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        Complete Guide to MLA Format (9th Edition)

        • calenderJul 08, 2023
        • calender 8 min read

        Has your professor asked you to format your paper, essay, or any other academic document using the MLA style? This means you’re expected to follow the guidelines in the Modern Language Association style guide. Students and researchers in humanities and arts typically use MLA formatting rules. 

        In this article, we break down the latest MLA formatting guidelines. We also tell you how to format your paper’s header, pages, and works cited section under MLA 9. 

        Want a perfectly edited document with proper formatting? 

        If you’re looking for information on how to do MLA format, read on! 

        What is MLA format? 

        Researchers and students usually use MLA formatting rules in academic papers in language and literature, arts, philosophy, and other sub-disciplines within the humanities. The latest edition of the MLA Handbook, the 9th edition, was released in April 2021. 

        Why do we use the MLA format while writing papers? 

        Like most citation styles, the MLA format is known for its academic rigor and its detailed approach to tracking a writer’s research process. It’s commonly used in humanities because it prioritizes authors’ names and pages of their texts, which means your research clearly highlights what works influenced your report. Since humanities literature emphasizes language and meaning in general, it’s also a great style that allows evaluators to analyze exact quotations and references. 

        Using the MLA style guide allows you to show your knowledge of the literature produced in your field of study and be transparent about what sources you used to produce your own research. It also helps you establish yourself as a credible researcher. 

        Using the MLA format for papers within humanities ensures standardization — that you present your research according to the conventions of your field — and makes it easy for your professors to evaluate the work. 

        What is MLA formatting used for? 

        MLA formatting instructions are used in a variety of academic documents including, but not limited to

        They may also be used in non-traditional documents like PowerPoint presentations and web pages. 

        MLA 9th edition formatting basics  

        Before we move to the specifics of the MLA paper format, there are some basic rules you should follow throughout your academic paper. Here are the basics of paper formatting under MLA 9:

        • Use standard-size (8 ½ ” x 11”) paper across your document. 
        • Maintain a one-inch margin on all sides. 
        • Add a running head (page header) on every page. 
        • In the header, insert your surname and the respective page number.
        • Use the same font type and size throughout the text. 
        • Do not justify the document text to the right margin. 
        • Indent the first line of each paragraph to the left by 0.5 inches. 
        • Indent the first line of block quotations to the left by 0.5 inches. 
        • Double-space your entire paper (including headings, quotations, and the work cited section). 
        • Leave one space after each period (or other concluding punctuation), unless your instructor specifies otherwise. 
        • Ensure consistency in spelling and punctuation. Consult with your instructor about what conventions need to be followed. 

        MLA format font and font sizes 

        The MLA Handbook 9th Edition recommends you use a commonly known readable font like Times New Roman and set it between 11 and 13 points. This is not a compulsion, so you can also opt for other well-known and easy-to-read typefaces like Arial, Georgia, or Calibri. If your professor or guide has instructed you to use a typeface of their choice, you may use that. 

        Tip: If you haven’t received any specific instructions regarding font and font size, it’s best to stick to 12-point Times New Roman, since that’s the general convention. 

        Paper formatting under MLA 9 

        The MLA Handbook provides detailed instructions about how to format a document’s internal pages in its first chapter, “Formatting Your Research Project.” It has extensive notes about how to format various sections of an MLA-style paper, including the title or cover page, headers, headings and subheadings, main text, lists and figures, and the works cited page. 

        Let’s take a look at how to format each section one by one. 

        1. MLA title format 

        An MLA-style paper generally does not dedicate an entire page to the title of the research project, but the Handbook does provide specific instructions about where to place the title, course details, and information about you. 

        On the first page of your paper, leave a one-inch margin from the top and type out the following information in double-spaced lines: 

        • Your name 
        • Your instructor’s name(s)
        • The course name and number 
        • Date of submission 

        All this information should align with the left margin, as shown in the infographic below. 

        An MLA Style paper with labels indicating different formatting guidelines under the 9th edition.

        On a new line, center-align the name of your paper. It should be in the title case, as seen in the example above. Do not underline or bold the title. Don’t enclose it in quotation marks or capitalize it entirely. Don’t italicize the title, except for words that will be italicized in the body text. 

        Here are some examples of correct and incorrect MLA-style titles:

        Shakespearean Theatre in the 21st Century.


        Shakespearean Theatre in the 21st Century

        A Critical Analysis of Sally Rooney’s Conversation with Friends

        A Critical Analysis of Sally Rooney’s Conversation with Friends

        A Critical Analysis of Sally Rooney’s Conversation with Friends

        Once you add the title, begin writing the body text in the next double-spaced line. Start from the left margin and leave a half-inch indent, as shown in the infographic above. 

        MLA cover page format

        While including a cover page is not common practice in an MLA-style paper, you should include one if your instructor specifies it as part of their guidelines. You may also be required to add one if you’re working on a group project. 

        In the case of a group project, give each author or contributor’s name its own line, followed by the remaining guidelines we detailed above. 

        An MLA Style paper with labels indicating different formatting guidelines under the 9th edition.

        Note: In some cases, you may also be asked to add your university’s name to the cover page. Check with your instructor about whether you have to do this. 

        2. Running head and page numbers 

        Each page of an MLA format paper has a header that includes the author’s last name and the corresponding page number. This is known as a “running head”. The MLA format header appears on the top-right corner of each page. 

