• Affiliate Program


  • 台灣 (TAIWAN)
  • Academic Editing Services
  • - Research Paper
  • - Journal Manuscript
  • - Dissertation
  • - College & University Assignments
  • Admissions Editing Services
  • - Application Essay
  • - Personal Statement
  • - Recommendation Letter
  • - Cover Letter
  • - CV/Resume
  • Business Editing Services
  • - Business Documents
  • - Report & Brochure
  • - Website & Blog
  • Writer Editing Services
  • - Script & Screenplay
  • Our Editors
  • Client Reviews
  • Editing & Proofreading Prices
  • Wordvice Points
  • Partner Discount
  • Plagiarism Checker
  • APA Citation Generator
  • MLA Citation Generator
  • Chicago Citation Generator
  • Vancouver Citation Generator
  • - APA Style
  • - MLA Style
  • - Chicago Style
  • - Vancouver Style
  • Writing & Editing Guide
  • Academic Resources
  • Admissions Resources

College Application Essay Format Rules

do you write college application essays in mla format

The college application essay has become the most important part of applying to college. In this article, we will go over the  best college essay format for getting into top schools, including how to structure the elements of a college admissions essay: margins, font, paragraphs, spacing, headers, and organization. 

We will focus on commonly asked questions about the best college essay structure. Finally, we will go over essay formatting tips and examples.

Table of Contents

  • General college essay formatting rules
  • How to format a college admissions essay
  • Sections of a college admissions essay
  • College application essay format examples

General College Essay Format Rules

Before talking about how to format your college admission essays, we need to talk about general college essay formatting rules.

Pay attention to word count

It has been well-established that the most important rule of college application essays is to  not go over the specific Application Essay word limit .  The word limit for the Common Application essay is typically 500-650 words.

Not only may it be impossible to go over the word count (in the case of the  Common Application essay , which uses text fields), but admissions officers often use software that will throw out any essay that breaks this rule. Following directions is a key indicator of being a successful student. 

Refocusing on the essay prompt and eliminating unnecessary adverbs, filler words, and prepositional phrases will help improve your essay.

On the other hand, it is advisable to use almost every available word. The college essay application field is very competitive, so leaving extra words on the table puts you at a disadvantage. Include an example or anecdote near the end of your essay to meet the total word count.

Do not write a wall of text: use paragraphs

Here is a brutal truth:  College admissions counselors only read the application essays that help them make a decision .  Otherwise, they will not read the essay at all. The problem is that you do not know whether the rest of your application (transcripts, academic record, awards, etc.) will be competitive enough to get you accepted.

A very simple writing rule for your application essay (and for essay editing of any type) is to  make your writing readable by adding line breaks and separate paragraphs.

Line breaks do not count toward word count, so they are a very easy way to organize your essay structure, ideas, and topics. Remember, college counselors, if you’re lucky, will spend 30 sec to 1 minute reading your essay. Give them every opportunity to understand your writing.

Do not include an essay title 

Unless specifically required, do not use a title for your personal statement or essay. This is a waste of your word limit and is redundant since the essay prompt itself serves as the title.

Never use overly casual, colloquial, or text message-based formatting like this: 

THIS IS A REALLY IMPORTANT POINT!. #collegeapplication #collegeessay.

Under no circumstances should you use emojis, all caps, symbols, hashtags, or slang in a college essay. Although technology, texting, and social media are continuing to transform how we use modern language (what a great topic for a college application essay!), admissions officers will view the use of these casual formatting elements as immature and inappropriate for such an important document.

How To Format A College Application Essay

There are many  tips for writing college admissions essays . How you upload your college application essay depends on whether you will be cutting and pasting your essay into a text box in an online application form or attaching a formatted document.

Save and upload your college essay in the proper format

Check the application instructions if you’re not sure what you need to do. Currently, the Common Application requires you to copy and paste your essay into a text box.

There are three main formats when it comes to submitting your college essay or personal statement:

If submitting your application essay in a text box

For the Common Application, there is no need to attach a document since there is a dedicated input field. You still want to write your essay in a word processor or Google doc. Just make sure once you copy-paste your essay into the text box that your line breaks (paragraphs), indents, and formatting is retained. 

  • Formatting like  bold , underline, and  italics  are often lost when copy-pasting into a text box.
  • Double-check that you are under the word limit.  Word counts may be different within the text box .
  • Make sure that paragraphs and spacing are maintained;  text input fields often undo indents and double-spacing .
  • If possible, make sure the font is standardized.  Text input boxes usually allow just one font . 

If submitting your application essay as a document

When attaching a document, you must do more than just double-check the format of your admissions essay. You need to be proactive and make sure the structure is logical and will be attractive to readers.

Microsoft Word (.DOC) format

If you are submitting your application essay as a file upload, then you will likely submit a .doc or .docx file. The downside is that MS Word files are editable, and there are sometimes conflicts between different MS Word versions (2010 vs 2016 vs Office365). The upside is that Word can be opened by almost any text program.

This is a safe choice if maintaining the  visual  elements of your essay is important. Saving your essay as a PDF prevents any formatting issues that come with Microsoft Word, since older versions are sometimes incompatible with the newer formatting. 

Although PDF viewing programs are commonly available, many older readers and Internet users (who will be your admissions officers) may not be ready to view PDFs.

  • Use 1-inch margins . This is the default setting for Microsoft Word. However, students from Asia using programs like Hangul Word Processor will need to double-check.
  • Use a standard serif font.  These include Times New Roman, Courier, and Garamond. A serif font adds professionalism to your essay.
  • Use standard 12-font size. 
  • Use 1.5- or double-spacing.  Your application essay should be readable. Double spaces are not an issue as the essay should already fit on one page.
  • Add a Header  with your First Name, Last Name, university, and other required information.
  • Clearly   separate your paragraphs.  By default, just press ‘ENTER’ twice.

Sections Of A College Admissions Essay

University admissions protocols usually allow you to choose the format and style of your writing. Despite this, the general format of “Introduction-Body-Conclusion” is the most common structure. This is a common format you can use and adjust to your specific writing style.

College Application Essay Introduction

Typically, your first paragraph should introduce you or the topic that you will discuss. You must have a killer opener if you want the admissions committees to pay attention. 

Essays that use rhetorical tools, factual statements, dialog, etc. are encouraged. There is room to be creative since many application essays specifically focus on past learning experiences.

College Application Essay Body

Clearly answering the essay prompt is the most important part of the essay body. Keep reading over the prompt and making sure everything in the body supports it. 

Since personal statement essays are designed to show you are as a person and student, the essay body is also where you talk about your experiences and identity.

Make sure you include the following life experiences and how they relate to the essay prompt. Be sure to double-check that they relate back to the essay prompt. A college admissions essay is NOT an autobiography:

Personal challenges

  • How did you overcome them?
  • How or how much do past challenges define your current outlook or worldview? 
  • What did you learn about yourself when you failed?

Personal achievements and successes

  • What people helped you along the way?
  • What did you learn about the nature of success

Lessons learned

  • In general, did your experiences inform your choice of university or major?

Personal beliefs

  • Politics, philosophy, and religion may be included here, but be careful when discussing sensitive personal or political topics. 
  • Academic goals
  • Personal goals
  • Professional goals
  • How will attending the university help you achieve these goals?

College Application Essay Conclusion

The conclusion section is a call to action directly aimed at the admissions officers. You must demonstrate why you are a great fit for the university, which means you should refer to specific programs, majors, or professors that guided or inspired you. 

In this “why this school” part of the essay, you can also explain why the university is a great fit for  your  goals. Be straightforward and truthful, but express your interest in the school boldly.

common app essay format, essay sections 1

College Application Essay Format Examples

Here are several formatting examples of successful college admission essays, along with comments from the essay editor.

Note: Actual sample essays edited by  Wordvice professional editors .  Personal info has been redacted for privacy. This is not a college essay template.

College Admission Essay Example 1

This essay asks the student to write about how normal life experiences can have huge effects on personal growth:

Common App Essay Prompt: Thoughtful Rides

The Florida turnpike is a very redundant and plain expressway; we do not have the scenic luxury of mountains, forests, or even deserts stretching endlessly into the distance. Instead, we are blessed with repetitive fields of grazing cows and countless billboards advertising local businesses. I have been subjected to these monotonous views three times a week, driving two hours every other day to Sunrise and back to my house in Miami, Florida—all to practice for my competitive soccer team in hopes of receiving a scholarship to play soccer at the next level. 

The Introduction sets up a clear, visceral memory and communicates a key extracurricular activity. 

When I first began these mini road trips, I would jam out to my country playlist and sing along with my favorite artists, and the trek would seem relatively short. However, after listening to “Beautiful Crazy” by Luke Combs for the 48th time in a week, the song became as repetitive as the landscape I was driving through. Changing genres did not help much either; everything I played seemed to morph into the same brain-numbing sound.  Eventually, I decided to do what many peers in my generation fail to do: turn off the distractions, enjoy the silence, and immerse myself in my own thoughts. In the end, this seemingly simple decision led to a lot of personal growth and tranquility in my life. 

The first part of the Body connects the student’s past experience with the essay prompt: personal growth and challenging assumptions.

Although I did not fully realize it at the time, these rides were the perfect opportunity to reflect on myself and the people around me. I quickly began noticing the different personalities surrounding me in the flow of traffic, and this simple act of noticing reminded me that I was not the only human on this planet that mattered. I was just as unimportant as the woman sitting in the car next to mine. Conversely, I also came to appreciate how a gesture as simple as letting another driver merge into your lane can impact a stranger’s day. Maybe the other driver is late for a work interview or rushing to the hospital because their newborn is running a high fever and by allowing them to advance in the row of cars, you made their day just a little less stressful. I realized that if I could improve someone else’s day from my car,  I could definitely be a kinder person and take other people’s situations into consideration—because you never know if someone is having one of the worst days of their lives and their interaction with you could provide the motivation they need to keep going on . 

This part uses two examples to support the writer’s answer to the essay prompt. It ends the paragraph with a clear statement.

Realizing I was not the only being in the universe that mattered was not the only insight I attained during these drives. Over and over, I asked myself why I had chosen to change soccer clubs, leaving Pinecrest, the team I had played on for 8 years with my best friends and that was only a 10-minute drive from my house, to play for a completely unfamiliar team that required significantly more travel.  Eventually, I came to understand that I truly enjoy challenging myself and pushing past complacency . One of my main goals in life is to play and experience college soccer—that, and to eventually pursue a career as a doctor. Ultimately, leaving my comfort zone in Pinecrest, where mediocrity was celebrated, to join a team in Sunrise, where championships were expected and college offers were abundant, was a very positive decision in my life. 

This part clearly tells how the experience shaped the writer as a person. The student’s personality can be directly attributed to this memory. It also importantly states personal and academic goals.

Even if I do not end up playing college soccer, I know now that I will never back down from any challenge in my life; I am committed to pushing myself past my comfort zone. These car rides have given me insight into how strong I truly am and how much impact I can have on other people’s lives. 

The Conclusion restates the overall lesson learned.

College Admission Essay Example 2

The next essay asks the reader to use leadership roles or extracurricular activities and describe the experience, contribution, and what the student learned about themselves.

As I release the air from the blood-pressure monitor’s valve, I carefully track the gauge, listening for the faint “lub-dub” of  Winnie’s heart. Checking off the “hypertensive” box on his medical chart when reading 150/95, I then escort Winnie to the blood sugar station. This was the typical procedure of a volunteer at the UConn Migrant Farm Worker Clinic. Our traveling medical clinic operated at night, visiting various Connecticut farms to provide healthcare for migrant workers. Filling out charts, taking blood pressure, and recording BMI were all standard procedures, but the relationships I built with farmers such as Winnie impacted me the most.

This Introduction is very impactful. It highlights the student’s professional expertise as a healthcare worker and her impact on marginalized communities. It also is written in the present tense to add impact.

While the clinic was canceled this year due to COVID-19, I still wanted to do something for them. During a PPE-drive meeting this July, Winnie recounted his family history. I noticed his eyebrows furrow with anxiety as he spoke about his family’s safety in Tierra Blanca, Mexico. I realized that Winnie lacked substantial information about his hometown, and fear-mongering headlines did nothing to assuage his fears. After days of searching, I discovered that his hometown, Guanajuato, reported fewer cases of COVID-19 in comparison with surrounding towns. I then created a color-coded map of his town, showing rates across the different districts. Winnie’s eyes softened, marveling at the map I made for him this August. I didn’t need to explain what he saw: Guanajuato, his home state, was pale yellow, the color I chose to mark the lowest level of cases. By making this map, I didn’t intend to give him new hope; I wanted to show him where hope was.

The student continues to tell the powerful story of one of her patients. This humbles and empowers the student, motivating her in the next paragraph.

This interaction fueled my commitment to search for hope in my journey of becoming a public health official. Working in public health policy, I hope to tackle complex world problems, such as economic and social barriers to healthcare and find creative methods of improving outcomes in queer and Latinx communities. I want to study the present and potential future intervention strategies in minority communities for addressing language barriers to information including language on posters and gendered language, and for instituting social and support services for community youth. These stepping stones will hopefully prepare me for conducting professional research for the Medical Organization for Latino Advancement. I aspire to be an active proponent of healthcare access and equity for marginalized groups, including queer communities. I first learned about the importance of recognizing minority identities in healthcare through my bisexual sister, Sophie, and her nonbinary friend, Gilligan. During discussions with her friends, I realized the importance of validating diverse gender expressions in all facets of my life.

Here, the past experience is directly connected to future academic and professional goals, which themselves are motivated by a desire to increase access among communities as well as personal family experiences. This is a strong case for why personal identity is so important.

My experiences with Winnie and my sister have empowered me to be creative, thoughtful, and brave while challenging the assumptions currently embedded in the “visual vocabulary” of both the art and science fields. I envision myself deconstructing hegemonic ideas of masculinity and femininity and surmounting the limitations of traditional perceptions of male and female bodies as it relates to existing healthcare practices. Through these subtle changes, I aim to make a large impact.

The Conclusion positions the student as an impactful leader and visionary. This is a powerful case for the admissions board to consider.

If you want to read more college admissions essay examples, check out our articles about  successful college personal statements  and the  2021-2022 Common App prompts and example essays .

Wordvice offers a full suite of proofreading and editing services . If you are a student applying to college and are having trouble with the best college admissions essay format, check out our application essay editing services  (including personal statement editing ) and find out  how much online proofreading costs . 

Finally, don’t forget to receive common app essay editing and professional admissions editing for any other admissions documents for college, university, and post-doctoral programs.

Grad Coach

MLA 9th Edition Formatting

A Simple, Step-by-Step Guide + Free Template

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Reviewer: Eunice Rautenbach (DTech) | July 2023

Formatting your paper in MLA style can feel like a pretty daunting task . In this post, we’ll show you exactly how to set up your paper for MLA (9th edition), as quickly and easily as possible. We’ll also share our popular free MLA template , to help you fast-track your writing.

