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MLA Writing Style: How to Do It Right

The MLA writing style is among one of the preferred styles for research papers.



MLA Writing Style

by Trish Williams

Learning More about the MLA Writing Style

High school and college students are usually familiar with the MLA writing style because professors often assign essays and ask their students to follow this style of writing.

“The Modern Language Association Format (MSA writing style), specifies guidelines for formatting manuscripts and using the English language in writing and also provides a writers with a system for cross-referencing their sources--from their parenthetical references to their works cited page. This cross-referencing system allows readers to locate the publication information of source material. This is of great value for researchers who may want to locate your sources for their own research projects. The proper use of MLA style also shows the credibility of writers; such writers show accountability to their source material. Most importantly, the use of MLA style can protect writers from accusations of plagiarism--the purposeful or accidental use of source material by other writers without giving appropriate credit,” reports Purdue University Writing Lab.

How can I learn more about the MLA Writing Style?

There are two very good sources that teach the MLA writing style. One is called the MLA Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing and the other is the MLA Handbook for Writers and Research Papers. These books can usually be found in your high school library, university bookstores or any bookstore in your city, as well as online.

The MLA writing style is among one of the preferred styles for research papers. Following is an example of what you’ll find in one of these books. In chapter four of the MLA Handbook for Writers and Research Papers, it gives this information as a guideline:

  • Type your paper or write it on a computer and print it out on standard-sized paper (8.5 X 11 inches).
  • Double-space your paper.
  • Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides.
  • Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor or whoever is reading the manuscript may ask that you omit the number on your first page. Always follow their guidelines.)
  • Use either underlining or italics throughout your essay for highlighting the titles of longer works and providing emphasis.
  • If you have any notes, include them on a page before your works cited page and format them the same way as your works cited list.

What are some other writing styles?

Besides the MLA writing style, typically you might run into these other styles:

  • APA: psychology, education, and other social sciences.
  • AMA: medicine, health, and biological sciences.
  • Turabian: designed for college students to use with all subjects.
  • Chicago: used with all subjects in the "real world" by books, magazines, newspapers, and other non-scholarly publications, Reports Long Island University.

Although the MLA writing style may be more common than those listed above, there are other styles used by newspapers, including the Associated Press writing style, also known as the AP style.

Whether you use the MLA writing style, the AP writing style or any other will depend on your assignment, your professor, or your editor/publisher. If you’re submitting work to a magazine or newspaper, learning which style is used will give you an advantage over other writers.


Trish Williams is a freelance writer and marketing consultant who has published numerous articles in magazines and newspapers across the country. She also works on web design, web content, graphics, promotions and copywriting.

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