How To Write an MLA Format Essay: Design and Tips for Better Texts

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by Will Martins / Updated February 13, 2024

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The MLA format is a set of formatting and citation guidelines without which you cannot write a scientific paper. MLA is only for the humanities, most often languages and philosophy, while technical subjects have other rules. You’ll probably encounter rules of MLA format in your student life, such as essays. Therefore, let's figure out what it is and how to write MLA format essay for better grades.

How to write an essay in MLA style format

So, you have a blank doc in front of you and zero understanding of where to start to stick to MLA format. We recommend setting up the formatting immediately, although you can do it after completing the text. Here are steps to write an MLA format essay:

  1. Times New Roman font, 12 point. Sometimes, you can use Arial or Helvetica with a size 11-13; check with your advisor.
  2. Margins are one inch on each side except for the running head.
  3. One space after periods.
  4. Indent paragraphs one-half inch from the left margin. Indent with the Tab key, not the space bar.
  5. Double-space all text, including quotes and references.
  6. Abbreviations do not include periods between letters.
  7. The MLA format title on the first page is aligned to the left. You should indicate the author's name, teacher, course number, and submission date.

Rules for MLA format may change over the years or vary from institution to institution. Your college or university should provide a document with the requirements, making the task much more manageable. In addition, we advise you to look through MLA examples from previous years.

Now, let's talk about style. MLA format suggests the Oxford comma, also known as a serial comma. If a number can be written in one or two words, do so. Numerals are appropriate when more than two words are needed (103, 3,281, or fractions like 3 ½). But when you combine numbers, such as 4 to 6 books, use numbers. The same goes for pages, chapters, etc. Do not shorten the dates. You have a choice of month-day-year or day-ahead format but stick to the one you choose throughout the text.

Always use a person's full name in a MLA format, whether an author, another scholar, or anyone else. The exception is if it’s customary to refer to someone by their first name only. Be careful to use lowercase letters in the names and titles of sources. Avoid using special ones, such as underlining or italics. That’s the basis of how to write an essay in MLA format.

Headings and subheadings

These guys are essential; you want your readers to understand you. It’s much easier to do this with a clear structure. According to MLA style format, the heading is in the center at the top of the page. Use Times New Roman font size 12. Make the title short and precise to reflect the paper's main idea.

Subheadings, in turn, add even more structure and define sections. It’s unlikely that you want to cover only one thesis. Subheadings can be written in bold or italics, but maintaining consistency throughout the MLA essay format is the main thing.

Sources and references

A research paper requires evidence and creating a thesis statement in MLA format on which you base your thoughts. It should be supported by references to relevant publications to avoid plagiarism. Let's take a look at the most common cases:

  • Books. The first mention of a book includes the author's name, book title, publisher, and year of publication. Then, use only the last name and page.
  • Articles in the journal. Author, article title, journal title, year of publication, pages.
  • Web resources. Author's name or organization, page title, website name, publication date (if any), URL.
  • Poems or songs. Title of the work, name of the artist or poet, album or collection, publisher, year, pages (if available).

Students usually paraphrase a thought from another or use a direct quote. In either case, you must cite the source to comply with MLA format. Don’t overuse direct quotes, as your ideas should still be the basis. Also, try to use various sources for your essay in MLA format to get a more objective and balanced point of view.

In-text citations in MLA format

Let's sort out how to use quotes in the text; MLA citation rules are necessary. Parenthetical references contain minimal information and require only the author's last name. A page number is not needed, but you may use it. Example: The allegory shows helplessness and insecurity by comparing it to the life of insects (Kafka, 5).

Narrative one is when you mention the author's name alongside what they said. Then, you don't need to put anything in parentheses, or you can set the page if you know the specific one. Example: Kafka used an insect allegory to show Gregor's helplessness. You can mention the title of the work. Whichever option you choose, cite it according to the MLA format in the list of references at the end of your paper.

Proofreading an MLA format essay

Let's say you’re now better at understanding the MLA format and have worked on your topic. But to succeed, you also must polish the finished MLA format writing. The best advice is to leave the article for a while. Well, if your deadline isn’t burning. A day will be enough. After that, you can start checking. Follow the tips below:

  • Read backward. It's not mandatory, but it's an exciting practice. Reading from the end will help you spot spelling and other common mistakes in MLA format writing as you focus on the individual words rather than the meaning.
  • Use spell-checking tools. Microsoft Word and Google Docs have built-in ones, but be safe with additional ones like Grammarly, LanguageTool, and others.
  • Read aloud. Do it yourself or ask someone else to listen in from the outside to spot any inconsistencies in using MLA format for essay.
  • Simplify phrases. Avoid complex and intricate constructions. Remove them to ensure clarity.
  • Focus on the main point. Avoid unnecessary details; otherwise, readers won’t reach the end. Occasionally, reread the topic and determine whether your paragraph corresponds to it and the MLA format.
  • Collect feedback. Ask someone to read your text and give you feedback. It can be a tutor, classmates, friends, etc. They’ll tell you if you have that MLA essay format.
  • Versions and proofreading. Keep different versions of your and make changes step by step.

An additional option is to use paid services. For example, if you don't have a mentor or someone else to ask. The main thing is to choose a reliable one, such as or essaymarket, as you’ll have to pay money. You place an order, and a qualified teacher checks the text.

Differences between MLA and APA formats

The MLA writing style is often confused with APA as they are used in the academic community. Let's look at the difference in the table below.





It is designed for the humanities, including language, literature, and the arts.

Used primarily in the social sciences, such as psychology, sociology, and economics.

Name design

Last name, first name.

Last name, the first letter of the first name.

Format of citations

In-text citations should include the author's last name and page.

Citations include the author's last name, year, and page number (if available).

Headings and subheadings

Centered headings, italics for subheadings.

Left-aligned headings, italics or bold for subheadings.

List of references

It contains all the sources used alphabetically by the author's last name.

It includes all the sources used but is organized alphabetically by the author's last name and then by the year of publication.

Pages and numbering

Title on the first page without a number, page numbers at the top right.

The page number is at the top right of each page.

The differences are only in formatting, so you can safely open the document with the recommendations and follow them. The main thing is to focus on the content; that’s where the stakes are higher.

Final thoughts on MLA format

Everything will be fine once you get used to it. You'll have to use the MLA style format more than once or twice during your studies to achieve automaticity. In the meantime, use our tips for writing an MLA format essay and your teacher's advice. If you're short on time, use paid services and save a few nights. You can always turn to professional paper writing services to format your assignment in MLA properly. Their experts know how everything should be done and will deliver you a perfectly formatted paper on time. Just check here for writing service reviews and find the best one. So, good luck in mastering the MLA essay format for your papers.


MLA (Modern Language Association) format is a standardized method for formatting academic papers, particularly in the humanities. It establishes guidelines for citing sources, formatting margins, headers, title pages, and other elements of an essay. Adhering to MLA format ensures consistency, professionalism, and proper attribution of sources, which are crucial for academic integrity and clarity of communication.

Key components of MLA format include: In-text citations, Works cited page, Formatting, Title page, Headings and subheadings, Quotations

Following MLA format ensures proper attribution of sources, maintains academic integrity, and enhances the professionalism and clarity of your essay.

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