If your instructor has specific requirements for the format of your research paper, check them before preparing your final draft. When you submit your paper, be sure to keep a secure copy.
The most common formatting is presented in the sections below:
Except for the running head (see below), leave margins of one inch at the top and bottom and on both sides of the text. If you plan to submit a printout on paper larger than 8½ by 11 inches, do not print the text in an area greater than 6½ by 9 inches.
Always choose an easily readable typeface (e.g., Times New Roman) in which the regular type style contrasts clearly with the italic, and set it to a standard size (e.g., 12 points). Do not justify the lines of text at the right margin; turn off any automatic hyphenation feature in your writing program. Double-space the entire research paper, including quotations, notes, and the list of works cited. Indent the first line of a paragraph half an inch from the left margin. Indent set-off quotations half an inch as well (for examples, see 76–80 in the MLA Handbook). Leave one space after a period or other concluding punctuation mark, unless your instructor prefers two spaces.
Heading and Title
Beginning one inch from the top of the first page and flush with the left margin, type your name, your instructor’s name, the course number, and the date on separate lines, double-spacing the lines. On a new, double-spaced line, center the title (fig. 1). Do not italicize or underline your title, put it in quotation marks or boldface, or type it in all capital letters. Follow the rules for capitalization in the MLA Handbook (67–68), and italicize only the words that you would italicize in the text.
Do not use a period after your title or after any heading in the paper (e.g., Works Cited). Begin your text on a new, double-spaced line after the title, indenting the first line of the paragraph half an inch from the left margin.
A research paper does not normally need a title page, but if the paper is a group project, create a title page and list all the authors on it instead of in the header on page 1 of your essay. If your teacher requires a title page in lieu of or in addition to the header, format it according to the instructions you are given.
Running Head with Page Numbers
Number all pages consecutively throughout the research paper in the upper right-hand corner, half an inch from the top and flush with the right margin. Type your last name, followed by a space, before the page number (fig. 2). Do not use the abbreviation p. before the page number or add a period, a hyphen, or any other mark or symbol. Your writing program will probably allow you to create a running head of this kind that appears automatically on every page. Some teachers prefer that no running head appear on the first page. Follow your teacher’s preference.
Placement of the List of Works Cited
The list of works cited appears at the end of the paper, after any endnotes. Begin the list on a new page. The list contains the same running head as the main text. The page numbering in the running head continues uninterrupted throughout. For example, if the text of your research paper (including any endnotes) ends on page 10, the works-cited list begins on page 11. Center the title, Works Cited, an inch from the top of the page (fig. 3). (If the list contains only one entry, make the heading Work Cited.) Double-space between the title and the first entry. Begin each entry flush with the left margin; if an entry runs more than one line, indent the subsequent line or lines half an inch from the left margin. This format is sometimes called hanging indention, and you can set your writing program to create it automatically for a group of paragraphs. Hanging indention makes alphabetical lists easier to use. Double-space the entire list. Continue it on as many pages as necessary.
Tables and Illustrations
Place tables and illustrations as close as possible to the parts of the text to which they relate. A table is usually labeled Table, given an arabic numeral, and titled. Type both label and title flush left on separate lines above the table, and capitalize them as titles (do not use all capital letters). Give the source of the table and any notes immediately below the table in a caption. To avoid confusion between notes to the text and notes to the table, designate notes to the table with lowercase letters rather than with numerals. Double-space throughout; use dividing lines as needed (fig. 4).
Any other type of illustrative visual material—for example, a photograph, map, line drawing, graph, or chart—should be labeled Figure (usually abbreviated Fig.), assigned an arabic numeral, and given a caption: “Fig. 1. Mary Cassatt, Mother and Child, Wichita Art Museum.” A label and caption ordinarily appear directly below the illustration and have the same one-inch margins as the text of the paper (fig. 5). If the caption of a table or illustration provides complete information about the source and the source is not cited in the text, no entry for the source in the works-cited list is necessary.
Musical illustrations are labeled Example (usually abbreviated Ex.), assigned an arabic numeral, and given a caption: “Ex. 1. Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 6 in B, opus 74 (Pathétique), finale.” A label and caption ordinarily appear directly below the example and have the same one-inch margins as the text of the paper (fig. 6).
Paper and Printing
If you print your paper, use only white, 8½-by-11-inch paper of good quality. If you lack 8½-by-11-inch paper, choose the closest size available. Use a high-quality printer. Some instructors prefer papers printed on a single side because they’re easier to read, but others allow printing on both sides as a means of conserving paper; follow your instructor’s preference.
