Section Titles In Essays

MLA General Format

Summary:

MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook (8th ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.

Contributors: Tony Russell, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli, Russell Keck, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo Rodríguez-Fuentes, Daniel P. Kenzie, Susan Wegener, Maryam Ghafoor, Purdue OWL Staff
Last Edited: 2016-08-11 04:27:59

MLA style specifies guidelines for formatting manuscripts and using the English language in writing. MLA style also provides writers with a system for referencing their sources through parenthetical citation in their essays and Works Cited pages.

Writers who properly use MLA also build their credibility by demonstrating accountability to their source material. Most importantly, the use of MLA style can protect writers from accusations of plagiarism, which is the purposeful or accidental uncredited use of source material by other writers.

If you are asked to use MLA format, be sure to consult the MLA Handbook (8th edition). Publishing scholars and graduate students should also consult the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (3rd edition). The MLA Handbook is available in most writing centers and reference libraries; it is also widely available in bookstores, libraries, and at the MLA web site. See the Additional Resources section of this handout for a list of helpful books and sites about using MLA style.

Paper Format

The preparation of papers and manuscripts in MLA style is covered in chapter four of the MLA Handbook, and chapter four of the MLA Style Manual. Below are some basic guidelines for formatting a paper in MLA style.

General Guidelines

  • Type your paper on a computer and print it out on standard, white 8.5 x 11-inch paper.
  • Double-space the text of your paper, and use a legible font (e.g. Times New Roman). Whatever font you choose, MLA recommends that the regular and italics type styles contrast enough that they are recognizable one from another. The font size should be 12 pt.
  • Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks (unless otherwise instructed by your instructor).
  • Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides.
  • Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch from the left margin. MLA recommends that you use the Tab key as opposed to pushing the Space Bar five times.
  • Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor may ask that you omit the number on your first page. Always follow your instructor's guidelines.)
  • Use italics throughout your essay for the titles of longer works and, only when absolutely necessary, providing emphasis.
  • If you have any endnotes, include them on a separate page before your Works Cited page. Entitle the section Notes (centered, unformatted).

Formatting the First Page of Your Paper

  • Do not make a title page for your paper unless specifically requested.
  • In the upper left-hand corner of the first page, list your name, your instructor's name, the course, and the date. Again, be sure to use double-spaced text.
  • Double space again and center the title. Do not underline, italicize, or place your title in quotation marks; write the title in Title Case (standard capitalization), not in all capital letters.
  • Use quotation marks and/or italics when referring to other works in your title, just as you would in your text: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as Morality Play; Human Weariness in "After Apple Picking"
  • Double space between the title and the first line of the text.
  • Create a header in the upper right-hand corner that includes your last name, followed by a space with a page number; number all pages consecutively with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor or other readers may ask that you omit last name/page number header on your first page. Always follow instructor guidelines.)

Here is a sample of the first page of a paper in MLA style:

Image Caption: The First Page of an MLA Paper

Section Headings

Writers sometimes use Section Headings to improve a document’s readability. These sections may include individual chapters or other named parts of a book or essay.

Essays

MLA recommends that when you divide an essay into sections that you number those sections with an arabic number and a period followed by a space and the section name.

1. Early Writings

2. The London Years

3. Traveling the Continent

4. Final Years

Books

MLA does not have a prescribed system of headings for books (for more information on headings, please see page 146 in the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition). If you are only using one level of headings, meaning that all of the sections are distinct and parallel and have no additional sections that fit within them, MLA recommends that these sections resemble one another grammatically. For instance, if your headings are typically short phrases, make all of the headings short phrases (and not, for example, full sentences). Otherwise, the formatting is up to you. It should, however, be consistent throughout the document.

If you employ multiple levels of headings (some of your sections have sections within sections), you may want to provide a key of your chosen level headings and their formatting to your instructor or editor.

Sample Section Headings

The following sample headings are meant to be used only as a reference. You may employ whatever system of formatting that works best for you so long as it remains consistent throughout the document.

Numbered:

1. Soil Conservation

1.1 Erosion

1.2 Terracing

2. Water Conservation

3. Energy Conservation

Formatted, unnumbered:

Level 1 Heading: bold, flush left

Level 2 Heading: italics, flush left

     Level 3 Heading: centered, bold

     Level 4 Heading: centered, italics

Level 5 Heading: underlined, flush left

by Chelsea Lee

Headings give structure to your writing. They not only tell the reader what content to expect but also speak to its relative position within a hierarchy. The APA Publication Manual (section 3.03, pp. 62–63; see also the sample papers) gives guidelines for up to five levels of heading in a paper, although most papers will need only two, three, or four.

