MLA: Outlined and Explained

Every student has been there: they turn in a perfectly polished essay with descriptive quotes and exceptional analysis, but the grade comes back completely unreflective of the work put in. It is not because the introduction  was rocky or the conclusion lacked a restated main claim, but because the format was incomplete. 

While many students complain about this rigorous point earning system, the format is essential to the quality of the essay. MLA is the most common format evaluated by educators, and each step of it is what makes the piece of writing legible.

A simple diagram of the MLA heading | Photo Courtesy of

On the top of the page should be the student’s name, the teacher’s name, the course title and period, followed by the date, in that order. It is extremely important to have the teacher’s name listed in the top left corner because otherwise, the educator may be unaware that this paper that they assigned is from a student in their class. Including the student’s name as the first listed item is similarly extremely crucial. If the order of names were to be mixed up, the teacher could easily believe that the student had the same name as them. 

Next, line spacing. If a student were to single space the lines on their page, they may as well drop the class. Teachers cannot be expected to read text that is spaced any less than double, it is simply too confusing to see the words when they are only one centimeter from the ones above them. Margins as well carry a lot of grading impact. One inch margins are the glue of the essay. Sure, accurate evidence combined with descriptive analysis makes for an interesting read, but no grader can be expected to evaluate sentences that are less than an inch from being completely off the page. Things could go wrong, the words may just run all the way off the page, forcing the teacher to go chase them down. It is unclassy and unprofessional for a trained teenager to put their educator through such intense activities. 

Mr. Calver’s turn in basket for essays with headings in a larger font size than the regular text (if you can read this single spaced size 10 caption, congratulations! You are anti-MLA) | Photo Courtesy of Facebook

While the spacing may hold the greatest weight, the font and text size will make or break the piece of writing. Anything other than Times New Roman is simply unreadable. The roundness of Comfortaa and the boldness of Georgia are not welcome in the English classroom and the teacher’s eye is blind to the crooked “e” of Comic Sans and the slightly less curvy “j” of Arial. Less than 12 pt font indicates a less than 50% grade. Teachers will read Times New Roman size 12; the trash can will read all papers that stray from those standards. 

The last page of the essay still offers hope for a higher grade, if and only if the students are willing to comply with the extremely essential requirements. Each source that was used in the essay should be included here. To cite each of those, simply follow Purdue University’s MLA standards: include the author’s name, book title, title of container, other contributors, volume number, publisher, publication date, page and paragraph location, second container’s title, other contributors, version, number, and date of access. That’s it! But beware, this is the order of citation for books and books only; articles, websites, and any other sources have a completely different list to follow. When stating the author’s name, also be aware of the order. The last name should be listed first, followed by a comma, then the author’s first name. Alkhawaja, Ro’aa is not the same as Ro’aa, Alkhawaja. 

Once all these self-explanatory steps have been followed, all that’s left to do is turn it in. But don’t forget the student’s last name and page number in the top right corner on every page. If this detail is not included, the teacher may mix up pages one and two, making the essay irreversibly out of order. 

If, however, the teacher randomly decides to stray from the norm and asks their students to follow the APA format, only a simple conversion is necessary. First, scrap every formatting edit that was made. Then, look up the instructions on Purdue Writing Lab because this article would be too long if every easy-peasy detail was covered here. Make sure to follow only APA rules; APA, MLA, CMS, and AMA carry completely different requirements. 

If all of these steps have been followed, congratulations, the essay is complete. All the extremely necessary formatting changes outlined in this article will guarantee a good writing grade. Just beware of the hidden features that need to be included if a grade higher than a 70% is desired, but surely every teacher warns their students of those before assigning the writing piece. Good Luck!

Written by Roxy Hudson

Roxy Hudson is Co-Editor-in-Chief for the MCSun, and is going on her third full year of writing with the Sun Staff. She is a Senior runner for the Varsity Cross Country and Track Team and a member of MC's Varsity Soccer Team. When she is not spending her time running in circles on the track, Roxy is usually chilling on the couch with her two adorable chocolate labs or whipping up a tasty dish in the kitchen.

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