Overview: MLA 9th Edition Formatting

  • Structure and layout
  • General page setup
  • The opening section
  • The main body
  • Works cited (reference list)
  • Free MLA 9 template

MLA Structure and Layout

Let’s start by looking at the overall structure of a typical student paper formatted for MLA 9th edition, before diving into the details of each section. For the most part, MLA papers follow a standardised structure, consisting of the following parts:

The opening section : While MLA doesn’t require a dedicated title page (unlike APA ), it does require an opening section that details some important information about yourself, your university and the paper itself.

The main body : The main body begins directly after the opening section on the first page. This is the “heart” of your paper and there are a very specific requirements regarding how you present and format this content.

The appendix (or appendices):  While using an appendix in a student paper is relatively uncommon, you’ll place this section directly after the main body section, if required by your university.

The “Works Cited” list : This section is equivalent to what we’d usually call a references page and it’s where you’ll detail all the reference information corresponding to the in-text citations in the main body of your paper.

These four sections form the standard structure and order of a student paper using MLA 9th edition. As we mentioned, not all sections are always required , so be sure to double check what your university expects from you before submitting. Also, it’s always a good idea to ask your university if they have any  style requirements in addition to the standard MLA specification.

Now that we’ve got a big-picture view of the typical paper structure, let’s look at the specific formatting requirements for each of these sections.

Generic Page Setup

Before you jump into writing up your paper, you’ll first need to set up your document to align with MLA’s generic page requirements. Alternatively, you can download our MLA paper template (which comes fully preformatted).

MLA 9th edition requires a 1-inch margin on all sides , for all pages. That said, if you’re writing a dissertation, thesis or any document that will ultimately be printed and bound, your university will likely require a larger left margin to accommodate for physical binding.

Fonts & sizing

MLA does not require that you use any specific font, but we do recommend sticking to the tried and tested , well-accepted fonts. For example, you might consider using one of the following:

  • Sans serif fonts : Calibri (11), Arial (11), or Lucida Sans Unicode (10)
  • Serif fonts : Times New Roman (12), Georgia (11), or Computer Modern (10)

Whichever font you opt for, be sure to use it consistently throughout your paper . Don’t chop and change, or use different fonts for different parts of the document (e.g., different fonts for the body text and the headings). Also, keep in mind that while MLA does not have a specific font requirement, your university may have its own preference or requirement. So, be sure to check with them beforehand regarding any additional specifications they may have.

In general, all text throughout your document needs to be left-aligned and should not be justified (i.e., leave an uneven right edge). You might consider using a different alignment for section headings, but in general, it’s best to keep things simple .

Line spacing

MLA 9th edition requires double line spacing throughout the document . There should also be no extra space before and after paragraphs . This applies to all sections of the paper, including the “Works Cited” page (more on this later).

Page header

Last but not least, you’ll need to set up a running header for your document. This should contain your last name, followed by the page number. Both of these should be positioned in the top right corner of all pages (even the first page). On a related note, there’s no need for you to include any footer content unless your university specifically requests it.

Now that we’ve looked at the generic formatting considerations, let’s dive into the specific requirements for each section of your paper.

The Opening Section

While MLA-formatted papers typically don’t require a title page, there are very specific requirements regarding the opening section of the first page .

Here’s how you can set your first page up for MLA 9th edition.

  • On the first line, write your full name (flush left)
  • On a new line, write your professor or instructor’s full name
  • On a new line, write the course code and course name
  • On a new line, write the full date spelt out (e.g., 15 June 2023)
  • On a new line, write the full title of your paper , centre-aligned and using title case (consider using a title case converter if you’re not familiar with this)
  • On a new line, begin your body content

All of the above should be in plain, unformatted font – in other words, you don’t need to apply any boldfacing, underlining , etc. That said, you should use italics whenever you’re writing out the titles of other works (for example, titles of books or articles).

To make it all a little more tangible, below is an example of a first page formatted according to the MLA specifications that we just covered.

An example of the opening section of a paper formatted for MLA 9

The Main Body

While the formatting requirements for the body section are relatively light for MLA (at least when compared to APA ), there are still quite a few important things to pay attention to. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Each of your paragraphs needs to start on a new line , and the first sentence of each paragraph requires a half-inch indent (while the rest of the paragraph is flush left aligned). Note that each paragraph simply starts on a new line and doesn’t require an additional blank line.

MLA 9th edition is fairly flexible in terms of heading formatting. There is no specified formatting, so you can decide what works best for you. However, there are still a few basic rules you need to follow:

  • All your headings should be written in title case – never use all caps
  • There should be no period following a heading
  • Each heading level needs to be uniquely formatted and easily distinguishable from other levels (for example, a distinct difference in terms of boldfacing, underlining or italicisation)
  • You can have as many heading levels as you need, but each level must have at least two instances


When using abbreviations, you’ll need to make sure that you’re using the MLA version of the abbreviation . Below we’ve listed a few common ones you should be aware of:

  • Appendix: app.
  • Circa: c. or ca.
  • Chapter: ch.
  • Column: col.
  • Definition: def.
  • Department: dept.
  • Example: e.g.
  • Edition: ed.
  • Figure: fig.
  • Foreword: fwd.
  • That is: i.e.
  • Journal: jour.
  • Library: lib.
  • Manuscript(s): MS
  • Number: no.
  • Quoted in: qtd. in
  • Revised: rev.
  • Section: sec. or sect.
  • Series: ser.
  • Translation: trans.
  • Version: vers.
  • Variant: var.
  • Volume: vol.

If you’re interested, you can find a more comprehensive list here . Alternatively, if you have access to the MLA 9th edition handbook, you can find the full list in the first appendix.

APA 7 editing

In-text citations

MLA 9 has a very specific set of requirements regarding how to cite your sources within the body of your paper. Here are some of the most important things to help you get started with MLA citations.

Author-page number system: in-text citations consist of (at a minimum) the lead author’s last name, followed by the page number of the paragraph you are citing. There is no comma between the two components (only a space).

Types of citations: MLA allows two types of in-text citations: parenthetical and narrative . Parenthetical citations feature the author and page number in parentheses (brackets) at the end of the respective sentence. Here’s an example:

MLA 9th edition is easy to grasp if you visit the Grad Coach blog (Jansen 13).

Narrative citations, on the other hand, weave the author’s name into the flow of the sentence and then present the publication date in parentheses at the end of the sentence. Here’s an example:

Jansen states that MLA 9th edition is easy for students to grasp if they visit the Grad Coach blog (13).

In general, it’s a good idea to utilise a mix of both in your writing. Narrative citations are particularly useful when you want to highlight or contrast authors or their viewpoints, while parenthetical citations are useful when you want to strengthen your own academic voice. In other words, both formats have their respective strengths and weaknesses, so try to use citation format strategically in your writing.

Quotations: when quoting text verbatim from a source, there is no need to do anything differently in terms of the citation itself, but do remember to wrap the verbatim text in quotation marks. Here’s an example:

Jansen proposes that MLA 9th edition is “easy to grasp if you visit the Grad Coach blog” (13).

Multiple authors: when citing resources that were authored by three or more people, you only need to list the lead author, followed by “et al.”. Here’s an example:

MLA 9th edition is easy to grasp if you visit the Grad Coach blog (Jansen et al. 13).

 Below are a few more examples from our free MLA template .

Example of MLA in-text citations

Please keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of all the MLA 9th edition citation-related requirements – just a shortlist of the most commonly relevant ones. If you’d like to learn more, consult the MLA handbook .

The Works Cited (Reference List)

The final section that you’ll need to pay close attention to is the “Works Cited” page, which should contain a list of reference information for all the sources cited in the body of the paper. Again, MLA has a quite a meaty set of specifications regarding the content and formatting of this list, but we’ll cover the basics here to get your started on the right foot. 

Basic setup

Your reference list needs to start on a new page and should be titled “Works Cited”. The title should be unformatted and centred . The reference list should then start on the next line. As with the rest of your document, you should use double line spacing throughout.

When it comes to the reference list itself, you’ll need to keep the following in mind:

  • All the sources that you cited in the body of your document should feature in the reference list. Make sure that every citation is accounted for .
  • The references should be ordered alphabetically , according to the lead author’s last name .
  • The exact information required within each entry depends on the type of content being referenced (e.g., a journal article, web page, etc.)
  • Components that may need to feature (other than the author) include the title of the source, the title of the container, other contributors, the article version or number, the publisher, the publication date, and the location.
  • All references should be left-aligned and should use a hanging indent – i.e., the second line of any given reference (if it has one) should be indented a half inch.

We have to stress that these are just the basics. MLA 9th edition requires that your references be structured and formatted in a very specific way , depending on the type of resource. If you plan to draft your reference list manually, it’s important to consult your university’s style guide or the MLA manual itself. This leads us to our next point…

In general, it’s a bad idea to write your reference list manually . Given the incredibly high level of intricacy involved, it’s highly likely that you’ll make mistakes if you try to craft this section yourself. A better solution is to use (free) reference management software such as Mendeley or Zotero . Either of these will take care of the formatting and content for you, and they’ll do a much more accurate job of it too. 

If you’re not familiar with any sort of reference management software, be sure to check out our easy-to-follow Mendeley explainer video below.

Wrapping Up

In this post, we’ve provided a primer covering how to format your paper according to MLA 9th edition. To recap, we’ve looked at the following:

  • The structure and layout
  • The general page setup
  • The “Works Cited” page (reference list)

Remember to always check your university’s style guide to familiarise yourself with any additional requirements they may. Also, if your university has specified anything that contrasts what we’ve discussed here, please do follow their guidance . 

If you need any help formatting your paper for MLA 9, take a look at our “done for you” language editing and proofreading service . Simply send us your document and we’ll take care of all the MLA formatting intracies on your behalf. 

You Might Also Like:

APA 7th Edition Formatting: Full Tutorial

Very well recounted!

Submit a Comment Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

  • Print Friendly


Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, how to format a college essay: 15 expert tips.

author image

College Essays


When you're applying to college, even small decisions can feel high-stakes. This is especially true for the college essay, which often feels like the most personal part of the application. You may agonize over your college application essay format: the font, the margins, even the file format. Or maybe you're agonizing over how to organize your thoughts overall. Should you use a narrative structure? Five paragraphs?

In this comprehensive guide, we'll go over the ins and outs of how to format a college essay on both the micro and macro levels. We'll discuss minor formatting issues like headings and fonts, then discuss broad formatting concerns like whether or not to use a five-paragraph essay, and if you should use a college essay template.

How to Format a College Essay: Font, Margins, Etc.

Some of your formatting concerns will depend on whether you will be cutting and pasting your essay into a text box on an online application form or attaching a formatted document. If you aren't sure which you'll need to do, check the application instructions. Note that the Common Application does currently require you to copy and paste your essay into a text box.

Most schools also allow you to send in a paper application, which theoretically gives you increased control over your essay formatting. However, I generally don't advise sending in a paper application (unless you have no other option) for a couple of reasons:

Most schools state that they prefer to receive online applications. While it typically won't affect your chances of admission, it is wise to comply with institutional preferences in the college application process where possible. It tends to make the whole process go much more smoothly.

Paper applications can get lost in the mail. Certainly there can also be problems with online applications, but you'll be aware of the problem much sooner than if your paper application gets diverted somehow and then mailed back to you. By contrast, online applications let you be confident that your materials were received.

Regardless of how you will end up submitting your essay, you should draft it in a word processor. This will help you keep track of word count, let you use spell check, and so on.

Next, I'll go over some of the concerns you might have about the correct college essay application format, whether you're copying and pasting into a text box or attaching a document, plus a few tips that apply either way.


Formatting Guidelines That Apply No Matter How You End Up Submitting the Essay:

Unless it's specifically requested, you don't need a title. It will just eat into your word count.

Avoid cutesy, overly colloquial formatting choices like ALL CAPS or ~unnecessary symbols~ or, heaven forbid, emoji and #hashtags. Your college essay should be professional, and anything too cutesy or casual will come off as immature.


Mmm, delicious essay...I mean sandwich.

Why College Essay Templates Are a Bad Idea

You might see college essay templates online that offer guidelines on how to structure your essay and what to say in each paragraph. I strongly advise against using a template. It will make your essay sound canned and bland—two of the worst things a college essay can be. It's much better to think about what you want to say, and then talk through how to best structure it with someone else and/or make your own practice outlines before you sit down to write.

You can also find tons of successful sample essays online. Looking at these to get an idea of different styles and topics is fine, but again, I don't advise closely patterning your essay after a sample essay. You will do the best if your essay really reflects your own original voice and the experiences that are most meaningful to you.

College Application Essay Format: Key Takeaways

There are two levels of formatting you might be worried about: the micro (fonts, headings, margins, etc) and the macro (the overall structure of your essay).

Tips for the micro level of your college application essay format:

  • Always draft your essay in a word processing software, even if you'll be copy-and-pasting it over into a text box.
  • If you are copy-and-pasting it into a text box, make sure your formatting transfers properly, your paragraphs are clearly delineated, and your essay isn't cut off.
  • If you are attaching a document, make sure your font is easily readable, your margins are standard 1-inch, your essay is 1.5 or double-spaced, and your file format is compatible with the application specs.
  • There's no need for a title unless otherwise specified—it will just eat into your word count.

Tips for the macro level of your college application essay format :

  • There is no super-secret college essay format that will guarantee success.
  • In terms of structure, it's most important that you have an introduction that makes it clear where you're going and a conclusion that wraps up with a main point. For the middle of your essay, you have lots of freedom, just so long as it flows logically!
  • I advise against using an essay template, as it will make your essay sound stilted and unoriginal.


Plus, if you use a college essay template, how will you get rid of these medieval weirdos?

What's Next?

Still feeling lost? Check out our total guide to the personal statement , or see our step-by-step guide to writing the perfect essay .

If you're not sure where to start, consider these tips for attention-grabbing first sentences to college essays!

And be sure to avoid these 10 college essay mistakes .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!

Improve With Our Famous Guides

  • For All Students

The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 160+ SAT Points

How to Get a Perfect 1600, by a Perfect Scorer

Series: How to Get 800 on Each SAT Section:

Score 800 on SAT Math

Score 800 on SAT Reading

Score 800 on SAT Writing

Series: How to Get to 600 on Each SAT Section:

Score 600 on SAT Math

Score 600 on SAT Reading

Score 600 on SAT Writing

Free Complete Official SAT Practice Tests

What SAT Target Score Should You Be Aiming For?

15 Strategies to Improve Your SAT Essay

The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 4+ ACT Points

How to Get a Perfect 36 ACT, by a Perfect Scorer

Series: How to Get 36 on Each ACT Section:

36 on ACT English

36 on ACT Math

36 on ACT Reading

36 on ACT Science

Series: How to Get to 24 on Each ACT Section:

24 on ACT English

24 on ACT Math

24 on ACT Reading

24 on ACT Science

What ACT target score should you be aiming for?

