MLA Formatting Rules, Common Mistakes & How to Fix Them

MLA Formatting Basic Guidelines

MLA has a few specific formatting guidelines. These are important to learn as a way to work within professional parameters.

While MLA formatting may be a bit arbitrary, following industry guidelines is an expectation in pretty much every industry that exists. MLA is just one example. And, as guidelines go, MLA formatting is fairly simple.

Double-Spacing

The entire essay should be double-spaced. This includes the name and course information at the top of the first page and it includes the Works Cited section.

In Word, you can set double-spacing in a few places. Paragraph Settings is our go-to place to look. Go there and set the line spacing to 2.0.

In Google Docs, use up-and-down pointing arrow icon. Select “Double.”


Running Header

For MLA, we want to use a running header at the top of each page with your last name and page number.

To create a header in Microsoft Word, the best method is to use the “Insert Page Number” option. Choose the option for placing the page number in the upper right hand corner of the page. Then after you have done that, double-click on or next to the page number. When the header opens, type your last name next to the number.


Indent First Lines

For MLA, we want to indent the first line of each new paragraph.

Use the TAB key to create a standard indent for the first line of each new paragraph.


One Inch Margins

For MLA, we want to use one inch margins on each side of the paper – top, bottom, left and right.

Most word processors are pre-set to one inch margins. If you need to make an adjustment, go to Page Setup in Microsoft Word.


Name and Course Information

In the upper left corner of the first page (and only the first page), we want to four lines of information:

Your Name, Instructor’s Name, Name of the Course, and the Date

Example:

Stu Dent

Professor Mark Salot

English 101

March 21, 2021


Common Mistakes

Extra Space Between Paragraphs

For MLA, eliminate the extra spacing between paragraphs. There should be no blank space between body paragraphs.

Press enter once at the end of a body paragraph. That’s it.

If you are doing that yet still seeing additional space between paragraphs, adjust the Paragraph Settings in your word processor.

Both Microsoft Word and Google Docs often have a default setting that has to be turned off to eliminate spacing between paragraphs.

Use the “Paragraph” options in Word to set the spacing “Before” and “After” paragraphs to zero. In Google Docs, the option to eliminate spacing before and after paragraphs is in the same set of options that you use to set the paper to double-spacing (labeled with the Up/Down Arrow icon). 


Extra Space After the Essay Title

This should be an easy problem to fix. Either use the backspace/delete key to cut extra spacing or use the advice above about eliminating auto-formatting issues.

Remember, the entire essay should be double-spaced. The only time you should use the enter key more than once is to get onto a new page for your Works Cited section. That’s it.

After the title, press enter once.


Including a Title Page

Don’t include a title page for MLA papers.

That was an easy problem to fix!


Squared Margins or Center Justification

For MLA, we want to use left margin justification instead of squared margins. 

Do squared margins look nice, neat and fancy? Yes. They do. But we don’t want to use square justification for MLA.

After centering the essay title, it can be easy to forget to return to left margin justification. Be sure to not only read over your paper when you finish writing, but also look at the formatting. Look at the margins.

Make any necessary adjustments. You don’t want to lose points for things that are easy to fix!

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