How to Format Your MLA Paper in Five Minutes

How to Format MLA
Santiago Mallea

Santiago Mallea

Content Writer At Gradehacker

Citation styles are one of the most important aspects of essay writing. From APA to MLA format, each style uniquely visually structures your paper and cites the original sources. But keeping track and remembering every specific requirement and rule is not as easy as it seems.

Even if you have years of experience writing essays, it’s easy to doubt which order you have to include the information or how to cite a source with three authors in your text.

As you are writing in MLA format, maybe you’ve included the year of publication in the in-text citations, or perhaps you followed the rules of the previous MLA 8th edition. And if you end up with many of these seemingly small mistakes, you can lose some valuable points on your final grade, or worse, fail your essay.

That’s why it’s so important to always have a clear and thorough guideline that shows you how to properly follow each citation style requirement while writing your paper. You already know how to format your APA paper in 5 minutes, but now you are looking for an MLA 9th Edition guide.

Here at Gradehacker, we have years of helping non-traditional students with their essays, regardless of which citation format they need to use. We know how they work and how to use them, and that’s why we want to share with you how to format your paper in MLA 9th Edition.

Let’s begin!

How to Format MLA

What is MLA Formatting?

MLA stands for Modern Language Association. Usually, it’s used to cite sources related to arts, cultural studies, and other humanities disciplines such as:

As an academic writer, using MLA is key to adding credibility to your paper and giving credit to each source material. But most importantly, it protects you from accidental plagiarism.

And while you should follow the 9th Edition rules as shown by Purdue University, always read and take as the final word your professors’ guidelines.

However, if your professor doesn’t specify anything, these are the basic formatting rules you must follow:

General MLA Guidelines

Unlike APA, a title page is not needed for MLA unless your professor specifically requests it.

Instead, you’ll have to write on the upper left-hand corner of the first page:

Then, add the title centered below. Don’t write it in all caps, underline, italicize, or use quotation marks.

Remember to always use double-space throughout the paper!

Regarding the header, it’s simple. In the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top, write your last name and the page number. All pages must be numbered consecutively with Arabic numerals: 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.

Here’s an example of how your first page should look:

How to Format MLA

Now, let’s move to the body of your paper and how you must include your references.

In-Text Citations

For MLA in-text citations, you will need:

the author’s last name + the page number

Direct Quote:

It is said that "essay writing services are no longer a luxury. They are a necessity" (Smith 25).

Indirect Quote:

Smith mentions that essay writing services are a necessity and not a luxury (25).

Number of Authors

However, the quotation will change depending on how many authors that source has.

If it has two, you need to add “and” in-between both authors’ names.

“Essay writing should not be a difficult experience” (Smith and Doe 25).

But if it has three or more authors, you only have to include the last name of the first author and add “et al.”

"Essay writing should not be a difficult experience" (Smith et al. 23).

Now, what happens when you don’t know who the author is?

In this case, you use the source title instead of the author’s name. You place the whole source title in quotation marks if it’s short, or in a shortened version if the title is longer than six words.

We see many global warming consequences in North America likely because here is where we can find "more readily accessible climatic data to monitor and study environmental change" ("Impact of Global Warming").

Reference List

Finally, the bibliography must have all the sources cited throughout your paper. You have to:

 Here is how a Works Cited list in MLA ninth edition should look:

How to Format MLA

Now, here is how the Works Cited list entries must be formatted:

For books with only one author, you have to follow the general order.

Author’s last name, Author’s First name. Source Name in Italics., Edition number, publisher, publication year.

Smith, John. Best Essays in Universal History., 3rd ed, Gradehacker Publications, 2022.

If there are two, place the authors’ names in the same order as they are presented in your source material.

Smith, John, and Doe, John. Best Essays in Universal History., 3rd ed, Gradehacker Publications, 2022.

But, if there are three or more, list only the first author and add an “et al.”

Smith, John, et al. Best Essays in Universal History., 3rd ed, Gradehacker Publications, 2022.

It’s important that you remember to put the source title in italics and pay attention to the punctuation because it can be easy to get confused between commas and periods.

The main difference with sources like websites, online newspapers, and scholarly journal articles, is that you should include a URL or the DOI (digital object identifier) to help readers locate it easier.

The citation format to cite an entire website is:

Editor, Author, or Compiler Name. Name of Site in Italics. Name of institution/organization affiliated with the site, date of resource creation, URL, DOI, or permalink.

The Purdue OWL Family of Sites. The Writing Lab and OWL at Purdue and Purdue U, 2008, owl.english.purdue.edu/owl

If you want to cite an online newspaper article, the order is:

Author’s last name, Author’s First name. “Article Title.” Title of the web in Italics, Publisher Name, Publication date, URL

Bernstein, Mark. “10 Tips on Writing the Living Web.” A List Apart: For People Who Make Websites, 16 Aug. 2002, alistapart.com/article/writeliving

For an online scholarly journal article, you need to include:

Author’s last name, Author’s First name. “Article Title.” Title of publication in Italics; Volume and Issue numbers, Year of Publication. URL, DOI, or Permalink

Dolby, Nadine. “Research in Youth Culture and Policy: Current Conditions and Future Directions.” Social Work and Society: The International Online-Only Journal, vol. 6, no. 2, 2008, www.socwork.net/sws/article/view/60/362

A helpful practice every college student should have is the use of a citation generator to create accurate citations for your list of sources. Sites like Citation Machine from Chegg Service or MyBib are impressive online tools where you only put the URL of your source, and the website automatically gives you the complete citation based on the type of source and format you choose.

If you want to learn what the best citation machines for college students are, read our article and see which other citation generator you can use!

Ace Your Essay In MLA Style!

Formatting your essay in MLA might have been difficult, but not anymore.

This guideline will make it easier to remember how you must format citations in MLA style.

Here’s a quick summary:

General Guidelines

In-Text Citations

One author

author’s last name + the page number

Two authors

first author's last name and second author's last name + page number

Three authors

first author's last name + et al. + page number

No author

Title of publication + page number

Bibliography Format

Book with one author

Author’s last name, Author’s First name. Source Name in Italics., Edition number, publisher, publication year.

Online newspaper

Author’s last name, Author’s First name. "Article Title." Title of the web in Italics, Publisher Name, Publication date, URL

Online scholarly journal

Author’s last name, Author’s First name. "Article Title." Title of publication in Italics; Volume and Issue numbers, Year of Publication. URL, DOI, or Permalink

Save this blog, and don’t make the easy-to-avoid formatting mistakes!

Next time you have to write a paper in MLA, you can follow this guideline. And if you have a specific question, don’t be afraid of asking Google! If you are not sure how to cite a source, it’s always worth spending a few minutes looking it up instead of risking losing some valuable points.

And don’t forget to use citation machines! Even though you should always check that the citation they give you is correct, it will save you a lot of time and effort.

If you continue struggling with essay writing and want further help to ace that paper without any formatting errors, you can always trust Gradehacker to work with you and get the grade you deserve!

And if you want more tips on how to improve your essay writing skills, check out our related articles:

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