ACT Vocabulary You Must Know

ACT Writing: 15 Tips to Raise Your Essay Score

How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League

How to Get a Perfect 4.0 GPA

How to Write an Amazing College Essay

What Exactly Are Colleges Looking For?

Is the ACT easier than the SAT? A Comprehensive Guide

Should you retake your SAT or ACT?

When should you take the SAT or ACT?

Stay Informed

do you write college application essays in mla format

Get the latest articles and test prep tips!

Looking for Graduate School Test Prep?

Check out our top-rated graduate blogs here:

GRE Online Prep Blog

GMAT Online Prep Blog

TOEFL Online Prep Blog

Holly R. "I am absolutely overjoyed and cannot thank you enough for helping me!”

Apr 20, 2023

How to Write in MLA Essay Format (With Examples)

Did you know that MLA essay format isn't just about citation style? It also includes guidelines for headings, spacing, margins, and more. If you're not sure how to put it all together, don't worry - we've got you covered. In this article, we'll provide you with clear instructions and examples to help you write in MLA essay format like a pro!

Many pupils in higher education are required to become familiar with the Modern Language Association (MLA) format to write effectively on academic assignments. The formatting guide for this writing method is around 400 pages long, so we've compiled some basic guidelines to get you started.

MLA, short for the Modern Language Association , is a standard format for scholarly writing like study papers and essays. As a college student, you'll find that liberal arts and sciences courses almost always insist on MLA citations and paper formats. In this article, you will find detailed instructions for creating an MLA-formatted document in Office.

What does MLA format mean?

The Modern Language Association (MLA) style is "the style suggested by the MLA for writing scholarly works and student research papers," as explained by Thesaurus.com. Essays written in MLA format or MLA style require specific elements: a header, pagination with the last name and page number, a title, the use of Times New Roman font in 12 point size, double spacing throughout, margins set to 1 inch on all sides, and the inclusion of a Works Cited page.

When is MLA format used?

Most courses in the arts (including English, film, literature, philosophy, and early creative writing) will require you to use MLA format. Although instructors in introductory classes may give students some leeway in selecting a preferred style of citation and essay format, MLA is frequently used because it is one of the most straightforward.

How do I properly organise my Google Docs document in MLA style?

Using Google Documents , you can easily create an MLA formatted paper. If you already have a Gmail account, Google Docs is a complimentary bonus. There is no cost to set up a Google account if you don't already have one.

In MLA style, how many parts should my paper have?

Paragraph requirements for an MLA essay will vary depending on the requirements of your instructor. Instead, you should aim for a specific word count or a specific page count. Find out from your educator the minimum number of words or pages expected for the essay. Essays for high school and college freshmen are typically between three and five pages long, or about 1,250 to 1,500 words (2 to 3 paragraphs).

When using MLA style, how many words should my paper be?

The length of your final MLA essay will rely heavily on the specifics of your instructor's assignment. Determine the required length of your composition by consulting with your instructor. Commonly assigned to freshmen in college, essays typically range between three and five pages. The average length of a standard 5-page thesis written in double space is around 1250 words.

When using the APA style, how do you properly reference a book?

It is not necessary to struggle through the process of creating a Works Cited page for a book. The following elements should be included in your book's citation: Initials, Surname, etc. Book Description. Place of Distribution, Publishing House, and Year of Publication.

Know the General Guidelines of MLA Style

Language classes and literature courses are where you're most likely to come across an essay written in MLA style. While there is some flexibility in the design, there are also some strict guidelines to follow. In 2021, the ninth version of the manual of style was published.

When Unsure, Stick to a Generic Layout

The five guidelines below are the standard for any MLA-styled paper.

Change the default typeface to Times New Roman, size 12.

The recommended size for paper borders is one inch on all sides.

Don't use two spaces after a semicolon.

Leave a half-inch space between the left margin and the first line of each column. (Tab instead of using the spacebar to create indents).

Use double spacing for the entire article.

Proper use of headings, footnotes, and page numbers is crucial.

To ensure that your paper is easily understood, it is crucial that you use correct headers and cover sheets. Plagiarism can be avoided by providing thorough and correct information.

Unless otherwise specified by your instructor, a cover sheet is not required.

Any lengthy headings used in the body of the paper should be italicized.

Put your name at the top left of the first page of your writing.

Write the name of your teacher on the line beneath your own. Type the name of the class below that. And finally, don't forget to include the date below.

Create page numbers in the top right area. Page numbers should appear to the left of your last name (Jones 1). This will serve as the header for the entire document.

On the line beneath the date, centered, write the subject of your essay.

You need to use numbered headings to separate parts if there are any. For ease of reference, you can number your essay's parts as follows: "1. Section One, 2. Section Two, 3. Section Three," etc.

The standard for referencing within the body of the text is to place the author's surname and the page number in brackets

If you cite the same source multiple times in the same paragraph and there are no other citations in that section, you can simply list the citations after the paragraph.

Put your endnotes on a distinct page before your works cited page. The heading for this section should read "Notes."

Understand What a Works Cited Page Is 

In MLA format, a Works Cited page is included rather than a Bibliography or Sources section. To achieve this flexibility, MLA 9 employs a container structure, within which nine fundamental elements are created.

Use this basic works cited format:

Initials, Surname, etc. A Title of the Original Author. Title of Container, Names of Other Authors, Version and Number, Publisher, Publication Date, and Place of Distribution.

Each entry should be a genuine resource that you used for research and properly referenced in your paper.

You can skip any of the above steps if you don't have the necessary materials.

Italicize titles of books, websites, magazines, TV programmes, and albums.

Article titles, magazine titles, episode titles, and music titles all need to be enclosed in quotation marks when used in a paper or essay.

Create an alphabetical list of your references, beginning with the authors' last names.

When there is no author given, put the title of the source in the first position of the entry and arrange the entries alphabetically by title.

Add-ons that can be made to a Project Include the following information in your citation: date of original publication; city of original publishing; date of access; URL; and digital object identifier.

Get to Know MLA

While it may not seem important now, understanding the fundamentals of MLA style will make your life much easier when it comes time to write college papers. These standards will become second nature the more you read and apply them.

4 MLA Format Essay Examples

Jane Doe                                                                                                                                                                

Professor John


What is Wi-Fi?

You know the feeling: You’re reading a website or streaming a movie when your Wi-Fi goes out. What is Wi-Fi, and why do we depend on it so much? Understanding the concept of Wi-Fi is important for users of modern technology because it connects us to the world.

Wi-Fi is the wireless local network between nearby devices, such as wireless routers, computers, smartphones, tablets, or external drives. It is part of the LAN (local area network) protocols and has largely replaced the wired Ethernet option. When your device has Wi-Fi turned on, it can find the nearest router. If the router is connected to a modem and works with an Internet service provider (ISP), your device can now access the Internet and other devices on the network. Wi-Fi covers a much more limited area than a cell phone tower. However, Wi-Fi does not use expensive cellular data like LTE or 4G.

Many people believe that Wi-Fi is short for “wireless fidelity.” The founding members of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance needed a name that was easier to remember than “wireless ethernet,” and much easier than Wi-Fi’s actual original name, “IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence.” They added the slogan “The Standard for Wireless Fidelity,” but dropped it after people mistook the meaning of Wi-Fi. The name is a play on the term “hi-fi,” which is a high-quality reproduction in stereo sound (“high fidelity”), and not related to Wi-Fi at all. The IEEE 802.11b standard has since been upgraded to faster protocols, including 802.11g, 802.11n, and 802.11ac.

Because of Wi-Fi’s widespread use and popularity, Merriam-Webster added “Wi-Fi” to its dictionary in 2005, only eight years after it was invented. Today, most modern computers depend on Wi-Fi for Internet access. Free Wi-Fi is available in many restaurants, hotels, and coffee shops. It is also easy to install in your home for private use. However, even private Wi-Fi connections should be password-protected. Joining an unprotected Wi-Fi network, or allowing others to join your network, could compromise your online safety and privacy.

Understanding what Wi-Fi is can protect you and your information. When used correctly and safely, Wi-Fi is an essential part of the 21st-century experience. Whether you’re watching your favourite show or finishing up a research paper, you should know more about how data travels to and from your device.

Allen Bailey                        

Professor Jane


Everyone feels afraid from time to time. From feeling the jitters to facing a lifelong phobia, it’s difficult to put fears aside when trying to accomplish a goal. But one doesn’t need to forget that they are afraid to be brave; in fact, bravery doesn’t exist without real fear behind it.

Bravery is the mindset one takes when facing a challenge that could be dangerous or difficult. The task could be objectively dangerous, such as engaging in battle or driving in adverse conditions. A person could also perceive a seemingly harmless situation as challenging, such as climbing a flight of stairs or talking to someone they’d like to date. A brave act requires one to face and embrace the task rather than withdraw from it.

There are examples of bravery in every community. Look no further than your local fire station or police station to see acts of bravery. Community heroes help others in small and large ways every day, often at great risk to their own lives. Students are brave when they stand up to a bully or present a project in front of the whole class. Practicing small acts of bravery can prepare a person to lead a heroic life.

“Fearlessness” can be a connotation of bravery, but it’s not a true synonym (although bystanders may believe that a brave person acts without fear). If a task does not seem frightening in some way, it would be simple to complete, requiring no bravery at all. Heroes who exhibit bravery often put themselves at risk to help others. The closest synonym for bravery would be “courage.” The ability to do what’s right despite a real or perceived threat requires strength, making “fortitude” another near-synonym for bravery.

Bravery doesn’t exist without fear. No matter how challenging or dangerous a task can be, bravery allows a person to work alongside their fear rather than forget about it. The next time you see someone acting heroically, remind yourself that they are probably terrified at that moment – and that makes them even braver.

Example # 3

Adams Aderson                      

Professor Bell


Most Important Health Risks for Women to Be Aware Of


Women's health is a critical issue that has gained attention in recent years. Women face different health risks than men, and they must be aware of them to maintain a healthy life. Breast cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, depression, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are some of the most important health risks for women to be aware of. In this essay, we will discuss each of these risks in detail and provide advice on how to mitigate them.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide. It occurs when breast cells grow uncontrollably. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, and women with a family history of breast cancer are also at a higher risk (American Cancer Society). The best way to detect breast cancer early is through regular mammograms (National Breast Cancer Foundation). Women should also conduct breast self-exams monthly and report any changes to their doctor. Maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol consumption, and exercising regularly can also lower the risk of developing breast cancer (American Cancer Society).

Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States. Women with a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are at a higher risk of developing heart disease (American Heart Association). Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and managing stress are effective ways to prevent heart disease (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute). Women should also have their blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly.


Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones, making them more likely to break. Women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis than men because they have smaller, thinner bones (National Osteoporosis Foundation). Women should consume adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption to maintain bone health. Women over the age of 50 should also have regular bone density tests.

Depression is a common mental health disorder that affects women twice as often as men. Women who have a family history of depression, have experienced trauma, or have chronic illnesses are at a higher risk of developing depression (National Institute of Mental Health). Regular exercise, a healthy diet, good sleep habits, and social support can help prevent depression. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, such as persistent sadness, lack of interest in activities, and difficulty sleeping, seek help from a mental health professional.

Sexually Transmitted Infections

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that are spread through sexual contact. Women are at a higher risk of contracting STIs than men because of the anatomy of their reproductive system (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The most effective way to prevent STIs is to practice safe sex, such as using condoms and getting regular STI testing. Women should also be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer (American Cancer Society).

Women face unique health risks that must be taken seriously. Breast cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, depression, and sexually transmitted infections are some of the most important health risks for women to be aware of. By practising healthy habits, such as maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and seeking regular medical care, women can mitigate these risks and lead long, healthy lives. Women need to prioritize their health and take steps to prevent and detect health problems early on.

Works Cited

American Cancer Society. "Breast Cancer Risk and Prevention." Cancer.org, American Cancer Society, 2022, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/risk-and-prevention.html .

American Heart Association Society. “Heart Valve and Disease” heart.org, American Heart Association Society 2022, https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-valve-problems-and-disease

Bennett Brown                      

Professor Burton


The Effect of Birth Control and Pregnancy on a Woman's Psyche

Women's reproductive health has always been a critical issue, and it has gained attention in recent years. Birth control and pregnancy are two of the most significant factors that affect a woman's psyche. Birth control has both physical and psychological effects, while pregnancy can bring about significant changes in a woman's mental and emotional state. In this essay, we will explore the effects of birth control and pregnancy on a woman's psyche.

Birth Control

Birth control is a common method of preventing unwanted pregnancies. Hormonal birth control methods, such as the pill, patch, and hormonal IUD, work by altering a woman's hormone levels to prevent ovulation. The use of hormonal birth control has been associated with changes in a woman's mood and behaviour. In a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found that women who used hormonal birth control were more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who did not use hormonal birth control (Skovlund et al.).

However, it is important to note that the use of hormonal birth control may not cause depression and anxiety in all women. Women who have a history of depression or anxiety may be more susceptible to these side effects. Additionally, not all women experience these side effects, and for some women, birth control may improve their mental health by reducing symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome.

Pregnancy is a significant event that brings about numerous changes in a woman's body, both physically and mentally. Pregnancy can be a time of emotional highs and lows, and many women experience mood swings, anxiety, and depression during pregnancy. According to the American Pregnancy Association, up to 20% of women experience depression during pregnancy (American Pregnancy Association).

One of the factors that contribute to the risk of depression during pregnancy is the hormonal changes that occur. During pregnancy, there is an increase in the levels of estrogen and progesterone, which can affect a woman's mood and behaviour. Additionally, changes in a woman's social and economic status, as well as the stress of preparing for a new baby, can contribute to depression during pregnancy.

However, it is important to note that not all women experience depression during pregnancy. Some women report feeling more energized and happier during pregnancy. Additionally, many women report feeling a sense of purpose and joy as they prepare for the arrival of their new baby.

Birth control and pregnancy are two of the most significant factors that affect a woman's psyche. Hormonal birth control can cause changes in mood and behaviour, while pregnancy can bring about significant changes in a woman's mental and emotional state. Women should be aware of these potential effects and seek medical advice if they experience significant mood changes. It is important to remember that not all women experience negative side effects from birth control or pregnancy and that every woman's experience is unique.

American Pregnancy Association. "Depression During Pregnancy." Americanpregnancy.org, American Pregnancy Association, 2022, https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/depression-during-pregnancy/

Skovlund, Charlotte Wessel, et al. "Association of Hormonal Contraception with Depression." JAMA Psychiatry, vol. 73, no. 11, 2016, pp. 1154–1162.

