MLA 9th Edition Formatting

A Simple, Step-by-Step Guide + Free Template

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Reviewer: Eunice Rautenbach (DTech) | July 2023

Formatting your paper in MLA style can feel like a pretty daunting task. In this post, we’ll show you exactly how to set up your paper for MLA (9th edition), as quickly and easily as possible. We’ll also share our popular free MLA template, to help you fast-track your writing.

MLA Structure and Layout

Let’s start by looking at the overall structure of a typical student paper formatted for MLA 9th edition, before diving into the details of each section. For the most part, MLA papers follow a standardised structure, consisting of the following parts:

The opening section: While MLA doesn’t require a dedicated title page (unlike APA), it does require an opening section that details some important information about yourself, your university and the paper itself.

The main body: The main body begins directly after the opening section on the first page. This is the “heart” of your paper and there are a very specific requirements regarding how you present and format this content.

The appendix (or appendices): While using an appendix in a student paper is relatively uncommon, you’ll place this section directly after the main body section, if required by your university.

The “Works Cited” list: This section is equivalent to what we’d usually call a references page and it’s where you’ll detail all the reference information corresponding to the in-text citations in the main body of your paper.

These four sections form the standard structure and order of a student paper using MLA 9th edition. As we mentioned, not all sections are always required, so be sure to double check what your university expects from you before submitting. Also, it’s always a good idea to ask your university if they have any style requirements in addition to the standard MLA specification.

Now that we’ve got a big-picture view of the typical paper structure, let’s look at the specific formatting requirements for each of these sections.

Generic Page Setup

Before you jump into writing up your paper, you’ll first need to set up your document to align with MLA’s generic page requirements. Alternatively, you can download our MLA paper template (which comes fully preformatted).


MLA 9th edition requires a 1-inch margin on all sides, for all pages. That said, if you’re writing a dissertation, thesis or any document that will ultimately be printed and bound, your university will likely require a larger left margin to accommodate for physical binding.

Fonts & sizing

MLA does not require that you use any specific font, but we do recommend sticking to the tried and tested, well-accepted fonts. For example, you might consider using one of the following:

  • Sans serif fonts: Calibri (11), Arial (11), or Lucida Sans Unicode (10)
  • Serif fonts: Times New Roman (12), Georgia (11), or Computer Modern (10)

Whichever font you opt for, be sure to use it consistently throughout your paper. Don’t chop and change, or use different fonts for different parts of the document (e.g., different fonts for the body text and the headings). Also, keep in mind that while MLA does not have a specific font requirement, your university may have its own preference or requirement. So, be sure to check with them beforehand regarding any additional specifications they may have.

In general, all text throughout your document needs to be left-aligned and should not be justified (i.e., leave an uneven right edge). You might consider using a different alignment for section headings, but in general, it’s best to keep things simple.

Line spacing

MLA 9th edition requires double line spacing throughout the document. There should also be no extra space before and after paragraphs. This applies to all sections of the paper, including the “Works Cited” page (more on this later).

Page header

Last but not least, you’ll need to set up a running header for your document. This should contain your last name, followed by the page number. Both of these should be positioned in the top right corner of all pages (even the first page). On a related note, there’s no need for you to include any footer content unless your university specifically requests it.

Now that we’ve looked at the generic formatting considerations, let’s dive into the specific requirements for each section of your paper.

The Opening Section

While MLA-formatted papers typically don’t require a title page, there are very specific requirements regarding the opening section of the first page.

Here’s how you can set your first page up for MLA 9th edition.

  1. On the first line, write your full name (flush left)
  2. On a new line, write your professor or instructor’s full name
  3. On a new line, write the course code and course name
  4. On a new line, write the full date spelt out (e.g., 15 June 2023)
  5. On a new line, write the full title of your paper, centre-aligned and using title case (consider using a title case converter if you’re not familiar with this)
  6. On a new line, begin your body content

All of the above should be in plain, unformatted font – in other words, you don’t need to apply any boldfacing, underlining, etc. That said, you should use italics whenever you’re writing out the titles of other works (for example, titles of books or articles).

To make it all a little more tangible, below is an example of a first page formatted according to the MLA specifications that we just covered.

An example of the opening section of a paper formatted for MLA 9

The Main Body

While the formatting requirements for the body section are relatively light for MLA (at least when compared to APA), there are still quite a few important things to pay attention to. Here’s what you need to know to get started.


Each of your paragraphs needs to start on a new line, and the first sentence of each paragraph requires a half-inch indent (while the rest of the paragraph is flush left aligned). Note that each paragraph simply starts on a new line and doesn’t require an additional blank line.