        To add an MLA format header, leave a one-inch margin from the top and add your last name followed by the page number. For example: 

        Anand 9 

        Bachchhav 14 

        Do not add punctuation, text, or special characters between the name and the number. 

        Note: If your project has multiple authors and you’re not able to fit all their names in the header, include only the page number. 

        MLA header with a last name and page number included on the top right corner of the page.

        Pro-tip: Your word processor usually has a function that will automatically include running heads on each page — this way you won’t have to do this manually! If you’re on Google Docs or MS Word, you can find it under the “Insert” tab. 

        3. Internal headings and subheadings 

        In an MLA-style paper, headings and subheadings allow you to present your research in a structured and organized manner. When used effectively, MLA format headings are also a great way to establish the hierarchy of ideas presented throughout the paper. 

        The MLA formatting rules for headings and subheadings recommend that you should maintain consistency in the way you use them, but the Handbook doesn’t recommend a particular style. This means that the MLA heading format is likely to be contingent on what your instructor recommends. 

        MLA heading format general guidelines: 

        • Maintain consistency in the heading/subheading format you’re adopting. This means uniformity in heading levels 1, 2, and so on. 
        • Follow the heading structure in the word processor you’re using (unless your professor gives you detailed instructions). 
        • Arrange headings in descending order of prominence. This means that the second level heading is subordinate to the first level heading and so on. 
        • Use larger or bolder headings to indicate the first level. Use smaller or italicized font to indicate subordinate-level headings. 
        • Ensure there are two or more instances of each level of heading or subheading. 
        • Align all headings and subheadings with the left margin and not aligned to the center or right. 
        • Avoid using numbers or letters to indicate headings and subheadings, unless your instructors specifically ask for them. 

        4. MLA format of the works cited section 

        Under the MLA 9 format, the list of works you have cited throughout your research should appear at the end of the document, after endnotes (if you’ve included them). 

        Follow these instructions while formatting the “Works Cited” section: 

        • Start the works cited section on a new page. 
        • Center-align the heading “Works Cited” one inch from the top margin. 
        • Begin each entry on the left margin. 
        • Add a half-inch indent if the entry exceeds more than one line. 
        • Arrange the entries in alphabetical order by the first author’s last name. 
        • As you did for the rest of the paper, double-space the entire list. 

        Here’s what an MLA 9 works cited page looks like:

        An MLA Works Cited page with a list of references.

        5. Tables and illustrations 

        Academic papers often include tables and illustrations to complement textual elements in the research. They can be quite effective in elaborating on or providing additional context about what you’ve said in prose. 

        According to the MLA formatting rules, there are some general guidelines you should follow while incorporating tables and illustrations in your work. 

        MLA format tables 

        • Place tables as close as possible to the text they complement.  
        • Above the table, add the title “Table” followed by an arabic numeral. 
        • Below this, add the name of the table. 
        • Ensure both these elements are to the left margin and are in the title case. 
        • Ensure each column heading is in the title case. 
        • Double-space each row in the table, using dividers as and when needed. 
        • Add the source (and additional notes) directly below the table as a caption. 

        MLA image format for papers or other academic documents such as essays or dissertations.

        Illustrations and other visual elements 

        • Use the label “Figure” (or its abbreviation “Fig.”) for visual elements such as photographs, maps, graphs, and charts, followed by the corresponding arabic numeral. 
        • Follow the numeral with a caption containing complete information about the source of the image. 
        • When you’re providing bibliographic information in the caption, follow the format used in the works cited section (without inverting the name of the author/artist). 

        6. Quotations in MLA 9 

        MLA formatting rules vary for short and long quotes. Let’s take a brief look at both. 

        Short quotations (less than four lines in prose or three lines in verse) can remain in paragraphs. Enclose the quoted text with double quotation marks (“”), followed by a parenthetical citation before any punctuation marks in the outer sentence. See below for an example: 

        Literature serves its true purpose when an author’s prose provides profound insight, meaning, or significance for the reader. This begs us to question the centrality of the author’s intent and, instead, approach literature as “that composite, that oblique into which every subject escapes, the trap where all identity is lost” (Barthes 145). 

        When you’re including longer quotations, place them as a separate block of text, as shown below. Insert the quoted text in a new line, with the entire block double-spaced and indented half an inch from the left margin. Omit quotation marks and add the parenthetical citation after the final punctuation mark in the text. 

        When you are quoting verse, maintain line breaks as done in the original text. 

        Here’s an example of MLA block quotation citation: 

        While the episode itself makes no mention of the poem or its subject, the title alludes to it as an analogy to Heisenberg’s fall as a drug kingpin. Walter’s journey throughout this episode parallels the loss of legacy detailed in the poem: 

        My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

        Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

        Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

        Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

        The lone and level sands stretch far away. (Shelley 549)

        The “colossal wreck” mirrors the crumbling losses in Walter’s life: his family, his empire, and any wealth he could claim his own. 

        At PaperTrue, we not only ensure proper formatting but also provide expert editing and proofreading services. If you want to enhance your document to score high, you can consider taking our services. 

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        Chetna Linkedin

        Chetna is a child of the internet. A writer and aspiring educator, she loves exploring digital media to create resources that are informative and engaging. Away from the writing desk, she enjoys cinema, coffee, and old books.

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