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If you’ve been wondering how to produce a research paper that is strong in both formatting and writing, you’ve come to the right place. The example research paper below is one that I wrote in college in one of the most inspiring courses I ever took as a literature major—Inklings. The Inklings were a group of writers in England before WWII, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
The abbreviated MLA paper below (linked here without annotations) is about J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and how the author used myth, story, and song to link all of his works together. Tolkien is famous for creating a fantasy universe called Middle-earth, which readers can’t truly understand until they read all of the books about Middle-earth (The Silmarillian, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings).
Since we’re here to learn how to format an essay, I’ve pointed out some important things about the paper to help you write a correctly formatted essay.
For starters, the essay is in MLA format. That means it follows the style manual of the Modern Language Association, which tells you how to format the paper itself and every source you cite. You’ll also see notes like how long a paragraph should be, how to use commas properly, and how to correctly punctuate a title.
Pay special attention to the works cited page. I only used one type of source (books), but both citations are correct according to the 8th edition of MLA, published in 2016. When you’re writing your own paper, you need to make sure you always use the most recent edition of the style manual. Whether you need MLA, APA, or Chicago style, look up the latest edition before turning in a paper.
In the end, I hope this essay and my notes help you write stronger papers. Although I’ve cut out some of my analysis to make it fit into a smaller space, the main idea of the essay is intact. Follow my notes closely to produce polished and high-scoring papers. You can use this model to write essays for any class using MLA format.
Get a copy for yourself! Download the PDF version here.
Starting to cite your sources? Try our citation tools in MLA 7 & 8 linked here. Need more information on MLA 8? Find more citation guides linked here.
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When you submit your essay (assignment) for marking, there is a set format you must follow. There may be some small differences in format that your own lecturer may request of you, so make sure that you read and follow the instructions in your subject learning guides carefully. Following are some basic guidelines for you to follow:
Basic essay structure
The title page should contain: name, student number, unit title/number, question title/name, due date, unit coordinator, word count. You do NOT have to decorate the page (e.g. graphics, photographs) unless you are asked to by the lecturer.
Margins – minimum 2.5 cm, maximum 3 cm all around
Double or 1.5 space all of the essay paragraphs including ‘long quotations’ (more than 40 words) which should have NO quotation marks, be indented 1.3 cm to the right, and have the same spacing as the rest of the essay paragraphs.
Use a plain serif (e.g. Times New Roman) or sans serif (e.g. Arial) font. A serif font is easier to read. Suggested sizes are 12 for the text and 14 for headings.
Do not change fonts in the course of writing the essay.
Put numbers in line with the right margin at the top or bottom of each page. Centre the number of the first page of chapters or appendices at the bottom. It is also acceptable, although less common, to centre all page numbers. Pagination is best done with Header and Footer.
Appendices usually follow the reference list.
Each appendix must start on a new page.
Appendices must be numbered—A,B,C or 1,2,3.
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Guidelines for using headings
Headings are signposts that focus the reader on the most important content in a piece of writing. Provided that they are well structured, headings make longer pieces of writing easier to write and easier to read (for the marker). Look at headings systems in your unit reading material and you will get a ‘feeling’ for their structure and suitability. Follow these rules:
Hierarchy of headings- an exampleThe oncology ward: Nuclear radiation and client careThe effects of radiation on living tissueImplications for normal cells
When you write headings, you should use a ‘Capitalisation style’—either minimal OR maximal and stick to this style.
Maximal (Headline style).The Oncology Ward: Nuclear Radiation and Client Care
Minimal (Sentence style).The oncology ward: Nuclear radiation and client care
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