MLA 9th edition is fairly flexible in terms of heading formatting. There is no specified formatting, so you can decide what works best for you. However, there are still a few basic rules you need to follow:

  • All your headings should be written in title case – never use all caps
  • There should be no period following a heading
  • Each heading level needs to be uniquely formatted and easily distinguishable from other levels (for example, a distinct difference in terms of boldfacing, underlining or italicisation)
  • You can have as many heading levels as you need, but each level must have at least two instances


When using abbreviations, you’ll need to make sure that you’re using the MLA version of the abbreviation. Below we’ve listed a few common ones you should be aware of:

  • Appendix: app.
  • Book: bk.
  • Circa: c. or ca.
  • Chapter: ch.
  • Column: col.
  • Definition: def.
  • Department: dept.
  • Example: e.g.
  • Edition: ed.
  • Figure: fig.
  • Foreword: fwd.
  • That is: i.e.
  • Journal: jour.
  • Library: lib.
  • Manuscript(s): MS
  • Number: no.
  • Page: p.
  • Pages: pp.
  • Quoted in: qtd. in
  • Revised: rev.
  • Section: sec. or sect.
  • Series: ser.
  • Translation: trans.
  • Version: vers.
  • Variant: var.
  • Volume: vol.

If you’re interested, you can find a more comprehensive list here. Alternatively, if you have access to the MLA 9th edition handbook, you can find the full list in the first appendix.

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In-text citations

MLA 9 has a very specific set of requirements regarding how to cite your sources within the body of your paper. Here are some of the most important things to help you get started with MLA citations.

Author-page number system: in-text citations consist of (at a minimum) the lead author’s last name, followed by the page number of the paragraph you are citing. There is no comma between the two components (only a space).

Types of citations: MLA allows two types of in-text citations: parenthetical and narrative. Parenthetical citations feature the author and page number in parentheses (brackets) at the end of the respective sentence. Here’s an example:

MLA 9th edition is easy to grasp if you visit the Grad Coach blog (Jansen 13).

Narrative citations, on the other hand, weave the author’s name into the flow of the sentence and then present the publication date in parentheses at the end of the sentence. Here’s an example:

Jansen states that MLA 9th edition is easy for students to grasp if they visit the Grad Coach blog (13).

In general, it’s a good idea to utilise a mix of both in your writing. Narrative citations are particularly useful when you want to highlight or contrast authors or their viewpoints, while parenthetical citations are useful when you want to strengthen your own academic voice. In other words, both formats have their respective strengths and weaknesses, so try to use citation format strategically in your writing.

Quotations: when quoting text verbatim from a source, there is no need to do anything differently in terms of the citation itself, but do remember to wrap the verbatim text in quotation marks. Here’s an example:

Jansen proposes that MLA 9th edition is “easy to grasp if you visit the Grad Coach blog” (13).

Multiple authors: when citing resources that were authored by three or more people, you only need to list the lead author, followed by “et al.”. Here’s an example:

MLA 9th edition is easy to grasp if you visit the Grad Coach blog (Jansen et al. 13).

 Below are a few more examples from our free MLA template.

Example of MLA in-text citations

Please keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of all the MLA 9th edition citation-related requirements – just a shortlist of the most commonly relevant ones. If you’d like to learn more, consult the MLA handbook.

The Works Cited (Reference List)

The final section that you’ll need to pay close attention to is the “Works Cited” page, which should contain a list of reference information for all the sources cited in the body of the paper. Again, MLA has a quite a meaty set of specifications regarding the content and formatting of this list, but we’ll cover the basics here to get your started on the right foot. 

Basic setup

Your reference list needs to start on a new page and should be titled “Works Cited”. The title should be unformatted and centred. The reference list should then start on the next line. As with the rest of your document, you should use double line spacing throughout.

The list

When it comes to the reference list itself, you’ll need to keep the following in mind:

  • All the sources that you cited in the body of your document should feature in the reference list. Make sure that every citation is accounted for.
  • The references should be ordered alphabetically, according to the lead author’s last name.
  • The exact information required within each entry depends on the type of content being referenced (e.g., a journal article, web page, etc.)
  • Components that may need to feature (other than the author) include the title of the source, the title of the container, other contributors, the article version or number, the publisher, the publication date, and the location.
  • All references should be left-aligned and should use a hanging indent – i.e., the second line of any given reference (if it has one) should be indented a half inch.

We have to stress that these are just the basics. MLA 9th edition requires that your references be structured and formatted in a very specific way, depending on the type of resource. If you plan to draft your reference list manually, it’s important to consult your university’s style guide or the MLA manual itself. This leads us to our next point…

In general, it’s a bad idea to write your reference list manually. Given the incredibly high level of intricacy involved, it’s highly likely that you’ll make mistakes if you try to craft this section yourself. A better solution is to use (free) reference management software such as Mendeley or Zotero. Either of these will take care of the formatting and content for you, and they’ll do a much more accurate job of it too. 

If you’re not familiar with any sort of reference management software, be sure to check out our easy-to-follow Mendeley explainer video below.

Wrapping Up

In this post, we’ve provided a primer covering how to format your paper according to MLA 9th edition. To recap, we’ve looked at the following:

  1. The structure and layout
  2. The general page setup
  3. The opening section
  4. The main body
  5. The “Works Cited” page (reference list)
  6. Free MLA 9 template

Remember to always check your university’s style guide to familiarise yourself with any additional requirements they may. Also, if your university has specified anything that contrasts what we’ve discussed here, please do follow their guidance

If you need any help formatting your paper for MLA 9, take a look at our “done for you” language editing and proofreading service. Simply send us your document and we’ll take care of all the MLA formatting intracies on your behalf. 

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