Ok, so it’s been a while since I last wrote a scholarly paper, but I do have a degree and I do know that there are very important rules which need to be followed when writing an essay. Back when I got my degree (in 2000) the internet wasn’t really the ‘thing’ that it is now. As I was finishing my A-Levels, our school had one computer on site that was hooked up, and there was a two week waiting list to get online. I think I managed it once!
That aside, my time at university wasn’t much more digitally connected, so to say that there have been some changes in the last (almost) twenty years is an understatement! With that in mind, as my husband recently started studying for a masters, we’ve found that the rules surrounding how to cite sources in academic papers have certainly changed a lot- but the general formatting remains similar. Here is a really quick guide to understanding MLA formatting rules- if you’re in a similar boat, hopefully it helps!
What is MLA style and why is it important?
As already mentioned, when I was a student, being online wasn’t really top of everyone’s priority and when it came to writing essays I used books and guidelines to help me cite from them properly. These days, there are so many different articles, papers and essays online covering the same topics that it can be hard to know which one to cite, and what information to trust. The Modern Language Association (MLA) style was created to help students document sources accurately. Doing so is essential to avoid issues such as plagiarism, which can jeopardise your entire academic career.
It’s a good idea to purchase the MLA guidebook so that you have an easy reference guide to hand. Generally speaking though, every time you write an essay and you use someone else’s work to help get your point across (either by quoting, summarising or paraphrasing), you must always credit the original author. The MLA style is the most common used by students and will help you stay on track when you write and submit essays.
When you submit an essay, there are formatting guidelines that also need to be followed carefully. It’s a really good idea to do all that you can to find out about the MLA format before you start, to save you potentially having to go back and edit your entire piece of work. In a nutshell, students need to adhere to the rules regarding font, margins, line spacing, alignment, indentation and headers.
Better safe than sorry
It can seem like a lot, but once you get into the swing it really does become second nature- and it really is always better to be safe than sorry! Yes, it’s important to remember that a very good essay will build on the work of others, but avoiding plagiarism should always be at the forefront of your mind when formatting your work. Use a plagiarism checker to make doubly sure. Once your essay is checked and good to go, and your formatting is spot on the only thing you need to worry about is whether your essay gets a pass or not… good luck!