Corrections and Insertions on Printouts
Proofread and correct your research paper carefully before submitting it. If you are checking a printout and find a mistake, reopen the document, make the appropriate revisions, and reprint the corrected page or pages. Be sure to save the changed file. Spelling checkers and usage checkers are helpful when used with caution. They do not find all errors and sometimes label correct material as erroneous. If your instructor permits corrections on the printout, write them neatly and legibly in ink directly above the lines involved, using carets (⁁) to indicate where they go. Do not use the margins or write a change below the line it affects. If corrections on any page are numerous or substantial, revise your document and reprint the page.
Binding a Printed Paper
Pages of a printed research paper may get misplaced or lost if they are left unattached or merely folded down at a corner. Although a plastic folder or some other kind of binder may seem an attractive finishing touch, most instructors find such devices a nuisance in reading and commenting on students’ work. Many prefer that a paper be secured with a simple paper or binder clip, which can be easily removed and restored. Others prefer the use of staples.
There are at present no commonly accepted standards for the electronic submission of research papers. If you are asked to submit your paper electronically, obtain from your teacher guidelines for formatting, mode of submission (e.g., by e-mail, on a Web site), and so forth and follow them closely.
Designed to be printed out and used in the classroom. From the MLA Handbook, 8th ed., published by the Modern Language Association.
A lot of people have trouble formatting titles correctly. In an English class, how you format the title of a work (a book, an article, a poem, a television show, etc.) can affect the clarity of what you are trying to communicate in your paper. Please use this reference to make sure you are formatting your titles correctly.
NOTE: Be sure to capitalize the first letter in ALL of the words of your title except for prepositions (in, of, to, about, toward, between, with, etc.), conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, so, etc.) and articles (a, an, the), UNLESS the word is the first one in the title or comes after a colon. Capitalize EVEN IF the words are not capitalized in your source. NEVER use bold type, all caps or extra large fonts in titles.
|Type of Source / Document||Title Format||Examples|
A book or a play
|Underline or Italicize |
(Do one or the other and
be consistent throughout the paper)
|The Price of a Child or The Price of a Child|
Uncle Tom's Cabin: Or, Life among the Lowly or Uncle Tom's Cabin: Or, Life among the Lowly
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Death of a Salesman or Death of a Salesman
Othello: The Moor of Venice or Othello: The Moor of Venice
(scholarly journals, magazines, newspapers)
Underline or Italicize
|The New England Journal of Medicine or The New England Journal of Medicine|
Essence or Essence
The Philadelphia Inquirer or The Philadelphia Inquirer
An article from a periodical
|"HIV Awareness in African American Fraternities"|
"Referee Linked to Alleged Area Bookmaker"
|A article from an anthology |
(a book of articles by different authors)
|Quotation Marks||"Teen Pregnancy: A Different Perspective"|
A short story
|"The Cask of Amontillado"|
Underline or Italicize
|The Matrix or The Matrix|
Hustle & Flow or Hustle & Flow
Bowling for Columbine or Bowling for Columbine
A CD or album
Underline or Italicize
|Hairspray: The Motion Picture Soundtrack or Hairspray: The Motion Picture Soundtrack|
The White Album or The White Album
A single song from a CD or album
"The Light of My Life"
"Pimp & Circumstance"
|"If We Must Die"|
"Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?"
A reference book
Underline or Italicize
|The Oxford English Dictionary or The Oxford English Dictionary|
Encyclopedia Britannica or Encyclopedia Britannica
A television show
Underline or Italicize
|Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Buffy the Vampire Slayer|
American Idol or American Idol
A single episode of a television show
|"Never Kill a Boy on the First Date"|
"Once More with Feeling"
|A web page|
NOTE:You should check with me before using information from ANY web page in your paper.
|If you are just mentioning the name of a web page, use the url: www.cnn.com|
If you are using an article, poem, etc., from a web page, format it according to its type: "Dogfighting Co-Defendant Flips; Vick Speaks"
|Your own title (the title of your paper)||Plain text |
(no bold, no quotation marks, no all caps, no underline)
|An Eating Disordered Nation: How the Obsession with Thinness Hurts Everyone|
Banning Specific Dog Breeds Is Unfair
Responses to Global Warming
| A title within the title of your paper||Format any title within your title according to this chart.||Women and Skin Color in Uncle Tom's Cabin|
Images of Flowers in "Sweat"
Why American Idol Is Destroying the United States