Wednesday, 8 October 2014

How to Format Essays in MLA Style

MLA style is used for essays written for English and the humanities. The key difference between MLA style and APA style is that APA uses the author-date form of in-text citation (also generically known as Harvard style) and MLA uses the author-page style of in-text citation. But there are several other details in the the way you format essays in MLA style that are important to note.

For both styles of essay, use double-spaced lines with 1 inch margins. Indent each paragraph 1/2 inch and do not put an extra line between paragraphs. So notice that this blog is not written in either MLA or APA style.

MLA style papers do not have a title page. Instead, on the first page of the paper, in the upper left hand corner, put your name, the course name, the name of the teacher, and the date on individual lines. Double space these lines. On the next line put the paper title centred in bold.

Both styles of essay require a running head (instructions from your teacher may vary--always follow the teacher's instructions). If you don't know how to insert a running head, check out this blog post on how to create a running head in MS Word. However, in MLA style, you do not put the title of the essay in the running head. A running head in MLA style only includes your last name (as the author of the paper) and a page number. These are aligned to the right. Use automated page numbers! Don't manually insert page numbers. When you are formatting the header, type your name, then space, then use the insert menu to insert a page number. The numbers will format automatically on each page.

As I stated before, the in-text citations are the key difference in MLA essays. Remember, the in-text citation is only a signpost for the reader to get more information about something you've said in your essay. You've quoted, paraphrased or otherwise referred to someone other work. The in-text citation provides sufficient information for the reader to go to your works cited page to find the full citation, which will tell them how to find the original work. This is true for both styles of citation. So you only need enough information to specific which item in your works cited list is the right one. It's pretty simple if you have only one work by a specific author. Simply put the name of the author followed by the page number in the work with no comma or punctuation between (author year). Notice that the period follows the parenthetical citation (it's like the citation is a little note to the reader contained within the sentence).

MLA style is more forgiving than APA style for sources such as webpages that do not have page numbers. Remember, the key is giving the reader enough information to find the full citation in the works cited page. Simply tell the reader the source in the text. "According to CNN.com..." Then the reader can skip to the Works Cited page and find the citation for CNN.com. If there is more than one citation for CNN.com, include some information about which article you are referring to.

If you don't know the author of a work you are citing, use a shortened version of the title. If the title is of a short work, place it in quotation marks; if the title is of a longer work, place it in italics.

Skipping down to the end of the paper, the reference section is titled "Works cited" in MLA essays. Center the title, put do not put it in bold. The entire works cited section should be double spaced with no additional spaces between entries. The paragraphs should be formatted as a hanging indent with 1/2 inch indent. If you don't know how to format a hanging indent, see this blog post on MS Word skills every student should know.

As of 2009, each entry needs to include the medium: book, print, web, film, etc.

Entries are listed alphabetically by author's last name and full first name (unlike APA style where entries only use the author's initials. The basic format is NAME, TITLE, PUBLISHING INFORMATION, DATE OF PUBLICATION, MEDIUM. In addition, if the medium is WEB, then the date of access follows the word WEB. (Note, I'm only using all caps to show which information is used; your paper would write these out using normal rules of capitalization).

My go-to source for formatting questions is the Writing Lab at Purdue University. Although I edit papers every day and I've come across most permutations at some point, I always go back there to verify what the correct format is.


Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net