In conclusion, MLA format is a widely used citation style that helps ensure academic integrity by providing guidelines for documenting sources in research papers and essays. To write in MLA format, it is essential to follow a few simple guidelines, including using 12-point font, double spacing, and adding a header with your last name and page number. 

Mastering the MLA essay format may seem daunting at first, but with practice and guidance, you can learn to write with confidence and clarity. By following the key elements we've outlined in this article, such as in-text citations, works cited pages, and proper formatting, you'll be well on your way to producing high-quality essays that meet MLA standards.

But even with a solid understanding of MLA format, the writing process can still be challenging. That's where Jenni.ai comes in. Our AI-powered writing assistant can help you with every aspect of the writing process, from generating ideas to checking for grammar and spelling errors. Jenni.ai's advanced features, such as AI autocomplete and citation assistance, make it easier than ever to write in MLA essay format with precision and ease.

So why not try Jenni.ai today and see how our platform can help you streamline the writing process, improve your writing skills, and submit top-quality essays that meet the highest standards of MLA format?

Try Jenni for free today

Create your first piece of content with Jenni today and never look back

What format should I use for my college essay?

Read the prompt and essay instructions thoroughly to learn how to start off a college essay. Some colleges provide guidance about formatting. If not, the best course of action is to stick with a college standard like the MLA format.

Also Found On

Jerz's Literacy Weblog (est. 1999)

Mla format papers: step-by-step tips for formatting research essays in mla style.

Jerz >  Writing > Academic     [ Argument | Title  |  Thesis  |  Blueprint  | Pro/Con | Quoting | MLA Format ]

(View a Google Doc template for an MLA Style paper .)

0.1) If you’ve been asked to submit a paper in MLA style, your instructor is asking you to format the page and present the content in a specific way. Just as football referees dress a certain way, and Japanese chefs cook a certain way, writers in certain disciplines follow a certain set of conventions. This document will show you how to format an essay in MLA style.

0.2) If, instead of questions about putting the final formatting touches on your essay, you have questions about what to write, see instead my handouts on writing a short research paper , coming up with a good thesis statement , and using quotations in the body of your paper .

mla style

  • Document Settings (1 inch margins; double spaced; 12-point)
  • Page Header (name and page number, upper right of every page)
  • Title Block (assignment info and an informative title)
  • Citations (no comma between the author and page number; commas and periods go outside of inline quotes)
  • Works Cited List (lots of tricky details! sort alphabetically by author, not by the order the quotes appear in your paper)

For the most complete information, check your campus library or writing center for the  MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers , 8th ed.

Use a header with your last name and the page number, a title block, and an informative title. (See http://jerz.setonhill.edu/mla for details.)

MLA Style Format (First Page)

How to format the Works Cited page of an MLA style paper.

How to format the Works Cited page of an MLA style paper.

do you write college application essays in mla format

1. Document Settings

Your word processor comes with default settings (margin, line height, paragraph spacing, and typeface) that will likely need adjustment. For MLA style, you need:

1.1 Adjusting Document Settings in MS-Word (Windows)

My copy of Microsoft Word for Windows defaults to

  • 1-inch margins all around
  • 1.15 line height
  • 10pt spacing between paragraphs
  • Calibri 11-point  typeface.

Changing to MLA Style (Windows)

  • The default margins in my test run were fine, but if you need to change them: Page Layout -> Margins -> Normal (1-inch all around)
  • The default line height is too low. Change it to 2.0. Home -> Line Spacing -> 2.0. (You could try fudging it to 1.9 or 2.1 to meet a page count, but any more than that and your instructor may notice.)
  • The MS-Word default adds extra space after paragraphs.(MLA Style instead requires you to  signal paragraph breaks by indenting the first line.) CTRL-A (select all your text) Home -> Line Spacing -> Remove Space After Paragraph
  • Change the typeface to Times New Roman 12-point. Home -> Font Face Selector (change to Times New Roman) Home -> Font Size Selector (change to 12)

1.2 Adjusting Document Settings in MS-Word (Mac)

My copy of  microsoft word for mac defaults to.

  • 1.25 inch left and right margins, 1 inch top and bottom
  • 1.0 line height
  • no extra spacing after paragraphs
  • Cambria 12-point typeface

Changing to MLA style (Mac)

  • In my test run, the left and right margins are too big. To change them: Layout -> Margins -> Normal (1-inch all around)
  • The default line height is too low. Change it to 2.0. Home -> Line Spacing  -> 2.0
  • My Mac copy of MS-Word does not add extra spaces after paragraphs. If yours does: Home -> Line Spacing  -> Line Spacing Options… (a new window will pop up) Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style (check this box) -> OK
  • The 12-point Cambria will probably be fine, but to change the typeface: Home -> Font Face Selector (change to Times New Roman) Home -> Font Size Selector (change to 12)

2. Page Header

In the top right of every page, use your word processor’s “Page Header” function add an automatic page number and your surname.

2.1 Adding the Page Header in MS-Word (Windows)

  • Insert -> Page Number -> Top of Page -> (choose the right-justified “Plain Number” option)
  • The cursor will jump automatically to the right place for you to t ype your surname .
  • Click anywhere in the body of the paper to exit the header area.

2.2 Adding the Page Header in MS-Word (Mac)

  • Insert (in the top menu) -> Page Numbers…  -> (Set “Position” to “Top of Page (header)” and “Alignment” to “Right”)
  • Click just to the left of the new page number, and type your surname .
  • On my test document, my name was too far over to the left; grab the triangular tab adjuster just above your name, and drag it a notch to the right .

3. Title Block

In the upper left corner, type your name, your instructor’s name, the course number and section, and today’s date. Centered on the next line, type an informative title that actually informs the reader of your main point (not just “English Paper” or “A Comparison between Hamlet and Macbeth”).

do you write college application essays in mla format

  • Like all the other text in an MLA style paper, the title block is double-spaced .
  • The title is in the same font as the rest of the paper — it is not boldface, or enlarged.
  • There is  no extra space above or below the title.
  • A truly informative title will include the general topic, and your precise opinion on that topic.  (So, if you pan to compare Hamlet and Macbeth, your title should state the unique point you want to make about Hamlet and Macbeth. Reuse part of your thesis statement.)

4. Citations

This handout presumes you already know why you should cite your sources (to establish your authority, to introduce persuasive evidence, to avoid plagiarism , etc.). 

To fully cite a source requires two stages.  The first happens in the body of your paper (the “in-text citation”) and the second happens on a separate page at the end of your paper (see “Works Cited List,” below.)

4.1 Citing a Block Quote (more than three lines)

do you write college application essays in mla format

  • Long quotes can start to look like filler. Only use a block quote if you have a very good reason to include the whole passage. (You can usually make your point with a shorter quote.)

do you write college application essays in mla format

  • Place the parenthetical citation (the author’s name and the page number) after the period . (This is different from inline quotes, below.)
  • There is no comma between the author’s name and the page number.
  • If the quotation runs across more than one page: (Wordsworth-Fuller 20-21) or (Wordsworth-Fuller 420-21).
  • Skip wordy introductions such as, “In his informative guide The Amazing Writing Book , published by Elizabeth Mount College in 2010, the noted composition expert Maxwell Wordsworth-Fuller describes the importance of citations in MLA style papers.” Cutting the filler leaves more room to develop your own original ideas. (See “ Integrating Quotations .”)

4.2 Citing an Inline Quotation

When the passage you want to quote is less than three lines long, use inline style.  Here we have two brief passages, taken from the same page of the same source, so we can handle both with a single parenthetical citation.

do you write college application essays in mla format

  • The parenthetical citation appears outside the quoted material.
  • The period that ends the sentence comes after the close parenthesis . (This is different from block quotes, above.)
  • In this example, we have changed the first word a little, lowercasing it in order to fit it into our own sentence. To let the reader know what we changed, we put [] around it.
  • Again, note the absence of a full sentence that explains who Wordsworth-Fuller is and where the quote comes from. All that info will be in the Works Cited list, so we leave it out of the body of the paper.

4.3 Citing a Paraphrase

Let’s imagine we want to reference Wordsworth-Fuller’s general idea about citation as a way to establish credibility, but we don’t need to include any of the technical details. We can save space, and make it much easier on our reader, if we paraphrase:

do you write college application essays in mla format

  • Use paraphrasing for variety, or to make a passing reference without taking up much space.
  • If we use an author’s idea, rephrased in our own words, we must still cite the idea.

Tips for avoiding common errors in MLA citations.

5. Works Cited List

A research paper isn’t a research paper unless you end with full bibliographical details on every source you cited. This part can be tedious and tricky; leave yourself plenty of time to do it.

do you write college application essays in mla format

How to format the “Works Cited” list of an MLA style paper.

  • MS-Word Wind: Insert -> Page Break -> New Page.
  • MS-Word Mac: Document Elements -> Break -> Page.
  • Title your new page: Works Cited MLA style calls for no extra spaces above or below the page title; no special formatting.

5.1.  How to Create an Individual Works Cited Entry

Exactly what goes into each item in your bibliography depends on what kind of item it is. The general format is as follows:

Author. Title of Source. Container, contributors, version, volume and issue, publisher, date, location.

Exactly how that basic format gets turned into a Works Cited entry depends on the source.

Here’s the basic format for any book:

do you write college application essays in mla format

  • Gibaldi, Joseph, and George Spelvin.
  • Gibaldi, Joseph, Alan Smithee, and George Spelvin.
  • GIbaldi, Joseph et al.
  • The italicized phrase “ et al. ” is an abbreviation for the Latin “et alia,” meaning “and others.”
  • The “ al. ” is short for a longer word, so we mark the abbreviation with a period.
  • The “ et” is not an abbreviation, so it doesn’t get a period.
  • Place periods after the author’s name, after the title of the book, and at the end of the entry.
  • The title of the book is italicized .
  • The publisher is the name of the organization responsible for publishing the book. In this example it’s the Modern Language Association. It might instead be Project Gutenberg, the US Department of Agriculture, or the World Health Organization,

Basic Format for Any Academic Article

Author. “Title of Article in Quotation Marks.” Title of Journal in Italics, volume #, issue #, YEAR, pp. [pages of article]. Italicized Name of Database.

do you write college application essays in mla format

Let’s break that example down.

The author Margaret Kantz wrote the article “Helping Students Use Textual Sources Persuasively.” That article doesn’t exist on its own floating in space; it was published by a journal called College English,  in the 52nd year of publication, in the first issue of its 52nd volume, in the year 1990, the article started on page 74 and ran through page 91. The student found this article while searching the database Academic Search Elite .

Every academic article has a specific title, and is published in a journal with a different title. (Online citation generators often get this wrong, and will often repeat the same title twice.)

What is this “volume 52, number 1”?

If  College English were a TV series, then “volume” would be which season, and “number” would be the episode number. The title of the article would be the equivalent of a scene within that episode.

The title of the database, Academic Search Elite , is like the title of the streaming service you’d need to sign into. If you were talking about your favorite TV show and you told me it was on Netflix, or Disney+, I could find it. But if you told me “It’s on my MacBook” or “It’s on my Samsung phone,” that wouldn’t help me to find it.

Basic Format for Any Web Page

do you write college application essays in mla format

In the above example, reporter Camila Domonoske filed a news story called “Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds,” that aired on a news program called The Two-Way , which is published by National Public Radio, and the story aired Nov 23, 2016.

In MLS Style, the full URL is optional. Really long URLs with long strings of numbers in them are often generated for specific users, so someone else who visits that same URL will often get an error message.

You might shorten the URL to “npr.org,” because it would be a simple matter to use a search engine to find the actual story.

Other Citation Examples

What if your source doesn’t fit any of my examples?

You might be trying to cite something that doesn’t fit the above pattern, like a social media post, a video game, a work of art, an email from a relative, a billboard, or something else. It’s just not practical for me to try to include an example of every single thing it’s possible to cite.

The MLA citation format is designed to be flexible, so that it works for forms of media that haven’t been invented yet.

See Purdue OWL’s handouts for how to create a bibliography entry for a book , an article in a  periodical (such as a journal or newspaper), or an  electronic source (such as an email, web page or a YouTube clip). See also this list of  other common sources  (such as a personal interview or a movie).

5.2.  How to Organize Your Works Cited list

Sort the entries alphabetically by the author ‘s last name.

  • If the author is an organization (such as a government agency or non-profit foundation), alphabetize according to the name of the organization .
  • If you are citing a painting, or a composer, then obviously “author” has to be interpreted a little loosely.
  • Unless your instructor ask you to organize your Works Cited list differently,  everything should be alphabetized together, in a single list. MLA does not require that you separate works of different kinds, or that you cite works in the order that they appeared in your paper, or that you write annotations to go along with each item.
  • Use double-spaced line height. (in my copy of Word, I select the text and choose Format -> Paragraph ->  Line spacing -> Double -> OK.)
  • Use hanging indent paragraph format. (In my copy of word, I select the text then choose Format -> Paragraph -> Indentation -> Special -> Hanging Indent.)

29 May 2011 — new document posted, replacing outdated handout written in 1999. 06 Jun 2011 — expanded section on organizing the Works Cited list, since several readers asked for clarification. 07 Jun 2011 — reorganized for emphasis 19 Apr 2012 — added numbers to more subheads 24 Mar 2014 — added details on Works Cited paragraph formatting. 02 Oct 2016 — updated with MLA 8th Edition details. 30 Nov 2016 — added annotated Works Cited sample image. 07 Sep 2020 — updated section 5.1

570 thoughts on “ MLA Format Papers: Step-by-step Tips for Formatting Research Essays in MLA Style ”

The information was very helpful

Pingback: Academic Argument: an evidence-based defense of a non-obvious position on a complex issue. | Jerz's Literacy Weblog (est. 1999)

Thanks for sharing such an informative post with us.

fantastic information

Thanks for info!

hello i am nate sedmack i am here to kill all the furries for what they did to gavin born

I’m learning more writing a paper

it was very informational and helped me a lot

Pingback: Flipped Classes: Omit Housekeeping Mechanics from Recorded Lectures to Lengthen Their Shelf-life | Jerz's Literacy Weblog

Curious how you would Cite this webpage? haha…

awesome reminders

what about if when your using a quote and there is no name just anonomus

Honestly, I’d say find another way to make your point. An anonymous saying like “A stitch in time saves nine” won’t help you demonstrate your ability to write the kind of scholarly paper that MLA is designed for. Certainly investigate the quote to find out whether it maybe comes from Shakespeare or some other source that you can quote. I might identify the example I used as “English proverb,” but since I won’t be marking your paper, you really should check with your instructor.

This article..thing is the only reason I am passing my online college class. Especially the citation builder. Thank you!

I would Like You To Give Simple Instructions Not Complicated Ones , and Include also how much Papers Should be worked on.

