Every academic essay and research paper written for a middle and high school English class should follow MLA format. It can be a tedious, exasperating process to make sure every word and period is in its proper place, but once a student is familiar with its basic rules, MLA guidelines become easier to manage. Eventually, in-text citing becomes second nature and the Works Cited page isn’t such a headache.
Essentially, MLA format is the method we use for documenting sources. There are specific ways to document information pulled from a book, a website, a podcast, a YouTube video, a personal conversation, and everything in between. The rules include where the parentheses go, where the periods go, and what treatment should be applied to the text.
There are two primary reasons why documenting sources is vital to our academic work. First, documenting sources contributes to a larger body of research. When we all follow the same guidelines, we make it easier to streamline our ideas and share them with others. While middle and high schoolers may not be sharing their academic research with colleges and industry magazines right now, they are working out those muscles in preparation for it.
Secondly, documenting sources protects students against plagiarism. Research builds upon itself, and it’s easy to pass off ideas as one’s own if things aren’t properly cited. Save yourself the headache and failing grade by keeping track of where you get information. Then, cite it properly.
MLA format includes other rules, such as always typing a paper in Times New Roman, 12 pt, and double-spaced. It means leaving a one-inch margin around the paper and knowing when a work should be italicized or put in quotation marks. MLA format tells you how to abbreviate words properly, how to treat numerals, and what to do when a work doesn’t have a proper author.
All of these details are available in the MLA Handbook. My personal preference is the 7th Edition, but an 8th Edition works fine (it’s just organized differently). If you prefer using an online source, Purdue’s Online Writing Lab is helpful.
If you need extra help, please contact me before you get too frustrated and want to throw the handbook across the room!