Different Kinds Of Essay Formats Mla

This writing format provides guidelines to researchers and writers in formatting research papers and other reports, especially when referencing sources. Referencing and citing of sources is very important as this protects writers from allegations of plagiarism. By properly referencing, you demonstrate accountability to your source materials.

When you are to write a paper using the MLA format, here are the general formatting guidelines that you should follow:

  • Margin. Margins should be set to one (1) inch on all sides (top, bottom, left and right).

  • Font Size and Type. Font for text all through out the paper should be 12-pt. Make sure you use a legible font face, and refrain from using decorative fonts. It is recommended that for any font you choose to use, regular and italics type of this should differ enough to be recognized from one another.

  • Spacing. The entire paper should be double-spaced. This includes the title and the body of each paragraph. Avoid adding extra spaces between the heading and the title of your paper as well as between the title and body itself. For spacing after punctuation, observe one space after periods and other punctuation marks unless specified by your instructor.

  • Text Indentation. For the text body, indent the first line of each paragraph approximately half-inch from the left margin which also equates to 5-7 spaces. It is recommended that you make use of the Tab key for uniformity, rather than pressing the space bar 5-7 times.

  • Order of Pages and Pagination. Place a header that numbers all the pages of your paper in the upper right corner of each page, half inch from the top and right-flushed. However, this may vary upon the specifications preferred by your instructor. Sometimes headers are asked to be typed with your last name first, then the page number in Arabic numeral form. This is still in accordance to MLA writing format. It is advised that you first ask for your instructor's guidelines to make sure you're both in the right page.

  • Endnotes. Endnotes should be placed on a separate page preceding your Works Cited page. Place a "Notes" title for this section, centered on the page and must remain unformatted.

Title Page

When authoring papers in MLA writing format, remember that the Title Page is not necessary unless you were specifically asked by the instructor to make one. In case you were instructed to do so, your Title Page will then serve as your Page 1. You are expected to list your name, your instructor's name, course and the date on the upper left corner of the page. Make sure you double-space after each line.

After the date, double-space once again then enter the Title of your paper, aligned at the center. Refrain from formatting the Title further, such as underlining, italicizing, typing the Title in all capital letters or full capitalization, or placing your Title in quotation marks.

Quotation marks can however be used if you are at the same time referring to other works in your Title. If this is the case, here are some examples on their proper formatting:

Fearing and Loathing in Las Vegas as Morality Play

 

Racism in "Crash"

Remember that only the first page should include the whole heading and title. Here's an example of a Title Page following the MLA writing format: http://www.dianahacker.com/pdfs/Hacker-Daly-MLA-Title.pdf

Section Headings

When writing a long research paper in MLA writing format, it’s best to make use of Section Headings as these will improve your paper's readability. Section Headings could be individual chapters of a book or named parts of an essay.

There are two types of headings you can use: the numbered headings and the formatted, unnumbered headings. Whichever you choose to use, make sure you maintain this type of sectioning throughout the paper.

What follows are sample numbered headings that can be used as your reference when making headings for your own paper using the MLA writing format:

  1. Soil Conservation

    1.2 Terracing

      1.1 Erosion
  2. Energy Conservation

    2.2 Alternative Sources of Energy

      2.1 Traditional Sources of Energy
  3. Water Conservation

For formatted and unnumbered headings, here are some examples:

Level 1 Heading: Bold, Flush Left

Level 2 Heading: Italicized, Flush Left

Level 3 Heading: Bold, Centered

Level 4 Heading: Italicized, Centered

Level 5 Heading: Underlined, Flush left

If you choose to use only one level of headings (this means all sections are parallel and distinct and do not include any sub-headings) it’s good practice to make these Section Headings are uniform and resemble one another grammatically. It’s important that you remain consistent throughout your paper.

In the event you choose to employ multiple levels of headings (meaning some sections include subsections or sub-headings) it may be a good idea to provide your instructor or editor with a key of level headings you used and their corresponding formatting.

Body

Now that you're done with your title page and section headings, let's move on to the body of your research paper.

All general MLA writing format guidelines apply to the body of your research paper. Between paragraphs, refrain from adding extra spaces as this is only done when you're expected to write in business format. Otherwise, be consistent and follow the general guidelines for the entirety of your paper.

Text Citations

When writing research papers, it is crucial to properly document your sources with parenthetical references not only to support your paper’s credibility but also to avoid being accused of plagiarism. Being accused of plagiarism is a serious offense and may even result in your failing the paper or entire course.

Here are some guidelines in parenthetical referencing for papers following the MLA writing format:

  • When referencing outside sources following the MLA writing format, include a page for Works Cited to show readers where you found your data and information. This will also allow your readers to easily find the mentioned source materials themselves.

  • Remember that the Works Cited page is not the same as Bibliography or a listing of all information you may have researched in the preparation and writing stage of your paper.

  • Format your Works Cited page by creating a header. The whole page should be double-spaced just like the rest of the document, including citations.

  • List citation entries in alphabetical order by the authors' last names.

The Modern Language Association or the MLA writing format is used commonly when writing papers in the liberal arts and humanities field.

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MLA, APA, & CMS: How to Properly Format Your Papers

Knowing the Styles and When to Use Them

In academic writing, how you present your information (technically) is often seen as important as the ideas you are putting forth. Proper citing, quoting and referencing of source material allows you to convey your breadth of research in a language commonly shared by others in your discipline. Giving others a chance to review and compare your work under these established guidelines enables your instructors to better see the work on its own merits, opposed to getting sidetracked by technical inefficiencies.

You MUST follow the rules like every other student: this is not an area where you want to stand out for doing things your own way. Writing for any academic purpose carries with it certain expectations and formatting consistencies, and a failure to properly understand how or why you cite your sources in a specific way can have negative effects on your written projects and communications.

