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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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Your research paper ends with a list of all the sources cited in the text of the paper. This is called a Works Cited list.
See an example in the "Sample Paper & Works Cited List" box on this page.
Here are eight quick rules for this list:
- Start a new page for your Works Cited list (e.g., if your paper is 4 pages long, start your Works Cited list on page 5).
- Centre the title, Works Cited, at the top of the page and do not bold or underline it.
- Double-space the list.
- Start the first line of each citation at the left margin; indent each subsequent line five spaces (also known as a "hanging indent").
- Put your list in alphabetical order. Alphabetize the list by the first word in the citation. In most cases, the first word will be the author’s last name. Where the author is unknown, alphabetize by the first word in the title, ignoring the words a, an, the.
- For each author, give the last name followed by a comma and the first name followed by a period.
- Italicize the titles of full works: books, audiovisual material,websites.
- Do not italicize titles of parts of works, such as: articles from newspapers, magazines, or journals / essays, poems, short stories or chapter titles from a book / chapters or sections of an Internet document. Instead, use quotation marks.