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MLA rules…the nuts and bolts. Font is always Times New Roman, partially because it’s standard on all computers and partially because research shows that it’s one of the most easily legible fonts.

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Font is always Times New Roman, partially because it’s standard on all computers and partially because research shows that it’s one of the most easily legible fonts.

  • Font is always size 12 because of ease of reading and because that is the size that MLA formatting regulations have been created around.
  • Margins are always 1” on all four sides.
  • Everything in the essay should be double-spaced. Exactly. No more, no less.
  • Essay always has a title.
  • Title of essay is always centered, no bold type, no quotation marks.
  • Should have 24 lines of type

All essays or research papers

written about literature must be written

in literary present tense.

Literary analysis is always written in present tense – called the literary present. Just remember: If a reader opens the book today and then opens it again tomorrow, the same thing is going to be happening.

literary present
Literary Present
  • Wrong: Huck Finn was a powerful piece of American fiction that continues to influence the global literary landscape.
  • Right: Huck Finn is a powerful piece of American fiction that continues to influence the global literary landscape.
  • Wrong: Dede suddenly felt guilty for being the sole survivor.
  • Right: Dede suddenly feels guilty for being the sole survivor.
formatting titles
Formatting titles
  • Longer works are italicized, and all important words are capitalized.
  • Examples of works that are italicized:
    • magazines, books, newspapers, academic journals, films, a television mini-series, long poems, plays of three or more acts, operas, musical albums, works of art, websites, and individual trains, planes, or ships.
formatting titles1
Formatting Titles
  • Shorter works are put into “quotation marks” and the important words are capitalized.
  • Works that should be put in quotes:
    • articles, short poems, song titles, short stories, magazine or newspaper articles, essays, speeches, chapter titles, short films, and episodes of television or radio shows.
rule of thumb when formatting titles
Rule of thumb when formatting titles
  • If it is The Whole work and is long-ish…italicize
  • If it is a “Part of the Whole” and is short-ish, use quotes.
title ing your essay
Title-ing your essay…
  • Title of essay is always centered
  • no bold type
  • no quotation marks
  • no underlining
  • no italics
  • no change in font

Converting passive voice to active voice – Good writing is clear and concise. Active voice is usually both clearer and more concise than passive. One subtle way to get passive voice out: Reword any sentence beginning with “there are,” “there is,” etc… This puts the focus on the subject you’re writing about instead of on the “there” and it also ends up cutting your word count.


Questions – never start an academic essay with a question. It’s just too easy. Come up with a better hook. Even if you use a question later in the essay, be careful that it doesn’t have “you” or “you understood” as its subject.

  • Avoid overused words – never, always, good, bad, very, nice, etc
  • Do no use exclamation points in a formal essay

Ellipses – When do you use it?

    • Punctuate by using a space before and a space after the three dots. (Just like a word.) Word . . . Word
  • Dashes – two hyphens and the connecting words, then a space . . . this connects the hyphens to make it a “dash”. Dash—dash
  • Refer to an author by last name . . . do NOT use the first name unless you are introducing the author or using the first and last name together. Never use the first name alone.

Literary Language—do no use slang. Refer to literary elements appropriately using the correct terms (ex: protagonist, antagonist, characterization, etc.)

    • Without literary terms: To show that women are important, Adrienne Rich writes about Aunt Jennifer and the tigers that she creates in her needlework.
    • With literary terms: In the poem "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers," Adrienne Rich uses vivid images of tigers in the needlework as symbols which reveal a feminist perspective.

Tone for formal papers is always an “academic tone . . .” keep it professional.

    • Avoid colloquialisms and slang. “A bunch of . . . a lot of . . . a ton of” (Does the writer mean “a significant number of”?)
      • Instead of writing he “ripped off” the system, try “he escaped justice.” Remember, the research paper is considered formal writing, so even the use of contractions is incorrect.
  • Do NOT refer to yourself when writing the essay—your name is on it. We know who you are.

Essays, novels, biographies, memoirs, etc. are NOT STORIES!!! Do NOT use the word “story” in a formal essay. Don’t do it. Ever.

  • Only tell the genre ONCE…don’t continually repeat “In the novel,” or “In the poem.” We get it.

Avoiding 1st person – Do not use I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours. Basically, the emphasis should never be placed on the writer in formal writing. It makes it too personal, too specific to just the writer.

  • Avoiding 2nd person – Do not use you, your, yours. Again, it narrows the focus, implying that what the writer is writing only applies to the reader. Another reason – usually a writer who uses 2nd person one time ends up using it many, many times without realizing it.

Using third person—refer to the characters in third person, use a universal “he” or “she” instead of he/she. It is understood that the gender is not exclusive.

    • Example (wrong): When one understand the concept of heroism, he/she understands what it means to sacrifice.
    • Example (right): When one understands the concept of heroism, he understands what it means to sacrifice.

Avoiding contractions – Contractions are used all the time in spoken language, for many reasons. It's faster. "Can't" is one syllable and "cannot" is two. It is more informal and puts a listener at ease as if to say, "Relax, this is just a friendly chat with nothing earth-shaking at stake." Formal written work is different. Speed of communication is not a concern. The use of more formal vocabulary and avoiding things unique to spoken language such as contractions and slang help to set a psycho-epistemological context for the reader that is more appropriate for, and prepares him for, abstract or difficult intellectual material. Also, in academic writing, the primary audience is the teacher, but the secondary audience is not always known. Formal language is more appropriate.