author. "Title of your research paper." Title of Collection, edited by Editor's Name(s), Publisher, Year, page range of the data you have used.

Research paper MLA style Works Cited page example: 

Stanley, Lace. "Shakespeare's Psychology." The Collected Classic English Poems, edited by John Langsley, Penguin Books, 2006, p.26.

Citing something from Jstor scientific database:

Author’s Last Name, First Name. “Title.” Title of Scientific Journal, vol. Volume, no. Issue, Month Year of publication, pp. Pages, https://doi.org/DOI, or any relevant identifier.

Enciso, Patricia, et al. “Children’s Literature: Standing in the Shadow of Adults.” Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 2, 2010, pp. 252–63. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20697185. Accessed 20 Jun. 2022.

Regardless of whether you are using MLA format or would like to learn how to use different styles, your research paper should have an introduction, a review of the literature that you have used, the methodology that has been chosen, the results of your research, and a discussion of the findings. You may also be limited by an introduction with a thesis statement, body parts with the arguments, and the conclusion part where you talk about the findings. It will always depend on your subject and research paper type.

Research Paper in MLA Format Writing Tips

Contrary to the popular belief, research paper writing in MLA format is not too difficult if you know the basic rules. If you plan to learn how to write a research paper in APA format, you will feel even more confident because you will be able to differentiate the styles. As a way to help you with your research writing, we have collected these simple MLA formatting for research paper tips:

  • Always start with the sources and check for Bibliography pages that may be included. 
  • Use only verified sources and look for databases like Google Scholar, Jstor, PubMed, etc. 
  • Always introduce your subject and talk about its importance.
  • Do not overuse citations in your research paper. 

Correct Research Paper Formatting Helps to Avoid Plagiarism

Numerous college students often ask about the purpose of correct research formatting, be it MLA, APA, Chicago, or any other format. In addition to structuring things according to academic standards, the most important aspect of staying accurate, as you research, is to provide correct structure and citations if you use any external sources. It will help you to prepare your writing for publishing purposes and let you avoid plagiarism issues. It is the main purpose of correct research paper formatting. This guide contains the main rules that provide a checklist that will help you stay safe and follow all the essential rules. 

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