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How to Write an Essay in MLA Format | For Students

June 28, 2024
2.4K Views

Starting from when I entered high school, the importance of submitting assignments in a particular format became a top priority. I quickly realized the significance of adhering to these guidelines, as they remained essential throughout my academic journey. You never know when the need for proper formatting will arise. At first, it may seem overwhelming, but in this simple guide, I'll show you how to write an essay in MLA format [For Students].

How to Write an Essay in MLA Format | For Students



When is MLA format used?

MLA format is created by the Modern Language Association which is a standardized way to format academic papers and cite sources. It’s mainly used for subjects in the humanities, like literature, philosophy, and the arts. Unlike APA or Chicago formats, which are used for social sciences and history, MLA puts a strong emphasis on the authorship of sources.

Most students will need to use MLA format at some point, especially in humanities courses. It’s essential for essays, research papers, and other assignments in these subjects.

General Guidelines/ Rules of MLA Formatting

The first step to learning how to write an essay in MLA format for students is to get familiar with the general guidelines. It's all about following the rules to get your paper formatted in the MLA style:

  • Margins and Font:

    • Set 1-inch margins on all sides.

    • Choose a readable font such as Times New Roman, 12-point size.

  • Spacing:

    • Double-space the entire document, including block quotes (quotes longer than four lines), notes, and the works cited page.

  • Paragraph Indentation:

    • Indent the first line of each paragraph by 0.5 inches (press Tab key once).

  • Punctuation:

    • Utilize standard punctuation marks and maintain consistency with punctuation, italics, and quotation marks throughout your paper.

  • Quotations:

    • Use double quotation marks (" ") for direct quotes.

    • For quotes longer than four lines, format as a block quote: start on a new line, indent 0.5 inches from the left margin (without quotation marks), and keep double-spacing.

Here is an essay MLA format template for your reference:

Essay MLA format template


How to Set up MLA Format Essay [Step-by-Step]

So we have seen the general guidelines in the above example and also saw an essay MLA format example/sample showing what our final MLA format will look like. However, going through guidelines is not enough when you're learning how to write an essay in MLA format in Word or PDF format. You need a professional writing software that not only provides the tools but also allows you to use them easily.

Therefore, I will be using WPS Writer as my partner in writing an essay in MLA format, and I would recommend students to download WPS Writer from their website so that you can easily follow this guide. And yes, it is completely free. So let's begin formatting an essay to MLA format in WPS Writer:

1. Page Margins

So the first step is to ensure that our page margins are set to 1 inch on every side. Setting the margins first would help you avoid any formatting errors if you do this at a later stage. To set page margins in WPS Writer:

Step 1: Open WPS Writer and visit the “Page Layout” tab in the toolbar.

Step 2: Find the Page Margin options on the far left of the Page Layout ribbon.

Step 3: Set all the margin fields—top, bottom, left, and right—to 1 inch.

Set Page Margins in WPS Writer



2. Line Spacing

Next, we need to ensure that the line spacing is set to double spacing. This helps improve readability and ensures your paper meets MLA formatting standards. To set double line spacing in WPS Writer:

Step 1: In WPS Writer, go to the “Home” tab in the toolbar.

Step 2: Find and click the “Line Spacing” option in the Home ribbon.

Step 3: In the Line Spacing drop-down, click on More.

Line Spacing option in WPS Writer Home ribbon



Step 4: The Paragraph window will pop up. Visit the Spacing section and in the Line Spacing field, select “Double”.

Step 5: After that, click on OK to exit the Paragraph window.

Select Double Line spacing for MLA Format



Note: We can also use the keyboard shortcut CTRL + 2 to quickly change the line spacing to double.

3. Header- In the Upper-Left Corner

After setting the page settings, let's move on to the content of the essay, starting with the header in the following order:

  • Student's Name

  • Professor's Name

  • Course and Course Code

  • Due Date in the format DD Month, Year

Step 1: Follow the order to enter the header into your essay.

Step 2: To make the Header left aligned, visit the Home tab and then click on the “Align Text Left” icon.

Align Header left in WPS Writer



Step 3: After entering the header, make sure the Font is set to "Times New Roman" in the Fonts field in the Home ribbon.

Step 4: After the font, the font size should also be set to "12." Therefore, make the change in the "Font Size" field in the Home ribbon.

Header in MLA Format



4. Last Name & Page Numbers- In the Upper-Right Corner

MLA Format requires a running header that includes your last name along with the page number on the top right corner of every page. Let's see how we can create our running header for the MLA Format:

Step 1: Double-click on the Header area to open the Header/Footer in WPS Writer.

Step 2: Now type your last name and set its alignment to right by clicking on the “Align Text Right” icon in the Home ribbon.

Right align name



Step 3: To add the page number, click on the "Page Number" option in the Header/Footer ribbon and select the "Header right" option to insert a page number in the right corner.

Add page number



Once the running header has been added, it is important to set the font size of the running header to 12 and the font to "Times New Roman".

Step 4: Simply select your running header and click on the Home tab.

Step 5: In the Home tab, change the Font to "Times New Roman" in the Fonts field.

Change Font of Running header



Step 6: To change the font size, in the Home ribbon, enter "12" in the Font size field.

Change Font size of Running header



The last setting for the running header is to set the header margin to "0.5 inches":

Step 7: Head over to the Header/Footer tab.

Step 8: In the Header/Footer ribbon, enter "0.5 in" in the “Header Height” field to set the header margin to 0.5 inches.

