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Basic Rules of MLA Style

by | Mar 3, 2022 | Academic Writing

Information is taken from the 8th edition MLA Handbook, latest version, 2020. 

Formatting your essay using MLA style doesn’t have to be a daunting experience, even for those who don’t like writing as a general rule. Even for those who are unfamiliar with MLA Style, our basic rules and tips should help you hammer out a solid, A+ essay in no time at all!

Let’s take a second to lay out the basics of MLA format. Trust me, it isn’t too bad.

First thing’s first: Make sure your document is set with one-inch margins all the way around. This is standard for MLA. And, unless your professor or mentor has instructed you differently, make sure your MLA essays are always in twelve-point Times New Roman font. Also be sure to include page numbers (typically with your last name) on every page, including the Works Cited page(s).

If you’re writing several essays in MLA format, it’s a good idea to go ahead and set all these adjustments as the default in the word processing app of your choice so you don’t have to keep repeating the formatting setup each time.

How to Format the Works Cited Page in MLA Style

Every MLA essay should have a Works Cited page at the end unless you’ve been instructed otherwise. Luckily, though, this page follows the same basic formatting as the rest of your MLA essay.

Here’s a pro tip to get you started: Every single citation in your Works Cited page should end with a period, no matter the source type.

Center the words “Works Cited” at the top of your Works Cited page, and leave one space between that line and the first citation. Your citations should be single-spaced, with one blank space between each of them. Don’t forget to format your citations with a half-inch hanging indent for each line that comes after the first.

When providing a single page number for a citation, you should format it as follows: p. 92. However, if you’re using a source that covers multiple pages—for instance, an article in a scholarly journal—you should format it as follows: pp. 90-95. Note that you’ll use a hyphen there, not to be confused with an n-dash.

Your citations need to be listed in alphabetical order by their first word—typically the author’s last name or the first word of the title of the source.

In-Text Citations In MLA Style

In-text citations are crucial to an MLA essay because they directly link your arguments and information to the source that you’re drawing from. They can get pretty specific and tricky, so let’s break it all down into five simple rules.

  1. In-text citations should be inside parentheses and will almost always come at the end of the sentence they reference before the period.  
  2. In-text citations should only include the first word of their corresponding full-length citation and the page number(s) if it’s relevant to that source.
  3. If you’re citing only one page from a source, you should format it as follows: (Smith 92).
  4. If you’re citing more than one page from a source, you should format it as follows: (Smith 90-95). Note that you’ll use a hyphen there, not an n-dash.
  5. If you need to cite two different sources in one sentence, your citation should look like this: (Smith 92; King 74). Make sure the one you referenced first in the sentence is listed first in the in-text citation.

And there you have it! These five simple rules should make MLA in-text citations feel like a breeze!


The MLA Style Guide contains hundreds of incredibly specific rules, but the basic ideas listed here should give you the knowledge you’ll need for your next MLA essay. Don’t let all the rules overload your ability to write something awesome!

If you’re thinking about purchasing the latest edition of the MLA style guide, we already did that for you! Everything you’re reading here was cross-referenced with the latest guide. Yeah, yeah, we know. You’re welcome!

Emmi Conner
By Emmi Conner

Emmi holds a BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She’s been published in Adelaide Literary Magazine, and Atlantis Magazine. Emmi has written multiple articles for Writer’s Hive in the academic section with topics about MLA, APA, and Chicago Style essay writing.


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