Khalid, if there is any particular detail you are confused about, please let me know what question you have and perhaps I can help. There is no specific answer to how much a paper should be worked on. It depends on what grade you want to earn, how much time you have, whether your instructor is willing to meet with you before the due date, whether your instructor will give you the chance to revise your work, and many other factors.

hahahah xD me too same

How do I cite a photo that I found online?

Is it a historical photograph or a photograph published in a book that someone scanned and posted on line, is it a photograph of something like a sculpture? Is your paper focused on the work of the photographer, the makeup artist who prepared the model, the digital image enhancer who altered the image, the model? There is no single correct way to cite a photograph, because there are many different reasons to cite a photograph. Your instructor would be able to give you more specific advice. In general, though, the 8th edition of the MLA guide would say something like this:

Olsen, Jimmy. “Superman Rescues Boy Scouts from Lava Pit.” Photograph. The Daily Planet . July 22, 1956.

If you found the picture on a blog or a Flickr gallery, adjust the citation accordingly. If you found the image as the result of a Google search for something, you might very well end up finding a page that re-uses someone else’s picture without appropriately giving credit. There are many variables. Talk to your instructor, who will be the one grading your work, and will therefore be the right person to advise you on what to do.

is the text or what you wrote supposed to be centered in the page or to the left margin

Left margin.

Pingback: New Graphic for MLA Style Paper Handout | Jerz's Literacy Weblog

cool it was helpful

Pingback: Business Question of the day! Thursday, March 10, 2016 | thebuzinessbreakdown

I think you should include online resource citation instructions

Click on “Citing” at the top of the page. One of the options on the other end of that link is how to cite a web page.

Pingback: How To Put Double Space On Microsoft Works – Information

which writing style (MLA, APA) have more importance for students of social sciences, media sciences and business?

It depends on the instructor or editor who’s calling the shots. http://subjectguides.library.american.edu/c.php?g=175008&p=1154150

Very informative. It helped introduce my tired old mind to the MLA format. So, I can better help coach and prepare my wife for her English course. Thank you very much.

Pingback: For Future Reference: MLA Formatting | wr115fisette

Pingback: For Future Reference: MLA Formatting | wr115mhcc

I’m using a book title and author as my paper heading. How is that formatted?

I would tell my own students that a book title and the name of an author is not a good paper title, and I would ask them to write a title that catches the reader’s attention, identifies the topic, and identifies what position the paper is going to take on the topic. But if you are not my student, then I’m not the person who will be evaluating your paper. MLA style puts the book title in italics. Other than that, I really don’t have any advice for you.

Thank you very much for this useful information. As a freshman in highschool, my biology teacher asked for me to write an essay in mLA format about evolution. I had no clue what mLA format was,so I searched it up and it brought me here. In middle school I never wrote an essay in this format before,but I feel very confident to type my first mLA essay and I’m excited to do so! (Right after I finish my draft >.<) thank you very much! (⌒▽⌒)✌

This wasn’t helpful at all

Shavez, what were you looking for? This page is about formatting a paper you have already written. The first section includes links to pages about how to write essays.

u a real nigga dennis

really dude my collies and I would prefer that you didn’t use any profane language due to younger children that may be reading this

thank u i got an A 97 percent

this was very helpful i got an A 95 percent

hi my name is Jessie i have to writ a 2 pages Essay about MLA can someone help me

Dennis, what lends itself to science in the APA system? And what lends itself to the Humanities with the MLA? TIA.

As compared to MLA papers, APA papers tend to be shorter, and divided up into sections. Authors who use APA style tend to publish more frequently, because their knowledge goes out of date more quickly; so the date is prominent in APA citations, and page numbers are rare.

By contrast, people who use MLA style tend to write longer essays that aren’t divided up into standard sections like “procedure” and “conclusions.” Humanities scholarship generally doesn’t go out of date quickly. Instead of conducting experiments, humanists read and write a lot of longer essays and books, re-interpreting and quoting passages from them. MLA style makes the page numbers prominent, so that other scholars can easily find and re-read those same passages for themselves, and further the work of scholarship as it is conducted in the humanities.

Thanks for the reply. What do you mean by ” MLA style tend to write longer essays that aren’t divided up into standard sections like “procedure” and “conclusions.”? Are we not suppose to use conclusions in MLA format? In my English class, we use MLA with conclusions, but what do you mean by “procedure” and “conclusions”? I understand each instructor is different but is it right to use conclusions in an MLA paper…or am I getting confused?

Typically papers written in MLA style DO have a conclusion, but it would not be set off in a separate section under the subheading “Conclusion.” MLA papers tend NOT to follow a standard, particular structure. Papers written in the sciences DO have a fairly rigid set of sections, with separate subheadings. But it’s best for you to talk to your teacher about the specifics of any asisgnment.

Ok, thanks. I just wanted to ask and clarify it. Also, doesn’t the word “humanist” means something else entirely? The Humanist term today implies ‘human’ and is often used for atheists, for example… or am I wrong?

I used the term “humanist” to mean “a person who studies the culture of humans,” without intending the more specific meaning you mention. At my school, the humanities division includes theologians.

seems easy enough

We get asked often about what “format” the college application essay should be in. Although not generally… http://t.co/v1TTNxtE4e

Pingback: Academic paper style guide research | Screenin' Culture

When using MLA format, do you list the book title, the title of the article or both?

For guidance on citing individual sources, see the link in item 4, above. This page is about formatting the paper once you’ve already written it.

I wrote a paper and it looks just like your example. I followed everything to the “t” and my professor says that my header is indented and my paragraphs are double indented and the page numbers are in wrong format. What can I do?

Winston, I suggest you talk to your professor. I have been teaching from thiis handout for years, and when a student makes a formatting error on a rough draft, I just ask them to fix it for the revision. But your instructor is the one who designed the assignment and who evaluates your submissions, so he or she is the person to approach with questions.

I agree. .let me ask you this. Are your headers indented?

The screenshot was taken from a page that I created following the instructions for using MS-Word with a MacBook Pro. I followed the instructions that are on the page. But surely your instructor gave you guidelines, in a handout or an assigned textbook, which is why I encourage you to have this conversation with your instructor. Whether your instructor does or does not agree with the information on this page really doesn’t matter, since your instructor created the assignment and evaluates it according to his or her own criteria. I suggest you let your your teacher know you are confused about what you did wrong, and ask for an opportunity to make minor formatting changes to a paper that, we hope, met all the major criteria.

How do you add footnotes to an MLA style paper?

Most word processors will have an Insert -> Footnote or Insert -> Note (footnote or endnote) option. Most short college papers don’t need footnotes. (They aren’t for documenting sources — use an in-text citation and a Works Cited list instead.) I suggest you talk to your instructor about whether you really do need to use a footnote.

RT @DennisJerz: MLA Format Papers: Step-by-step Instructions for Writing Research Essays #mlastyle http://t.co/B6pGb3Pkeh

Thank you so much!! I love the Bib builder!!

I’m glad to hear you found it helpful!

Dear Dr. Jerz,

I am writing to request permission to link your webpage, “MLA Format Papers: Step-by-step Instructions for Writing Research Essays” to our website.

Marie Walcroft Librarian Lansdale School of Business

I am glad you found this page helpful. Yes, you are welcome to include a link and a brief extract.

Can you put what information is supposed to be in each paragraph???

Emma, I’m afraid I don’t understand the question. I feel like you’ve asked me what emotions are supposed to be in each verse of a song, or what colors are supposed to be in a painting. The many different kinds of songs or paintings are all created for different reasons; likewise, paragraphs are assigned, written, and read for a whole range of different reasons, so there’s no answer that covers all possible cases.

that was beautiful

I really find this useful (especially fudging the line spacing to 2.1). Good job!

Im in middle school and I have to do this. I have never heard of MLA Format and this helped ALOT. Thanks so much! Hopefully I get a good grade on this paper!

“@pretti_slimm: @Thyler_Jonzy http://t.co/QIf00vlgws try this site looks helpful”I just found a sample paper on Google

Pingback: MLA Format Papers: Step-by-step Instructions for Writing Research Essays - My Blog

Pingback: Freshman English Composition Resources

Is the Table of Contents double spaced – MLA?

i think you should add an explanation about page header. that was what i was looking for

See item 2 from the table of contents: http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/academic1/mla-style-papers/#page-header

when you say page numbers (Wordworth-Fuller 20), are you referring to the page number within the MLA document or the page number the text appears on within the authors works?

In this case, your paper would be referring to something you found on page 20 of the text by Wordsworth-Fuller.

With your delicate information about to write MLA format essay in right way will lead me to successful college year.

Thank you for useful information about how to write MLA format essay. Before my college year I didn’t know there were many different forms of essay. When my professor asked me to write MLA format I had no idea how to write it, but with your delicate information I think I will survive my college year. Thank you again.

I’m glad to know you found this page helpful. Most instructors will be happy to help if you stop by during their office hours, and if your prof is too busy for that most universities will have a writing center where you can get help at any stage of any assignment involving writing.

Thank you for valuable information. Before my college year in America I didn’t know what MLA Format was, but with this delicate information I will survive my college year.

Pingback: How to Write a Successful Research Paper with MLA | Critical Approaches to the American Renaissance

That means the quote is from page 20 of the book or article written by Wordsworth-Fuller.

Very good information, I really needed this incite on research paper formats. It has such thorough details and that make it so much easier to understand.

How do you in text cite a website? I didnt really see much about that.

I think you should add an explanation about page numbers. That was what I was looking for, but I couldn’t find the significant area.

Section 2 explains how to put page numbers in the header, and section 4 discusses page numbers in citations.

read it… it’s there.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Formatting a College Essay — MLA Style

LESSON You will likely be asked to write numerous essays A short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. over the course of your academic career. While the content The text in a writing that includes facts, thoughts, and ideas. The information that forms the body of the work. of your work is significant, it is also essential that you develop strong and accurate formatting The way in which content is arranged, usually following a set of rules. In writing, outlines and essays often follow a format specified by their purpose or where they are published. skills. Formatting an essay correctly is not only good authorship but is also important to instructors who often have to read hundreds of essays over the course of a semester. Your instructors will likely provide you with essay guidelines indicating whether you should use MLA A grammar and reference guide used mainly by students and scholars writing about the humanities (languages and literature). or APA A set of guidelines for citing sources used in literary and academic writing. APA style is most commonly used in the social sciences. style to format your paper. If you are uncertain as to your instructor's expectations, be sure to ask. Instructors appreciate students taking extra measures needed to correctly format essays. In this lesson, you will learn how to correctly format a college essay using MLA style. Note: This foundation lesson is not meant to include or cover all of the rules and guidelines for properly formatting an essay. Be sure to refer to the latest MLA style guide to ensure that you follow all of the formatting rules.

Part of formatting an essay is properly formatting in-text citations Information about a source, such as the author, date, and page number, in an essay or research paper that helps readers find the source in the works cited or references page. There are different rules for how to use in-text citations depending on the context of the citation and the style of formatting you are using. and your list of sources A person, book, article, or other thing that supplies information. . MLA refers to the list of sources as a works cited page An alphabetized list of publication information about the sources used in an MLA-formatted essay or research paper. . Keep in mind that in-text citations and the works cited page work together. Without one, you cannot have the other. The in-text citations lead readers to the listing of complete source information in the works cited page.

Formatting an Essay in MLA Style

Headers and page numbers

In MLA style, the header Information that appears at the very top of a page and may appear on subsequent pages of a work. includes your last name followed by one space and then consecutive page numbers. It appears in the upper-right corner, one half-inch from the top and flush with the right-hand margin The outer edges of a document that do not contain writing or images. . Include this header on every page, including the first. (Note: Some instructors prefer that the header be left off of the first page. As always, follow the guidelines your instructor provides.) 

MLA Headers

Essay information

MLA style does not require a cover page A page that comes before an essay or article and contains basic information about the work, including its title and author. The format of a cover page (also called the title page) will vary depending on the style guide in use. . (As always, though, check with your instructor about his or her preference.) Instead, include the following information about the essay in the upper left-hand corner of the first page of your essay: your full name, instructor's name, course, and date. Your title should be centered on the next line after the date, and your essay should start on the next line after that. Like the rest of the essay, all of this information should be double-spaced.

MLA Essay Information

Here is an example of the first page of an MLA paper:

"Smith 1" is the header. Under that are the student's name, the instructor's name, the course title, and the date. Right below that information is the title of the paper.

It is important to note that your name, instructor's name, course, and date should appear only on the first page of your paper. When students mistakenly place this information in the header, the information appears on every page and not just on the first page as it should.

Margins, font, and spacing

MLA has specific requirements with respect to margins, font A set of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks that are the same style. Examples: Times New Roman and Arial are fonts. , and line spacing The vertical distance between lines of text on a page. The most common types of spacing are single and double. . Set one-inch margins on all sides. Use 11-13-point font unless otherwise specified by the instructor. MLA advises using a font that is both easily readable and has regular and italicized versions of the font that are distinguishable. Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, Baskerville, and Garamond are all good options; however, if you are ever in doubt as to which font to use, ask your instructor. Whichever font you choose, remain consistent throughout your essay. Your essay should always be double-spaced throughout. Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch from the margin. Use only one space after all end punctuation The punctuation at the end of a sentence, which can be a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point. The end punctuation helps define the tone and meaning of a sentence. Notice the difference in tone in these examples: Someone ate my last cookie! (I'm really mad about that.) Someone ate my last cookie. (Oh well, I wasn't hungry anyway.) Someone ate my last cookie? (I'm not sure I even had another cookie.) .

MLA Margins, Font, and Spacing

Look online to see samples of a properly formatted MLA essay.

Punctuating and Formatting In-text Citations

Here are the guidelines for formatting in-text citations when using MLA style.

  • For every in-text reference, provide the author's name (or the work's title if there is no author). Include a location within the work (page number, chapter number,  time-stamp, etc.) if you quote or paraphrase a section of the source.

Evan's work has been characterized as "masterful, but distinctly odd" (Thomas 45).

"(Thomas 45)" is the in-text citation with the author and page number.

  • If the author's name is mentioned in the attributive phrase A short introduction to source material that identifies the author and often the title of a work that will be quoted or discussed in an essay or research paper. , the in-text citation should include the page number only.

John Thomas characterizes Evan's work as "masterful, but distinctly odd" (45).

"John Thomas characterizes" is the attributive phrase with the author's name. "(45)" is the in-text citation with the page number or other location information.

There are occasions when all pertinent information is included in the attributive phrase. In these cases, a parenthetical citation is not needed.

On page 45, Thomas describes Evan's work as "masterful, but distinctly odd."

"On page 45, Thomas describes" is the attributive phrase with the author name and page number. There is no in-text citation at the end because it is not needed there.

There will be times when all the information for a citation is not available--for example, websites do not always list dates and usually do not include page numbers, sources are sometimes published without authors, and so on. If you cannot obtain all the required information on a source, provide as much information as you can in order to allow readers to find your source.