WPS Writer Header height



5. Title of Essay- On the Line Below the Date

After the header and running header, let's begin our essay with the title of our essay. Remember the rules:

  • The title should be center aligned.

  • The title should not be bolded, italicized, or placed in quotation marks unless it includes the title of a source (e.g., a book or movie title).

Step 1: Insert the title right below the header and visit the Home tab.

Step 2: In the Home ribbon, click on the “Center” icon to center align the title.

Centre Align Title



6. Headings and Subheadings- Into Sections

Headings and subheadings are important as they give reference to the reader. There are no hard and fast rules for their formatting, except that they need to be center aligned. You can set the font style to bold to help the reader distinguish them.

Step 1: Enter your heading below the title of the essay and visit the Home tab.

Step 2: In the Home ribbon, click on “Center” to align the heading to the center.

Step 3: To change the font style to bold, in the Home ribbon, click on the “Bold” icon right below the font field.

Format Headings and Subheadings



7. In-text Citation

In MLA format, in-text citations use parenthetical references to indicate quotes or ideas from another author. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to do in-text citations:

Step 1: When you quote or paraphrase from a source, use the author's last name and the page number where the information is found.

Step 2:  After the quote or paraphrase, place the citation in parentheses. The citation should include the author's last name followed by the page number without a comma between them.

Step 3: The parenthetical citation should be placed before the period at the end of the sentence.

In-text Citation in MLA Format



8. Works Cited Page

Finally, you will need to cite all the sources you took assistance from in writing your paper. Follow the following steps to understand how to cite your work in MLA format.

Step 1: Use a page break to start a fresh new page with the title "Works Cited." The heading "Works Cited" will follow similar heading guidelines as before.

Step 2: Double-space all entries and do not add extra spaces between entries.

Step 3: Use a hanging indent for each entry. The first line of each citation is flush with the left margin, and subsequent lines are indented by 0.5 inches simply using the “Tab” key..

Step 4: List entries in alphabetical order by the author's last name. If a work has no author, alphabetize it by the first significant word in the title.

Step 5: Format your sources as mentioned below for respective source medium:

    • Books Format: Author's Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Year of Publication.

    • Articles in Journals Format: Author's Last Name, First Name. "Title of Article." Title of Journal, vol. number, no. number, Year, pages.

    • Websites Format: Author's Last Name, First Name (if available). "Title of Webpage." Title of Website, Publisher, Date of Publication, URL.

Works Cited format in MLA Style


Bonus Tips: How to Convert Word to PDF without losing Format

Once you finish writing your essay, the next challenge is converting it from Microsoft Word to PDF without losing formatting. This can be frustrating because sometimes the formatting doesn't stay the same.

WPS PDF



To avoid this issue, use WPS Office. It offers strong PDF features and keeps APA and MLA formatting intact. On the other hand, Microsoft Word 365, though widely used, may occasionally struggle to keep formatting consistent when converting to PDF. It's important to choose tools that prioritize preserving the look and structure of your academic work.

Here is how you can use WPS PDF to convert your essay documents to PDF without compromising on the quality:

Step 1: On WPS Writer, click on the Menu button on the top left corner of the screen.

Step 2: Now simply click on the “Export to PDF” option in the Menu.

Export to PDF Option in WPS Writer



Step 3: The Export to PDF window will open. Here, you can alter a few settings such as the output path. After going through the settings, simply click on Export to PDF to save the essay document as a PDF.

Export Essay document to PDF



FAQs about writing an essay in MLA format

1. How to cite an image in MLA?

To cite an image in MLA style, you need to format the citation based on where the image was viewed. For online images, the citation should follow this structure:

  • MLA format:

Creator’s last name, First name. “Image Title” or Description of the image. Website Name in italics, Day Month Year, URL.

  • MLA Works Cited entry:

Smith, Jamie. “Vintage Cars.” Travel With Us, 15 Mar. 2023, www.travelwithus.com/vintage-cars.

  • MLA in-text citation:

(Smith)
Note: If you discover an image through a search engine such as Google, ensure that you credit and link to the website that hosts the image, rather than the search engine.

2. Do I need to include a title page in my MLA essay?

In most instances, an MLA-formatted essay does not necessitate a separate title page unless instructed otherwise by your instructor. Instead, begin your essay with a header and center the title on the subsequent line.

3. How to Cite a Website in MLA?

To cite a website in MLA style, you should include the author’s name (if known), the title of the page in quotation marks, the name of the website in italics, the publication date, and the URL without "https://". If the identity of the author is not known, start with the title of the page. If the publication date is unavailable or if there's a possibility of content modifications, include an access date at the end.

  • MLA format:

Author’s last name, First name. “Title of Page.” Website Name, Day Month Year, URL.

  • Example

Adams, John. "Explore with us." Random Discoveries, 15 Sept. 2023, www.randomdiscoveries.com/explore-with-us.

Write Your Essays in Comfort With WPS Office

It’s so easy! The great thing about MLA format is that it’s not vastly different from APA and Chicago formats. There are only a few distinctions, and once you learn how to write an essay in MLA format [For Students], everything will become much easier for your academic life. Also, WPS Office is an incredibly handy tool for students. Not only can you format comfortably, but it’s also designed to be student-friendly, avoiding complex procedures. Simple yet advanced, and best of all, free. Get WPS Office today and write essays with ease and comfort!


15 years of office industry experience, tech lover and copywriter. Follow me for product reviews, comparisons, and recommendations for new apps and software.