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Literature Research: Paper Formatting

Setting Up and Formatting an MLA Paper

If your paper will follow MLA formatting, follow the steps below. You may view the MLA Style Center's Formatting a Research Paper page or chapter 1 of the MLA Handbook for more guidance.

To view a sample paper, Purdue University's Online Writing Lab has a sample MLA paper in PDF format, or you may view two sample papers from the MLA Style Center.

1. Set the Margins to One Inch


The margins of the paper should be set to 1" (one inch) all around.

Step-by-Step Directions

  1. Go to the Page Layout or Layout tab
  2. Click Margins
  3. Select the Normal option

Margins > Normal

2. Set the Spacing to Double


The line spacing for the paper should be set to double (2.0).

Step-by-Step Directions

  1. Go to the Home tab
  2. In the Paragraph box, click the icon that looks like two up/down arrows with text to the right
  3. Pick 2.0

Paragraph > Spacing > 2.0

Alternately, you can also press the Control Key along with the number 2 to quickly double space.

3. Set the Font


The font should be a standard size (such as 12 point) and an easy to read font, such as Times New Roman.

Step-by-Step Directions

  1. Go to the Home tab
  2. In the Font box, change to Times New Roman and 12

Times New Roman 12

4. Create a Title for Your Paper


Your title should summarize the main topic of your paper. Try not to be too wordy or off-topic. 'Short but sweet' is the goal.

Example Titles

  • Attitudes of College Students Towards Transportation Fees
  • Effect of Red Light Cameras on Traffic Fatalities
  • Juror Bias in Capital Punishment Cases

5. Create the Headers


In your header, include your last name and the page number, right aligned:

      Smith 1

Step-by-Step Directions

  1. Go to the Insert tab
  2. Under Header, select Edit Header (at the bottom)
    Edit Header
  3. Make sure that the font is still Times New Roman 12 (you may need to change it)
  4. Press Tab once or twice to go to the far right
  5. Type your last name and then a space
  6. Click Page Number
  7. Click Current Position
  8. Click Simple / Plain Number
    Page Number > Current Position > Simple


Smith 1

6. Set Up the First Page


On the first page, you will include the following information, left aligned and double-spaced:

Your Name

Professor's Name



Next, include your centered paper title.

Step-by-Step Directions

  1. Go to the top of the first page
  2. Type your name, professor's name, course, and date, on separate lines.
  3. Go to the next line
  4. Center your text
  5. Type in the title of your paper

MLA header example

7. Set Up the Works Cited List

The list with your citations should be on a new page, and should be the last section of your paper.

Heading of List

The heading at the top of the reference list should say Works Cited at the top.

Hanging Indent

All reference lists should have a hanging indent. An example of a hanging indent is shown below:

George, Mary W. The Elements of Library Research: What Every Student Needs to Know. Princeton UP, 2008.

To create a hanging indent in Word, you can press the Control key along with the letter T.

control+ T


Line spacing in the should be set to double (2.0).


When organizing your references list, you must alphabetize your references. Generally, you will organize by the author's last name. Go letter by letter and ignore spaces, hyphens, punctuation etc.

If a work has no author, use the title to alphabetize. You will use the first significant word to alphabetize; this means you skip words like the, a, and an.

Example of Proper Order:

  1. Alcott, Louisa May. Little Men ...
  2. Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women ...
  3. Beowulf ...
  4. "Etiquette in Florida." ...
  5. Johnson, Charles L., and Carl Tuite, editors ...
  6. Johnson, Sara K. ...
  7. Oxford English Dictionary ...
  8. "A Prescription for Health Care." ...
  9. Tyreelibrary. ...

Multiple Works by One Author

If you are citing multiple works by the same author, use three hyphens in the place of the author's name in the second and all subsequent entries.

Clunas, Craig. Art in China. 2nd ed., Oxford UP, 2009.

---, editor. Chinese Export Art and Design. Victoria and Albert Museum, 1987.

---. Chinese Painting and Its Audiences. Princeton UP, 2017.

Clunas, Craig, and Jessica Harrison-Hall, editors. Ming: 50 Years That Changed China. U of Washington P, 2014.

Multiple Sources from One Work

If you will be using multiple sources from one collection (e.g., multiple short stories from one anthology), you can use shorter citations for the individual works and cross-reference them to a longer citation for the anthology overall.

In this example, two short stories ("Aida" and "Arcadia") are cited from the overall anthology (All About Skin) edited by Jina Ortiz and Rochelle Spencer.

Engel, Patricia. "Aida." Ortiz and Spencer, pp. 11-29.

Ortiz, Jina, and Rochelle Spencer, editors. All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color. U of Wisconsin P, 2014.

Wakube, Hope. "Arcadia." Ortiz and Spencer, pp. 122-133.

For more information on creating and formatting citations, go to the Citation Components page.