If you are in school and you’ve been assigned to write an essay using MLA style, I hope you have looked at an MLA handbook. If you do not have one available, that is ok. Usually, however, your instructor will have one available for you to use or can tell you where to find one, but even MLA handbooks can be a little confusing to understand (especially if it is your first time hearing about MLA– “ML-what?”) Here’s a quick guide…
What in the world is MLA? MLA stands for Modern Language Association. It is used to document research in the world of literature, linguistics, languages, history, philosophy, and other composition studies. In other words, it is like a system that helps people know where you are getting your information from and where to find it. There are other documentation systems out there like APA, CMS, CSE; but for now, this article will focus on the most commonly used style in schools.
So why do I have to use it?
- You can get sued. Unfortunately, it is true. It is against the law to copy or claim someone’s work as yours. Doing any of this is considered PLAGIARISM (A.K.A.: stealing, infringement of copyright, copying, piracy, theft… you get the idea). What a scary thought! :-O Therefore, if you are going to be using someone’s words, ideas, etc. in your paper, you should give them credit for it. It is only fair to acknowledge those who put a lot of hard work, dedication, sleepless nights, and creativity to create something original. How would you feel if someone stole your essay and put their name on it?
- Back Up. When you are writing about any topic in which you want to convince your audience to see things the way you do, sometimes scholarly sources can back up your statements. For instance, you could say, “The sun is actually a star”. Yet, according to whom? If you said, “According to Anaxagoras, the sun is actually a star”, then maybe people would believe you. However, you need to provide the book or source in which you found this information so that they can read it too.
Let’s get started: What should my paper look like?
Sometimes, seeing what a paper should look like with a couple of indicative arrows can really help for those who are visual learners. This includes me. That is why I like to make my own graphics. Hopefully the following examples that I have created will help you too. Below is an example (not an actual essay) of what your paper should look like. I have included examples for a title page, simplified essay page, and a works cited page. Please note that the program that I used to create these examples did not allow me to double space my text. Sigh! Make sure to have the double space feature on when using Microsoft Word or any other writing program before you start writing.
How to cite your sources
This is probably the easiest medium to cite because books usually have everything you need. You should include the author’s name, title and subtitle (if it has one (Skin Diseases: Melanoma)), city it was published, the publisher’s name, the year it was published, and the medium of publication (print, web, video, etc.). Don’t forget to italicize the title!!
When you have two or more author’s, you write both of their names. The first name will follow the standard format of: Last name, First name. Then you will add the second author’s name in this format: First name Last name.
Example: Canales, Viola and Tom Smith.
When you have more than three or four authors, you may choose to do one of two options:
- Canales, Viola, Tom Smith, Pedro Hernandez, Lisa Jefferson. (and so on for all authors if more)
- Canales, Viola, et. al. (et. al. means and others, and is typically used to avoid long lists)
What about other types of sources? There are so many different types of mediums out there from which you can use information to write your essays. Many of those include: articles, journals, newspapers, anthologies, textbooks, plays, poetry, sacred texts, magazines, websites, blogs, encyclopedias, dictionaries, comics, emails, videos, audio, speeches… must I really go on? Bottom line, there is quite a lot of places to gain some knowledge! How cool, right?! Anyway, my goal before the end of the month is to provide proper ways of citing all these different types of sources! Hope this article is helpful for now. Ta-Ta!
STOP!! Don’t turn in that essay just yet!
Here is a list for you to check off before turning in your paper:
- Title page
- Your name
- Instructor’s name
- 1 inch margins (from the top and on the left and right sides)
- Double spaced
- 12-inch font (preferably in Times in New Roman)
- Page number on each page
- Quotes and paraphrases are correctly documented in MLA style
- Works cited page
- Organized in alphabetical order (by last name)
- All sources are cited correctly in MLA style
Want to see me improve this article? Still have questions? Share some feedback! 🙂