MLA Essay Format

You are viewing the free, open access version of The Nature of Writing. For all premium membership features (including quizzes, additional lessons, course progress tracking, and more), please register or log in.


There are various ways to format your essay, and your instructor might have their own preferences. Here we share how to format your essay in accordance with the MLA Handbook (9th ed.). The instructions are for MS Word, but you can easily adapt them to whatever word processing program you use.

MLA Essay Format

Essays are printed on standard 8.5 x 11 inch paper, which happens to be the default size of a Word document.

MLA Research papers don’t require a title page. All the important information appears on the first page.  Here is what the top of your first page should look like:

Now that you have a rough sense of how to start your essay, let’s take a closer look at the finer points of proper formatting.

Publication Details

Always follow the same order when you share your publication information:

Your name

The instructor’s name

The course name

The date you completed the assignment

This information should appear only on the first page, so make sure you don’t place it in the header area (where it will get repeated on every page).

Also, don’t add labels such as “Date” or “Course,” and double check that you’ve spelled your instructor’s name correctly.

For group projects, the MLA Handbook suggests that you use a separate title page. Again, place the publication information in the top left, but this time lists all the group names under each other (before adding the instructor, course, and date). Then move your essay title down to the centre of the page. Start your essay on the next page.


The header section includes your last name and the page number.

To insert the page number, press Insert > Page Number > Top of Page > Plain Number 3.

As soon as you do this, the cursor is automatically placed before the page number so you can type your last name. Don’t forget to leave a space.

To access the header area, double click near the top of the page. To leave it, double click anywhere below the header area.

Now you should have the same header on every page.


Since 2007, the default margin for any Word document has been 1 inch all around. Fortunately, MLA format has the same requirement. If for some reason you need to fix the margins, go to Layout > Margins > Normal.


Use a common font that is easy to read. A popular choice is Times New Roman, size 12.


Resist the temptation to make your title look fancy by underlining it, adding colour or bold font, or putting it in italics. All you have to do is centre your title and capitalize key words.


Make sure the text of your essay is left-aligned. Look for these buttons in Word:

You might think that justified text looks better, but your instructor will likely disagree.


All the text in your essay should be double-spaced. To make this change quickly, first press Ctrl + A to highlight all text and then press Home > Line and Paragraph Spacing (symbol) > 2.0. Make sure you also click on “Remove Space After Paragraph.”


It is customary to indent your first paragraph (use the tab button). Subsequent paragraph breaks should also be shown by indents, and not by extra spacing between paragraphs.

To get rid of extra spacing, highlight the sentence before and after the paragraph break and press Home > Line and Paragraph Spacing (symbol) > Remove Space After Paragraph.

Works Cited Page

Make sure that your Works Cited is on a separate page. It’s a good idea to insert a page break before the Works Cited page. To do so, place your cursor at the end of your conclusion and press Insert > Page Break.

Headings (Optional)

Longer texts may benefit from headings to divide and organize the content. If you choose to add headings in your paper, be consistent in how you style them. As an example, here are three different levels of headings:

Level 1 Heading

Level 2 Heading

Level 3 Heading

In other words, the level 2 and 3 headings are subheadings. You can use font size, bold font, italics, or other typographic changes to distinguish the heading levels.


For more information, see chapter 1 of the MLA Handbook or consult the MLA Style Centre.

The MLA format is not flashy or cluttered. Unless your instructor asks for additional information (such as the word count), don’t go out of your way to add it.

Finally, for your convenience, here is a Word Template you can use. Just replace the instructions with your own information.

MLA Essay Template