The example below shows font and indentation formatting for when all five levels are used, including what to do when headings follow one another with no text in between. We have previously explained in detail how to format each level of heading.

Anxiety Made Visible: Multiple Reports of Anxiety and Rejection Sensitivity
Our study investigated anxiety and rejection sensitivity. In particular, we examined how participant self-ratings of state and trait anxiety and rejection sensitivity would differ from the ratings of others, namely, the close friends of participants.
Literature Overview
Anxiety and rejection sensitivity are two important facets of psychological functioning that have received much attention in the literature. For example, Ronen and Baldwin (2010) demonstrated....
Method
Participants
Participants were 80 university students (35 men, 45 women) whose mean age was 20.25 years (SD = 1.68). Approximately 70% of participants were European American, 15% were African American, 9% were Hispanic American, and 6% were Asian American. They received course credit for their participation.
Procedure
Recruitment. We placed flyers about the study on bulletin boards around campus, and the study was included on the list of open studies on the Psychology Department website. To reduce bias in the sample, we described the study as a “personality study” rather than specifically mentioning our target traits of anxiety and rejection sensitivity.
Session 1: Psychiatric diagnoses. During the initial interview session, doctoral level psychology students assessed participants for psychiatric diagnoses. Eighteen percent of the sample met the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder according to the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM–IV Axis I Disorders (First, Gibbon, Spitzer, & Williams, 1996).
Session 2: Assessments. All participants attended a follow-up session to complete assessments. Participants were instructed to bring a friend with them who would complete the other-report measures.
Self-report measures. We first administered several self-report measures, as follows.
State and trait anxiety. Participants took the State–Trait Anxiety Inventory for Adults (STAI–A; Spielberger, Gorsuch, Lushene, Vagg, & Jacobs, 1983), a 40-item self-report measure to assess anxiety.
Rejection sensitivity. Participants took the Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire (RSQ; Downey & Feldman, 1996), an 18-item self-report measure that assesses rejection sensitivity.
Other-report measures. We also included other-report measures to obtain independent sources of information about participants’ levels of anxiety and rejection sensitivity.
State and trait anxiety. We adapted the STAI–A so that questions referred to the target participant rather than the self.
Rejection sensitivity. We adapted the RSQ so that questions referred to the target participant rather than the self.
Results
State and Trait Anxiety
State anxiety.
Self-report data. For state anxiety, participant self-report data indicated that participants were significantly less likely....
Other-report data. For state anxiety, other-report data indicated that friends of participants were significantly more likely....
Trait anxiety.
Self-report data. For trait anxiety, participant self-report data indicated that participants were significantly less likely....
Other-report data. For trait anxiety, other-report data indicated that friends of participants were significantly more likely....
Rejection Sensitivity
The results for rejection sensitivity paralleled those for anxiety, demonstrating that....
Discussion
Strengths and Limitations
Some of the strengths of our research were....
Directions for Future Research
In the future, we hope that researchers will consider multiple sources of information when making assessments of anxiety. We also recommend....

Important notes on formatting your headings:

  • The title of the paper is not in bold. Only the headings at Levels 1–4 use bold. See this post for a clarification on when to use boldface.
  • Every paper begins with an introduction. However, in APA Style, the heading “Introduction” is not used, because what comes at the beginning of the paper is assumed to be the introduction.
  • The first heading comes at Level 1. In this paper, the first heading is “Literature Overview,” so it goes at Level 1. Your writing style and subject matter will determine what your first heading will be.
  • Subsequent headings of equal importance to the first heading also go at Level 1 (here, Method, Results, and Discussion).
  • For subsections, we recommend that if you are going to have them at all, you should aim for at least two (e.g., the Literature Overview section has no subsections, whereas the Method section has two Level 2 subsections, and one of those Level 2 sections is further divided into three sections, etc.). Again, the number of subsections you will need will depend on your topic and writing style.
  • Level 3, 4, and 5 headings are indented, followed by a period, and run in with the text that follows. If there is no intervening text between a Level 3, 4, or 5 heading and another lower level heading following it, keep the period after the first heading and start the next heading on a new line (e.g., see “State anxiety” and “Trait anxiety” at Level 3 in the Results section, which are immediately followed by lower level headings and text). Begin each heading on a new line; do not run headings together on the same line.

Are there other aspects of headings you want to know more about? Let us know in the comments.

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