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How to Write A Thesis or Dissertation in MLA Style

If you're a student in liberal arts or humanities, chances are good your professor will ask you to write a paper in MLA Style. Eventually, you might even create a thesis or dissertation using MLA Style. Writing in MLA Style is one of a few different writing styles you can use.

How to Write A Thesis or Dissertation in MLA Style

Brian Scott is a professional freelance writer with over a decade of experience. He recommends using an MLA formatting software to correctly format and write papers in MLA Style, available at http://www.masterfreelancer.com/mla-writing-style-software.php

If you’re a student in liberal arts or humanities, chances are good your professor will ask you to write a paper in MLA Style. Eventually, you might even create a thesis or dissertation using MLA. Writing in MLA is one of a few different writing styles you can use to format academic papers that require sources in an educational or professional setting.

Although learning all the rules can seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. Many rules repeat themselves as you use them in your paper, meaning you don’t have to learn hundreds of rules. As long as you learn the basic MLA Style guidelines, you can create a well-formatted paper with great success.

Here are some of my time-tested techniques to help you write that first paper. If you run into a situation that I do not cover, then you can always call upon the many resources on the Internet and in print that can handle those odd situations.


The Modern Language Association of America oversees MLA, publishing the first edition of its MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing in 1985. The Modern Language Association recently published the third edition.

Headquartered in New York City, the MLA is an American professional organization for scholars of literature and language, including professors and graduate students. It began in 1883 at Purdue University, essentially as a discussion group for literature and modern language. Today, several regional associations make up the organization.


By following the the MLA Style Manual, students receive advice on a variety of rules for creating and formatting a formal paper, including rules for:

* The size of the font
* The type of font
* The margins of the paper
* Citing references in the text
* Citing references at the end of the paper
* Presenting tables, figures, and illustrations

Rules for creating papers have undergone some changes since the first MLA Style Manual appeared almost 25 years ago. In addition, with the changes in the latest version, you may have some instructors who prefer the “old” rules. Be sure your instructors clearly define which version they’d like you to follow.

Finally, some instructors might not require the strict formality of the MLA Style Manual in a particular paper. Instead, they might ask you to follow the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, which is a less formal version of MLA Style. For the most part, the MLA Handbook is aimed at undergraduate college students and high school students. Be sure you know which reference guide for MLA Style your instructor wants you to use.


A computer with word processing software, such as Microsoft Word or Word Perfect, is the best method for writing your paper. A word processor is the easiest way to perform the formatting functions, indentions, and italics text.

As you perform your research for your formal paper, it’s important to track your sources. You’ll need to cite the sources you’ve used. Style guidelines will dictate different formatting rules for different types of sources. For most of your sources, you’ll need to track the title, author, date of publication, name of publication, and pages used as a source, among other types of information. It’s always better to have more information than you’ll need when citing a source than to not have enough information.


For additional questions, the Manual is the best source. This publication includes the rules and advice for formatting a thesis or dissertation. It also includes information on submitting your work for peer review and publication, on copyright laws, on fair use rules, and on contracts.

Keep in mind that the guidelines in the third edition represent a “significant revision” to the documentation style, so you’ll want to make sure you have the latest information.

If your university library doesn’t have the latest copy, you can purchase a copy for about $33 from the MLA Web site. Unfortunately, the MLA Web site doesn’t offer many tips on using MLA Style. When using other Web sites for information, be sure to use the latest rules.

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