The following guidelines have been widely adopted by instructors and educational institutions to standardize manuscript formatting, making it easier for instructors to evaluate papers and theses and for writers to focus on making decisions about their research, ideas, and prose. Although these guidelines follow common conventions, acceptable variations exist. Follow the directions of your instructor, school, or publisher if you are asked to use different formatting guidelines. You should also be responsive to the specific demands of your project, which may have unique needs that require you to use a formatting style not described below.


Leave margins of one inch at the top and bottom and on both sides of the text. See fig. 3 for margins used with a running head.

Text Formatting

Always choose an easily readable typeface (Times New Roman is just one example) in which the regular type style contrasts clearly with the italic, and set it to anywhere between 11 and 13 points, unless your instructor specifies a different font size. Generally use the same typeface and type size throughout the paper (however, see section 7.3 of the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook, on the formatting of note numbers, which most word processing programs automatically apply styles to).

Do not justify the lines of text at the right margin, and turn off the automatic hyphenation feature in your word processing program. It is unnecessary to divide words at the ends of lines in a manuscript. (When checking word breaks in a professionally typeset text, consult your dictionary about where words should break.) Double-space the entire research paper, including quotations, notes, and the list of works cited. Indent the first line of a paragraph half an inch from the left margin. Indent block quotations half an inch as well. Leave one space after a period or other concluding punctuation mark, unless your instructor prefers two spaces.


One inch from the top of the first page and flush with the left margin, type your name, your instructor’s name (or instructors’ names, if there is more than one instructor), the course name and number, and the date on separate double-spaced lines. On a new double-spaced line, center the title (fig. 1). Do not italicize or underline your title, put it in quotation marks or boldface, or type it in all capital letters. Follow the rules for capitalization set forth in 2.90 and italicize only the words that you would italicize in the text.

Social Media Coverage of International News Events
Concepts of Justice in To Kill a Mockingbird
The Use of the Words Fair and Foul in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Romanticism in England and the Scapigliatura in Italy

Do not use a period after your title or after any heading in the paper 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. A research paper does not normally need a title page, but if the paper is a group project, create a title page and list all the authors on it instead of in the header on page 1 of your essay (fig. 2). If your teacher requires a title page in lieu of or in addition to the header, format the title page according to the instructions you are given.

Running Head and Page Number

Number all pages consecutively throughout the research paper in the upper right-hand corner, half an inch from the top and flush with the right margin. Type your surname, followed by a space, before the page number (fig. 3). If a project has several authors and all authors’ surnames won’t fit in a running head, include only the page number. Do not use the abbreviation “p.” before the page number or add a period, a hyphen, or any other mark or symbol. Your word processing program will probably allow you to create a running head of this kind that appears automatically on every page.

Internal Headings and Subheadings

Headings and subheadings in the body of your research project can help organize and structure your writing, but you should avoid overusing them. Headings should never be used to compensate for poor structure or to explain an underdeveloped idea, and they are generally not needed in short, essay-length works. When headings are called for in your writing project, keep them short and observe the basic guidelines below. Consistency in the styling of headings and subheadings is key to signaling to readers the structure of a research project. Word processing software often has built-in heading styles. Headings in the body of your research

project should be styled in descending order of prominence. After the first level, the other headings are subheadings—that is, they are subordinate. Font styling and size are used to signal prominence. Each level 1 heading should appear in the same style and size, as should each level 2 heading, and so on. In general, a boldface, larger font indicates prominence; a smaller font, italics, or lack of bold can be used to signal subordination. For readability, avoid using all capital letters for headings (in some cases, small capitals may be acceptable).

Heading Level 1

Heading Level 2

Heading Level 3

No internal heading level should have only one instance. For example, if you use a level 1 heading, you should have at least one other level 1 heading. (The exceptions are the paper or chapter title and the headings for notes and the list of works cited.) In the body of the paper, headings should be flush with the left margin, not indented or centered. For readability, include a line space above and below a heading. Generally avoid using numbers and letters to designate headings unless you are working in a discipline where using them is conventional. Capitalize and punctuate headings like the titles of works as explained in 2.90–2.119.

Placement of the List of Works Cited

The list of works cited appears at the end of the paper, after any endnotes. Center the heading, Works Cited, an inch from the top of the page (fig. 4). If the list contains only one entry, make the heading Work Cited. Doublespace between the heading and the first entry. Begin each entry flush with the left margin; if an entry runs more than one line, indent the subsequent line or lines half an inch from the left margin. This format is sometimes called hanging indent, and you can set your word processing program to create it automatically for a group of paragraphs. Hanging indent makes alphabet lists easier to use. Double-space the entire list.

Tables and Illustrations

Place tables and illustrations as close as possible to the parts of the text to which they relate. A table is usually labeled Table, given an arabic numeral, and titled. Type both the label and title flush left on separate lines above the table, and capitalize them as titles (do not use all capital letters). Place the source of the table and any notes in a caption immediately below the table. To avoid confusion between notes to the text and notes to the table, designate notes to the table with lowercase letters rather than with numerals. Double-space throughout; use dividing lines as needed (fig. 5).

Any other type of illustrative visual material—for example, a photograph, map, line drawing, graph, or chart—should be labeled Figure (usually abbreviated Fig.), assigned an arabic numeral, and given a caption. A label and caption ordinarily appear directly below the illustration and have the same one-inch margins as the text of the paper. If the caption of a table or illustration provides complete information about the source and the source is not cited in the text, no entry is needed for the source in the works-cited list. If you provide full bibliographic details in a caption, punctuate the caption like a works-cited-list entry but do not invert the name of the author or artist that appears at the beginning of the caption (fig. 6).

