Essay Standard Font Size
MLA General Format
MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook (8th ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.
Contributors: Tony Russell, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli, Russell Keck, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo Rodríguez-Fuentes, Daniel P. Kenzie, Susan Wegener, Maryam Ghafoor, Purdue OWL Staff
Last Edited: 2016-08-11 04:27:59
MLA style specifies guidelines for formatting manuscripts and using the English language in writing. MLA style also provides writers with a system for referencing their sources through parenthetical citation in their essays and Works Cited pages.
Writers who properly use MLA also build their credibility by demonstrating accountability to their source material. Most importantly, the use of MLA style can protect writers from accusations of plagiarism, which is the purposeful or accidental uncredited use of source material by other writers.
If you are asked to use MLA format, be sure to consult the MLA Handbook (8th edition). Publishing scholars and graduate students should also consult the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (3rd edition). The MLA Handbook is available in most writing centers and reference libraries; it is also widely available in bookstores, libraries, and at the MLA web site. See the Additional Resources section of this handout for a list of helpful books and sites about using MLA style.
The preparation of papers and manuscripts in MLA style is covered in chapter four of the MLA Handbook, and chapter four of the MLA Style Manual. Below are some basic guidelines for formatting a paper in MLA style.
- Type your paper on a computer and print it out on standard, white 8.5 x 11-inch paper.
- Double-space the text of your paper, and use a legible font (e.g. Times New Roman). Whatever font you choose, MLA recommends that the regular and italics type styles contrast enough that they are recognizable one from another. The font size should be 12 pt.
- Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks (unless otherwise instructed by your instructor).
- Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides.
- Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch from the left margin. MLA recommends that you use the Tab key as opposed to pushing the Space Bar five times.
- Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor may ask that you omit the number on your first page. Always follow your instructor's guidelines.)
- Use italics throughout your essay for the titles of longer works and, only when absolutely necessary, providing emphasis.
- If you have any endnotes, include them on a separate page before your Works Cited page. Entitle the section Notes (centered, unformatted).
Formatting the First Page of Your Paper
- Do not make a title page for your paper unless specifically requested.
- In the upper left-hand corner of the first page, list your name, your instructor's name, the course, and the date. Again, be sure to use double-spaced text.
- Double space again and center the title. Do not underline, italicize, or place your title in quotation marks; write the title in Title Case (standard capitalization), not in all capital letters.
- Use quotation marks and/or italics when referring to other works in your title, just as you would in your text: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as Morality Play; Human Weariness in "After Apple Picking"
- Double space between the title and the first line of the text.
- Create a header in the upper right-hand corner that includes your last name, followed by a space with a page number; number all pages consecutively with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor or other readers may ask that you omit last name/page number header on your first page. Always follow instructor guidelines.)
Here is a sample of the first page of a paper in MLA style:
Image Caption: The First Page of an MLA Paper
Writers sometimes use Section Headings to improve a document’s readability. These sections may include individual chapters or other named parts of a book or essay.
MLA recommends that when you divide an essay into sections that you number those sections with an arabic number and a period followed by a space and the section name.
1. Early Writings
2. The London Years
3. Traveling the Continent
4. Final Years
MLA does not have a prescribed system of headings for books (for more information on headings, please see page 146 in the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition). If you are only using one level of headings, meaning that all of the sections are distinct and parallel and have no additional sections that fit within them, MLA recommends that these sections resemble one another grammatically. For instance, if your headings are typically short phrases, make all of the headings short phrases (and not, for example, full sentences). Otherwise, the formatting is up to you. It should, however, be consistent throughout the document.
If you employ multiple levels of headings (some of your sections have sections within sections), you may want to provide a key of your chosen level headings and their formatting to your instructor or editor.
Sample Section Headings
The following sample headings are meant to be used only as a reference. You may employ whatever system of formatting that works best for you so long as it remains consistent throughout the document.
