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How to Format Your Essay in MLA Format Using Microsoft Word 2021

mla format tutorial

Information is taken from the 8th edition MLA Handbook, latest version, 2020. 

MLA format was created by the Modern Language Association—hence the acronym—and is a widely used styling for research papers and academic essays. If you’re a college student, you’ll notice that MLA format is required in liberal arts and humanities subjects. 

This is a simple guide to formatting your essay in MLA style using Microsoft Word 2020. While this guide only covers the formatting guidelines needed to begin your paper, we’ll cover other aspects of MLA such as in-text citations, organization, and the works cited page in later guides.

[DOWNLOAD THE FREE MLA STYLE SAMPLE ESSAY HERE]

What will we cover?

  • Proper MLA font style and size
  • Margins and header
  • Spacing
  • First-page title information
  • Body-paragraph spacing

1. Set the font and size

In MLA format, you may only use Times New Roman font at size 12. When it comes to academic formats, there’s little room for creativity. Avoid breaking the rules when it comes to your course’s required format because your grade will reflect deviations from the guidelines. 

How do you do it?

  • In Microsoft Word 2020, navigate to the Home tab (seen in the image below).
  • Click the font dropdown menu to select Times New Roman.
  • Click on the dropdown menu to select size 12.

2. Set the margins in MLA format

Margins play a huge role in the cleanliness and overall look of your MLA style essay. If your margins aren’t set correctly, your 3-page essay might suddenly take much longer to complete because you can add more words to a page with wider margins. Stick to the format and your professor’s essay assignment will go much smoother. 

How do you do it?

  • Click the Layout tab.
  • Click on Margins.
  • Select the option Normal.

This will give you a 1-inch margin on all sides of your paper. Now we’re cooking with gas!

3. How to add your name and page number in MLA Format 2020

Properly formatting your header can make the difference in half a letter grade or more sometimes. Be sure not to miss this step when setting up your essay in Word. There’s no sense in losing valuable grade points over something that takes no effort, right? Let’s save the heavy grading for the content!

Every MLA style essay should include your last name next to the page number in the header. It’s easy to forget this step because we don’t often look this far up the page. For that reason, we recommend getting this step out of the way before you even begin writing. 

How do you do it?

  • Select the Insert tab. 
  • Select Page Number toward the right.
  • Hover over the Top of Page option.
  • Select option 3 because it doesn’t have formatting or accents.

Once you have your page number inserted into the header, it should show that it’s highlighted and ready for customization. 

At this stage, you can insert your name with these steps:

  • Press the Left Arrow key on your keyboard to deselect the page number.
  • Type your last name and hit the Space key to add space between your name and the page number.
  • Make sure to change the font for your name and page number by selecting them, then clicking Home, then using the font + size drop-downs.

It should look like this:

4. How to set double-spaced lines in Word 2020

MLA Style requires that all your body text be double-spaced. This helps your essay look cleaner and easier to read. It also provides space between your sentences, which allows for mark-ups either by you during proofreading, or by your professor during grading. 

The best thing about using double spacing is that you can write more pages much faster because of the double space!

  • Click on the Home tab.
  • Click on the Line and Paragraph Spacing icon. 
  • Click on Double or set to 2.0, which stands for double space.

5. How to set name and title information

The name, assignment type, date, and essay title are the first things your professor sees in your essay because they’re at the top of the first page. I’ve seen many students mess up this part of the essay formatting process, and it cost them dearly in their grade.

Before you begin writing the first draft of your essay, go ahead and enter the name, course, and date information. We recommend giving your essay at least a title placeholder in the first draft too, so you don’t forget to enter a title later on. 

How do you format your name and course info in MLA Format?

  • Under the Home tab, hit the Left Alignment key.
  • Type your first and last name and Enter
  • Type your professor’s name and Enter. Be sure to use their proper title. Don’t use Mr., Ms., or nicknames here. Stick with their first and last name if you don’t know their official title. Professor is often a safe bet in most cases.
  • Type your course name and ID, then Enter. This helps the instructor keep your essay organized among many other essays in various other courses. 
  • Enter the date. In MLA Format, you should enter the day of the month in numeric format, then the name of the month spelled out, then the full year in numerals. Don’t use commas. 

The finished title information should look like this:

Next, you’ll need to hit Enter once and select the Center Content key. Your title should be in the middle of your paper, and should clearly define what your essay is about. 

Finally, hit Enter again to move to a new line, go back to Left Alignment, and start typing your essay! The finished top half of your essay should look like the screenshot below:

Remember to indent each new paragraph by half an inch. This should be automatically set in Word, but you can change it in the paragraph section we visited earlier if it’s not set correctly.

That’s all their is to properly setting up your essay in MLA Format using Microsoft Word 2020. Keep in mind that some professors create variations of MLA Format, but this isn’t the norm. 

Some professors may require that you set up a cover page for your MLA essay. If this is the case, we’ll show you how to set it up in a later article. Good luck!

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