MLA Tutorial


What is MLA?

Some teachers are very specific about the way they want you to format your papers. (Formatting refers to the way that the text is laid out on the page). For example, they might explain their expectations like this:

"I want you to write your name in the top right corner, and then on the next line I want you to write the date, and then on the third line you should write the class period, then skip a line and write the title, and be sure to center your title."

However, during the course of your academic career, you will run into many teachers who aren't that specific. They will simply expect you to format your papers the "standard" way.

So, what is the standard way?

The standard way to format a paper is called MLA. MLA is short for "Modern Language Association."

Basically, think of it this way: Many years ago a bunch of college professors got together and decided on a set rules or guidelines for how a paper should "look". These rules have become widely accepted throughout the world. So now, whether you are going to a high school in China or attending a top university in the United States, it is very likely that your teacher will not give you a detailed explanation like the one above, but instead will simply say: "I want you to format your paper in MLA style."

In this unit you will learn the basic rules of MLA. At times, these rules may seem a bit picky. After all, what difference does it really make if you type the date like this:

rather than like this?

Well, the difference is that one is the "right way" according to the Modern Language Association, and one is the "wrong way." And many of your teachers—(like me!)—will insist that you follow these rules exactly. In fact, some professors won't even grade your paper unless you have formatted it properly. By following the rules of MLA, you are signaling to your professors that you are a serious student who understands the "proper" way to format an academic paper. Your teachers will appreciate it.

Check Your Understanding

  1. What do the letters MLA stand for?
  2. By formatting your papers in MLA, what are you signaling to your teachers?

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.