1. Soil Conservation
2. Water Conservation
3. Energy Conservation
Level 1 Heading: bold, flush left
Level 2 Heading: italics, flush left
Level 3 Heading: centered, bold
Level 4 Heading: centered, italics
Level 5 Heading: underlined, flush left
How to Make an Essay Look Longer
It’s somewhat difficult to make demands on essays for students – demanding that they have 500 words, for example, leads to really, really, very, extremely superfluous lists of adjectives and describing words like this sentence to up the word count. Other teachers use the page count as a metric of completion. But what happens when you have 4 and a half pages done of your five page essay? There are plenty of writing techniques to flesh ideas out and make it longer, but I’m assuming that your essay is perfect as it is and you want a more technological answer. Here are a few techniques that have served me well. I use them all the time.
Note: This tutorial is for Microsoft Word as a part of Office 2007, although many of the same techniques can be used in previous or subsequent versions of Word.
Font Choice and Font Size
First, font or font size is a fairly easy way to make an essay longer. Some teachers demand that Times New Roman size 12 be used. However, when they forget to add that to the rules, you can change it to whatever you want (assuming there’s no blanket statement about it on the syllabus). You want to choose a font that maximizes height. Obviously you don’t want to choose a font that’s too difficult to read, as it may annoy the person grading it. Below is a picture of the word “Hello” printed four times, each at size 12. The fonts, from left to right, are “Angsana New”, “Calibri”, “Times New Roman”, and “Algerian”.
Font size can also make a big impact on your paper. Going with a size 72 font will undoubtedly make your paper surpass the required page count, but isn’t the best idea. Just changing the font size from 12 to 13 can add a few lines to your paper. Below is a picture of identical text in two columns, both in Times New Roman, but size 12 on the left and size 13 on the right.
Even if your teacher demands size 12 Times New Roman, you might be tempted to change it anyway. Slight changes are fairly hard to measure in a printout, however, it is possible. For instance, if a teacher were to print out the word “the” in Times New Roman size 12 on a piece of transparency paper, they could then hold it over a word “the” in your essay and confirm whether or not it’s identical. Probably not going to happen, but it actually has happened to me before.
Space Between lines
The spacing between lines is very difficult to measure because although in most fonts the top and bottom edges vary significantly. In some fonts, there is a common edge except for letters that hang above or below the line, but in fonts that are meant to look more like handwriting, there is not. In any case, even with common edges, it’s not likely that your teacher will whip out a ruler and measure. Too large a gap may arouse suspicion, but changing an essay from double spaced to 2.1 spacing may actually make a large difference. The thing to remember is that the longer the base essay, the more they amplify the length. So for instance, if your essay is 10 lines with double spacing, and you change the spacing to 2.1, you get an extra 0.1 of a line for every line you’ve written, and 0.1×10 = 1. So, for every ten lines you actually write, you get the effect of having written eleven instead. For an essay that’s 4.5 pages, this tiny change can easily bring you over the 5 page mark and is virtually undetectable. Below is two paragraphs, the left with single spacing and the right is 1.1 spacing. This really demonstrates the potential of the small change.
To change the spacing between lines, you’ll need to access the “Paragraph” menu (I believe that in older versions of Word this could be done by going to Format -> Paragraph). In Word 2007, it can be accessed by going to the “Page Layout” tab of the ribbon and clicking on the pop-out button of the Paragraph rectangle.
From there, under Line Spacing, choose “Multiple”, and under At, choose a number close to something normal, like 1.1 or 2.1. You can increase this difference at the risk of the teacher noticing.
Changing the margins of a page is another great way to change the length of your paper. By decreasing the amount of space the words can take up per page, you increase the number of pages required to fit your existing content. Changing the left margin is a bit risky since most papers are left-justified, meaning that the left edge will be relatively the same for all papers. The right margin, however, can be changed to your heart’s content, since the length of words, number of letters, and number of spaces greatly affect each line’s right edge. You can also increase the amount of space taken up by the header and footer of a document.
Lengthen Header Content
One final way you can make a paper appear longer is by adding more lines to the header of your document. If you make it too long, be sure to have it on only the first page and not every page, as this would be incredibly obvious.
If your teacher demands that an essay be 5 pages long and no longer, but your paper is slightly longer, you can use these same techniques in reverse to make your paper look shorter. For instance, you can change double spacing to 1.9 spacing, or increase the margins.