The Big Three: APA, MLA, and CMS

There are three main "Schools of Style" used to properly format an academic paper, referred to as APA, MLA, or CMS.

  • APA style: These are the official guidelines put forth by the American Psychological Association, now in its sixth edition. This is the preference of the social sciences, so if you are studying sociology, psychology, medicine, or social work you are going to know APA style.
  • MLA style: The Modern Language Association provides guidelines you will be familiar with if you are focused on the Humanities: so artists, English majors, and theatre students will know MLA as they have used this style now for more than half a century.
  • CMS style: These are the style guidelines put forth in the Chicago Manual of Style, now in its 16th edition.  CMS style is predominantly seen in the humanities, particularly with literature students and those who study advanced segments of history and/or the arts.

While these formatting methods will share many characteristics such as margins and spacing, how they attribute references to source materials is the main differentiator.  For example, APA lists "references" while MLA calls the same thing "works cited" - a small but important distinction that might actually affect your grade.

Typically, you are going to use one style for most of your classes and communications, but there is certainly the possibility that you'll need to know how to use any one of these three common styles. The good news is it is not hard to get up-to-speed on any one of them and use them properly.

Get the Latest Updates
Regardless of which style you are using, it is imperative to get the most recent version of the guidelines to ensure your paper is as accurate as it can be. Each of the sources have updated their guidelines multiple times over the years, so working with the current standards is goal one.

APA and MLA are the most common styles to use, but CMS is not unheard of - just not as common for undergrads. CMS is commonly used in traditional book publishing and academic publishing situations, so if you are doing post-graduate writing, it is good to know.

The main thing that seems to be changing in the rules for all of them is about the proper attribution of web-related sources, so you are going to want to re-check that you are working from the most recent versions of whichever style guide you need.

Beware the Pitfalls

The common mistakes being made in properly styling citations and references might be as simple as not downloading the most recent updates; however, it may also be a case where students are simply not understanding how to infuse referencing properly.

Common APA Mistakes
"One of the most common mistakes I see," stated Professor John Long, who has studied social science and has taught health care administration and career development at a college level for various universities for more than five years, "are errors in properly citing web references." Professor Long and his students - being in the social sciences - have never used anything except APA style. He is currently working on his own education specialist degree (Ed.S.) now at U of Missouri, which is half way to the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree.

He continues: "While some common APA formatting errors may be issues due to changes in updated guidelines (APA 5 vs. APA 6), there are other, perhaps more common instances where a student fails to properly reference the source materials within writing assignments. This is particularly true when citing content from the Internet. Understanding how to properly reference and cite source materials adds power to any student paper, because the papers can be used to show a proper understanding and blending of source ideas - a critical concept in higher learning."

"Some of the changes to the guidelines seem very dubious and meticulous," he continues, "but standards are there so an evaluator can assess the weight of the material without bias. Many of my students might complain about it, but the ones that succeed are the ones who are actively trying to use citing resources to their own argument's advantage."

Common MLA Mistakes
APA students are not the only ones who have common mistakes in formatting - as evidenced by the following insight offered from Dr. Margaret Walters of Kennesaw State University, where she and her students have used primarily MLA guidelines in their writing, editing and literature classes. Dr. Walters has taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate level writing courses at Kennesaw State University for over 15 years.

Dr. Walters said, "The most common problems I see with MLA style occur in the writing, meaning the text itself, not the bibliography or Works Cited...though there are often some problems to address there, too. In the text, the most common problems are:

  • putting a period before and sometimes after the parenthetical citation, as in: ".... and this point is made early on." (Smith 127).
  • placing the closing quotation mark after the citation in parenthesis instead of after the quote: " .... and this point is made early on (Smith 127)".
  • placing quotation marks inside commas and periods instead of after them:  Smith tells us that among the most important rules are the ones regarding use of commas", yet he does not explain how this happens". (127) [those writing British English use the opposite rule--quotation marks inside end punctuation]."

Dr. Walters continued: "In the Works Cited, the most common MLA-related problems are:

  • not alphabetizing (even though this is the easiest rule to follow)
  • mixing up MLA and APA style; e.g. using initials for first names when MLA says use full first names and middle initials
  • leaving off the place of publication - it should be New York: Penguin, 2009 but will instead say Penguin, 2009
  • not knowing rules for using quotations marks or when to underline/italicize

"Students get it right most of the time," Dr. Walters states. "I think the underlying problem is an unwillingness to use the style sheets, handouts, or even the MLA handbook.  If they use the resources offered, most students are not going to struggle to meet the guidelines."

Get More Help

Both Dr. Walters and Professor Long advise students to use strong and verifiable resources to make your formatting job easier. Both instructors advise checking out the OWL (Online Writing Lab) Resources offered by Purdue in addition to the links to the sites listed above.

The writing center at your own university may hold lots of great information and people to help you understand what to do in each situation you face. Not every situation calls for the same style guide, so checking with the experts on your campus is always a smart idea.

For a quick reference, you can also use the handy visual aids created by Capital Community College on MLA and APA styled papers: (http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/library/citing.htm) or look at the MLA vs. APA comparison chart created by the University Writing Center at Appalachian State University.

The Bottom Line

The reality is, depending on your discipline, there may be only one type of style that you need to use, ever. However, this is not saying the rules for how to properly cite resources and references is not going to continue to change and evolve over time. You will be held responsible for being current.

As a student or in post-college academic writing, you want your work to shine and to always show your best efforts. This means checking on the rules to properly style and format your papers. Use the links and information above to help ensure you are forever properly dotting your I's and crossing your T's according to the latest and greatest rules.

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