  • Here is an example of how to cite a web source that does not have numbered pages:

According to a recent study, "more than seventy-five percent of payday loans are to people taking out new loans to cover the original one" (CNN).

"According to a recent study" is the attributive phrase. "(CNN)" is the source information with no page number.

Here are some more specific requirements with respect to the punctuation Marks such as such as a comma (,), period (.), question mark (?), and exclamation mark (!), among others, that help break a writing into phrases, clauses, and sentences. Different types of punctuation marks give the reader different impressions of the writer’s purpose in that sentence. and format of MLA in-text citations:

  • In most cases, the in-text citation goes inside the end punctuation.  Remember that the in-text citation is part of the sentence in which the source material Information that is quoted or paraphrased from outside works, such as journal articles, online documents, and books. is used, so it must be included in the sentence by placing the period after the parentheses.
  • When citing a quote, both the in-text citation and end punctuation go outside the closing quotation marks A set of single or double inverted commas (' ' or " ") that are placed around a word or passage to mark the beginning and end of a direct quotation or a title. . The end punctuation goes after the in-text citation, and this is one of the few instances in which the end punctuation goes outside quotation marks.
  • Prose quotes that exceed four lines are indented 0.5 inches from the left-hand margin. (The same goes for poetry quotes of more than three lines.) Because this block-quotation A copy of a long section of a text or speech, set off from the rest of a text. Block quotations, like direct quotations, are exact repeats of wording, but because of their length they are indented or printed in a different font rather than placed inside quotation marks. format signals a quotation An exact copy of the words from a speech or text. These words are placed inside quotation marks to show that they are a perfect repeat of the original. , no quotation marks are needed.
  • In long (block) quotations, the in-text citation goes outside the end punctuation.

Works Cited Pages

MLA style requires a works cited page to list the sources at the end of the work. Here are the guidelines for formatting works cited pages.

  • The works cited page needs to be double-spaced, and in the same font as the rest of the essay. Do not use bold font, do not underline any words, and do not resize the font in any way.
  • The works cited page should always begin a new page. The title—"Works Cited"—should be centered, but not bolded, underlined, or enclosed in quotes. (Note: if there is only one source, it should be titled "Work Cited.")
  • Individual citations must be arranged alphabetically.
  • If you have more than one book or article by the same author, list the works alphabetically by title. For the first entry, provide the author's full name in last name, first name format. Then, for each following work by the same author, use three hyphens or em dashes and a period in place of the name.

Morrison, Toni. Beloved: A Novel . Alfred A. Knopf. 1987.

---. The Bluest Eye . Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. 1970.

  • Each full citation should have a hanging indent, which means that the first line should be on the left margin and all following lines indented by 0.5 inches.
  • The author's full name (unless there are more than two authors; then et al. replaces all but the first author's name)
  • Title of work (chapter, article, web page, etc.) in quotation marks
  • Title of larger work, if applicable (book, newspaper, journal, magazine, website, etc.) in italics
  • Page numbers, when applicable
  • Publisher's information, when applicable
  • Date published
  • Identify the location of online works with a DOI, permalink, or URL.

Works Cited Page

In the example works cited page above, the title is "Works Cited." The citations are listed in alphabetical order, and the font is 11- to 13-point. Note the use of a hanging indent for each citation.

You will encounter various situations over the course of your academic career in which you will be required to provide work with properly cited references. For example, imagine that your literature instructor assigns an essay requiring evidentiary sources Specific media, such as journal articles, newspapers, and research studies that provide the support for claims or viewpoints expressed in an essay and help convince readers that an argument has merit. Evidentiary sources may provide facts and statistics, expert opinions, or anecdotal evidence. . This will require you to research and compile a list of citations for your sources. As you are writing, you will incorporate in-text citations into your essay. Another scenario in which you will need to provide in-text citations and a works cited page is when you are asked to write an essay to support your findings in a science lab. While this essay should be based upon your own experiential evidence in the lab, you will need to do research to provide additional support for your findings.

Any time you use the ideas A thought, opinion, or impression. , arguments A set of statements or reasons making a case for or against something. , theories In science, a well tested and widely accepted explanation for a phenomenon. Theories incorporate facts, observations, experiments, laws, and careful reasoning. In more general usage, theory may merely mean an unproven idea, speculation, or guesswork. , or words of another writer, you must provide correct and properly formatted citations. Be sure to check with your instructors regarding what style they prefer for formatting any essay you are assigned.

Exercise 1: MLA In-text Citations

This section provides five examples demonstrating incorrect punctuation and format for in-text citations in MLA style. As you read, notice the errors and how they should be corrected.

  • Wright argues that Shakespeare's comedies are in fact "more tragic than his tragedies" (Wright 22).

The error in the above example is repeating the author's name in the in-text citation. When the author's name is included in the attributive phrase, it doesn't need to be repeated in the in-text citation.

Correction: Wright argues that Shakespeare's comedies are in fact "more tragic than his tragedies" (22).

  • According to Wright, Shakespeare's comedies should be characterized as "more tragic than his tragedies." (Wright 22)

There are two errors. First, the author's name should not be included in the in-text citation when it has already been stated in the attributive phrase. Second, the formatting of the in-text citation is incorrect. The period should come after the page number outside the right parenthesis mark. The in-text citation is part of the sentence, so the period should be placed after it.

Correction: According to Wright, Shakespeare's comedies should be characterized as "more tragic than his tragedies" (22).

  • According to Jesperson, Dr. Master's research about levels of exercise and aggression in dogs is "unsubstantiated" (2010 Jesperson).

The errors in this example are that the author's name is repeated in the in-text citation, the page number is missing, and the year of publication is needlessly included.

Correction: According to Jesperson, Dr. Master's research about levels of exercise and aggression in dogs is "unsubstantiated" (165).

  • Jesperson wrote, "Dr. Master's research around dogs and how certain breeds need more walking and running or they will become aggressive is unsubstantiated" (The Contemporary Journal of Canine Behavior; page 165).

There are three errors in the above example. First, the writer has incorporated the title of the publication into the in-text citation. While that must be included in the works cited page, the title of the publication is not part of the in-text citation. Second, there is no need to precede the page number by the word "page." Third, the semicolon in the citation is unnecessary in MLA in-text citations.

Correction: Jesperson wrote, "Dr. Master's research around dogs and how certain breeds need more walking and running or they will become aggressive is unsubstantiated" (165).

  • In Saving Money and Time , Brandle makes a convincing argument that we should "stop wasting our resources on living longer and just start living more."

There are two errors in this final example. The first is that the title of the book is both italicized and underlined. It should only be italicized. The second is the absence of a page number. When the page number necessary for a reader to find a particular quote is not part of the attributive phrase, it must be included in the in-text citation.

Correction: In Saving Money and Time , Brandle makes a convincing argument that we should "stop wasting our resources on living longer and just start living more" (80).

This section provides five examples of in-text citations in MLA style. Now it's your turn to determine if the examples have been properly punctuated and formatted. Identify the errors, if any, and correct the in-text citation accordingly.

  • According to Kendricks, the works of Abbott are so popular because the average person can "relate" to them (94).

This example is properly punctuated and formatted.

No correction necessary.

  • On page 33 of "The Short Story as Told by Ronald Abbott," Kendricks argues that the success of Abbott's writing can be attributed to the average reader's ability to "relate" to it. (Kendricks, page 33, "The Short Story as Told by Ronald Abbott").

This example unnecessarily includes an in-text citation and is incorrectly punctuated. When all relevant information is included in the attributive phrase, an in-text citation is not used.

Correction: On page 33 of "The Short Story as Told by Ronald Abbott," Kendricks argues that the success of Abbott's writing can be attributed to the average reader's ability to "relate" to it.

  • Thompson beautifully explains Fine's argument regarding the "trials and tribulations" of today's college student. (page 423, 2011).

The errors in this example are the word "page" and the date, which are incorrectly included in the in-text citation; also, there is an extra period after "student."

Correction: Thompson beautifully explains Fine's argument regarding the "trials and tribulations" of today's college student (423).

  • "I believe," writes Fine, "that nothing should stand in the way of a young person's desire to go to college, even finances." ("Today's Economy and Its Impact on Higher Education," The Journal of Education and Economics, 16(6): 2012: 125 –129. Print. (page 128).

There are two errors in this example. First, in the parenthetical citation following the quote, too much information is provided. The goal is to lead readers to the proper entry in the works cited page. Second, the addition of the word "page" to the in-text citation is incorrect.

Correction: "I believe," writes Fine, "that nothing should stand in the way of a young person's desire to go to college, even finances" (128).

  • In her essay, Reynolds argues that Stevens's book (22) accurately and aptly depicts the current state of environmental conservatism in our cities.

The page number is in the wrong place in the sentence. It should come at the end before the period.

Correction: In her essay, Reynolds argues that Stevens's book accurately and aptly depicts the current state of environmental conservatism in our cities (22).


Sample Answer

It is important to correctly format my essays because instructors expect this of their students. Plus, if I turn in properly formatted essays, my instructors will know that I have made an effort to follow their guidelines, so it will probably positively impact my grade and reflect well on the quality of my work.

Neither the in-text citation information nor the works cited page provide enough information regarding your sources by themselves. In-text citations and the works cited page work together to allow you to write a smooth and cohesive essay (rather than one that is broken up by full citations), provide the details required by the MLA style, and enable your readers to locate any of your sources.

This lesson follows the 9th Edition of the MLA Handbook , published in 2021. Check the MLA Handbook for updates.

Copyright ©2022 The NROC Project


MLA Style Guide: Formatting Your Paper

  • Get Started Here
  • When, Why, & How to Cite
  • Formatting Your Paper
  • Citations & Bibliography
  • OWL Purdue - MLA Sample Paper

How do I Format My Paper?

     Let's say your professor wants you to format in MLA style, and you have no idea how to do it. Where do you start? And why do you need to use a format anyway?

     There are a few reasons why professors ask you to use a specific format. One reason is to provide consistency between papers while grading. Can you imagine what it would be like to grade 150 papers, and every single one is formatted differently? It would take them quite a bit of time to grade your paper! On top of that, they may be looking for specific things like citations, page numbers, certain paragraphs or names, etc., and using a consistent format helps them find what they looking for quickly and easily, resulting in a faster grade for you!  

     Another reason to learn a format is to prepare you for upper-division classes in your major. It's worth noting that every discipline has its formatting style preference, and learning a citation style like MLA, APA, or Chicago will give you an understanding of how basic style rules work.

Let's get started on the basic rules:

Your paper should be written using a standard (8.5x11 inch) sheet of paper with a common font such as Times New Roman. Some professors may request a different font, but Times New Roman is the most commonly accepted.

The entire document should be double-spaced, including the header and bibliography. You can easily double-space a paper by highlighting the entire document, then pressing the Ctrl button on your keyboard and pressing the 2 (Ctrl + 2).

Margins on the page's sides, top, and bottom are 1 inch. The only exception is with the page number and your name on the right-hand side of the header, which is 1/2 inch from the top of the page.

Pages should be numbered, along with your last name, in the top-right header of the paper.

  • Your Name, Professor's Name, Class Name, and Date should be double-spaced on the first page of your paper in the upper left-hand corner, with a 1-inch margin from the top and left sides.
  • The title of your paper should be centered, with no boldface, underlining, or italics, unless you include a title within your title.
  • Indentations should be 1/2 inch in from the 1-inch font.

Now that you've read this far and have an idea of what you need to do, there is a big shortcut you can use. Word has a few templates for various paper formats, including MLA, APA, and others. To locate these templates, select 'new' under file and type  MLA in the search box . Then select the template you wish to use. Download the Word document to your computer, open the template, and begin typing. 

MLA Style Resources

  • MLA Formatting and Style Guide From OWL Purdue University Writing Lab One of the most popular websites regarding citations, bibliographies and plagiarism. Use the search bar on the site to find answers to any obscure question about MLA.

do you write college application essays in mla format

  • MLA Style Center Direct from the Modern Language Association (MLA), this site offers help on how to do everything MLA. Offers tutorials, tips, and templates.

Other Useful Places

  • Plagiarism by Vivian Harris Last Updated Nov 9, 2023 176 views this year
  • English 1A and 1B by Susan Seifried Last Updated Dec 15, 2023 125 views this year
  • Norco MLA 9th Style guide
  • << Previous: When, Why, & How to Cite
  • Next: Citations & Bibliography >>
  • Last Updated: Dec 15, 2023 9:40 AM
  • URL: https://norcocollege.libguides.com/MLAguide

Writing A College Application Essay

College Application Essay Format

Cathy A.

College Application Essay Format - A Comprehensive Guide with Examples

11 min read

College Application Essay Format

People also read

College Application Essay | A Writing Guide

22+ Winning College Application Essay Examples For Your Inspiration

Trending College Application Essay Prompts and Topics

Statement of Purpose: Writing Guidelines, Tips, & Examples

Are you struggling to write a college admission essay that stands out from the rest? Do you find it challenging to format your essay correctly and worry about whether your essay topic is compelling enough?

You're not alone! 

Many students face the same challenges when it comes to crafting an impressive college application essay . The fear of making a mistake in formatting or choosing the wrong topic can be overwhelming.

But fear not!

In this blog post, we'll provide you with expert guidance and practical tips to overcome these challenges. You'll learn how to format your essay that captures the attention of admissions officers and increases your chances of receiving that coveted acceptance letter.

We'll cover everything you need to know, from the essential elements of a successful college admission essay to the nitty-gritty details of formatting. 

Let's get started on your journey to college acceptance!

Order Essay

Tough Essay Due? Hire Tough Writers!

Arrow Down

  • 1. What is a College Application Essay Format? 
  • 2. How To Format A College Application Essay?
  • 3. College Application Essay Format Examples
  • 4. College Application Essay Formatting Tips

What is a College Application Essay Format? 

A college application essay format isn't just a set of rules; it is the blueprint for presenting your unique story and qualifications to admissions committees. 

It holds a crucial role as it's often the initial impression committee officers get from your application.

Let’s say you're instructed to use a specific format, such as MLA or APA, but you pay no attention to these guidelines. This sends a message that you might struggle with basic instructions, potentially leading the examiner to bypass your personal statement .

Conversely, when you precisely adhere to the essay format, it accomplishes two crucial things. 

  • Firstly, it showcases your ability to comprehend and follow requirements, leaving a positive impression on the admissions team.
  • Secondly, it sets the stage for a well-structured narrative about your identity, aspirations, and how you can contribute to the college community.

How To Format A College Application Essay?

Formatting can feel overwhelming for many high school students when they're writing a college application essay. It's because they often don't know how to structure it properly.

To make this less daunting, we've gathered some essential steps for you. 

1. The Standard Writing Format

A college essay typically follows a simple format consisting of three main sections:

  • College Application Essay Introduction

Begin your essay by introducing yourself and the specific college application essay prompt you're addressing.

