MLA Style Using Microsoft Word

by Gary Enns of Cerro Coso Community College


What do you mean by "style"?


Style in this sense refers to a set of standardized rules for margin width, character spacing, titling, quoting and other "visual" subjects that affect the overall look of a paper. A style will also include its own rules for documenting and citing sources; for rules on documenting sources according to MLA, read the MLA chapter of a current writing handbook. There are many different standardized styles, depending upon academic discipline. For instance, a psychology professor will ask you to use the APA style (American Psychological Association), a pre-med professor will ask you to use Medical Style, and a  physics professor will ask you to use AIP style (American Institute of Physics). Each style is unique to the discipline.


What is MLA style?


Many humanities disciplines such as English, Literature, and Foreign Languages, have adopted the MLA style for paper writing. MLA stands for Modern Language Association, an academic organization focused on language and its impact in the world. Learning MLA style will be beneficial to you in your academic career, particularly if you plan on studying literature or foreign language. See what the Modern Language Association has to say about their MLA style.


How do I format my paper using MLA style?


Follow these simple steps to format according to MLA.


Paper: Use standard 8 1/2 x 11 inch sheets of paper. Don't use erasable paper for a final draft--it smudges.


Margins: Except for the page numbers which appear in the header, use 1 inch margins on the top, bottom, and sides. In Microsoft word, follow these steps to check your margins:

  1. Pull down the "File" menu

  2. Choose "page setup"

  3. In the margins menu that appears, set your top, bottom, left and right margins at 1 inch.

  4. Click "OK" to exit.

Paragraph Indentation: The first line of each new paragraph should be indented 1/2 inch. Usually the "Tab" button on the left side of your keyboard is defaulted to 1/2 inch, so simply depress that button whenever you wish to indent for a new paragraph. To check the default of your "Tabs" button:

  1. Pull down the "Format" menu

  2. Choose "Tabs..."

  3. Make sure "Default tab stops" are set to 0.5"

Line Spacing: All lines in an MLA paper are double spaced. There are no single spaces or quadruple spaces—ever. Even the class information and the title are double spaced. If you are using Word, follow these steps to set for double spacing:

  1. Pull down the “Format” menu

  2. Select “Paragraph”

  3. For line spacing, select “Double”

  4. Hit OK to close

Numbering Your Pages: Number all of your pages, beginning with the first page and ending with a Works Cited or Works Consulted page. In the upper right-hand corner, one half inch from the top, print your last name followed by three spaces and the page number (Example: Strummer   1). If using a computer word processor, avoid adding page numbers in the body of your text as this can lead to textual problems when revising. Instead, figure out how to get into the "header" of your paper. Here, you can set your processor to number pages automatically. To do this in Microsoft Word, take these steps:

  1. Pull down the “View” menu

  2. Select “Header and Footer." The "Header and Footer" toolbar should pop up, and your cursor should now appear in a "Header" box at the top of your page. Ignore the new toolbar for the moment, but don't close it

  3. To take your curser to the right of the page where it needs to be, in the toolbars above your paper, select the "align right" button. It looks like a series of lines aligned to the right. If you don't see that button, then pull down the "Format" menu, select "Paragraph," and under "Alignment" select "Right" and click "OK" to close

  4. Select the “Insert Page Number” # icon off that new tool bar that popped up a moment ago. Notice the number that appears in the upper right corner.

  5. Use the mouse or your left arrow key to place your cursor to the left of the number and type your last name followed by three spaces. To the right of the header, you should now see the equivalent of this: Strummer   1  

  6. Close the “Header/Footer” toolbar.

Class Information: In the upper left corner of your first page, list the class information specified by the instructor (not in the header but in the main body of the document). Use individual, double spaced lines for each piece of information. If your instructor is not specific, record the following information in this order.

For my course, print this info in exactly the same manner as the following example shows:

Joseph Strummer

Professor Gary Enns

English 101 (70193)

Essay 1: Argumentative Essay

7 December 2006

Your Title: After the class information, double space once and center your cursor with the centering option on your word processor. In MS Word you can center by clicking on the icon that looks like a series of centered lines, or you can center through the "File" menu. Type your title. Capitalize the first letter of every major word in your title (eg: Pokemon: the Devil’s Tool). Do not capitalize the entire title, put quotation marks around it, underline it, or italicize it. If your title is too long for one line, double space and use two. After you print your title, double space again and begin your essay

Sample First Page for MLa

To Wrap Up


The best way to get a feel for MLA style is to study a MLA formatted paper. See your textbook for a clear student example; study the way this example looks on the page, and then emulate this style in your own paper.