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What Are the Best Tips for Writing an MLA Essay?

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  • Written By: Kathy Heydasch
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2016
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Depending upon the instructor of a class, an MLA essay may be required as part of your learning, whether in middle school or graduate classes. The Modern Language Association (MLA) has developed very specific guidelines for writing and publishing MLA essays and theses, and these guidelines have been followed by thousands of instructors for over 50 years. Individual teachers of a class may vary from these guidelines, so it is important for a student to make sure there should be no deviations from MLA format. In this case, one can use the following tips to writing an MLA essay.

The paper used should be white, 20# weight paper, in a size according to standard US format, which is 8.5” x 11” (21.59 cm x 27.94 cm). There should be 1” (2.54 cm) margins on every page, including top, bottom, left and right. Page numbers will fall outside these margins, however. Every line must be double-spaced, including the references and any quotations one might use. The first line of every paragraph is indented five spaces, or half an inch (1.27 cm), and quotations have a special double indent of 10 spaces on every line.

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The first page of an MLA essay is the only page that will contain the title and other pertinent information about the author and class. Beginning on line one, directly at the left margin, one must type his or her name, the instructor's name, the course name and number, and the date, all double spaced and on separate lines. Another double space precedes the title of the essay, which should be centered. Then one can begin the body of the essay.

A half inch from the top of the page, against the right-hand margin, the last name of the author and the page number should be typed. This is a header that will follow on each page of the document, in the same place, with only the page number changing each time. All text should be in 12 pt Times New Roman, proven to be the easiest to read.

The MLA guide suggests using a paper clip to bind the paper, since this facilitates reading. Most instructors, however, prefer a staple and may suggest this deviation to the guidelines. A student should check with the instructor regarding the preferred method of binding.

An MLA essay will include a works cited section of the paper. This is where the author references support material that was used in the research of the paper. All references are arranged alphabetically, and the author must cite the references throughout the body of the essay. The citations in the body should be in parentheses and should have the author's last name only.

MLA essay styles are used throughout North American and many other countries, as well as in over 1,100 literary and scholarly publications. The institution publishes the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers and the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. Both are available for purchase at college bookstores and online.

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