Published October 27, 2023

Step-by-Step Guide to Write an MLA Format Research Paper



High School Sophomore from West Virginia, Avid Classics Enthusiast, Marketing Intern and Blog Writer at Knowt :)

Writing a research paper in MLA format can be a daunting task, especially if it’s your first time. But, with a little planning and preparation, you’ll be writing killer papers in no time. MLA format is a style guide that is commonly used in the humanities and social sciences to cite sources and format papers. It is important to follow MLA format correctly to avoid plagiarism and ensure that your paper is professional and easy to read.

This article will provide a step-by-step guide on how to write an MLA research paper. We’ll cover everything from choosing a topic to submitting your final draft. We will cover all aspects of MLA format, including how to cite sources in text and in your Works Cited page, how to format your paper, and how to write a strong thesis statement. Let’s get started!

MLA Research Paper Format

MLA, like many other writing formats, has specific rules and nuances that must be followed. It is important to format your paper accordingly to not lose points!

To format an MLA paper, follow these steps:

  1. 12-point font, double-spaced, Times New Roman - this is the traditional form for MLA and is the first thing your instructor will look for when checking if it is in proper MLA format

  2. MLA heading - This should be in the top left corner of your paper, with your first and last name, your instructor’s name, the class name, and the date European style (ex. 19 June 2023)

  3. Set the margins to 1 inch on all sides - maintain consistency in your paper

  4. Create a last name header - it should go in the very top right corner of your document and will show up on each page. It will include your last name and the page number in the upper right-hand corner of each page. The page number should be one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin.

  5. Do not include a title page unless your instructor requires one.

  6. Works Cited - Create a Works Cited page at the end of your paper to list all of the sources that you cited in your paper. The Works Cited page should be formatted in MLA style, with each source listed on a new line and in alphabetical order by the author's last name.

Steps to Writing an MLA Research Paper

Choose a topic

Pick something you are interested in! You will be spending quite a bit of time with your topic, so make sure that it won’t bore you too much! Additionally, pick a topic that is just the right amount of specific so you have enough information but don’t make it too broad; you’ll have too many areas to cover! If you have writer’s block, you can use this AI note taker to brainstorm some ideas!

Find Reliable Sources

Before you can start writing your paper, make sure that you have at least 5 sources to support your paper. Use reliable sources from websites that end in “.edu” or “.org,” as they will not have biased information. Information on databases, such as JSTOR, will also have excellent documents from academic journals. However, some of these might be long. Instead of actually reading each journal, you can upload them to Knowt and have it summarize your PDFs with the most important information covered in that journal.

Take notes 

Sometimes putting them underneath your sources on your MLA Works Cited page will be required by your instructor. This is called an annotated bibliography. All it is a brief paragraph explaining important information from your source and how it will be useful to your paper. This may seem like a bit much, but it will be very helpful when writing your paper!

Develop a thesis statement 

The thesis statement is the beating heart of your paper. It should very clearly summarize the main point of your paper in a concise manner. 

Write an outline 

An outline can help you to organize your thoughts and to structure your paper. It can also help you to stay on track while you are writing. Having a rough idea of what each paragraph will cover will make writing a lot easier. If you are having trouble figuring out what each paragraph should be, ask KnowtAI! Kai will be able to help you out :) 

Write your paper

Use your annotated bibliography, notes, and outline to write your paper. A general rule of thumb is to have at least 5 paragraphs: 

  • 1 introduction that draws in your reader’s interest and states the purpose of your paper clearly and concisely

  • 3 body paragraphs that support your argument. Make sure to paraphrase and cite accordingly; you don’t want to be accused of plagiarism! 

  • 1 conclusion that summarizes all of your points and leaves the reader thinking and contemplating their opinion

Revise/Edit your paper

You’re almost at the end! Now, it’s time to edit your grammar, structure, and word choice. Print out your paper and make the edits in ink. I know that sounds old-school, but being away from a screen where you can constantly edit things will allow you to be more in touch with your writing. Also, sometimes it helps to have a friend or classmate proofread your paper as they can catch things you might not have noticed. Once that’s done, add the edits to your paper, and boom! You’re ready to submit. 

And that’s it! It is the end of an era and the beginning of 8+ hours of sleep. While writing a research paper can be difficult, it will help you expand your learning and become a better student, especially if you want to go to college. 

Remember, you are not alone in this process! Don’t be afraid to ask help from your librarian, especially for citing. MLA has a million different ways to cite things, such as videos, encyclopedias, ancient texts, and many more, all of which require different types of information. Librarians have that type of niche knowledge that can help your paper be the best it can be! 

Blog image


This AI Tool Turned My PowerPoint into Flashcards

We’ve all been there. It’s 2 AM, you’re in your room, and you still have to take notes on 46 more slides for your test tomorrow. But what if I told you that there was a magical way that you could turn those PowerPoint slides into flashcards in SECONDS? You’d think it was too good to be true, huh? Lucky for you, this AI tool for PowerPoint will take all of that information and turn it into something you can study in seconds.  As a sophomore in high school, I get assigned a lot of Google Slides or PowerPoints to take notes on. Some are small, 10-15 slides, which I can usually manage, but others ...

Blog image


AP vs. Dual Enrollment: Which Is Right For You?

Hey there! Are you stuck deciding between AP classes and dual enrollment? You're not alone! This is a big decision that can shape your high school experience and even influence your college journey. Both AP classes and dual enrollment offer unique opportunities and challenges, and understanding the differences is key to making the right choice for you. In this article, we're going to break down the nitty-gritty of AP versus dual enrollment, from the coursework and college credit to how each can impact your future. Whether you're a bookworm, a science whiz, or someone who's just trying to figur...

Blog image


Digital SAT: Everything You Need to Know

News flash: the SAT is going digital after 97 years of having a paper SAT. Starting in March 2024, the new SAT will be implemented in all schools across America. This is a significant change, and it is important for students and families to be aware of the implications. Let's go over what changed and how you can study to be the most prepared you can. The New Digital SAT in a Nutshell The digital SAT is a new version of the SAT that will be administered digitally starting in March 2024. The current SAT is a pen-and-paper Scantron test; the same format as most standardized tests you've taken a...

View more