MLA format

Learning how to write a good paper is an important part of schooling. It's one of those subjects that students don't always understand the importance of. How often will you be writing papers throughout your life?

The importance of writing papers isn't found in the papers themselves. Being able to research and critically analyze a subject is important. It's not just to show that you can write a paper, it's a process by which you gather and organize information to be applied.

As such it's helpful to be able to present that information in an effective fashion. But what I really want to talk about are the aspects of a paper not covered by such standards. The most important parts of writing are the things that you can't really quantify; the tone, mood, and actual structural approach to writing.

Those thoughts can be found further down the pager. First lets talk about actual format standards.

MLA Format

There are several existing standards when it comes to how to format a report or essay paper. Chicago, MLA, APA, and others. In my experience MLA has become the preffered standard within college level classes.

Here are some links to more in-depth guides for implementing an MLA format.

Lets use the actual layout to describe the major points of importance. Again, the links above are much more in-depth than the basic points covered here, and worth a read.

This information does not need labels such as "Name: John Johnson" or "Date: 01/01/2015", just use "John Johnson" & "01/01/2015".
Use "Title Case" for titles, meaning any non-article or conjunction should be capitalized.

Your Name

Instructor Name

Class / Class Number


The Title Should be Centered

The body of your paper should be double spaced and every paragraph should start with a half-inch indentation (typically one "tab" press). Aside from making it slightly easier to read this allows for notes to be written between lines as well as the margin. This is not as important these days with the commenting abilities of modern word processors, but is still used to give your professor the option.

Johnson 2

Pages should be numbered. The current page number should appear in the upper right corner of every page (1/2 inch from top, 1 inch from the side) and be preceded by the author's last name. So if the author of this paper has a last name of "Johnson" then the number on this page will read "Johnson 2". The standard says *all* pages should be numbered but some instructors may wish for only the second page and on to be numbered since the title information on the first page serves as an indicator in itself. Consider asking them to be sure.

Johnson 3

Citations should be used primarily in two cases. The first case is when you quote something directly from an author as in the next sentence. "" (). When you only need one sentence (or even just a few words) from the original source then you can just place that sentence within the text like that. However, if you require more than one sentence, then it's probably best to ceate a block quote like so...

"asdfasd asdf asdf as daf asdfasd. asdf asdf as daf sd fasdf asdfasd asdf asdf as daf. fasdf asd fasdf asdsd fasdf asdasd." ()

The second case when you should use a citation is when you use quantifiable information from a source, even if it is not the same exact words used by the source. For instance; (). In that sentence we did not copy an actual sentence or phrase from the source, we "paraphrased" it, so there are no quotation marks. But we did use information the original author took the time to research and assemble and so we should cite it.

Be careful about how much of your text is citation. It's rare that you'll need more than one or two citations per paragraph. The rest should all be your own words.

The bibliography / works cited page should be a on a new page (and typically does not count towards the "length" requirement of most instructors).


Last Name, First Name. Title. Edition Number (if applicable). Place of Printing: Publisher, Year. Print.

Remember that most accepted MLA standars will ask you to put the page number in with the author's name in an inline citation! Those of you who have been asked to use APA style papers before may be used to having only the author name by itself but page numbers do help university teachers in vetting academic honesty.

Structure & Order

this section still WIP

The above documents some of the bare essentials. There's no good reason you shouldn't be able to follow every one of those steps and still completely fail at writing a paper. It shouldn't be that easy anyway.

The most basic order of information presented in a paper should be familiar to you already.

  • Intro
  • Body
  • Conclusion

The "conclusion" can sometimes be a bit of a misnomer (a misleading label). The word "conclusion" seems to best describe the end of an argumentative paper but can still apply to an informative one. In the case of a paper that serves to convey information the "conclusion" will be synonymous with "summarize".

With either approach the techniques applied to the paper will be similar.

  1. Divide your paper into different ideas or aspects of your chosen subject.
  2. Ideas should lead into one another.

So what do we mean by ideas leading into each other?

Let's say we have three parts to our paper about the legality of jaywalking. What order of discussion makes the most sense? Let's try to imagine two different approaches to one subject.

Option 1

  1. Intro describing what drunk driving is.
  2. Historical law decisions concerning drunk driving.
  3. Whether or not I think it should be legal or not.
  4. Statistics for injuries occuring during drunk driving to illustrate why it is an important subject.

Option 2

  1. Intro describing what drunk driving is.
  2. Statistics for injuries occuring during jaywalking to illustrate why it is an important subject.
  3. Historical law decisions concerning drunk driving.
  4. Whether or not I think it should be legal or not.

In the case of the first option we are beginning with the history of the subject, which seems to make sense, but by doing so we are pushing back the other two parts of the paper. The personal views of the author, if applicable, should not be explained in the middle of a paper because they will be based on the little content that came before them and make what comes after them seem redundant. Either start with your stated goal and then justify it fully or state all of the facts and come to a conclusion at the end based on those facts.

With the second option where statistics come first we have the ability to use the most attention obtaining fats involved to grab the reader. Historicaly precedents will help establish a ground work for legitimizing your own opinion. And finally your opinion / conclusion will have the weight of both of the preceding categories since it comes after both of them have been thoroughly discussed.

A good paper should almost be like a conversation. When presented with a fact many people will immediately begin forming an opinion and will need tangental information to help form that opinion.

Don't give them a reason to think they need to look harder. Guide the reader and try to anticipate what quesitons they might have after finishing any given paragraph in your report. Chances are the answers to those questions will be what you sohuld talk about next.

You don't need headers within a paper that actually say "the section about this and that", just declare your intentions with the first sentence of a new subject.

Academic honesty

Every good academic institution will have publicly posted copies of their academic policy available. If you at any time need clarification you should be able to either obtain them from the school web site or upon request from any faculty member. If there is any confusion about what is meant by "Academic honesty" it is highly recommended that you take the time to check with your teachers.

If you are attending school in a different country from where you attended primary / secondary school it is even more highly recommended that you consult with your faculty about the subject. What constitutes "Academic honesty" in one school school system, country, or culture, may differ from another.

Most teachers will also expect you to cite paraphrased passages. It is NOT just "word for word" quotes that need to be cited. Modifying a sentence or paragraph to rearrange words does NOT make it your own. Again, ask your teacher for clarification if you are unsure about how this works.