(Based on MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Seventh Edition)
What is a research paper? A research paper is an investigation of a topic. It is based on primary research the writer does firsthand by using historical documents and/or secondary research done by consulting other writers. Different types of research papers are required in different subject areas.  

Are all research papers MLA papers?


MLA papers are written by writers studying liberal arts (history, philosophy, and literature). They follow the Modern Language Association guidelines (rules).

APA papers are written by writers studying psychology, education, and other social sciences. They follow the guidelines set by the American Psychological Association.

(Doctors and other health professionals use guidelines set by the American Medical Association. Some professors require college students to use the Turabian style.  It can be used for all subjects. Journalists often use the Chicago style.)

What are the parts of an MLA research paper?

·  First page with header, heading, title, and introduction

·  Body with numbered pages containing paragraphs and in-text citations that support the thesis

·  Conclusion

·  Works-cited page

Note: Some teachers/professors require an outline to be submitted separately from the paper, after notes are taken and before the rough draft of paper is written and some require a separate title page followed by an outline, then the full research paper. Ask your teacher what he/she requires.
What are the general rules a writer must follow to write an MLA paper?

·       MLA papers use in-text (parenthetical) citations that tell readers to go to the last page of the research paper to see a list of works cited. (A works-cited list states the sources that a writer uses to create a research paper. Each item on the list must have at least one matching parenthetical citation in the body of the paper.)

·   An in-text citation names the author of the source, either in a signal phrase or in parentheses and gives the page number, when available, of a source in parentheses. At the end of the paper, a list of works cited provides publication information about the source.

·   The works-cited list must be alphabetized by the authors’ last names (or by titles for works without authors). You must use hanging indents for each entry, created by using the feature of your word processing program. (A hanging indent is where all of the lines are indented in a paragraph except the first one. It is the reverse of an ordinary paragraph).

·   MLA no longer requires URLs (Internet addresses) for works-cited entries for Web sources. You may provide a URL if the citation information does not lead readers to easily find the source. Many instructors still require URLs so they can check sources; others use a service like instead.

·   Every entry must state the medium of publication. Some media types are Print, Web, Performance, DVD, or TV. The type of media appears at the end of entries except Web sources are followed by the date of access.

·   Web source entries require a publisher name, a date of publication, and sometimes page numbers. When no publisher name appears on the Web site, write N.p. for no publisher given. When there is no date of publication, write n.d. for no date. For online journals that appear only online (no print version) or for database sources that do not provide pagination, write n. pag. for no pagination.

·  The paper must be typed on a computer.

·  The text must be double-spaced and Times New Roman font size 12 should be used.

·  The margins should be set to 1 inch on all sides.

·  The first line of each paragraph must be indented one half-inch (five spaces by pressing tab once) from the left margin. text must be double-spaced and Times New Roman font size 12 should be used.  

·  Italics are used for the titles of longer works and quotation marks for titles of short works.


What does the first page of an MLA research paper include?

·   A header states your last name and page number, and it must be created in the upper right-hand corner of each page. Your word processing program has a feature that does this for you.

·   In the upper left-hand corner of the first page, type your name, your instructor's name, the course, and the date. This is your heading. The date must be in the day, month, and year format, not in the month, day, and year format. Do not use commas in the date. Again, be sure to use double-spaced text.

·   Double space again and center the title. Don't underline your own title or put it in quotation marks. Capitalize the first letter of the first word and each word in the title unless the word is a conjunction, preposition, or an article. Those words are not capitalized. Use a dictionary to check the part of speech, if necessary.

·   Use italics or quotation marks when referring to works by other authors in your title, just as you would in your text. 

Example of a research paper title that includes a book title: 

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Book That Should Not Be Banned

·  Do not put an extra line space between the title and the first line of the text. Each and every line of an MLA paper is double-spaced—no more, no less.

What should the first page of a research paper look like?


To watch a video tutorial on how to use Microsoft Word to create this first page, click here.

A sample of the top of the first page of a research paper is shown below. The first example shows how the paper actually appears. The second example is labeled to show you what the parts of the first page are.



·  Doe 1 is the header.  Use the feature in your word processing program that creates this.  Do not type the number 1 yourself as that will place the number 1 on each page of your paper instead of numbering the pages consecutively

·  The information before the title of the paper is the heading.

·  The title has two parts.  To the left of the colon is the topic; to the right is the main focus of the paper.

How do I begin the process of creating a paper?

·   Your topic might be assigned or you might have a choice. Whatever the case, you must begin collecting information about a topic. If you have a choice of topics, take about an hour to browse online and to look at print sources in your school library. Choose the topic that interests you and about which you can find the most information. Decide what information about the topic is most interesting or controversial.

·   Write down a working thesis statement: a sentence that states your topic, your position about the topic, and three or more main points that provide evidence for your position.

·   Example thesis: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should not be banned because it is historically accurate, shows the dangers of racism, and shows how people can learn not to be racist.

·   Print out or check out all of the sources which will help you prove your position.

·   Review the requirements of the paper. EHS students should go online to view the research paper rubric and remember that the body of their papers should be five double-spaced pages in length.  Their works-cited list will begin on page six.

·   Read this handout thoroughly to become familiar with the many guidelines you must follow to write a research paper.

This task will require thought, time, and effort. If you get behind, don’t give up; ask for help.
What is plagiarism? Plagiarism is a crime that occurs if you write someone else’s ideas without giving that person credit.  
How do I avoid the failing grade and possible suspension that could result from plagiarism?

