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What is MLA Format?

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  1. 0:07 What Is MLA?
  2. 0:56 Formatting Your Paper
  3. 3:06 In-Text Citations
  4. 5:19 Works Cited Page
  5. 7:11 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Stacy Redd

MLA format is one of the most common structures for organizing a paper in academic writing. In this video, we will cover the basics of MLA format, focusing on citing within the text and creating a works cited page.

What is MLA?

MLA stands for Modern Language Association, and MLA format refers to the format the association created that is commonly used in many areas of academic writing, particularly in the humanities. In this video, we'll go over the defining aspects of MLA formatting and citation style, though it's important to note that updates are made to the style from time to time, so you should consult an updated style guide to make sure you're up to date.

First, let's start with formatting. Bear with me here if any of this seems like review, it's all in the name of being thorough and accurate. Remember that you should always consult your paper's prompt to see if your instructor requires any deviations from traditional MLA formatting. Since she's the one giving you the grade, it's important to follow her instructions above any others when it comes to your paper.

Formatting Your Paper the MLA Way

A properly-formatted MLA-style paper will be constructed as follows:

  • Typed on 8.5 X 11 inch paper with 12 pt. font
  • 1-inch margins on all sides
  • First line of each paragraph indented one half-inch from the left margin (pro tip: use the tab key instead of the space bar to ensure perfect indentation)
  • Body text of the paper should be double spaced
  • Only one space after periods or other punctuation marks
  • Number all of your pages in the upper right hand corner - your page numbers should be a half inch from the top of the paper and in line with your right margin.

There's some specific formatting requirements with regards to the first page of your paper that I want to cover before we move onto the rules of MLA citation. Typically, in MLA formatting, there is no title page, though of course if your instructor requests one, please be sure to follow her instructions.

Let's take a look at this sample. You'll notice in the upper left-hand corner of the page, I've listed my full name, the name of my instructor (I like to pretend I'm a student at Hogwarts whenever I can), my course name and number, and the date. Like the rest of your paper, this should be double spaced.

In the upper right hand corner, you'll notice my last name and the page number. Sometimes, your instructor may not want a page number on the first page, but instead want you to start numbering on page 2. Sometimes she may want you to omit your last name in the page number. If you're unsure, ask.

The title of your page should be centered and not use special formatting: no italics, bold, all caps, etc. MLA is typically light on that kind of formatting, unless you're referring to a specific publication, in which case you should italicize the publication name. I know it's fun to use italics or all caps for emphasis in email, but it's not standard practice in MLA.

Depending on the level of detail your instructor requires you to adhere to MLA formatting, you may need to consult a style guide for information on things like section headings, abbreviations, and formatting quotations. There are great style guides available for free online, but make sure they're from a reliable source (like a university) and using the most updated version of the guide.

In-Text Citations

The next defining characteristic of MLA style we're going to cover is in-text citations. In-text citations are important for ensuring that you properly credit your sources. Your instructor needs to be able to identify which parts of your paper are your own vs. the work of others. Giving credit to your sources and not implying that someone else's words or ideas are yours is hugely important in academic writing.

The pieces of information you'll need to know when creating an in-text citation for your paper are: the name of the author (or authors) of the work you're citing and the page number on which the information you're using can be found. This allows your instructor or any reader to find the source you used on your Works Cited page (which we'll get to in a moment) and look it up for himself, either to verify that your information is correct or get more information on the topic you've addressed in your paper.

Pro tip: keeping track of the pages where you found pieces of information you know you'll want to use in your paper while still in the research phase will save you time when you're citing because you won't have to flip through all your sources to find the right page numbers for the information at the end of your process, which, I can tell you from experience, is frustrating.

Here are a couple of different ways that MLA in-text citations can look, depending on how you introduce your source:

If you're mentioning the author, your parenthetical citation only needs to include the page number. For example: According to Redd, Harry Potter is a far more compelling character than Bella Swan (219). In this case, I've mentioned the author's name, so I only need to include the page number in the parenthetical reference.

If you're not mentioning the author, you'll want to include both the author's last name and the page on which the information you're using was found: Harry Potter is considered by certain scholars to be a far more compelling character than Bella Swan (Redd 219). This time I didn't include the author's name, so I included it in the parenthetical reference along with the page number .

Of course, sometimes you'll be using a source with multiple authors, some will have no known author, and some will be a website. We're not going to cover every possible citation option here, but luckily, MLA style guides do. Make sure to consult one if you're not sure how to properly format a citation.

Works Cited Page

All right, so we're moving on to the works cited page. So let's say someone discovers something in your paper, finds it riveting, and wants to consult the source you used to learn more. This person used your in-text citation to learn the source's name and the page on which the information you used can be found, but that's not very useful if he doesn't know the name of the publication, is it? This is where your Works Cited page comes in.

A Works Cited page contains detailed information about all of the sources you used to write your paper. An MLA Works Cited page must be carefully formatted to match MLA standards. I imagine that, at this point, you don't find that surprising. So let's talk about what you need. Let's take a look at the sample:

Your Works Cited page should...

  • Be a separate page at the very end of your paper
  • Have the same one-inch margins, double-spacing, and page number format as the rest of the paper
  • List citations in alphabetical order
  • Be titled just 'Works Cited,' with the title centered - again, this title shouldn't be bolded, italicized, or anything else of this nature
  • Have 1/2 inch indentations for the 2nd (and 3rd, 4th, etc. as appropriate) lines of each citation
  • It should also include the medium of publication for each entry. (This means print, web, film, etc. If you've used MLA citations in the past and don't remember this rule, it's because it's new as of 2009. Updates like this one are why it's important to consult a recent style guide before you begin citing. Even if you think you know MLA formatting, it's possible something has changed since your last paper)

Different sources are formatted in different ways, though for the majority of sources you'll use, you'll begin with the author's full name, with the last name appearing first. We have other videos that cover how to cite different types of sources, and, of course you can always consult an MLA style guide for more information. Are you sick of hearing me say that yet? Sorry.

Lesson Summary

If your instructor requires that you use MLA, or Modern Language Association, formatting for your paper, you'll want to pay attention to how your paper is structured in relation to margins, font size, and other specifications. You'll also need to include in-text citations to properly credit all your sources, and be sure to create a Works Cited page that contains all of the sources you used to write your paper. The MLA style guide is updated regularly, so be sure to check a guide before you begin your paper to see if any recent changes have been made.

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