MLA Paper Formatting

mlaEven if you’re not an English major, you’re going to need to take composition courses, humanities courses, and various other courses that require you to format your paper in a very specific way. While some professors have their own requirements and while other associations may have different formatting options, I have found MLA formatting to be one of the most popular. Read on to learn proper MLA formatting!

The basics

So there’s no better place to begin than…well…the beginning! So let’s start there. The basic things you need to know for MLA formatting is as follows:

  • Font size and type
  • Margins
  • Page Numbers
  • Header
  • Title

This will not go over citations. There are many internet sources that help explain MLA citations or you can use the MLA guidebook. This will look at how to structure your paper aesthetically.

Font Size and Type

The general standard for font is Times New Roman, 12 point. Lines are double-spaced, and there is no additional spacing between paragraphs. Professor WILL notice if you use a larger font size, use Arial to bulk up your paper, etc. Although Calibri is the standard for Microsoft Word 2007, your best bet is to use Times New Roman. Also, it is unnecessary to use two spaces after a period. That whole thing started with typewriters, which didn’t have a consistent level of spacing. However, computers DO have consistent spacing–so you can easily discern there is a space after the period.


Margins typically are one inch all around. Do not try to make the margins “larger” by using “justify.” Only use left-aligned type. Professors also notice if you use larger margins to make your paper appear larger. Trust me–as a tutor, I see this frequently. I tell my students that if I notice it, so will their professors. It is sometimes forgiven if you make the bottom margin less than an inch in order to save a page (for example, you have 1 sentence on the fourth page, and you reduce the margin to make it fit on the third).

Page Numbers

Students miss this a LOT, but it’s very important. Staples, especially for longer papers, don’t always hold up. You want page numbers to be on the TOP RIGHT of your page, in the “header” section of Microsoft Word. The page number should also include your last name. So on the top right side of every page there should be “Lastname #.” No comma is necessary between the number and name.


Students generally do what they want for headers, but believe it or not–there is a protocol for this as well. Here it is:

Your name
Professor’s Name
Course (e.g.: English 110)

That’s it, no other fancy stuff. Cover pages should not be used unless your professor specifically asks you to make one. You should just depend on the header.


Your paper should have a title. It should not be bold, underlined, or italicized. It should be placed below the header (one double-space below). A general format I use for titles is a brief quote from the text, then the book/poem and author. For example, “‘The Triple-Turned Whore:’ Manic Depression in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.”

Final Thoughts

Make sure you follow these guidelines and have a title for your paper. I see so many students omit that. Also make sure that you have the right margins, text, etc. because I HAVE seen professors take off points for incorrect formatting. Good luck!

Posted in Academic Advice.