·  To create a passing research paper, you must use in-text citations that match works-cited entries.

·  You must use an in-text citation for each idea that is not your own whether you quote it, paraphrase it, or summarize it.

·  Read your sources and write down the publication information for each source you have decided to use.

When do I create works-cited entries?

As soon as you have read your sources and know that they can provide the evidence you need to support your thesis, create your works-cited entries, and arrange them in alphabetical order on your works-cited page. Later, if you discover that you did not use a source, you must delete it from your works-cited page.


How do I find the necessary publication information to create a works-cited entry for a short Web document?

To create a works-cited entry for a short work from a Web site, open the site and find the following elements:

1 Author’s Name (if unavailable, skip it and begin entry with title of work)

2 Title of Article

3 Title of Web Site

4 Publisher or Sponsor (If unavailable, use n.p.)

5 Date of Publication (day, month, and year; if unavailable, use n.d.)

6 Medium of Publication = Web

7 Date of Access (day, month, year; the day you went to the Web site) (Each numbered element on this list matches the numbered element shown in the following picture.)


After finding items 1, 2, and 3, you will probably need to go to the URL window (where you see the "http" address and backspace to delete all information that follows the first single slash mark (the /). Hit enter to see a new page. This new page shows that Florida Gulf Coast University is the sponsor.  This lets you check that your source is reputable and the information you cite will be accurate. Sometimes you can also find the sponsor at the end of the article. Be careful not to cite from the author’s own list of works cited; cite only the author of the article you used as a source.




The date of publication is often found at the end of the article.  If it is not given, just use “n.d.” for no date.



Once you have gathered the information, put in the information in the correct format as shown below. Notice the hanging indent: all lines are indented except the first. This is the reverse of an ordinary paragraph.


How do I find the necessary publication information to create a works-cited entry for a book?


Note: All entries of more than one line use a hanging indent – all lines are indented except the first line.





What do a title page and a copyright page look like?


1 = author

2 = title

3 = city where source was published

4 = company that published source

5 = most recent year of publication

6 = media type (Print, Web, Film, Performance, etc.)


The works-cited entry for a book looks like the line below, except it has been numbered to show you the required parts.

Open the bookLook at the title page and the copyright page that comes after the title page to get publication information.


How do I find the necessary publication information to create a works-cited entry for a for an article from a database?



(Source = Diana Hacker’s Resource and Documentation Online; no longer available)




Note: If page numbers are unavailable, use n. page in your works-cited entry.


What does the works-cited entry for a Web PDF file look like?

Csaky, Taissa. “Learning Pack: The Crucible.” Royal Shakespeare Company. Royal Shakespeare Company, 2006. PDF file. 12 Sept. 2009. <>

Include the author’s name, followed by the title, the title of the Web site, the sponsor, the date of publication; the medium; and your date of access. Use a hanging indent if the entry requires more than one line. Here the URL is given so the reader can easily get the file.
When do I have to put in page numbers for a Web document?

Do not put a page number in your in-text citation if the Web document does not have page numbers. When the pages of a Web source are stable, as in PDF files, do put a page number in your in-text citation. Put a comma after the author’s name. Then put the page number.

What is an example of a works-cited entry for a work by a corporate author (found in a database)?

Associated Press. "Federal Appeals Court Allows Huck Finn to Remain on School's Reading List." Civil Rights in America. American Journey Online. Woodbridge, CT.: Primary Source Microfilm, 1884. Student Resource Center - Gold. Web. 28 Feb. 2009.


I’ve written a works-cited entry for each source that I am going to use. Now, how do I take notes?

·       Determine three or more points that the sources collectively make about your topic.

·       Write a working thesis statement which states your topic and the three or more points you and your sources can make about your topic.

·       Example:

Mark Twain’s novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should not be banned because it accurately reflects the society of its time, demonstrates the evils of slavery, and shows how an individual can learn compassion.


Note: The above thesis states the topic and position: “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should not be banned.”  It gives three reasons (points) and sets up the organization of the paper.

·       Take notes by writing quotes, paraphrases, and summaries that support each of your three (or more) main points



Sample Blank Note with Labels


Warning: If you decide to just copy and paste, you must also copy and paste the URL (the Internet address beginning with "http." Remember you must be able to write introductory phrases, paraphrases (sentences where you put the information into your own words), citations, and works-cited entries.

How do I turn my notes into a good paper?

Click here to see a complete MLA sample paper which explains each part of the paper and different types of citation. As you provide support, state the name of the author and the evidence he or she provides. After you have mentioned the author’s first and last name, you may later use just the last name or put the last name in the parenthetical citation with the page number. On the last page of your paper, the works-cited page, you must have a works-entry that begins with the author’s last name. (All in-text citations and works-cited entries must match.) Hacker provided this example:

How do I write my conclusion? To write your conclusion, begin with a transitional expression like “Clearly,” “Obviously,” or “In conclusion.” Follow it with a comma and a restated thesis. Remind readers of your main points. End with a look to the future. Look at sample papers for more guidance.  
Sample works-cited page (from Hacker’s former
site, written by Anna Orlov):


Please click here  to see a complete sample paper that is clear and easy to read.

Sources: MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Seventh Edition, Purdue’s Online Writing Lab, Long Island University’s Web site, and Diana Hacker’s former site entitled Research and Documentation Online.