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If you’ve been wondering how to produce a research paper that is strong in both formatting and writing, you’ve come to the right place. The example research paper below is one that I wrote in college in one of the most inspiring courses I ever took as a literature major—Inklings. The Inklings were a group of writers in England before WWII, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
The abbreviated MLA paper below (linked here without annotations) is about J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and how the author used myth, story, and song to link all of his works together. Tolkien is famous for creating a fantasy universe called Middle-earth, which readers can’t truly understand until they read all of the books about Middle-earth (The Silmarillian, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings).
Since we’re here to learn how to format an essay, I’ve pointed out some important things about the paper to help you write a correctly formatted essay.
For starters, the essay is in MLA format. That means it follows the style manual of the Modern Language Association, which tells you how to format the paper itself and every source you cite. You’ll also see notes like how long a paragraph should be, how to use commas properly, and how to correctly punctuate a title.
Pay special attention to the works cited page. I only used one type of source (books), but both citations are correct according to the 8th edition of MLA, published in 2016. When you’re writing your own paper, you need to make sure you always use the most recent edition of the style manual. Whether you need MLA, APA, or Chicago style, look up the latest edition before turning in a paper.
In the end, I hope this essay and my notes help you write stronger papers. Although I’ve cut out some of my analysis to make it fit into a smaller space, the main idea of the essay is intact. Follow my notes closely to produce polished and high-scoring papers. You can use this model to write essays for any class using MLA format.
Get a copy for yourself! Download the PDF version here.
Starting to cite your sources? Try our citation tools in MLA 7 & 8 linked here. Need more information on MLA 8? Find more citation guides linked here.
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MLA Paper Formatting & Style Guidelines
Your teacher may want you to format your paper using MLA guidelines. If you were told to create your citations in MLA format, your paper should be formatted using the MLA guidelines as well. The following guidelines are from the MLA Handbook, 7th edition.
Looking for a MLA 8 guide on formatting a paper? Click Here.
- Use white 8 ½ x 11” paper.
- Make 1 inch margins on the top, bottom, and sides
- The first word in every paragraph should be indented one half inch.
- Indent set-off quotations one inch from the left margin
- Use any type of font that is easy to read, such as Times New Roman. Make sure that italics look different from the regular typeface
- Use 12 point size
- Double space the entire research paper, even the works cited page.
- Leave one space after periods and other punctuation marks, unless your instructor tells you to make two spaces.
- You can either create a title page using EasyBib’s Title Page creator or omit the title page completely and use a header.
To create a header, follow these steps:
- Begin one inch from the top of the first page and flush with the left margin.
- Type your name, your instructor’s name, the course number, and the date on separate lines, using double spaces between each.
- Double space once more and center the title. Do NOT underline, bold, or type the title in all capital letters. Only italicize words that would normally be italicized in the text. Example: Character Development in The Great Gatsby
- Do not place a period after the title or after any headings
- Double space between the title and first lines of the text.
- Page numbers
- Placed in the upper right-hand corner, one half inch from the top, flush with the right margin.
- Type your last name before the page number. (To make this process easier, set your word processor to automatically add the last name and page number to each page).
- Do not place p. before the page number.
- Many instructors do not want a page number on the first page. Ask your instructor for their specific preferences.
- Tables and illustrations
- should be placed as close as possible to the text that they most closely refer to.
- Label tables with: Table, give it an arabic numeral, and title it.
- This information should be located above the table, flush left, on separate lines.
- Format the title the same way as the title of the paper.
- Underneath the table, provide the source and any notes. Notes should be labeled with a letter, rather than a numeral, so the reader is able to differentiate between the notes of the text and the notes of the table.
- Use double spacing throughout.
- Label illustrations with: Fig. (short for figure), assign an arabic number, and provide a caption.
- The label and caption should appear underneath the illustration.
**If the table or illustration’s caption gives complete information about the source and the source isn’t cited in the text, there is no need to include the citation in the works cited page.
- Label musical scores with: Ex. (short for Example), assign it an Arabic numeral, and provide a caption.
- The label and caption should appear below the musical illustration.
Use of Numerals
MLA 7th edition recommends that numbers are spelled out if the number can be written with one or two words. For larger numbers, write the number itself.
If the project calls for frequent use of numbers (such as a scientific study or statistics), use numerals that precede measurements.
Other items to keep in mind:
- Do not start sentences with a numeral, spell out the number.
- Always use numerals before abbreviations or symbols, ex. 6 lbs.
- In divisions, use numbers, ex: In page 5 of the study