Don't forget to include a thesis statement that highlights the main idea of your essay.

Choosing an impressive topic and outlining your thoughts is essential, but remember that the admission essay is all about showcasing who you are as a person.

  • College Application Essay Body

The body of your college essay is where you delve into the details, and it requires time and effort.

Connect your chosen topic seamlessly to the main theme of the essay to make it easy for the reader to follow.

Support your ideas with relevant facts, evidence, and examples to lend credibility to your essay.

College Application Essay Conclusion

Your essay's conclusion is your final opportunity to demonstrate why you're the most deserving candidate for admission.

These three sections work together to create a compelling college essay that tells your unique story and makes a strong case for your admission.

Have a look at the below examples to understand the essay writing format properly.

College Admission Essay Format

College Application Essay Paragraph Format

2. Font Size/Style, Margins, and Line Spacing

When it comes to formatting your college application essay, simplicity is key. Here are some important formatting tips to follow for different types of college essay formats:

Font Size and Style:

  • Stick with a clean and easy-to-read font like Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri.
  • Use a 12-point font size, as it's the standard for college essays.

Word Count:

  • Typically, the Common Application suggests a word count between 250 and 650 words. 
  • Ensure that your essay falls within this range to meet the application requirements.
  • Leave a one-inch margin on all sides of each page. This provides a neat and organized appearance to your essay.

Line Spacing:

  • Opt for either 1.5 or double spacing. This makes your essay easier to read and allows space for comments if needed.
  • Use a tab at the beginning of each paragraph for proper indentation.

Alignment :

  • Keep your text left-aligned for a clean and consistent look in your college application essay.

By adhering to these formatting guidelines, you'll ensure that your essay looks professional and is easy for admissions officers to read and evaluate.

3. Page Headings 

Most institutions follow a standard format for the application process. Here's how you should format your essay heading:

  • Name: Your name should appear on the first line.
  • Course Instructor/Supervisor: The second line should contain the name of your course instructor or supervisor.
  • Title and Course Code: The third line should include the title of your essay, along with the course code.
  • Submission Date: The last line should indicate the submission date.

Here's an example of how it should look:

4. College Application Essay Title

Your college application paper titles should be centered and positioned below the headings. After typing the title, press the "Enter" key twice to start the paragraphs.

Keep in mind that a well-structured heading is an essential component of your college essay. It provides a professional appearance and helps organize your essay effectively.

Refer to the below example to get a comprehensive idea of the concept.

College Admissions Essay Format Heading Example

5. Citation Style

Admission essays require specific citation styles, and the most commonly used and instructed styles include MLA, APA, Chicago, or Harvard. It's essential to follow these guidelines accurately to ensure your paper is properly cited and meets the required standards.

 Here, we have mentioned a complete college essay template for you.

College Admission Essay Format Template

Check out this informative video to learn more about perfecting your college essays!

College Application Essay Format Examples

Here are some common app college essay format examples for you to get a better idea.

College Application Essay Format Sample

College Application Essay Format Example

MLA Format For College Application Essay

College Format Common App Essay

College Essay Format APA

In case you need some more samples, check out our college application essay examples blog.

College Application Essay Formatting Tips

When it comes to crafting your college application essay, consider these expert tips for a successful and well-structured essay:

  • Use Simple Sentences: Keep your sentences short and straightforward to make your essay easy to read and understand.
  • Active Voice: Use an active voice to convey your ideas and engage your reader effectively.
  • Understand the Prompt: Thoroughly grasp the essay prompt before you start writing to ensure you address it correctly.
  • No Prompt at the Top: Avoid writing the prompt at the top of your essay; instead, dive right into your response.
  • Stay on Topic: Keep your essay title and subtitle in mind to maintain a clear connection to the main topic.
  • Structured Essay: Ensure your essay follows a clear structure. It's helpful to create a college application essay outline before you begin writing.
  • Strong Title: Choose a captivating essay title that encapsulates the essence of your work and its main idea.
  • Conclusion Matters: Pay close attention to your essay's conclusion; it should effectively summarize the entire content.
  • Word Count Check: Double-check the specified word count required by the admissions counselors, typically ranging from 250 to 650 words.

To sum up, formatting your college application essay correctly is crucial. It's not just about your experiences and achievements; it's about how you present them. 

A well-structured and properly formatted essay can make a significant difference in your application's success.

If you need help perfecting it, reach out to us. Our custom essay writing service can assist you with your admission essay. We help you make a strong impression on the admissions committee. 

Get our essay writing help online today to secure your academic future!

Frequently Asked Questions

Do college essays need titles.

FAQ Icon

A college essay's title is its most important part. It tells readers what the paper will be about and hints at how creative it can have been in writing style. 

What should you not say in a college essay?

Ten things students write in a college essay that should be avoided:

  • Never write on a 'subject.'
  • Never give in to your thoughts.
  • Never begin with a prologue.
  • Never, ever finish a story with the words ‘happily ever after.’
  • Never repeat your academic and extracurricular activities.
  • Never, ever pontificate.
  • Never be afraid to express yourself.
  • Never, ever offer TMI.
  • Never expose your writing to an excessive number of individuals.
  • Never, ever over-edit your essay.

Does a college application essay have to be 5 paragraphs?

No, a college application essay does not have to be 5 paragraphs. While the traditional 5-paragraph essay structure can be used, it's not a strict requirement.

What is the structure of the common app essay?

The Common App essay is flexible, with a word count of 250-650 words, and students choose from various prompts to structure their essays.

AI Essay Bot

Write Essay Within 60 Seconds!

Cathy A.

Cathy has been been working as an author on our platform for over five years now. She has a Masters degree in mass communication and is well-versed in the art of writing. Cathy is a professional who takes her work seriously and is widely appreciated by clients for her excellent writing skills.

Get Help

Paper Due? Why Suffer? That’s our Job!

Keep reading

College application essay

Calculate for all schools

Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, is mla format necessary for college essays.

Hello, I'm working on my college essays and I was wondering if they need to be in MLA format. I know it's a standard for academic papers, but I'm not sure if college essays require it. Can someone please clarify this for me? Thanks!

Hello! I understand the confusion regarding formatting for college essays. MLA format is indeed commonly used for academic papers, but when it comes to college essays, there's no strict requirement for using a specific format like MLA.

College admissions essays are a bit different from research papers, and they're generally more focused on showcasing your personality and experiences rather than citing sources. As long as you have a clear and easy-to-read format, you should be fine. Remember to keep your focus on the content and telling your story.

That said, you should still follow common guidelines for formatting your essay, such as leaving a one-inch margin, using a readable font and font size (like Times New Roman, 12 points), and making sure your paragraphs are well-organized and not too lengthy. Moreover, don't forget to proofread your essay and check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.

Lastly, do pay attention to any specific instructions provided by the colleges you're applying to. If they require a specific format, be sure to follow it. Good luck with your essays!

About CollegeVine’s Expert FAQ

CollegeVine’s Q&A seeks to offer informed perspectives on commonly asked admissions questions. Every answer is refined and validated by our team of admissions experts to ensure it resonates with trusted knowledge in the field.

Module 5: Writing the Research Paper and Acknowledging Your Sources

Using modern language association (mla) style, learning objectives.

  • Identify the major components of a research paper written using MLA style.
  • Apply general Modern Language Association (MLA) style and formatting conventions in a research paper.

We have addressed American Psychological Association (APA) style, as well as the importance of giving credit where credit is due, so now let’s turn our attention to the formatting and citation style of the Modern Language Association, known as MLA style.

MLA style is often used in the liberal arts and humanities. Like APA style, it provides a uniform framework for consistency across a document in several areas. MLA style provides a format for the manuscript text and parenthetical citations, or in-text citations. It also provides the framework for the works cited area for references at the end of the essay. MLA style emphasizes brevity and clarity. As a student writer, it is to your advantage to be familiar with both major styles, and this section will outline the main points of MLA as well as offer specific examples of commonly used references. Remember that your writing represents you in your absence. The correct use of a citation style demonstrates your attention to detail and ability to produce a scholarly work in an acceptable style, and it can help prevent the appearance or accusations of plagiarism.

If you are taking an English, art history, or music appreciation class, chances are that you will be asked to write an essay in MLA format. One common question goes something like “What’s the difference?” referring to APA and MLA style, and it deserves our consideration. The liberal arts and humanities often reflect works of creativity that come from individual and group effort, but they may adapt, change, or build on previous creative works. The inspiration to create something new, from a song to a music video, may contain elements of previous works. Drawing on your fellow artists and authors is part of the creative process, and so is giving credit where credit is due.

A reader interested in your subject wants not only to read what you wrote but also to be aware of the works that you used to create it. Readers want to examine your sources to see if you know your subject, to see if you missed anything, or if you offer anything new and interesting. Your new or up-to-date sources may offer the reader additional insight on the subject being considered. It also demonstrates that you, as the author, are up-to-date on what is happening in the field or on the subject. Giving credit where it is due enhances your credibility, and the MLA style offers a clear format to use.

Uncredited work that is incorporated into your own writing is considered plagiarism. In the professional world, plagiarism results in loss of credibility and often compensation, including future opportunities. In a classroom setting, plagiarism results in a range of sanctions, from loss of a grade to expulsion from a school or university. In both professional and academic settings, the penalties are severe. MLA offers artists and authors a systematic style of reference, again giving credit where credit is due, to protect MLA users from accusations of plagiarism.

MLA style uses a citation in the body of the essay that links to the works cited page at the end. The in-text citation is offset with parentheses, clearly calling attention to itself for the reader. The reference to the author or title is like a signal to the reader that information was incorporated from a separate source. It also provides the reader with information to then turn to the works cited section of your essay (at the end) where they can find the complete reference. If you follow the MLA style, and indicate your source both in your essay and in the works cited section, you will prevent the possibility of plagiarism. If you follow the MLA guidelines, pay attention to detail, and clearly indicate your sources, then this approach to formatting and citation offers a proven way to demonstrate your respect for other authors and artists.

Five Reasons to Use MLA Style

  • To demonstrate your ability to present a professional, academic essay in the correct style
  • To gain credibility and authenticity for your work
  • To enhance the ability of the reader to locate information discussed in your essay
  • To give credit where credit is due and prevent plagiarism
  • To get a good grade or demonstrate excellence in your writing

Before we transition to specifics, please consider one word of caution: consistency. If you are instructed to use the MLA style and need to indicate a date, you have options. For example, you could use an international or a US style:

  • International style: 18 May 1980 (day/month/year)
  • US style: May 18, 1980 (month/day/year)

If you are going to the US style, be consistent in its use. You’ll find you have the option on page 83 of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers , 7th edition. You have many options when writing in English as the language itself has several conventions, or acceptable ways of writing particular parts of speech or information.

You are welcome to look in the MLA Handbook and see there is one preferred style or convention (you will also find the answer at end of this section marked by an asterisk [*]). Now you may say to yourself that you won’t write that term and it may be true, but you will come to a term or word that has more than one way it can be written. In that case, what convention is acceptable in MLA style? This is where the MLA Handbook serves as an invaluable resource. Again, your attention to detail and the professional presentation of your work are aspects of learning to write in an academic setting.

Now let’s transition from a general discussion on the advantages of MLA style to what we are required to do to write a standard academic essay. We will first examine a general “to do” list, then review a few “do not” suggestions, and finally take a tour through a sample of MLA features. Links to sample MLA papers are located at the end of this section.

General MLA List

  • Use standard white paper (8.5 × 11 inches).
  • Double space the essay and quotes.
  • Use Times New Roman 12-point font.
  • Use one-inch margins on all sides
  • Indent paragraphs (five spaces or 1.5 inches).
  • Include consecutive page numbers in the upper-right corner.
  • Use italics to indicate a title, as in Writing for Success .
  • On the first page, place your name, course, date, and instructor’s name in the upper-left corner.
  • On the first page, place the title centered on the page, with no bold or italics and all words capitalized.
  • On all pages, place the header, student’s name + one space + page number, 1.5 inches from the top, aligned on the right.

Depending on your field of study, you may sometimes write research papers in either APA or MLA style. Recognize that each has its advantages and preferred use in fields and disciplines. Learn to write and reference in both styles with proficiency.

Title Block Format

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and your title block (not a separate title page; just a section at the top of the first page) makes an impression on the reader. If correctly formatted with each element of information in its proper place, form, and format, it says to the reader that you mean business, that you are a professional, and that you take your work seriously, so it should, in turn, be seriously considered. Your title block in MLA style contributes to your credibility. Remember that your writing represents you in your absence, and the title block is the tailored suit or outfit that represents you best. That said, sometimes a separate title page is necessary, but it is best both to know how to properly format a title block or page in MLA style and to ask your instructor if it is included as part of the assignment.

Course number

Title of Paper

Paragraphs and Indentation

Make sure you indent five spaces (from the left margin). You’ll see that the indent offsets the beginning of a new paragraph. We use paragraphs to express single ideas or topics that reinforce our central purpose or thesis statement. Paragraphs include topic sentences, supporting sentences, and conclusion or transitional sentences that link paragraphs together to support the main focus of the essay.

Tables and Illustrations

Place tables and illustrations as close as possible to the text they reinforce or complement. Here’s an example of a table in MLA.

As we can see in Table 13.2, we have experienced significant growth since 2008.

This example demonstrates that the words that you write and the tables, figures, illustrations, or images that you include should be next to each other in your paper.

Parenthetical Citations

You must cite your sources as you use them. In the same way that a table or figure should be located right next to the sentence that discusses it (see the previous example), parenthetical citations, or citations enclosed in parenthesis that appear in the text, are required. You need to cite all your information. If someone else wrote it, said it, drew it, demonstrated it, or otherwise expressed it, you need to cite it. The exception to this statement is common, widespread knowledge. For example, if you search online for MLA resources, and specifically MLA sample papers, you will find many similar discussions on MLA style. MLA is a style and cannot be copyrighted because it is a style, but the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook can be copyright protected. If you reference a specific page in that handbook, you need to indicate it. If you write about a general MLA style issue that is commonly covered or addressed in multiple sources, you do not. When in doubt, reference the specific resource you used to write your essay.

Your in-text, or parenthetical, citations should do the following:

  • Clearly indicate the specific sources also referenced in the works cited
  • Specifically identify the location of the information that you used
  • Keep the citation clear and concise, always confirming its accuracy

Works Cited Page

After the body of your paper comes the works cited page. It features the reference sources used in your essay. List the sources alphabetically by last name, or list them by title if the author is not known as is often the case of web-based articles. You will find links to examples of the works cited page in several of the sample MLA essays at the end of this section.

As a point of reference and comparison to our APA examples, let’s examine the following three citations and the order of the information needed.

In Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting”, Section 13.1 “Formatting a Research Paper”, you created a sample essay in APA style. After reviewing this section and exploring the resources linked at the end of the section (including California State University–Sacramento’s clear example of a paper in MLA format), please convert your paper to MLA style using the formatting and citation guidelines. You may find it helpful to use online applications that quickly, easily, and at no cost convert your citations to MLA format.

Please convert the APA-style citations to MLA style. You may find that online applications can quickly, easily, and at no cost convert your citations to MLA format. There are several websites and applications available free (or as a free trial) that will allow you to input the information and will produce a correct citation in the style of your choice. Consider these two sites:

  • http://www.noodletools.com
  • http://citationmachine.net

Hint: You may need access to the Internet to find any missing information required to correctly cite in MLA style. This demonstrates an important difference between APA and MLA style—the information provided to the reader.

Useful Sources of Examples of MLA Style

  • http://libguides.asu.edu/content.php?pid=122697&sid=1132964
  • http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01
  • http://www.csus.edu/owl/index/mla/mla_format.htm
  • http://www.sunywcc.edu/LIBRARY/research/MLA_APA_08.03.10.pdf
  • http://www.library.cornell.edu/resrch/citmanage/mla
  • http://www.writing.ku.edu/guides

* (a) is the correct answer to the question at the beginning of this section. The MLA Handbook prefers “twentieth century.”

Key Takeaways

  • MLA style is often used in the liberal arts and humanities.
  • MLA style emphasizes brevity and clarity.
  • A reader interested in your subject wants not only to read what you wrote but also to be informed of the works you used to create it.
  • MLA style uses a citation in the body of the essay that refers to the works cited section at the end.
  • If you follow MLA style, and indicate your source both in your essay and in the works cited section, you will prevent the possibility of plagiarism.
  • Successful Writing, Section 13.4: Using Modern Language Association (MLA) Style. Authored by : Anonymous. Located at : http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/successful-writing/s17-04-using-modern-language-associat.html . License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

MLA Overview and Workshop

OWL logo

Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

What is MLA Style?

MLA Style establishes standards of written communication concerning:

  • formatting and page layout
  • applying stylistic technicalities (e.g. abbreviations, footnotes, quotations)
  • citing sources
  • preparing a manuscript for publication in certain disciplines.

Why Use MLA?

Using MLA Style properly makes it easier for readers to navigate and comprehend a text through familiar cues that refer to sources and borrowed information. Editors and instructors also encourage everyone to use the same format so there is consistency of style within a given field. Abiding by MLA's standards as a writer will allow you to:

  • Provide your readers with cues they can use to follow your ideas more efficiently and to locate information of interest to them
  • Allow readers to focus more on your ideas by not distracting them with unfamiliar or complicated formatting
  • Establish your credibility or ethos in the field by demonstrating an awareness of your audience and their needs as fellow researchers (particularly concerning the citing of references)

Who Should Use MLA?

MLA Style is typically reserved for writers and students preparing manuscripts in various humanities disciplines such as:

  • English Studies - Language and Literature
  • Foreign Languages and Literatures
  • Literary Criticism
  • Comparative Literature
  • Cultural Studies

MLA Formatting and Notation Style

You should start by becoming familiar with the general formatting requirements of MLA Style, as well as the different standards for notation that MLA writers are expected to use. Because MLA is different than other writing styles, such as APA, you should pay attention to every detail of the Style, from general paper layout to abbreviations. The following pages will introduce you to some of these basic requirements to get you started in the right direction.

General Format

  • Covers the basic requirements of page layout for a typical MLA manuscript
  • Includes general guidelines to apply throughout the document and specific formatting details for the first page of the paper
  • Provides an image of the first page of a sample essay written in MLA Style

Footnotes and Endnotes

  • Explains the necessity for using both types of notes and how to use them effectively in an MLA paper
  • Covers different reasons for why you may use a footnote or endnote to supplement the main body of your paper
  • Describes how to number and format the notes to be consistent with MLA guidelines

Formatting Quotations

  • Describes how to format quotations borrowed from secondary sources
  • Addresses both short quotations worked into the writer's own sentences and long quotations that are blocked off as distinct material
  • Explains how to omit or add in words properly to clarify the meaning of a quotation


  • Covers MLA standards for abbreviating words commonly used in academic prose
  • Describes the different categories of abbreviations: times, locations, academic references, and publishers
  • Includes guidelines for abbreviating information in citations on a Works Cited page

MLA Citations and Works Cited Page

As with any publishing style, the most difficult aspects of MLA Style are the requirements for citing secondary sources accurately. The pages included here walk you through the details of incorporating citations into the text of your paper as well as how to compose a Works Cited page of references at the end of your paper.  Read these guidelines carefully.  It is important that you refer to your sources according to MLA Style so your readers can quickly follow the citations to the reference page and then, from there, locate any sources that might be of interest to them. They will expect this information to be presented in a particular style, and any deviations from that style could result in confusing your readers.

How to Document Sources in MLA Style: An Overview

  • Covers the process for developing Works Cited pages and in-text citations using MLA (9th ed.)
  • Explains "containers," a concept new to the eighth edition, including how to apply them to develop citations

In-Text Citations: The Basics

  • Addresses the MLA Style formatting requirements for citing secondary sources within the text of your essay
  • Offers a few basic rules for using parenthetical citations, including when not to use them
  • Includes examples of in-text citations
  • Explains the author-page formatting of the parenthetical citation and how that applies to different types of sources
  • Provides examples of in-text citations based on the kind of source being cited, such as a literary work, an anonymous work, and a work with multiple authors
  • Describes how to cite a source indirectly referenced in another source

Works Cited Page: Basic Format

  • Guides you through the general rules that apply to any Works Cited page using MLA Style, including where the page appears and how to organize the works
  • Walks you through how to construct a reference entry for different types of texts, starting with a focus on authors
  • Serves as a primer on formatting that will be expanded in all of the following pages addressing MLA Works Cited entries for different types of sources
  • Includes an example Works Cited Page

Works Cited Page: Books

  • Builds from the basic format page with a focus on how to create citations for certain commonly referenced book sources
  • Includes guidelines and examples for a variety of books depending on the number of authors, whether the work is a piece is a larger work, or the book itself is part of multivolume collection

Works Cited Page: Other Common Sources

  • Provides guidelines on how to reference other sources you may encounter during research that are considered books or non-periodical works
  • Includes works that you might likely use but that have unusual publication information, such as a government document, pamphlet, or dissertation

Works Cited Page: Periodicals

  • Covers the guidelines for developing a citation entry for works found in periodicals (typically articles in circulating publications that have different dates and volume/issue numbers)
  • Lists types of entries depending on the kind of journal (e.g. one paginated by volume), if the source is a magazine vs. a newspaper, or the kind of article (e.g. a letter to the editor)

Works Cited Page: Electronic Sources

  • Demonstrates the basic requirements and unique qualifications for constructing references for different types of electronic sources
  • Covers more standard sources—from online periodicals and scholarly databases—to less conventional sources, like emails and video recordings found online
  • Includes OWL suggestions on how to cite blog entries and comments posted to blogs (NOTE: consult your instructor to find out if these are acceptable research sources to use for your assignment)

Works Cited Page: Other Non-Print Sources

  • Applies the basic MLA citation rules to non-print sources you may use in your research, such as interviews and images
  • Provides directions and examples of how to cite video and sound recordings, as well as three dimensional works like sculptures

Please Note:  If you know exactly what you're looking for concerning MLA, you can use the OWL Navigation to the left by looking under "Research and Citation" and clicking on "MLA Formatting and Style Guide." You may also use the search option in the navigation bar to find resources.


  1. How To Format a College Essay? A Comprehensive Guide

    do you write college application essays in mla format

  2. Expert Guide to Write a College Application Essay

    do you write college application essays in mla format

  3. Mla format typed paper

    do you write college application essays in mla format

  4. 11 Best College Application Essay Examples (Format Guide)

    do you write college application essays in mla format

  5. How to Format Essays

    do you write college application essays in mla format

  6. College Essay Format: Simple Steps to Be Followed

    do you write college application essays in mla format


  1. How to use AI to write college application essays in Excel/Google Sheet

  2. MLA Format for College Essays

  3. How To Cite A Movie MLA

  4. How to Write College Essays that MAKE Schools WANT YOU!

  5. Rating YOUR College Essays (Part 2!)


  1. College Application Essay Format Rules

    The college application essay has become the most important part of applying to college. In this article, we will go over the best college essay format for getting into top schools, including how to structure the elements of a college admissions essay: margins, font, paragraphs, spacing, headers, and organization.. We will focus on commonly asked questions about the best college essay structure.

  2. MLA Format

    Cite your MLA source. Start by applying these MLA format guidelines to your document: Use an easily readable font like 12 pt Times New Roman. Set 1 inch page margins. Use double line spacing. Include a ½" indent for new paragraphs. Include a four-line MLA heading on the first page. Center the paper's title.

  3. MLA Formatting and Style Guide

    MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook (9th ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.

  4. MLA 9 Formatting: Step-By-Step Guide + Free Template

    Here's how you can set your first page up for MLA 9th edition. On the first line, write your full name (flush left) On a new line, write your professor or instructor's full name. On a new line, write the course code and course name. On a new line, write the full date spelt out (e.g., 15 June 2023)

  5. General Format

    If you are asked to use MLA format, be sure to consult the MLA Handbook (9th edition). Publishing scholars and graduate students should also consult the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (3rd edition). The MLA Handbook is available in most writing centers and reference libraries. It is also widely available in bookstores ...

  6. Advice for Writing Application Essays

    Don't use boilerplate essays. That is, resist the urge to reuse the exact same essay for different schools if each of them is giving you a slightly different writing prompt. You can, of course, adapt the same essay for similar prompts. Many schools do allow you to use the Common Application essay for admission to several participating schools.

  7. Do college essays need to be in MLA format?

    Hey there! Great question about college essay formatting. Generally, college application essays don't need to be in a specific format like MLA, as the main focus is on the content and your ability to convey your story effectively. However, it's still important to maintain a clean, easy-to-read format. Make sure you use a standard font (like Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri) and size (usually ...

  8. How to Format A College Essay: 15 Expert Tips

    Clearly delineate your paragraphs. A single tab at the beginning is fine. Use a font that's easy to read, like Times, Arial, Calibri, Cambria, etc. Avoid fonts like Papyrus and Curlz. And use 12 pt font. You may want to include a college essay heading with a page number and your application ID.

  9. College Essay Format & Structure

    There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay, but you should carefully plan and outline to make sure your essay flows smoothly and logically. Typical structural choices include. a series of vignettes with a common theme. a single story that demonstrates your positive qualities. Although many structures can work, there ...

  10. How to Write in MLA Essay Format (With Examples)

    Create page numbers in the top right area. Page numbers should appear to the left of your last name (Jones 1). This will serve as the header for the entire document. On the line beneath the date, centered, write the subject of your essay. You need to use numbered headings to separate parts if there are any.

  11. What format should I use for my college essay?

    What format should I use for my college essay? Read the prompt and essay instructions thoroughly to learn how to start off a college essay. Some colleges provide guidance about formatting. If not, the best course of action is to stick with a college standard like the MLA format.

  12. Do I need to use MLA format for my college essay?

    Hello! It's great that you're working on your college application essay. When it comes to formatting, colleges usually don't require any specific citation style like MLA for the main personal statement. They're primarily concerned with the content and how well you express your thoughts and ideas. That being said, it's still essential to maintain a clean and legible format.

  13. MLA Format Papers: Step-by-step Tips for Formatting Research Essays in

    This document will show you how to format an essay in MLA style. 0.2) If, instead of questions about putting the final formatting touches on your essay, you have questions about what to write, see instead my handouts on writing a short research paper, coming up with a good thesis statement, and using quotations in the body of your paper.

  14. Sample Essays: Writing with MLA Style

    Congratulations to the students whose essays were selected for the 2023 edition of Writing with MLA Style! Essays were selected as examples of excellent student writing that use MLA style for citing sources. Essays have been lightly edited. If your institution subscribes to MLA Handbook Plus, you can access annotated versions of the essays selected …

  15. NROC Developmental English Foundations

    Be sure to refer to the latest MLA style guide to ensure that you follow all of the formatting rules. Part of formatting an essay is properly formatting in-text citations Information about a source, such as the author, date, and page number, in an essay or research paper that helps readers find the source in the works cited or references page.

  16. Subject Guides: MLA Style Guide: Formatting Your Paper

    Your paper should be written using a standard (8.5x11 inch) sheet of paper with a common font such as Times New Roman. Some professors may request a different font, but Times New Roman is the most commonly accepted. The entire document should be double-spaced, including the header and bibliography. You can easily double-space a paper by ...

  17. Do colleges require essays to be in MLA format?

    Hi there! It's a great question to ask. Generally, college admissions essays do not have a strict formatting requirement like MLA or APA. Colleges are more interested in the content and how effectively you convey your thoughts and experiences. However, it's essential to make sure your essay is easy to read and well-organized. This includes using a clear font (like Times New Roman or Arial) and ...

  18. College Application Essay Format

    Background: Briefly introduce yourself and provide context for your essay. Thesis Statement: State the main theme or message of your essay. College Application Essay Body. Paragraph 1: Explore your background and experiences that have shaped you. Paragraph 2: Discuss your academic interests, achievements, or goals.

  19. Is MLA format necessary for college essays?

    Hello! I understand the confusion regarding formatting for college essays. MLA format is indeed commonly used for academic papers, but when it comes to college essays, there's no strict requirement for using a specific format like MLA. College admissions essays are a bit different from research papers, and they're generally more focused on showcasing your personality and experiences rather ...

  20. Using Modern Language Association (MLA) Style

    Like APA style, it provides a uniform framework for consistency across a document in several areas. MLA style provides a format for the manuscript text and parenthetical citations, or in-text citations. It also provides the framework for the works cited area for references at the end of the essay. MLA style emphasizes brevity and clarity.

  21. How to Write the Common Application Essays 2023-2024 ...

    Be specific. Choose active voice, not passive voice. Avoid clichés. Write in a tone that aligns with your goals for the essay. For example, if you are a heavy STEM applicant hoping to use your Common App essay to humanize your application, you will be undermined by writing in a brusque, harsh tone.

  22. MLA Overview and Workshop

    This page introduces you to the Modern Language Association (MLA) Style for writing and formatting research papers. To get the most out of this page, you should begin with the introductory material below, which covers what is MLA Style, why it is used, and who should apply this style to their work. Then you are invited to browse through the OWL ...

  23. How to Format a College Essay: Step-by-Step Guide

    Again, we'd recommend sticking with standard fonts and sizes—Times New Roman, 12-point is a standard workhorse. You can probably go with 1.5 or double spacing. Standard margins. Basically, show them you're ready to write in college by using the formatting you'll normally use in college.

  24. PDF Formatting a Research Paper

    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. Fig. 1. The top of the first page of a research paper.