Writing with Style! The MLA Student Paper Contest

Criteria, Guidelines, and Rules

The Modern Language Association seeks submissions from students of exemplary research papers written in MLA style for publication on The MLA Style Center

A companion to the MLA Handbook, the site provides students and educators with a host of free resources for teaching and learning the MLA’s approach to research, writing, and documentation.

The five papers that best meet the submission criteria will be published on the site, and the authors of accepted papers will receive a certificate and a $50 gift card to an online bookstore. Papers will be evaluated by the MLA’s editorial team, and the finalists will be chosen by a committee composed of high school and college faculty members. Each student may submit one paper for consideration by the committee.

Length: 2,000–3,000 words. Works-cited-list entries do not count toward the word limit.

Language: Papers must be written in English.

Deadline: 28 October 2019


Papers should be paginated, double-spaced, and submitted as Microsoft Word files or in Word-compatible formats (e.g., doc, docx, rtf). Papers should have no information identifying the student. Information about students should be provided on the submission form. 

Files should be labeled with a short title and the date of submission (e.g., ReadingShakespeare091619).

Papers published on the site will include the authors’ names.


Authors of student papers must be 18 years of age or older at the time of submission. They must be enrolled in a high school or formal program of study or as undergraduates in an accredited two- or four-year college or university during the 2019–20 academic year. They will be asked to sign a release form before selected papers are announced.  


Authors of accepted papers will be notified by e-mail in early December. 

Selection Criteria

Papers should move beyond the traditional five-paragraph-essay format and include the following elements:

  • A title
  • A clear and original argument (thesis statement)
  • Ample evidence that supports and further develops the argument
  • An awareness of the audience for the paper
  • Direct prose
  • An accurate explanation of what others have said about the topic and a serious consideration of opposing views
  • Judicious use of quotation and paraphrase
  • Paragraphs with clear topic sentences
  • Clear transitions between paragraphs
  • An introduction that presents and contextualizes the argument
  • An ending that fits the paper’s conclusions into a larger perspective and answers the question, Why does this matter?
  • A works-cited list and in-text citations styled according to the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook

Since these papers will be a resource for teachers who want to help students learn MLA style, submissions containing some of the elements listed below are more likely to be accepted:

  • A wide range of source formats (books, journal articles, Web sites, videos, etc.)
  • Tables or illustrations with explanatory captions
  • Subheads
  • A mix of run-in and block quotations
  • Endnotes

Accepted submissions will be lightly copyedited, but authors should follow MLA style and format as best they can and aim for correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Questions about the contest may be sent to style@mla.org.

Submit your paper.

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