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How to write an MLA essay: polishing tips

An MLA (Modern Language Association) essay is not, in itself, any different from any other academic essay.1 You still need to have a topic, research, and present an argument in a convincing way. What MLA determines is the way in which you format your writing and the way in which you refer to sources. So, how should you ensure that you are adhering to MLA? Below is a list of the most important aspects of MLA style formatting.

Cover Page

The cover page in MLA is important for presenting practical information, and for creating the headers and pagination that your document will follow. The cover page should contain your name, your instructors name, the name or number of your course, and the date. MLA also specifies the way that pages should be numbered; you should create a header, in the top right hand corner, with your surname followed by the number of that page, i.e. ‘Smith 1’.

Format of Following Pages

The text in your essay should be double spaced, and should be written in a 12 point font. New paragraphs should be indented by one tab, and each only one space is to be used after punctuation.


The most distinctive feature of any given style guide is the way in which citations and references are made. In MLA, citations are made parenthetically in the text, in brackets which came at the end of the sentence in which the reference occurs. For example, if you have quotes a piece of information which includes the author’s name, say: ‘Smith suggests that oranges are a citrus fruit (121)’, then the only information that goes into parenthesis is the page number, because you have told us that the citation is to Smith. If, however, you write, ‘some suggest that “lemons are citrus fruits” (Smith 121)’, you must include the name of the author in parenthesis.


Some style guides recommend using footnotes for comments about the text, or secondary information. However, MLA formatting employs endnotes. So, do not hit the footnote tab in references!

The single most important aspect of formatting and style of an academic essay is consistency; if you reference one author or text in one way, ensure that all subsequent citations and references are consistent!

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