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What is MLA format? MLA Style Rules and Basic Guidelines 

Established in 1883, the Modern Language Association (MLA) is a prominent academic professional organization in the United States dedicated to advancing the study and scholarship of languages and literature. MLA style refers to the guidelines recommended by the Modern Language Association for maintaining a consistent format in documenting sources for scholarly writing. This style is particularly prevalent in the arts and humanities fields especially in literature, languages, cultural studies, and philosophy, to format their works and cite their sources. These guidelines are detailed in the MLA Handbook, which is now in its 9th edition (as of 2021).  

Who uses MLA style? 

MLA style format is primarily used by students, scholars, and professionals in the field of humanities. Additionally, authors, researchers, and academics writing about literary criticism, cultural phenomena, and language studies commonly employ MLA style. Journalists and editors for literary magazines and journals also use it for consistency in citations and formatting. MLA format’s widespread use in these disciplines is due to its straightforward, flexible guidelines that emphasize clarity and ease of use, making it a practical choice for writing content in the field of humanities.  

Basic guidelines in MLA style 

The basic guidelines in MLA style ensure a consistent format for academic writing and provides writers with a system for referencing their sources through parenthetical citations in their essays and Works Cited page(s). In-text or parenthetical citations include the author’s last name and page number in parentheses, while the Works Cited page lists all sources cited in the paper, formatted with a hanging indent; each entry typically includes the author’s name, title of the work, publication information, and date. 

MLA formatting can be achieved using an MLA general format generator, which is a digital tool designed to help writers automatically format their academic papers according to the MLA style guidelines. By entering details like author names, titles, publication dates, and page numbers, the generator produces properly formatted citations and references for both in-text citations and the Works Cited page. These tools also guide formatting the paper’s layout, including margins, font, spacing, and headers. Popular online platforms such as EasyBib, Citation Machine, and Scribbr offer MLA format generators to simplify the writing and citation process, ensuring accuracy and consistency. 

MLA style rules 

As mentioned above, MLA style rules provide a comprehensive framework for formatting academic papers and citing sources. Key elements include: 

General Formatting

  • Using a legible font like Times New Roman, size 12,  
  • Double-spacing the entire document.  
  • Setting 1-inch margins on all sides  
  • Including a header with author’s last name and page number. 

Title Page: 

  • Generally, MLA style does not recommend a separate title page unless required. In case a title page is required then it should include the following details: the author’s name, instructor’s name, course details, and submission date in the upper left corner of the first page followed by the title in the center. 

In-Text Citations: 

  • Use parenthetical citations with the author’s last name and page number 
  • For multiple authors, use the following style: (Author1 and Author 2 or (Author et al. For example, (Grey and Griffith 21) or (Grey et al. 21) 

Works Cited Page: 

  • Title the page “Works Cited” and center it. 
  • Use a hanging indent for each entry. 
  • Include full bibliographic details: author’s name, title of the work, publication information, and date. 

Comma Rule:  

  • Commas separate items in a series, such as listing multiple authors or elements in a citation. 
  • They are used after introductory phrases or clauses, before conjunctions joining independent clauses, and to set off non-restrictive clauses or interrupting elements. 
  • They appear in dates, addresses, and numbers exceeding 1,000.  
  • They precede or follow direct quotations.  

MLA vs. APA, Chicago, and other formats: 

MLA, APA, and Chicago styles are three of the most widely used citation and formatting styles in academic writing. While they share similarities in terms of providing guidelines for documenting sources, they differ in their citation formats, documentation methods, and preferred disciplines. 

As mentioned earlier, MLA style is commonly used in humanities and employs parenthetical citations and a Works Cited page. APA style format, on the other hand, is mostly used in the field of social sciences and uses author-date citations and a References list. Meanwhile, Chicago style, which is mostly adopted in the fields of history and literature, employs footnotes or endnotes alongside a bibliography.  

Furthermore, while MLA and APA styles prioritize simplicity and clarity, Chicago style offers comprehensive source details. Formatting preferences, such as font and spacing, also vary. MLA and APA styles suggest using Times New Roman or Arial with double-spacing throughout, whereas the Chicago style generally allows for various font choices with either single or double-spacing. 

How to set up MLA Style in your document 

In Microsoft Word, a fresh document typically adopts several MLA-compliant settings by default, like legible fonts and one-inch margins. Additional features such as double spacing, tab and margin sizes, can be altered via the Design tab. The citation formatting can be automated via the Citations & Bibliography panel, under the References tab.  

The Insert Citation button facilitates the inclusion of source details, categorized by type (e.g., book, performance, journal), allowing for easy incorporation of quotes within a document. 

Examples and templates of MLA style format can be found at: 

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