Otherwise, use commas to separate elements in a caption and provide full publication details in the works-cited list (fig. 7).

Musical illustrations are labeled Example (usually abbreviated Ex.), assigned an arabic numeral, and given a caption. A label and caption ordinarily appear directly below the example and have the same one-inch margins as the text of the paper (fig. 8).


Lists can help you organize information and present it economically. The goal of any list is to help readers easily understand information. Overusing lists, however, can have the opposite effect, making prose difficult to follow. Lists can be incorporated into your prose or set vertically. They can be numbered when enumeration is essential to your point.

Integrated into Your Prose

It is preferable to integrate lists into your prose, rather than to set them vertically ,whenever the information can be readily understood in this format. A colon is often used to introduce an integrated list unless the list is grammatically essential to the introductory wording—for example, when the list is the object of the verb that introduces it, as in the second example below (where the list is the object of the verb include). Punctuate items in an unnumbered, integrated list just as you would words in a sentence.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written four books of fiction: Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, The Thing around Your Neck, and Americanah.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books of fiction include Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and The Thing around Your Neck.

Numerals in lists in your prose should be enclosed in parentheses.

The workshop will walk students through five key stages in the research process: (1) selecting a topic, (2) searching for sources, (3) evaluating sources, (4) reading and taking notes from relevant sources, and (5) refining the topic.

Set Vertically

Vertical lists are best used when the information presented is lengthy, has many component parts, or benefits from being set apart from the main prose. Below are examples of vertical lists—which may be unnumbered, numbered, or bulleted—and how to introduce, punctuate, and capitalize them. Word processing programs automatically define styles for lists so that they are indented and thus clearly distinguished from the text and so that each item in the list forms a unit.

Lists introduced with a complete sentence

A list may be introduced with a complete sentence followed by a colon, as in the examples below. The items in the list can be composed of complete sentences or fragments but should be consistent in using one or the other.

If the list items are complete sentences, the first letter of the first word of each item should be capitalized, and the item should be followed by closing punctuation, such as a period or question mark.

Students were asked to address one of the following questions in their group presentation:

What signs of the ancien régime continue to influence the social mores of characters in the novel?

How is realism evinced in the novel, and when does the novel retreat from realism?

How are workers depicted in the novel’s urban scenes?

How do the moments of magical realism in the novel relate to the subplot of the dictator’s coup?

In bulleted lists, elements begin with a lowercase letter (unless the first word is normally capitalized, such as proper nouns), and no punctuation follows list elements unless they are composed of a full sentence.

The MLA Style Center (, a free companion to the MLA Handbook, is the only official website devoted to MLA style and provides a number of useful features:

• the opportunity to submit your own questions

• insights about MLA style from the MLA’s editors

• sample research papers

• instructions on formatting research papers

• teaching resources

• tools for creating works-cited-list entries

If the list items are not complete sentences and the list is not bulleted, then, whether the list is numbered or not, begin each item with a lowercase letter and punctuate the fragments like parts of a sentence. Use semicolons between the list items and write and or or before the final item. A period should conclude the list.

The specific contexts influencing the author’s work fall into four main areas:

1. ideas about free will and the change and mutability that attend human decision-making, derived from Boethius;

2. teachings about the importance of translating the Bible into English;

3. humanism’s founding precepts and, especially, the writings of Petrarch; and

4. the political insurrection that took place as a result of heavy taxation to continue funding of the Hundred Years’ War.

Lists that continue the sentence introducing them

A list may also start with a sentence continued in the list, as shown in the examples below. No colon should appear before such lists. In most cases, list items continuing the sentence introducing them will not be complete sentences, and each item can therefore begin with a lowercase letter. In formal contexts, you may punctuate the fragments in numbered and unnumbered lists like parts of a sentence. Use semicolons between the list items and write and or or before the final item. A period should conclude the list.

The campus health clinic is expanding its advocacy efforts by

launching a twenty-four-hour care hotline;

developing strategic partnerships with community health care providers; and

running a website that provides reliable, up-to-date health information, mental health resources, nutritional advice, and more.

In bulleted lists, elements begin with a lowercase letter (unless the first word is normally capitalized, such as a proper noun), and no punctuation follows list elements unless they are composed of a full sentence.

The MLA Style Center ( is a free companion to the MLA Handbook. The only official website devoted to MLA style, it provides

• the opportunity to submit questions about MLA style

• insights about MLA style from the MLA’s editors

• sample research papers

• instructions on formatting research papers

• teaching resources

• tools for creating works-cited-list entries

Paper and Printing

If you print your paper, use only white, 8½-by-11-inch paper. Use a high-quality printer. Some instructors prefer papers printed on a single side because such papers are easier to read, but others allow printing on both sides to conserve paper.

Proofreading and Spellcheckers

Proofread and correct your research paper carefully before submitting it. Spellcheckers and usage checkers can be helpful but should be used with caution. They do not find all errors, such as words spelled correctly but misused, and they sometimes label correct material as erroneous, such as many proper nouns as well as terms from languages other than English.

Binding a Printed Paper

Pages of a printed research paper may get misplaced or lost if they are left unattached or merely folded down at a corner, so be sure to use a staple or paper clip. Although a plastic folder or a binder may seem an attractive finishing touch, most instructors find that such devices make it harder to read and comment on students’ work.

Electronic Submission

If you are asked to submit your paper electronically, follow your teacher’s guidelines for formatting, mode of submission (e.g., by e-mail or on a website), and so forth.